Accidental Chickens!!

May 26, 2015 - 5:22 pm

So… 

The weekend had a big surprise. In a word, CHICKENS!!

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I am part of the local Buy Nothing group on Facebook, and someone posted this weekend that they needed to re-home three young pullets and a coop. I put my hand up as interested, and they chose me, so  we now have a small coop and three new girls in the family. On the left is Zoe, a Rhode Island Red, in the front is Inara, a Buff Orpington, and in back is Kaylee, an Easter Egger. Most of my friends should get the reference. 

Here’s the coop:

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It looks adorable and cozy. I had been planning to build a coop this summer and get chox in the spring of 2016, so this seemed like a great way to shortcut and get a nicely made coop. Until I noticed the tiny access door, the lack of ventilation, and lack of roosting poles— there are only wobbly sticks at floor height. wtf?

There is also a tray that’s meant to be pulled out for cleaning. It slides quite freely. I’m going to have to figure out how to block it in to keep rats from squeezing in and enjoying a chicken dinner with a side of eggs and scratch. The little tiny bolt latch looks like it would take a dunce of a raccoon about a minute to open. Half of the roof and the lid of the nest boxes cantilevered off the left side also opens part way, but neither provides easy internal access for cleaning.

Oh, and the nest boxes are at floor level without any real separation from the rest of the coop: 

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right now I have grit and water in one, and the girls are puppy-piling in the other to sleep. Once I get roost poles in I’ll chivvy them out of that area and figure out some way to make them more nest-y and less floor-ish. I think another front board and curtains might help. I may place boxes in them for a bit if they don’t take a hint. They are still several months from laying.

So this coop needs some emergency upgrades to make it comfortable, safe, and secure, and the coop build-out is still on plan for some time this summer. This little coop will become an isolation coop, which isn’t a bad thing to have. Once I give it ventilation and a roosting pole, nice waterers, and upgrade the security it should be cozy for some youngsters or a sick hen.

Expect coop projects this week. I have a waterer half built and hardware cloth to put on the bottom of the coop, as well as a hole saw to make ventilation holes under the peak of the roof and roosting poles to put in.

But first, a chicken movie, and then more pictures! The girls had never encountered fresh greens or strawberry tops before today, so were a bit non-plussed by their introduction to dandelion greens, but they started to catch on pretty quickly. The movie was shot after the photos that follow, when Inara had decided the greens weren’t a tentacle monster and she could inspect them herself.

Zoe and Kaylee were first out of the nest box after I put in the greens:

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Zoe pulled off the one dandelion flower and raced back into the nest box with it, then Kaylee started nibbling on the greens:

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Zoe came back for another taste:

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And then Inara got into the action, and I thought to switch to recording video. 😀

 

Give Big! join me in helping the Seattle Somali Center

May 5, 2015 - 8:06 am

 

Today, 5/5, is the Seattle Foundation’s Give Big! day, on which they encourage folks to donate to local non-profits to help out with whatever needs we see in the community and further.

Through Hack Your Clothes I’m donating sewing machines and other sewing supplies as well as my time as a teacher to assist the Somali Center in getting their Sewing and Fashion Design program off the ground. Do you have anything you can give? They’re starting out, so they need lots of help and supplies! Donations of money will allow us to buy what we need, and we also appreciate donations of materials and time. Everything helps!

Below is Sahra’s statement about the center and what they are requesting.

Please join me in Giving Big!


 

Somali Community Services of Seattle (SCSS) is excited to announce a brand new Sewing and Fashion Design Training Program at our center

Back home, many Somali Elders enjoyed sewing as both a social activity and as a way to create beautiful clothes and accessories for themselves and their families. Here in Seattle, very few members of the Somali community have regular access to sewing machines and the necessary equipment to practice their skills in a comfortable environment.

Somali Elders and Youth have requested this training program as a way for both generations to come together to celebrate Somali culture and fashion, to learn the fundamentals of creating hand-crafted apparel, and to express themselves through design. SCSS is currently recruiting experts to help design our training curriculum and lead classes that begin in July 2015. The program will be completely free and open to Women and Men of all ages.

SCSS has already received generous donations of sewing machines from Hack Your Clothes (a local business), Horn of Africa Services (a local non-profit), and donors from around the country to help us launch the program this summer! We are incredibly excited to begin and we can’t do it without your help!

 

 

Tip Jars are Hard

February 17, 2015 - 2:00 pm

Tip Jars are hard in two senses.

The first difficulty is more existential; the notion of asking people to give me money to do what I want to do seems, well, awkward. And yet I fully believe what I’m doing is good and valuable, and I certainly need to make a living somehow, so it’s sensible and reasonable to ask folks who feel the same way to pitch in. I’ve never begrudged tossing money in the hats of buskers who brightened my days walking through cities. I know I feel good about it. Why should it be different online? 

So I’m trying to take advice from Amanda Palmer and Maria Popova and dozens of other internet phenoms I think are spiffy and ask. Donations are appreciated and will allow me to keep doing what I do without having to get a Real Job(tm). Today was the day I had resolved to add a tip jar to the blog.

I am planning to try something unusual in the knitting world, and instead of having Secret Knitting that I speak of vaguely and work on off stage, I’m going to blog everything about my newest pattern “Fire Thief.” I blogged a swatch last week and posted some charts yesterday on twitter and flickr. I’m hoping other folks will like watching the process and that it will make the pattern more popular (and remunerative!) instead of less. I know I enjoy getting insights into other artists’ processes, so why should anyone feel differently about me? 

So I set out this morning expecting I could hook up a paypal tip jar in fifteen minutes or so, blog about Fire Thief and mention it, and then go on about my day. I have a skirt I want to make. But, alas, that will all happen tomorrow. 

Instead, I found the other way in which tip jars are hard. I had sort of started to find this in researching business accounting practices with respect to gifts. The internet based “pay what you want” concept has not been embraced by the tax folks yet. I still don’t know how that will all work out, I’m just charging ahead on faith. Other people are doing it, so it must be possible. 

First I went looking for a free clip-art graphic for a tip jar that was licensed for commercial use. Should be dozens, wouldn’t you think? Turns out not so much. So I sat down withmy iPad mini, Paper, and Pencil from Fiftythree, and here for use by any and all is a free tip jar clipart with an attribution license:

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Next I needed to plumb it up to Paypal, which should be straightforward, right? Turns out, again, not so much. Paypal has a donate button, but has this to say about using it: 

Note: This button is intended for fundraising. If you are not raising money for a cause, please choose another option. Nonprofits must verify their status to withdraw donations they receive. Users that are not verified nonprofits must demonstrate how their donations will be used, once they raise more than $10,000.

So I went casting about the Internet looking at who had done what. I asked several bloggers, but I’m not the patient sort, so I kept looking. Eventually I found this tutorial by AoxoA Creative that did a beautiful job of walking me through the process. 

So now there’s a tip jar over there on the left, if you’re inclined to express your appreciation thusly. If not that’s completely fine, but I need to at least break even this year. Every dollar gets me a little closer to “making it.” 

Tomorrow I’ll tell you all about the Fire Thief. 🙂

New Year’s Plans

January 5, 2015 - 2:43 pm

I am not one for resolutions, but I do make plans. 

This year there are two big ones:

1) Open the Hack Your Clothes Studio and online store.

This has been in the plans since we bought the new house, but I haven’t mentioned it til now. That studio I’m building? It’s not just for me. I’m going to teach lessons, photograph, and film tutorials in that space. Expect big things in 2015!

I’m doing the last bit of organization and prep work so I can open the studio for workshops before the end of the month. I’ll post details when I pick an official opening day! I will start teaching formal classes in February, once I have a good gauge of the needs in the local community.

2) Switch to a wardrobe I am proud to wear, with handmade and refashioned garments from responsibly produced fabrics from renewable fibers.

The linen pants I made in the last week of 2014 are just the start. By the end of the year I will have made an entirely personal wardrobe. Any items I keep will have been refashioned in some way to make them more awesome. I want to practice what I preach in the Hack Your Clothes movement. Right now I’m using myself as a guinea pig for the tutorials I’ll be developing and selling.

I also have a few smaller goals related to my recent interest in quilting:

1) Complete the 2015 Free Motion Quilting Challenge.

2) Complete the 2015 Block of the Month people-powered quilt-along with DamascusAnnie’s Treadle Quilters group. Never thought I’d be posting a Facebook link, but there you go. I want to be part of this tribe, so I have to go where they are. 🙂

I would like to finish at least three bed sized quilts in 2015, but that may be a larger goal than I can fit around the Hack Your Clothes effort, so I’m considering that a “stretch goal.”

Onward into 2015!

The Art of Asking

November 19, 2014 - 5:16 pm

Last night David and I went to Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking book tour/show. There was singing and silliness and good-hearted buffoonery and it was a wonderful, memorable experience for us and, I would venture to say, much of the audience. Firstly, if you aren’t familiar with the TED talk she gave on this subject, go watch it now:

To say the talk changed my life would be a bit of an overstatement, but I would say that her talk, Brene Brown’s talk, and conversations with friends and mentors are what gave me the courage to decide to pursue Hack Your Clothes instead of another traditional job. Jury’s still out on whether that will prove financially sustainable, but I remain cautiously optimistic. 

I’ve just barely peeked into the book, but what I’ve seen and what was read last night at the show was an extension and elaboration on the talk. I’m looking forward to reading it. You should too.

Link to Hatchett page on the book

Kenmore 158-540

November 17, 2014 - 2:32 pm

Today I’ve got so many things to talk about.

I’m excited about Curls and want to show off Jasper McTavish and the spinning I’m doing, but I haven’t gotten good pics yet, so I’ll settle for a teaser from The Artful Ewe, a favorite fiber store we visited this weekend:

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I finished up the Hex quilt top section, and cleaned up the living room. Again, here’s a teaser:

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I still need to figure out how to work this into a full or queen sized bed quilt.

I could talk about the tree we had taken out this morning, but I think that’s mostly just a story in pictures.

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So I’m going to talk about my Kenmore 158-540.

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I haven’t reworked this machine yet, nor named it, but it’s high on the list of machines to get fixed up. It came with all the gee-gaws:

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And I have it in a lovely cabinet (please ignore the tile stuff and the new toilet staged for the bathroom remodel):

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The cabinet has an inkwell:

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See, it fits here:

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And the next drawer down has spool pins and a pincushion:

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It also came with a knee lever, which I haven’t ever used:

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I haven’t cleaned it yet, but it was nearly spotless:

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It was missing its bobbin case and spool pins, but I found spares while I had it out. 

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I love the lavender and purple bits.

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and its antennae:

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It’s biggest problem is the electrics. The plug was cracked. I glued it up:

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And then I found a replacement on ebay:

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The wiring looks ok, but I’ll give it a hard once-over when I’m putting it together:

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It’s a JA-4 casting:

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Or possibly a J-C16. It has both.

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And takes cams, of which I have a full set:

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But for now it’s put away in the cabinet, waiting for the studio to be put together:

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Change of Seasons

November 13, 2014 - 12:25 pm

So much to talk about I scarcely know where to begin.

Adventures in Home Ownership is approaching the wrap-up of the first big push. Since mid-March I’ve woken up every morning with a list of things I needed to accomplish for the house, and I’m starting to see the bottom of it creeping up. There are still a very large number of things I’d *like* to do, in an abstract “wouldn’t it be nice if…” sort of way, but the “must be completed for house to function” list is decidedly short. Just a few more small but fussy tasks in the downstairs bathroom, some work in the studio, and a couple contractor days. It’s good that the end is in sight because I’ve lost all enthusiasm for the work. 

We got a new kitten, Calcifer:

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He’s named after a character from Howl’s Moving Castle, which is one of our household’s favorite movies. The obligate cute kitten photos will commence:

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And also ob-video:

So, uhm, that’s been a distraction. We were hoping Mickey would like having a kitten friend. He was unconsolable after Pook died; I didn’t sleep for several weeks because he was so needy. Unfortunately, so far he’s terrified. He’s about 14 lbs. The kitten is not yet 2. Silliness.

I’ve been working on a quilt:

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It has taken over the living room:

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I’m not allowing myself to play with my newest toy until it’s put away, and I’m not willing to put it away until the top is pieced since arranging all the hexes the way I wanted was a bit of a nightmare. But I have a beautiful new custom made wheel from Tom Livernois waiting for me, tucked in between the cutting table and the ironing board where it’s safe:

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I’m planning to spin yarn for a Curl. As soon as the quilt top is together. Because we really do need the gaming table, game shelf, and couches to be accessible. And I need a studio to work in so I stop doing this whenever I embark on a big new project. 

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three more rows to go!

Pookah

September 30, 2014 - 2:52 pm

Pookah 2001

It was 1995 shortly after my birthday. I was living in Santa Cruz, California with my two unofficial foster daughters. One afternoon when I got home they insisted there was a siamese kitten living under the big bush in the garden. I didn’t believe them.

Pookah 2007

That weekend though, when I was gardening, not just a siamese but also two black kittens came wandering out of that bush before their mom hissed at me and they ran away. There were quite a few strays in the rather “transitional” neighborhood which was still half rubble strewn fields after the Loma Prieta earthquake.

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I set about trapping the kittens. Pookah came first. Eventually I also caught one of his siblings, but his mother and the third one disappeared after that. The sibling went to the local no-kill shelter but Pookah stayed.

At first we debated about his name. Bonnie and Brynn advocated for “Velcro” because he liked to climb us like cat trees and hang from his claws as we walked around. I insisted he would shortly outgrow that name, though. I don’t remember who suggested Pookah, but the name came with the story that a Pookah is a spirit of a place, like a rock or a bush. It seemed to fit, so Pookah he became.

We moved from Santa Cruz to San Jose in 1998, then to Sequim, Washington in 1999, which is where the first photo was taken when he was about 5. From there to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where we had two homes, and then back across the country to Seattle, WA where we are on our third home.

Pookah 2007

In every one of these homes he was an avid hunter and became the neighborhood cat in charge. He would be friendly and affectionate to other cats who didn’t contest his lordship, but beat all others to ribbons. If I went for a walk he would always accompany me. When I lived in Sequim and went walking in the woods he would insist on being carried across streams. 

We lost five barn cats in the four years I was in Sequim. There were bald eagles, coyotes, bears, and a cougar on the property so it’s little wonder it was a hard life for a cat. Pookah never got so much as a bad scratch.

This is a cat who routinely chased raccoons off the compost bin and I once watched face down a coyote. He scarcely ate cat food in the summer, preferring to catch rodents. He has kept all my homes rodent free until this one. He prefers squirrels, but eating others when he caught them. He once brought home a rabbit that may have outweighed him. Our yard was always strewn with little bones.

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He never would tolerate being an inside cat. I tried at virtually all of my houses, but he would sulk and engage in chemical warfare which always won him freedom of movement. He loved lounging on warm sidewalks and miaowing at passers by for attention. I kept my phone number and address on his collar tag, and he was returned to me regularly in any new neighborhood until all the locals knew him. 

He got along well with other cats in the household, and dogs as well, up to our poodle Caprica. He was so frail by the time she came around that he never put her in her place when she was small. IMG_0572

In 2007 I decided it was time to get a kitten, as he was 12 and it seemed likely that most of his life was behind him. We ended up with two, Princess and Mickey. He doted on the two of them, and eventually taught them both to hunt. Princess, unfortunately, wasn’t so savvy about being out of doors. She was tiny but fearless, and we suspect a coyote was the end of her. She left us in 2012.

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Pookah had a way of “stalking” a lap. I could push him out three or four times, and still find him back again without noticing how he got there. I acclimated, and learned to work around him.

Pookah offers to help

He also recognized screens as his natural enemy, and was quite skilled at interposing himself between us and them whenever he wanted attention.

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And he loved us. He slept in our beds with us every night in spite of occasional forceful ejections. If we sat on a couch it wasn’t long before he was with us.

Zack and Pookah napping

He’s been slowing down for several years, but this last year has been particularly noticeable. He sleeps most of the time, He has been in progressively more pain from arthritis, stopped grooming himself, and sort of wasted away. In his prime he was about 9 pounds; I wouldn’t be surprised if he were half that now. 

Still, he has continued to sleep with us, jump on counters, and occasionally hunt. I watched him catch a mouse last week in the blackberry brush across the driveway from the house. He has loved this, his last home. He has spent his days following the sunbeams from couch to porch to carpet to chair as they move through the house from east to west. He seems to know where all the best places are. 

Pookah and Mickey

He has never liked the cold, and that has become increasingly obvious as he’s gotten older and stiffer. I am glad he got a last summer. 

He woke us up this morning crying, and could scarcely stand. It became obvious that he has lost sensation in his back end. I have been making him as comfortable as I could through the day. We have an appointment in about an hour to put him to sleep.

Farewell, old man. Good hunting.

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Apologies- housekeeping

February 26, 2014 - 8:28 pm

Somehow 11 posts disappeared from my site. I’m going to re-post and modify dates. Apologies to those of you who follow me through a reader and therefore are going to get a dozen notifications in a matter of a few minutes. Thanks for following me and your patience!

-jennifer

Oversharing

October 4, 2013 - 6:34 am

This is not going to be a happy fun fiber post or a delicious recipe. This is perhaps self indulgent whining about managing chronic pain. Apologies in advance and please skip along.

 

No really, I won’t be offended. I’m just at the end of my tether and need to write. Look at the picture, know that’s the place I ended up after writing this. I live here, surrounded by beauty, with a warm and loving family and a comfortable life full of things that bring me joy. I’m ok, and I’ll be ok.

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I have managed chronic pain for most of my life. I broke my neck when I was 12, though I didn’t find that out until I was almost 40. I had an MRI a few years ago to diagnose pain and numbness in my left shoulder, arm, and hand, and the MRI turned up two badly compressed vertebrae and numerous damaged nerve channels. The doctor said it looked like an old injury, most likely from childhood. And I knew.

There is no cure, only management. I have arthritis slowly filling the nerve channels, irritating the nerve sheaths, causing them to get inflamed. The pain I feel has nothing to do with my hands and arms, it’s just a side effect from the nerve in my neck slowly getting squished. I could get steroid injections but while that would help in the short term, in the long term it would cause tissue degradation and other problems. I have to deal with this for the rest of my life, so until there’s a treatment option that can actually reverse or repair the damage I just live with it as best I can.

As a child I rode horses obsessively, almost continuously. I woke up in the morning and fed my pony, sometimes riding. Came home from school and went for a ride. Frequently went to my trainer’s house after school for lessons and riding. I wasn’t riding easy, calm, well broken horses. My trainer worked with reclaims and my first pony definitely qualified; he could buck more or less anyone off, and did regularly. It was a good ride if I didn’t land on my bum. The first time I managed to ride him through one of his tantrums I’m not sure who was more surprised, me or the pony.

Generally I landed well and bounced right up, but occasionally I did not. I had multiple losses of consciousne

ss, the first of which I remember was when I was 8. Given what we know now about repeated brain injury I worry. But that’s borrowing trouble from the future. The trouble that has come back to pay its future dividend was one specific fall. 

I had a new horse, who didn’t buck. No, she spooked and bolted when she got nervous. I took a fall, and landed badly on my head and shoulders. I thought I had just wrenched my neck; I mean, I could move my fingers and toes so nothing could be broken, right? I got up, dusted off, got back on the horse and rode home. 

That began a period of continuous headaches and insomnia. I couldn’t lie down to sleep, I slept sitting up in an arm chair with my head propped so it didn’t fall over. This went on for months. My mother told me I was being “dramatic” whenever I complained about pain or illness, so we never went to the doctor except for routine physicals. In the middle of this we moved out of state. The pain went on and on, for well over a year. Nothing helped. 

Freshman year of high school my morning class teacher decided we needed to start the day with Sun Salutes so we stopped falling asleep in her class. Several of us got into it, and soon she was holding longer yoga sessions at lunch. I began my yoga practice at 13. Slowly my pain faded. 

That teacher, and forgive me I can recall her face but not her name, was also managing chronic pain. She used movement and breathing exercises to, as she put it, notice the pain and let it go. Pain is information, she would say. It’s your nerves checking in with your brain to make sure you’re aware something is off. If you already know what’s off and have done what you can to ease it, there’s no reason to hold on to that information.

She believed tight muscles were the body protecting itself. She would say to herself and to us at the end of practice when we were lying in Savasana, “It’s ok to be open now, it’s safe. Let the earth carry you, you won’t fall off.” We would practice deliberately clenching a muscle that was restricted, and then letting go. Feeling into ourselves to notice what our pain was protecting, and making it safe to let go. 

It comes and goes in waves. I’ll go months sometimes without a flare-up. and then get struck suddenly by pain that keeps me from sleeping and makes it hard to function. Or no pain, and my hand will just go completely numb. Other times I’ll feel it build up over days or weeks. Those are the worst; it’s like hydroplaning in a car towards a tree. Increasing levels of panic and desperation as I watch the tree coming towards me and try to get control to avert disaster. 

This flare is one of the latter. I haven’t slept well in over a week. Two nights ago I managed a good night and felt rested yesterday, which was wonderful. I had an incredibly productive day, by recent standards, and went to bed with the expectation that I was on the mend.

Today, though, is not starting so well. I woke at 3:30 with my whole left arm numb. I tried doing gentle openings in bed to get sensation back, but no luck. I got up, worked through physical therapy exercises, then yoga, and finally spent some time on the foam roller, and now have curled up on the couch with an ice pack on my neck and fingerless mitts, hot tea & a rice bag to compensate for the cold. It’s chilly this morning, heading into winter.

I could say I have no idea what caused it, and honestly I’m not 100% sure. I suspect it’s the repetitive motion from the fleece prep I’ve been doing for Spinzilla, but I’ve been trying to be mindful about taking lots of breaks. I did none of it at all yesterday, in fact I can’t think of anything yesterday that should have aggravated it. I sorted and washed a fleece, built a fleece drying rack (which is the blog entry I expected to be writing today), played with the puppy, tidied the house. I actually did my yoga and PT yesterday, something I’ve been sporadic about since the summer. I went to bed feeling accomplished and happy. 

I thought I was over this hump, but instead it’s worse, and it’s gotten into the realm of exceptionally bad– worse than it’s been in a year or so. It’s hard to be creative when I hurt like this; I can’t separate from the pain right now. It woke me up, kept me awake, and now is a continuous roar. It hurts to move, and hurts to sit still. Nothing seems to be working to calm it down. I think that’s why I wanted to write this. I thought I was on the mend, but I’m not. I feel… “betrayed” isn’t exactly the right word. Frustrated, disappointed, angry, resentful. 

I don’t talk about this, ever. People I have lived with know I hurt sometimes, but it’s just not something I talk about. Unless it’s bad enough to impact my activities in a noticeable way they generally don’t even know when it’s flaring up. I don’t find sympathy helps me manage it, and pity or well meaning attempts at accommodating it make it worse. What I need to do, what works, is to avoid things that trigger it, do the exercises that help manage it, and otherwise keep from focussing on it. Distraction, mindfulness exercises, and deliberately not noticing the pain is what I need. Sympathetic, well meaning, helpful people are, ironically, the opposite of help. So I don’t mention it.

Except days like today when my arm is on fire from my neck to my fingers, when I’m so tired I tear up thinking about it, when I’m frustrated that there are things I want to– need to– do today, and they are unlikely to happen. Days like today I want to hit things, I want to scream and rant about how unfair it all is. Unfair. There should be a way to fix this. There isn’t. I have to adjust, to manage it, and today I really just don’t want to. I want it not to be, but that’s not ever going to be an option. 

I have to relax, to accept, to be where I am, and I know this, but I’m really truly deeply pissed off about it this morning. 

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A Tale of Two Hosting Providers

September 27, 2013 - 10:46 am

Them what wants not to hear about techie stuff should tl&dr now. This blog post is about my saga choosing a hosting provider.

You have been warned. 🙂

In February David and I realized that the ancient Rackspace slice he had was not going to cut it for supporting my “Jennigma” blog after my friend Deb Robson who has a much more popular blog linked off to me and crashed the box. No slight to Rackspace- David set up that slice in 2003 or so. Ten years old is beyond crufty for a server these days; it’s practically a fossil. So I set about looking for a company to host my WordPress site.

Let me start by saying I’ve got to be one of the worst possible customers for any of these guys. I was a network admin for a long, long time, and then a tech PM at Comcast who, among other things, managed the project to launch the first Comcast CDN. But I’ve been out of the game for long enough that I’m not up on the technical details. I don’t happen to have a friend who’s in the know in this industry about who’s good and who’s bad, so I was left to the mercy of provider propaganda, comparison websites and blog posts.

I don’t want to manage a server any more, ever again. I consider all the hard drives in the house to be scratch; all my content is either backed up off-site or in permanent residence on services like Smugmug.com and Dropbox.com. A couple life changing losses of data in my past have made me quite paranoid. Plus, I consider myself to be retired form the network admin/system admin gig.  Been there, done that, dun wanna. My goal is to never use a root password again. It’s a bad day when I have to fire up terminal on my laptop. I want to be in the content creation business, not the infrastructure business. There are plenty of people happily doing the latter, and I’m thrilled to give them my money so I don’t have to manage the details any more. All I ask is that it work reasonably well, and nothing gets lost.

The market is … confusing, to say the least. There are good reviews and bad reviews about every provider. Something I discovered almost right out the gate is that people who review hosting providers get kick-backs from any sales that come through their referral link.

I don’t promise I won’t be taking money for this review in the future so you *may* be hitting an affiliate link when you read this, but as of this writing I haven’t received a dime. I’m just a paying customer who’s a little more enlightened than the average schmo about how all this crap works under the covers, and how to evaluate a technical operation.

Back to the story. 🙂

I spent my free time for a couple days researching, and in the end punted. I more or less flipped a coin between Bluehost.com and DreamHost.com, since they were who WordPress recommended. I figured while they might not be the *best* choice, at least they wouldn’t be *bad* choices. I wish I could find my notes from the decision making process so I could re-examine them; I know at one point I was going to go with Bluehost, but then something changed my mind. Probably some review somewhere, or maybe I decided they were essentially identical and went with cheaper. Dunno. At any rate, I chose poorly. I went with DreamHost.

I’ve set up a few WordPress installs; I think I started running a wordpress blog in, er, 2002? Something on that order. The admin interface was a bit slow, but WordPress is never speedy. Lots of clicks and waiting for the database to be updated and the new page built. click. snooze. click. snooze. click. Like that. even when I was running a beefy linux box on my home network hosting my blog it wasn’t what I would call fast. I didn’t think much of it.

I got my first surprise when I realized they didn’t offer backups. At all. I somehow had missed that in my evaluations. I installed a plug-in to save back-ups on my Dropbox, was vaguely irritated, and moved on. Sub-optimal, but tolerable.

I got the blog up and it still wasn’t as fast to load pages as I would have liked, so I switched to a super lightweight theme and that took page loads down to under a second. I did a little load testing, declared it good enough, and set about creating content.

I had a few tech support squabbles around billing; because I started with a trial I had to pay for my domain registration, and then when the trial ended they didn’t deduct the domain price (which was supposed to be included) from the full price of the service. They were slow to respond to tickets so I ended up calling them *on the phone* which is never a good sign. Got it sorted out, but I was definitely not thrilled with the service level. It was cheap, though, and seemed to be working.

In April I got the bright idea for Hack Your Clothes! and set up an additional WP instance. I wanted a bit more of a tricked out theme on HYC, and had a hard time with performance, but seemed to get it to a tolerable state.

In June we set up a static site with about five pages on my server for the new iOS ap development project my partner David and I are doing at FrobnotzSoftware.com, so now I was hosting three sites, two WordPress and one static.

Summer happened. I was focussed on stuff in the material world, not the interwebz. The blogs languished.

At the beginning of September I got an email from my friend Amy Cao @ Fiftythree.com concerned that Hack Your Clothes was down and worried that I had dropped the project. I was disturbed. I tried to get to the site and got a 503 error instead. That was wrong. I tried to get to Jennigma, and it was also not responding. I didn’t have time to look at it immediately, but filed it in the “later soon” bucket.

A couple days later I tried again, and got in. I logged into the admin console and everything looked ok. I started researching blog performance and tuned everything I could over the next couple weeks, and was still getting 30s – 5 minute page loads on extremely lightweight blogs that were not seeing any appreciable traffic.

Finally on Sept 21 I was at my wits’ end, and called in David to help me. I assumed I had somehow been hacked or something, because I couldn’t believe my two sites were really using all the resources Dreamhost had allocated for me.

He couldn’t find any issues, so reached out to customer support via chat. He got a one line response from the guy that it must be a problem on our end because it looked fine to him and the guy idled out on the chat session without ever answering follow-up questions. David began poking at the site some more, but still couldn’t find any obvious issues. We logged an official ticket on Sunday night, 9/22. They advertise a 24 hr turnaround on tickets, so we went to bed grumpy and awaiting a response.

In the morning we got a non-response:

I apologize for the delay and for the inconvenience. Looking into this for you I see that there is a higher than normal load on your server. I have contacted our Admins and they are now looking into this for you. If you do not see any improvement in the next hour or two, please write us back and we will take another look. 🙂

Ok. I waited. Two hours. No change. I wrote back:

The site is still extraordinarily slow. This has been an issue for at least a week, I just didn’t have a chance to troubleshoot earlier. How soon should I expect this to resolve?

And I started researching. I found several folks complaining that since the recent WordPress major version revision (3.6) Dreamhost had been unreasonably slow, and they hadn’t been responsive about fixing the issue. I started researching other hosting providers.

Got this response:

I apologize for the inconvenience and for the delay. Looking into this for you I see that the load has been brought down to a better load than it was before. I restarted the Apache service for good measure and see that site was still loading slow. I looked a bit deeper and see that while you have caching installed it is not active. Please properly activate it and you should see your site performance improve. I would also remove any and non-essential plugins that are not mission critical.

If you should have any further questions, please feel free to message us

Ooops, had left the caching off on Hack Your Clothes in some round of the troubleshooting. Responded:

The active plug-ins are all essential, and the site was working reasonably well with these caching settings several weeks ago. I haven’t done anything to it since mid August, but was alerted by a reader that they couldn’t get access to the site.

This is an extremely low traffic site at this time. There is no reason the performance should be so poor.

Then turned caching back on, saw no performance improvement, and went on researching. I also posted this to my twitter stream:

I need recommendations for better site hosting. @DreamHost is not cutting it. I’ve been bickering with tech support since last night. Ideas?

http://hackyourclothes.com is taking 60s – 5m to load, and the @DreamHost techs have admitted to server issues, but want me to turn off plugins.

A couple hours later when I checked in the server was even slower, and I got a 503 on the admin page. Sent another email that reflected my growing annoyance:

The server is now throwing errors when I try to get to the admin page:

Internal Server Error

The server encountered an internal error or misconfiguration and was unable to complete your request. Please contact the server administrator, webmaster@hackyourclothes.com and inform them of the time the error occurred, and anything you might have done that may have caused the error. More information about this error may be available in the server error log.

Additionally, a 404 Not Found error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.

The server logs are showing “Premature end of script headers” for some of the wordpress PHP pages.

This is your issue, not my issue. Please fix it. I’m starting to shop for other hosting.

No response from @Dreamhost or tech support, but Jonathan Grieg recommended Bluehost or Digitalocean.com. The latter does virtual private servers only, which doesn’t meet my needs. Both @Digitalocean and @Bluehost responded almost immediately to Jonathan’s tweet, as did a bunch of other twitter trolls. If I were looking for a VPS I would definitely consider DigitalOcean, it’s just not what I want right now.

I had a bunch of friends whose business was interrupted over the summer when Bluehost had a day of downtime, so I was initially not considering them. I looked at a bunch of reviews and other hosting providers, but I’m not going to mention them here since I don’t really know anything about them except what I read on the internet.

What ensued was a long exchange of messages with @Bluehost and @Bluehostsupport, which I won’t copy here; follow the link if you want to read. Suffice to say I pushed them because of the downtime, but they were friendly and responsive. In the end I got an extremely detailed email from one of their engineers telling me excruciating details of the outage, why it happened, and what they’re doing about it. He even told me about an earlier outage I wasn’t aware of, and what they were doing to mitigate that as well. I was impressed.

I’ve been in tech a long time. Outages happen. As long as they are infrequent and quickly remedied I don’t hold them against companies. We talk about “four 9’s” and “five 9’s” in the tech world but that’s really just BS. Stuff happens in tech or we wouldn’t get so defensive about uptime in the first place. What matters is how it gets resolved. All I ask for is respectful and open communication.

At 5:30 I got this email from Dreamhost:

I’ve checked into why you’ve been seeing slowness/timeouts, and it seems your scripts have been getting automatically killed by our Process Watcher script due to your sites going over Memory limits on the shared server: I would highly recommend that you follow the steps in the following wiki article in order to reduce your usage:
http://wiki.dreamhost.com/Finding_Causes_of_Heavy_Usage
Also, please be aware that just because one site is showing errors, it isn’t necessarily the problematic one (of the sites that are on your same FTP/shell user). For instance, if Site A is using 90% of your allotted memory usage, and then Site B attempts to use an additional 15%, Site B will be 5% over and will get it’s script killed. I’d also recommend looking into any 3rd party plugins you may be running, especially if you happen to be running WordPress installs as they can be notoriously poor at memory management. These may help out: http://wiki.dreamhost.com/Poor_performance http://wiki.dreamhost.com/WordPress_Optimization
Lastly, you may want to look into Dreamhost VPS, as you will be able to raise your memory limits to whatever limit you’d like: http://dreamhost.com/servers/vps/ If you have any questions on the specifics, please feel free to reply and ask. Bringing down your memory usage would obviously be ideal in your situation, but we would be happy to upgrade you as well, if desired! Just let us know.

So, deconstructing this, Dreamhost is telling me they don’t give me enough resources to run two small WP sites, even though the account limits allow up to 5 instances. But they’d be HAPPY! to sell sell sell if I want to shell out $$$ for more space. Uhm, no. I responded:

What are my memory limits? What is reasonable memory performance for wordpress installs?

I’m running two wordpress installs and a static site: hackyourclothes.comjennigma.net, and frobnotzsoftware.com. HYC reports ~30Mb usage with all plug-ins off, and ~45Mb with my current configuration. jennigma is similar at 25/41 Mb for all off/current config. frobnotz is a static site with 5 or so pages; I have to assume its memory footprint is in the noise.

>These numbers seem reasonable to me. Am I missing something? Are your limits seriously that low?

When I thought a little more about the outage I had known about, I realized not one of my friends had seen it as a reason to change providers. I had expressed sympathies and condolences to several, and they defended Bluehost. If I recall correctly they had received emails informing them of the outage while it was in progress, rather than discovering their sites down unexpectedly. That coupled with the rapid and detailed responses I was getting from Bluehost won me over.

At 9pm on 9/23, about 24 hrs after I logged the ticket complaining my sites were effectively down, David and I had the following exchange in IM:

Screen Shot 2013 09 27 at 11 22 41 AM

In the morning I bought a Bluehost subscription. I chatted with pre-sales about making sure I was buying the right size package to have a pleasant experience.  I explicitly asked if I should get their “Pro” package, and was told no, that would be a waste of money for me at this time. High contrast with Dreamhost already!

I began configuring the site, and had many chat conversations and a phone exchange with the Bluehost folks, all of which were delightful.

Tuesday night at 9pm, more than a day after the last exchange with Dreamhost, I received the following:

I’m very sorry about this. The limit was lower than it should have been set. I just ran a config to update this for you. If you notice any further disruptions let us know and we’ll check your logs again. I’m sorry to say we cannot disclose the exact limits, but they are higher than 50MB.

I checked, and my servers were still non responsive. Whatever the tech did it didn’t help. I wrote back that I was moving to Bluehost. Instead of questions about why I was leaving or how they could make things right I received a canned response with account shutdown instructions. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, dear customer. Yeah, thanks.

Meanwhile, David and I borked the first attempt to move the WordPress installs. Neither of us are WordPress heroes, so we ended up with corrupted databases. I logged a ticket asking them to reset them to clean installs and went to bed. When I woke up I was looking forward to some morning puttering, but there was an email waiting saying the ticket was closed and the clean servers were ready for me to setup. So I did.

Instead of the attempt to move things I started from scratch configuring the new instances on Bluehost to match the old ones on Dreamhost.  This was when the difference REALLY became apparent. I started by uploading all the content (the easy part!) and installing all of the same plug-ins and themes, putting the servers under identical loads. I then had to walk through all the configuration screens to make them match. I would push a button on Dreamhost, knit a round on a sock (I kid you not! a minute at least, and frequent 503’s!) then when Dreamhost FINALLY refreshed I’d push the same button on Bluehost, the page would load in under a second, and I would flip switches and type in #color codes and do whatever and sundry to make them match, then push another button on Dreamhost and knit another round.

It was excruciating.

I started at 7am, and was still configuring at 6:30 pm when David came home.

Finally it was done, though. I contacted Bluehost tech support, we did configuration and DNS witchery to point the world at the new sites, and I’m now ready to say buh-bye to Dreamhost. Things have been humming along for a day and a half now. I’ve got all my clients switched over to the new installs, and have exercised all my posting tools, and tweaked and poked at things until I’m fairly content. It’s much more pleasurable to tune up a WordPress install when it responds immediately to my clicks. 🙂

In summary, Bluehost isn’t perfect, but they’re awfully good. They really seem to care about making things right. They are consistently cheerful and responsive, which is a hard thing to maintain in a big customer support organization. They make me want to take a trip to Provo, UT with a plate of brownies. I love hiking in the hills near Provo, actually; I have several fond memories of visiting. Perhaps on my next trip I’ll say thanks in person.

Dreamhost, on the other hand, at least as of this writing is horrid. run away, run far away.

Autumn Hills BFL Farm Visit

September 18, 2013 - 10:46 am

Yesterday I went down to Curtis, Washington to visit Autumn Hills BFL Farm.

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They sell fiber, ram lambs for breeding stock, and locker lambs. Their flock is fed grass exclusively; they hay their field in the spring when it’s outgrowing the sheep to have hay in the winter.

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The ewes that aren’t up to muster as high quality breeding stock are bred to a bfl/suffolk ram to make bigger, tastier lambs. Penny is on that list because, even though she’s the friendliest in the flock, her fleece is sadly not very nice:

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Patricia keeps both white and colored sheep in her flock and sells fleece for hand spinners. She has fading black and “black patterned” ewes. Black patterned appears to be the same marking pattern as badger-face in various breeds such as the CVM or katmoget in Shetlands. Their bodies are cream or grey, and their points are black, with distinctive white face markings. I love their roman noses!

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She also has a border leicester ewe, and a couple old merino/bfl cross ewes from when she was deciding what breed to raise.

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The fine fleeced BFL sheep are lovely. I wish I had gotten pictures of their fleeces up close, but this is a good example:

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She shears in March- I’ll be going back to get some of that fiber, for certain! I came home with a nice BFL/Merino cross fleece. 

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Look at that crimp!

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Yumm.

The Art of Making a Dog

September 11, 2013 - 7:53 am

Let’s start with the fun stuff. Her name is Caprica, (Well, really it’s CNC’s Platinum Caprica Six) and she’s an eleven week old standard poodle.

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She’s teeth and springs covered in marshmallow fluff and about as busy and needy as an 18 month old toddler on a tear. She needs to eat, poop, play, and be loved, within firm and non-negotiable boundaries. Most of our pictures of her are when she’s sleeping, because when she’s awake at least one hand is required to interact with her. 

Konked Out Caprica

Also, her naps are contagious.

Puppy naps are contagious

She’s smart. Crazy smart. She came having not walked on a leash. She learned in about 15 minutes to give to pressure, and by the end of the evening we had done a couple puppy sized figure-8’s in a textbook heel. Along the way she offered a sit and I started shaping that as well, so in one evening of about three sessions while outside doing business she had the foundation of “sit” and “heel” down. To the point where she now becomes indignant if she sits and there isn’t a treat and praise. Which there usually isn’t, of course. The behavior bar is going to get raised higher and higher. 

The decision to bring Caprica home was in some ways sudden; we have been talking for years about getting a “next dog.” Part of David would die if he were dog-less and Rosa is 12. She’s still healthy and happy and active, but she has more years behind her than in front. Poodle has been the only breed we kept coming back to as a possibility. We discussed more or less all of the herding breeds and some hounds, but none of them met our criteria.

So a week ago we decided we wanted to get serious about looking for a puppy, decided Standard Poodle was a good breed for us, found an excellent breeder with a perfect puppy about 15 minutes later, did some more research to confirm the breed and breeder were really the right one for us, went and met her, and brought her home Sunday. 

Because Rosa and David are tightly bonded, and because I both have experience raising puppies and am able to be home all day, I’m her primary handler. I told David last night I’m making him a dog, which is pretty close to the truth. I love animals and dogs are no exception, but all things being equal I am moving towards simplifying my life and probably wouldn’t get another one. David, though, needs a dog, and I’m his partner, so we’re going to have a dog. I’m making sure she’s the best dog she can be.

The next few weeks are intensive puppy training time, while we settle into housebreaking and she learns what the limits of her environment are. I’m probably going to be raising a puppy and not much else. In the way of a mother of a young child, I only get to tend to necessities while the puppy is sleeping, which means I have a half hour to ninety minutes in 3-4 snatches a day for things like taking a shower, eating, shopping, and cleaning. And she wakes me up 2-3 times a night to go out.

Of course I could in theory leave her crated or in a playpen more so I could work more, but right now I think it’s important to establish that floors and crates are not for peeing, and to work out signals with her so she can let me know when she needs to go out and I can let her know what’s ok and what’s not. I very much believe in positive conditioning and establishing good attachment and trust in young people and animals. I believe that’s the foundation of a stable, healthy, happy temperament. so that’s what I’m doing. It’s a tremendous amount of work right now, but will pay off dividends for the rest of her life. I want a happy, secure, trainable dog. Trust and communication are the foundation of that.

All that stuff last post about having a productive schedule? Yeah.  That’s out the window until at least October. Anything I accomplish above the bare minimum necessary to keep the family clean and fed will be a miracle. I’m busy right now, making a dog. 

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To Do, To Don’t, To Done

September 6, 2013 - 8:48 am

Wow, summer really just whizzed by. Wasn’t it May yesterday? No wait- that was just last blog post. 

It was a good summer. An amazing summer. I spent a lot of time with my son just exercising our creativity in various ways. We traveled, we made stuff, we talked. I taught classes, and became much more confident in my ability to create and execute a class outline. My students made some amazing things. 

On the other hand, the public face of Hack Your Clothes languished, to the point that it has become a mill stone. It’s time for me to shift focus back to it. To that end I’m planning to start a weekly rhythm of adding content to the site. One of my goals for today is to determine what a good rhythm will be, and lay out that plan. I want to work on the lexicon, start reviewing tutorials, and document some of my patterns.

I also started a machine knitting book that I’m kind of excited about finishing and getting out into the world. So I will work on that as well. It’s based in part on the tutorials I’ve taught on using the machines, but also goes into more depth on the mechanicals to help someone new to knitting machines who wants to rehab an old machine. Basically it will be the guide I wish I had when I was starting.

I’ve also spent a lot of rumination time on process and planning and how that works in my life. I found some new tools, and sort of bounced back and forth between logging my accomplishments in DayOne and building and living by a todo list in ActionMethod. I noticed that when I was logging accomplishments I felt better and was more creative, but not surprisingly things got dropped. When I was using a todo list I was better at tracking and finishing the things I wrote down, but my creativity level diminished. I pretty clearly need both, but they are somewhat mutually exclusive. Dilemma.

The todo list becomes stultifying when cruft builds up in it that is nebulous and large, such as a task I just deleted from ActionMethod: “Revise Machine Knitting Book.” huh? one todo list item? fer srsly? What was I thinking? I have about 45 pages and on the order of 150 graphics already laid in, and I’m on the second of 10 or so chapters. It’s a major project, not a todo list item. The “scan and archive paperwork” item is still on the list, though, and the pile is still on my desk waiting patiently for me to apply a roundtuit. I need a todo list to keep me honest about those things.

The journal log is uplifting. I can read about all the things I accomplished in a day, and writing about what I’m doing when it’s fresh and I’m in the middle of it is clarifying and accelerates my creative process. I want to keep that going. But I seem to have an either/or mode; I can’t do both in the same day. I don’t think I can shift modes even on alternate days.

So here’s my plan. I’m going to shift around how I manage my time on a monthly basis, by alternating weeks between to do and to done. And I’m going to use two to do list tools to discourage cruft accumulating. Here’s what I’m thinking:

Week 1: The first week of the month starting with a Sunday. Creative/journal tracking week using DayOne. Begin the week by reviewing previous Journal week’s activities. Think about three creative goals for the week, and write about them. 

Week 2: To Do List driven using Any.DO. Begin the week by reviewing last month’s old entries and deleting most of them. Review ActionMethod for any actions that should be carried forward to this week’s list. Review next two weeks’ schedule and add actions as necessary. Anything more than a week away goes on the calendar or on the *ActionMethod* “someday” list. Be realistic about what is being planned, and get it done. Do these things this week, no excuses. 

Week 3: Creative/journal tracking week using DayOne. Begin the week by reviewing previous Journal week’s activities. Think about three creative goals for the week, and write about them. 

Week 4: To Do List driven using ActionMethod. Begin the week by reviewing last month’s old entries and deleting most of them. Review Any.DO for any actions that should be carried forward to this week’s list. Review next two weeks’ schedule and add actions as necessary. Anything more than a week away goes on the calendar or on the *Any.DO* “someday” list. Be realistic about what is being planned, and get it done. Do these things this week, no excuses. 

Bonus Days: Most months will have some time at the month’s transition. Spend the month coming up with a big project to focus on intensively in this time. Do it.

This will be crosscut by my weekly objectives. *every* week will see predictable content updates. I am ruminating on exactly what things to lay out on exactly which days, but I want a weekly rhythm of output. This monthly creative/productive rhythm is a bigger cycle.

I’m also going to review my daily rhythm. I need to re-commit to the morning routine; having Zachary in the house of course affected how my mornings ran. I also want to schedule more physical activity into my days; I slide into afternoon doldrums without it. And I’d like to get back to cooking meals for dinner most days rather than eating out or grazing. It’s a habit we’ve fallen out of, and I want it back.

This may be an overly ambitious set of changes, and certainly it will have to flex and bend around travel and events. But I think the rhythm is good. I have always responded well to having a rhythm in my doings. This feels right. 🙂

Lunch Break

May 28, 2013 - 12:25 pm

Lunch break

I had aspirations of working on the porch after lunch, but alas the laptop screen is just not up to even a moderately overcast day. Lunch was delicious, though, and it was lovely to be outside. I had a wrap with bacon, smoked turkey, pepper cress, mizuna, and Arugula Ladysmith cheese that all came from the farmer’s market yesterday, along with organic carrots and cherries from the market. Yum.

Today has been about gently meeting the whiny “I dun wanna” inner voice with a resolute “but I’m gonna.” This is a theme for me. The gently part is new and the hardest. I grew up pushing through whatever internal obstacles I found with no regard for where they came from, and I bullied myself into bad situations, illness, and other unpleasantness by not honoring my internal voices.

Accepting that sometimes I need rest, or need to back up and find a new approach to solving a problem is *hard* for me. I am terrified it will slide into the sloth and topor of deep depression, and I fear that like few things. I lost years of my life to depression. I am one of the fortunate few who easily found just the right medicine to counteract it; a low dose of Wellbutrin gives me the space I need to see colors through the dim haze when it starts to cloud my perceptions. But that fear of stillness remains a part of me.

Tuesdays after staying up late for the Hack Your Clothes evenings have proven impossible for me. I have lost every one to exhaustion. Today I’m doing a little better than the past few, and I’ve talked to Matt about leaving earlier. I can stay til 10:30 or 11, but sticking around past midnight doesn’t work for me. As long as the flier and announcements are changes to reflect the times he’s fine with that. Good news.

So first thing this (late) morning I reworked the flyer for Hack Your clothes night. I also worked through a gentle yoga practice, folded and put away laundry, cleaned the kitchen, did some other editing, and made a healthy delicious lunch instead of grazing. I’m tired and headachy and generally feeling less than 100%, but I’m proud both of the efforts I’m making to keep moving forward and the respect I’m paying to my physical needs. Finding a balance.

As soon as my food settles there will be napping, and then I’m not sure what’s next. I’ll see how I feel when I wake up. I may go back to Metrix or I may stay here and work on writing things. The important thing is to find my pace and keep moving forward.

Morning Routine Reflection

May 22, 2013 - 7:54 am

It’s been the better part of a month since I started the morning routine, and I’ve been pretty good about it. I would say 5 days out of seven I do all the things I outlined. They were:

  1. Up at 6am
  2. Start the tea and putter
  3. Meditate for 5 minutes
  4. Exercise
  5. Breakfast

A couple weeks ago I realized that meditating after exercise was a better routine. Sometimes I wake up with stuff I want to write in my head, so the writing happens before the exercise and meditation. Some of the writing is private journalling, so I’m not sharing it. But by and large this is all happening most of the time, and it’s goodness. Except.

Meditation really isn’t doing anything for me. I sit quietly. I focus down to my breathing and still my mind. I stay there for 5 minutes. I found a lovely ap called “Samsara” for iPad and iPhone that starts and ends the meditation with a pretty bell and displays a circle on the screen. Simple and perfect for the task; I shared it with David as an example of great ap design. But I’m just not feeling it.

I know all the science I believe in meditation it’s something I’ve always wanted to add to my life in a structured way. I’ve meditated occasionally for most of my life; I started a daily yoga practice at the age of 12 and the folks I met in yoga circles made it pretty hard to avoid drinking the meditation kool-aid. but, eh. I don’t look forward to it, I don’t dread it, I don’t feel anything about it. I’m not arriving at profound insights or feeling uncomfortable. There just doesn’t seem to be anything there for me. The benefits meditation are supposed to convey are things I find while knitting and while exercising. Just sitting is, well, just sitting.

At least for me, at least for now, it’s not the thing. I’ll give it till the end of the month to feel differently about it, but I’m past the 21 days of habit forming and I think this is one habit I don’t need to form. 

The other thing I started, outside the morning routine, was the Monday night hack your clothes events. They are awesome. But staying at Metrix until after midnight is not awesome. It pretty much plows me under all of Tuesday, because I stay up til almost 2 after clean-up and the drive home and some settle-in time, then wake up reflexively at 6, and 4 hrs sleep is insufficient for me to be effective at anything. I stumble through the day with a headache and a dull mind. Naps help a little, but insufficiently. I need to adjust the timing so I can be unconscious by midnight, latest.

Change and Stasis

May 14, 2013 - 11:49 am

David and I have been talking lately about how it feels to act vs. standing still, and how standing still itself is an action. I’ve been thinking about this also with the work I’m doing on hackyourclothes.com and my new habits of meditation and exercise. I listened to a podcast this morning while folding laundry by Jonathan Fields and Majka Burhardt about risk and action and creating a life out of passions, and it blended all of these thoughts. 

The difference seems to me to be in the choosing. It feels *like* it will be more comfortable to remain still than to act when I’m in a time of choosing, and yet stillness is uncomfortable when I’m in it while action is the path to joy. It feels *like* action is risky and scary, and yet the greatest risk and scariest outcome is doing nothing. I feel worst on the days I have given in to the urge to stasis, and best on the days I’ve taken the most action. 

Something I heard the other day somewhere caught my attention. It was something about not trying to think about what I’m doing while I’m doing it, that analysis and action are different activities and mutually exclusive. I feel this. The fastest way to knock myself out of a groove is to start thinking about what it means that I’m doing what I’m doing.

To that end I’ve been ruminating a lot about creating a life. My cynical voice tells me I’ve been doing that more than I’ve been living it. So I’m going to focus on acting more and ruminating less. I can garden or write poetry or work on the website or take a walk or a nap- whatever feels right in the moment. Thinking less about my life and plans and goals, and more about short term active and creative outbursts. 

I have lots to share and lots to give. These things have value. I need most to not worry about the hows and why’s in the short term, and more about the do’s. More creativity and less analysis.

I’ve sort of been shifting in this direction over the past couple weeks. I’m not looking at a todo list during the day, rather I’m journalling things I have done in an ap called “Day One.” Accomplishments and difficulties, successes and failures, whatever happens. I’m making a catalog of my actions, and it’s far more inspiring to read back over that than over any todo list I’ve ever made.

There are times and places when I need to strictly focus and channel my efforts to meet some goal. This is not one of those times. Right now is about setting myself free to run in a million directions at once and try as many things as I can to find what resonates with me and with other people. So I’m off to do. Something. A nap first, I think; being out past midnight saps me. Then perhaps gardening. Beyond that will take care of itself.

Food Intolerance

May 13, 2013 - 3:55 pm

I have a recipe I’ve made and re-made for years. I found it originally for a birthday cake for my vegan foster daughter. The print-out was made on a dot-matrix printer with clean perf pages, if that tells the older folks something of when it was printed; I’m guessing 1995. It’s from a recipe posted to rec.food.recipes in 1991 by Eileen Kupstas. Wow, the Internet is forever.

Here is the original:

Chocolate Cake (adapted form Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book)

  • 1-1/2 C sifted flour
  • 3 T cocoa
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 5 T cooking oil
  • 1 T vinegar
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1 C cold water

sized for 9×9 square pan

Mix dry ingredients. (This can be done in the baking pan itself.) Add wet ingredients and mix until nearly smooth. Bake at 350oF for 1/2 hour.

The cake is leavened by the baking soda and vinegar reacting. It may seem to be an odd way to bake a cake, but that’s how twinkies are made, and any number of other ready to eat pastries. It makes a dense devil’s food-like cake.

NOTE: stirring this batter too much causes the reaction to happen in the bowl instead of the oven and results in a flat cake, so “Mix until just combined” would be a better instruction than “Mix until nearly smooth.” Mixing the dry ingredients first is absolutely essential, as is the COLD water for the liquids.

My first notes double it.  Next notes half the sugar and double the cocoa powder. Then I have notes making it GF with 1.5C rice flour and 2T arrowroot, which was one of my first substitute flour blends.

I am revising it for a teacher of Zack’s who is intolerant or allergic to corn, wheat gluten, eggs, and dairy. She told the class she hasn’t had cake for something like 12 years, and we need to fix that. NEED, I say. She’s been an awesome teacher for Z for two years, and she should have cake!

The noted GF version of the recipe above would actually work just fine, but I want to update the flour blend. Rice flour can be gritty and dry, and arrowroot doesn’t really address the problem adequately. These days I generally use 1:1:1 corn flour : sorghum flour : tapioca starch when I try revising a non-GF recipe, but no corn allowed! So we’ll stick with part rice, but add the sorghum, which promotes a moister feel and nicer crumb, and tapioca, which is a lighter flour and tends to make a fluffier cake.

This is the recipe we’re going to try:

Cake for the Cakeless

  • 1 C rice flour
  • 1 C sorghum flour
  • 1 C tapioca flour
  • 12 T cocoa (close to 3/4 C)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 t salt
  • 10 T cooking oil (close to 2/3 C)
  • 2 T vinegar
  • 2 t vanilla
  • 2 C cold water

Grease two 9×9 square pans with canola oil spray and dust with tapioca starch.

Bake for 1/2 hr. Cool well on wire racks.

We’re going to make it into a layer cake, adding a nutella-orange frosting:

Nutella frosting:

  • 1 C Nutella (or other chocolate hazelnut spread)
  • 1 T canola oil
  • 1 t orange oil
  • 1 C powdered sugar
  • tapioca starch as needed to thicken ( about 2 T – 1/2 C, as needed)

Combine Nutella and oils in stand mixer, and beat with the paddle attachment until they are fluffy; at least 5 minutes.

Turn mixer down to slowest speed and add sugar slowly.

Turn mixer up to middle speed and beat until well combined and starting to fluff again.

Check to see if it has the right consistency; it will almost certainly be too soft to spread well.

Add 1 T tapioca starch at a time, mixing between additions, until it gets to a good spreading consistency.

Zack needs the recipe now so he can calculate the ingredients prices and know what to charge for the finished portions. It’s for a sale on June 5th, if I recall correctly. I’ll let you know how it comes out!

Good Morning Seattle

May 10, 2013 - 9:28 am

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I had decided to take this morning to relax and have downtime.  I’ve been pushing myself so hard to the point of having anxiety issues, I have PMS and so feel a bit off, I’m looking forward to a fun but exhausting weekend with Zack, I could go on. I woke up and resting felt like the right thing, and I decided to honor that.

I wasn’t planning to blog, just spend the morning reading a book for the pleasure of its story- Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Fate. I’m at the part of the story when all the pieces she’s built up through six long and complicated books are crashing together into a conclusion that is huge and grinding and inevitable and beautiful and terrible as life can be.

It’s my second time through the series and I like it even more this time than last. I’ve been pushing so hard, though, I have turned only a few virtual pages on my Kindle Ap for iPhone in the past month, and you can imagine how small those are.

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But then I looked out across the Bay, and saw the fog that had come in to obscure the skyline in spite of the bright blue sky. And there was the lilac and the birds at the feeder and life called me out. I need to share, I need to move, I need to bask in the sun for a while after sharing this and then walk to the beach, not because I need the break but because I want it. I want to feel the damp sand grinding and squeaking under my feet. I want to fill my lungs with the salted sea air spiced with the noisome life of the ocean floor exposed by the pull of the moon.

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I don’t need a quiet day. I need a full day, not gently spent but stuffed full of nourishing beauty and glorious sensations washing me clean of fears and worries. Life will be. I am in it, and it is good.

Oh, and I have a Wacom Create cover! finished it last night:

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Too Much Too Soon?

May 8, 2013 - 8:58 am

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In the past week and near future, Hack Your Clothes is getting tons of publicity.

Briefly:

My feelings about this are swinging between extremes from “Wow, I really seem to be tapping into something awesome and big” to “ZOMG, NOT READY!!  Waaaaaaiiiit!!” But waiting is the wrong thing. It’s time for me to carpe that diem and be ready, now.

Today I will get through enough of the Textile Lexicon to make it a Thing. That should give me the vocabulary I need to write a good tee-shirt construction tutorial, and to write up general instructions for the traveling tech gear wrapper I am making for my Create tablet. 

I’ve decided I’m not going to offer tutorials for free. At all. I want to establish right from the start that these have value. Knitting authors do themselves a disservice by giving away patterns as the default. I’d like to change that ethic, at least for professionally tech edited clothes hacking tutorials.

To that end, if anyone out there wants to help me with tech editing these tutorials, let me know. I’ll be looking for an editor for the first couple in a few weeks, and want to get the custom corset course out by the end of the year, if possible.

I envision it as a book-length piece with a dozen or so tutorials, starting with measuring, then creating a sloper, drafting a pattern, determining what materials are needed, sourcing them, sewing up (which will probably be several tutorials), finishing, and wearing.

The looks on the faces of both men and women when I mention this project are inspiring; folks seem to feel so vulnerable about not knowing how to sew. Some are brusque and defensive to the point of being almost derisive at first, but with some encouragement their resistance melts into avid interest. Others approach me at Metrix when I’m knitting on the machines or sewing with wide eyes and open enthusiasm.

It is at once thrilling and terrifying to be the focus of their attention. I want to do well by them, and reward their interest with the tools they need to be successful at whatever their clothes hacking goals are. I don’t feel ready for this, but it’s time for me to be ready anyway. Never has “Ready or not, here I come!” felt so apropos. 

Yesterday’s goals were never voiced, but they sort of devolved into me watching the hit counter spin out of control after Amy sent the announcement to the Knitty list.

Today I will beef up the lexicon. I have a list of about 30 terms I want to define. I know I will add more as I write those. I want to bang out a couple thousand words, and then reward myself by going to Metrix and making the cover for the Create.

Today’s goals:

  • At least 2000 words of textile lexicon. Preferably much more, but writing definitions is surprisingly taxing.
  • Sew the Bamboo Create Cover
  • Plant succulents and thymes
Already accomplished:
  • Accepted the booth at Maker Fair
  • Accepted the request to be featured on MadeWithPaper
  • Exercised, meditated, breakfasted, etc. Morning routine is working well.
  • Started a Time Machine back-up of my laptop

Big News!

May 7, 2013 - 9:17 am

On May 20th, Amy Singer from Knitty and Tom Bihn from Tom Bihn Bags will be joining me for the weekly Hack Your Clothes night at Metrix!

Knitty10th TombihnMetrixRobotLogo orange

Evite here! The space can only hold a limited number of people, so sign up soon if you would like to join us.

Squee! I’ve been working on the details for this for the past month or so. Possibly longer. It’s awesome to be able to publicize it, finally.

Road Trip Weekend!

May 6, 2013 - 10:01 am

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Over the weekend David and I drove down to Eugene to visit our friends Tom and Tracy at McTavish Farms. I have a lot of photos to process, but above is a teaser. I also picked out the wood for my wheel, which will be built early in 2014, if the stars align. Walnut and Dogwood. I can’t wait!!

I got advice from Tom on how to pack a wheel for shipment, so I should finally be able to get this wheel that’s been gracing my living room since Madrona off to its owner.  Yay!

We drove home with a detour down the Columbia, then up through the Dalles and Yakima. David hadn’t known there was an area so similar to Texas so close to home. He was happy to see the desert and scrub.  I think he’s a bit nuts, but hey. We fit well together. 🙂

I’ve added Pilates to my daily workouts. 20 mins of PT, 20 mins of Pilates, 5 mins meditation. 45 minutes a day to better physical and emotional health.  Woot!

Tonight is the first Hack Your Clothes Night at Metrix. Gweep!

We also have tickets to Cloud Cult, one of my favorite bands. At the same time as the Hack Your Clothes Night. Dammit. David and I both missed the conflict until it was too late to delay the HYC night, so I’m planning to leave Metrix about 9 and catch the end of the show. I can’t miss it, nor can I bail on my new event, so I have to figure out doing some of both.

Today’s goals:

  • Plant the front bed with succulents- maybe. This could wait a day.
  • Read the rest of $100 Startup
  • Write up the notes on the ap David’s building
  • Illustrator class!
  • Shut down mini. It will come up one more time when we’re doing the Glacier backups, then be decomm’d.
  • Hack Your Clothes night!
  • Cloud Cult concert!

 

The Good Kind of Crazy

May 2, 2013 - 1:18 pm

Yesterday, again, did not go to plan. Morning was ticking along when I got an email about something I’m not going to talk about yet except to say that during the conversation the awesome thing got even more awesome, and ended with an impromptu in-person meeting.

The afternoon was spent at Metrix, where there was a lot of conversation about the up and coming Awesome Thing, and awesome things in general.

The evening was spent starting to decommission my old desktop, which is sad and tired. I’m pushing my photos and music up into the cloud. I moved my files to Dropbox a year or so ago. Over the next couple days I will get to a point where my computers are effectively terminals with applications and scratch drives, and all my data is cloud based. 

Today I’m determined to create content for Hack Your Clothes.  I’m going to start with a page on common tools and why one may want them. I need to get something concrete done. There has been lots of effort and progress, but it’s all been pretty intangible since I got back from vacation, at least in the direction of eventually having an income stream. The Zentangles, house cleaning, and gardening are helping me stay sane, but I need to see progress on the new site today to feel good.

Yesterday’s Goals: 

 

  • Blog post
  • Zentangle
  • Finish planters
  • Boot up the mini and start clearing it off
  • Go to Metrix to retrieve power brick and talk to Matt
  • Begin outline for Machine Knitting class
  • Begin tee shirt tutorial
Yesterday’s extra accomplishments:
  • Seeekrit Thing!!!
  • Got flyer approved by Matt to post
Today’s Goals:
  • Chauffeur David
  • Zentangle
  • Create a “Tools” glossary, with index
  • Create an outline for the Machine Knitting class
  • 3D printer night
Today’s other accomplishments so far:
  • Went to Lowes for a mirror and for irrigation supplies
  • Made oatmeal for the next two weeks

 

Planter Rennovation

May 1, 2013 - 8:01 am

Yesterday was a busy but reasonably productive day.  The most interesting thing I accomplished was renovating the planter pots on my deck, and I thought I would share that process.

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Plants are not designed to live in pots, and they resent it. The develop root systems that press up against the edges of their containers like prisoners against the bars of their cages. If there are multiple plants in the same pot they will wage war for space. All of this root growth in the end keeps the plants from thriving, because the roots rapidly fill the spaces that could hold air and water. To have nice looking pots it’s important to empty and replant them every year, even if they are going to stay the same.

My goal for my deck planters this year is to increase the number of hummingbird and butterfly attracting plants we have. There were a few last year and we enjoyed them, but we want more. To that end I’ve bought a wide variety of sages and other plants that will flower prolifically and attract critters. 

I started by lifting the existing plants out of the two biggest pots, and then dumping the remaining dirt onto a tarp. The picture up there was after the first pot was emptied. There were some overgrown sedums other small succulents, dahlia tubers that survived the winter,  black mondo grass, and crocosmia bulbs in the second planter that missed their close-up. The plants I wanted to keep were divided- at least half of their growth from last season will be moved to the garden beds because otherwise they would over grow the pots- and the remainder were potted up with the sages and other plants. 

I use mats of small succulents as a living mulch in pots, because they are very thrifty with water. Exposed soil will rapidly dry out, but covering it with these little plants helps keep everything in the pot healthier. Their root systems are superficial and so don’t compete much with the deeper rooting plants. I’m happy with how these pots came out.

First pot:

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Second pot is to the right below. The one pot I didn’t renovate is on the left- it gets done today!

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The dirt in the planters is just fine, the overgrown roots have to be removed. The third pot I renovated shows why repotting is so important:

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There was a Russian sage and a curly sedge in the pot. They were waging an underground war that had completely clogged the pot. I trimmed off the bottom 6″ of roots from the pot immediately, and then thinned the roots down to more moderate sizes and repotted them. I had planned to add canna bulbs and dahlias to this pot and the 4th (which was planted identically) but I like the sage and sedge and they certainly seemed to thrive, so I decided to just re-pot them, again with succulent mats: 

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I bought some additional planters which will receive the cannas and other extra plants today. I have a fair amount of extra plant material which will be moved out to garden beds. That which I wasn’t ready to plant yesterday got covered with some potting soil, watered, and then covered with the tarp to keep it healthy. Here’s a picture of post watering pre-tarping:

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Note if the tarp had been black this would have been a bad idea, because it could have cooked the plants. The silver side of this tarp was ideal for this job. If I hadn’t had the tarp I would have just dumped more potting soil over them, or tucked them into an empty garden bed if they were to rest for more than a day or so. 

I’m looking forward to having these pots all summer. They were a delight last year, and I hope this year they will be even better!

Yesterday’s goals:

  • Illustrator class for at least an hour
  • Complete flyer for Hack Your Clothes night and get it posted
  • Begin outline for Machine Knitting class
  • Begin tee shirt tutorial
  • Show up at Metrix for the proto- textile class night
Yesterday’s other accomplishments:
  • Submitted a pattern proposal for a new sweater pattern
  • Posted FO pics for a sweater from last weekend’s photo shoot
  • Renovated three of four deck planters
  • Extra meditation
  • Drew a sketch for the hack Your Clothes flyer
Today’s goals:
  • Blog post
  • Zentangle
  • Finish planters
  • Boot up the mini and start clearing it off
  • Go to Metrix to retrieve power brick and talk to Matt
  • Begin outline for Machine Knitting class
  • Begin tee shirt tutorial
 

 

 

 

 

Topsy turvy morning

April 30, 2013 - 8:47 am

Sunny morning

It’s been one of those mornings that just wouldn’t go according to plan. Started well albeit a bit sleepily, but I enjoyed waking up into a home that’s free of clutter. Puttering amounted to putting yesterday’s folded laundry away, emptying the dishwasher and refilling it with a few items from last night, and enjoying the bright sunny day.

It was too bright to work at the table, so after my little meditation break I moved to my desk, which shifted me into Getting Things Done mode rather than morning routine mode, so it’s 9:30 and I’m starving but just getting to the blog post and still need exercise before brekkies. This will be brief. 🙂

Yesterday’s goals were:

  • Laundry
  • Weave in ends in projects
  • Illustrator class- at least 1 hour, preferably more
  • First draft of tee shirt tutorial
  • Daily zentangle
  • Metrix textile night

Yesterday’s extra accomplishments were:

  • Researched cloud back-ups since my network server has crashed AGAIN. Found Google’s “Glacier” and a new service called “My Shoebox” for photo storage. I’m going to move things there as soon as I get around to it.
  • Researched a journalling ap to track my “done” list.  Found “Day One” which has mac and iOS versions that sync beautifully through Dropbox or iCloud. I’m well pleased with this solution, and will be setting up hourly alarms today to get me to log my progress at regular intervals during my “work” day.
  • Took a first pass at organizing the basement. Games are properly stored, and everything is off the floor and surfaces that was taken downstairs last weekend. Most of it is in the general vicinity of where it should live, and just needs a bit more organization.
  • Created a flyer for “Hack your clothes night” at Metrix, which will be every Monday. It’s in draft now; Matt and Plamena have ideas for how to make it better. I made it in InDesign. I thought it would be quick and simple for me to toss it off and start on the tee shirt tutorial- not so much. Learning new tools is a bitch. 🙂

Today’s goals:

  • Illustrator class for at least an hour
  • Complete flyer for Hack Your Clothes night and get it posted
  • Begin outline for Machine Knitting class
  • Begin tee shirt tutorial
  • Show up at Metrix for the proto- textile class night

Today’s accomplishment so far:

  • Submitted a pattern proposal for a new sweater pattern
  • Posted FO pics for a sweater from last weekend’s photo shoot:

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