Sunday, January 30, 2011

Eat Like A Caveman: Shepherd's Pie

Jason's been following a Paleo diet for a few months now.  He's having excellent results from it--he feels good, he's lost some stubborn weight he had been struggling with, and he's running better than ever.  There are some other interesting side effects he's noticed--for example, his skin isn't dry and itchy anymore, even though we've had one of the coldest winters we've had in years.  I personally haven't switched over, although I have cut back on a lot of non-Paleo foods, simply because we live together and it's just easier when it comes to making dinner to go along with what he wants.

I did the same thing when I was dating a vegetarian, only this is way better.  WAY WAY BETTER.  (Not just because of the food, but that's not the point of this post.)

It's just... you don't get much bacon in a vegetarian household.  And I'm not okay with that.

Anyway, what this all means is that I've had to adapt some of my old favorites to fit the Paleo profile a little better.  Jason's okay with not eating strictly Paleo, which is good, because butter is not Paleo, but there's really no substitute.  Olive oil will work for most things, but there are some things where only butter will do.

I like butter a lot.

One of my favorite adaptations is my Paleo shepherd's pie.  It's way better than the vegetarian version I tried to make once.  I mean... come on.  Shepherd's pie.  'Shepherd' as in 'herd of sheep = mutton on the hoof.'  IT HAS TO HAVE MEAT.  IT JUST DOES.

So anyway.  Start with some kind of ground meat and a chopped onion.  This version was made with ground turkey, but seriously, any kind of ground animal will work.  You'll also use a small can of tomato sauce and one of those wee tiny cans of tomato paste, just not right away.  They just bombed this photo, that's all.  (The papaya and the avocado bombed it too, but they're not involved tonight so please to ignore.)
Chop chop.  Love that knife.  Hate the chopping board.  IT SCOOTS.  THIS IS NOT OKAY.

Brown them together in a pan with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.
Ground turkey looks gross until it's cooked.  I mean really.

Gather whatever frozen vegetables you have on hand (use fresh if you want, but make sure you chop them up small.  Big chunks are obnoxious in shepherd's pie).  I usually put in about a pound's worth, using whatever I have on hand.  Tonight I used half a package each of frozen spinach and peas-and-carrots.  (The peas are an example of not-strictly-Paleo, which is why I said you can use whatever.)
If you don't have out-of-focus ones, that's okay.  In-focus vegetables work too.

Use whatever spices and seasonings you want.  I don't like a lot of "heat" (I hate that word) so I use milder things.  Black pepper, ground mustard, paprika, chili powder.  And dried thyme. 
I love this picture.  It's very 2001: A Space Odyssey.  It needs a dramatic musical score or something.

Hey, wanna see our spice rack?
Yeah, it's pretty awesome.

Once the meat and onions are thoroughly cooked, dump in the tomato sauce and paste, the veggies, and the seasonings.  Stir it up and let it simmer until the veggies are cooked.
Hot mess, kiddos.  Delicious, hot mess.

Now, the crowning glory (kind of literally).  I actually start the topping first, but I wanted to save it because this, my friends, is what separates traditional shepherd's pie from my beloved Paleo version.

Mashed.  Parsnips.


Where the potatoes would go, use parsnips instead.  GENIUS.  Proceed just as you would for making mashed potatoes--give them a rough chop, cover them in water, and boil until they're soft and easily pierced with a fork.  If you start boiling them first, by the time the hot mess is simmering, they'll be about ready to mash.  I always put a bit of butter and a crapload of garlic in them (cheater garlic in a jar FTW), along with some salt and pepper.
No, the pan's not dirty, that's just pepper stuck in the starch from the boiling water.  IGNORE IT.

Oh, and about that mashing?  Old-school masher, all the way.  Don't you dare use an electric beater.  It's not necessary and it ruins the texture.

Put the hot mess in a baking dish and top it with the mashed awesome.
So close, kittens.  So very close.

Bake it in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes or so, just enough to slightly brown the parsnips and let the flavors blend.  THEN DIG IN.
Yes, there are only two of us.  Why do you ask?

So there it is!  Sunday night dinner.  Comfort food.  Leftovers.  Easy to make and very good for you.  Who needs a box dinner full of crap and science?  We don't, and neither do you.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Adventures in Live Theatre

This isn't turning into a theatre blog, I swears it.  But I did mention workplace shenanigans at one point recently, and oh, do I have a story to share.

Friday night.  Opening night for The Diary of Anne Frank.  It was about 7:15 in the evening; the show was scheduled to start at 7:30.  I was sitting in the booth, reading Catching Fire (liked the series a lot; didn't love it as much as did the friend who recommended it to me and nowhere NEAR loved it as I love the Potter series but it definitely held my attention), when the Stage Manager, Nathan, came crashing into the booth.

"Shanelle, there's all this water pouring out of the wall upstage, you need to go back and make sure the strip lights are okay."  Crash back out of booth.

My immediate thought went to the spigot near the loading doors; it's for the rare occasion we need to hook up a hose in the stage area.  We tend to shy away from water in the theatre, because hello, water and electricity just can't play nicely.  But people know about that spigot, and if it had been accidentally opened, they'd have been able to shut it off pretty much immediately.  So I followed, at a slightly less-crashing pace, and to settle the marbles still spinning from being wrenched away from my book, asked "Wait wait wait... water where?"  Nathan paused long enough to say "Upstage above the loading doors!" and leave the unspoken "...dumbass!" hanging in the air, then took off rushing to the lobby, presumably to look for staff members who know how to deal with crap like this.

Above the doors.... the aforementioned spigot is down near the floor.  I took off in the opposite direction, hating myself for thinking "This is gonna be good."

Here's the thing about live theatre.  As a concept, we don't like crises.  They throw massive wrenches into our plans.  They're inconvenient and almost always mean more work for someone (or several someones), possibly work that will ruin a weekend or vacation.  In the case of severe damage, or cancellation of shows, it can cost the theatre a boatload of money. 

But in the rare event we do suffer a meltdown of some kind, oh my God, does it make things exciting.  Believe it or not, our schedule can get kind of tedious.  It changes constantly, yet it's always the same.  Particularly for those of us who are directly involved in the day-to-day running of each production.  Imagine reading the same magazine--or watching the same movie--every.single.day.  For six weeks.  Sometimes twice or even three times a day.  It doesn't take long to be completely over it; three performances is about all I personally can take.  Since we do at least three previews before we open, this after a good 3 or 4 days of rehearsals, I'm mentally done by the opening weekend. 

So having an angry, smelly waterfall pouring out of the ceiling on opening night is really, really, really exciting.

Yeah.  Smelly.  Somewhere on the fourth or fifth floor of the building, the HVAC system suffered a burst pipe.  No idea when it started; it clearly had been gushing for a while.  It trickled down through the floors and walls of our 85-year-old building, and by the time it hit the floor on the ground level it was cloudy and greenish and stinking of God-knows-what.  When I reached the most-endangered lights on the ground floor, the girls who take care of things backstage were running around, soaked to the bone and bailing bucket after bucket from a cluster of about a dozen under a ten-foot-wide swath of chiller vomit.  They'd collected every towel in the building, and even a binful of dirty towels from the hotel next door, and had tried to form a sandbag line of sorts to prevent the water from getting downstage where we use lots and lots of electricity.  They were doing their best, but holy crap.  There was a lot of water.

During all this, the audience had no idea what was going on.  They only knew that it was 7:55, the show was to have started nearly half an hour ago, and they were getting "restless."  Well.  The House Manager called them restless.  I'd have probably used "agitated" or "disgruntled" or most likely "pissy," but that's why he has that job and not me.

Anyway.  It all wraps up quickly.  The Artistic Director and Managing Director went onstage for the preshow speech and deftly downplayed the horror that was still unfolding thirty feet upstage of them.  The show started, minus the lights in the line of fire (which was unfortunate, because they were the only things lighting up the sky behind the set, so the entire first act looked like it took place at the same time of night).  The Maintenance Supervisor, whom we regard as a semi-supernatural being because of his awesomeness, managed to get the water shut off quickly, and it was just a matter of time until the remaining water flowed down through the walls.  Some other members of the staff went to the third floor to assess the damage, which was considerable (floors in two rooms are being ripped up and rebuilt this week, luckily there was no damage to electronic equipment).  By intermission, the cascade was down to an increasingly-sporadic drip, so we pulled the tarps off the lights and went ahead with Act II as planned.

And... that was that.  No more excitement.  Hopefully, no more at all for this show.  It's hard enough, what with the starvation and the cabin fever and the Nazis.  We don't need Operation Havasu Falls on top of everything else.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Look Behind The Scenes: Sharp Mouthfeel With An Extremely Sour Finish

This past week, my blogging has suffered at the hands of my job.  That's one of the hazards of working in theatre; every so often, usually around every 6-8 weeks, it takes over your life to the point of becoming your life.  I do not like this.  I like to keep my life and my job very, very separate (the exception being the fact that some of my friends are through work, but that's kind of typical).  However, there's nothing I can do about it, so I just have to deal. 

"Oh," you may be saying, "you're exaggerating.  Everyone who has a job goes through that now and then."  I'm not whining or trying to play the martyr, but I promise, I am not exaggerating.  Behold:

  •  Sunday.  I have a final performance of our theatre's more-or-less resident dance company.  I go to work at 12:30 pm.  After the show we have to strike (which is a really funny word for "work really really hard and take all the lights and set and crap down as fast as possible").  Wrap up around 8 pm.
  •  Monday.  Day off for me; coworkers are beginning to load in (set up) the lights and stuff for the next show.  I am not having a restful day.  It's always a bit of a toss-up: sit around and try to enjoy a day off but end up stressing about all the non-job work that needs to be done (laundry, dishes, taking down Christmas tree, grocery shopping, etc etc et effing c), or do all those things and not have any time to sit and enjoy a day off.  Either way, I'm screwed.
  • Tuesday.  Continue load-in.  "Normal" work day, as in we start in the morning and finish in the late afternoon just like the rest of the world.  It is, however, a day of pretty continuous physical labor, so we're all bone-tired by the end of the day.
  • Wednesday.  Same as Tuesday, only we work a little later, into the early evening, because the next day requires that we have a certain amount of things finished.
  • Thursday.  FOCUS DAY.  Sometimes it's not bad.  Sometimes it suuuuucks.  It generally goes like this: morning and early afternoon, tidy up loose ends from day before.  If we're quick, we get a longish break before beginning focus at 4 or 5 pm.  That usually doesn't happen.  As soon as the carpenters/painters/props folks get the set more-or-less ready for us to take over, we starting focusing lights, which is a fancy word for pointing them where they need to go and making them look the way the designer wants.  If it's a small plot with easy shots, this may be a four-or five-hour process.  If it's a big plot, or the set creates a lot of difficult shots, or the lights are shoehorned in, it could take two or three times that long.  This particular plot was on the small side, but the set created enough difficulties that the lights are really crammed together.  We wrapped up at a quarter after midnight.  (My longest focus to date was a few years ago, when we called it quits at six in the morning.)
  • Friday is spacing rehearsal, which means the actors get to go onstage for the first time since starting rehearsal.  They've been working in a rehearsal room up to this point, with only tape lines on the floor to represent the set, so this is where they get comfortable with the walls, stairs, and different levels.  They take the stage at 2 pm, which means we usually come in at 9 or 10 am to continue wrapping up loose ends.  This usually involves "practicals," which are props or set elements that light up, like table lamps, car headlights, appliances, things like that.  May I note here that 9 or 10 (depending on how much we need to do) is non-negotiable; if we finished at 3 in the morning the night before, we still have to be there on time to make sure things are ready for the spacing rehearsal.  The aforementioned 6 am finish?  Yep.  We were back at 9.  I didn't even go to bed.  I went home, showered, had a massive breakfast and a bucket of coffee and went right back to work.  If the shower wasn't necessary I wouldn't have even gone home, I'd have just gone to Steak & Shake for a couple hours.  ANYWAY, once the actors start onstage, the lighting designer may start writing cues.  They are allowed to work until 10 pm, and they usually do.  This week, we lucked out; the designer chose not to cue through the second half of rehearsal, so I was done at 6:30 and I made it home in time for dinner with Jason.  That rarely happens, though.
  • Saturday and Sunday are the same thing: "ten-out-of-twelve," which means the actors' union allows them to work ten hours in a twelve-hour span.  At my theatre, it's always 10am-10pm with a break from 3-5.  For the technicians, that means we come in before "go", usually at 9, to make sure we're all ready to start and to take care of any notes that came out of the spacing rehearsal.  Once we start, I sit at the light board, with my headset, programming the cues as the designer dictates them.  At the break, we take care of notes that come up in the morning session.  My boss is good about making sure we all get an hour away from the building, which is awesome.  Sometimes I'll go for a walk, even if it's crappy weather, because it's the only daylight I'll see.  The evening session is more of the same.  The actors leave at 10; the production staff always has a meeting to discuss the next day's schedule and goals, which usually takes a half-hour or so.  If I'm lucky, I'm home by 11 or a little after.  Sunday comes along, lather-rinse-repeat.  IF we are able to work our way to the end of the show, which happens about half the time, we will do a run-through on Sunday evening and often are released once we finish.  That didn't happen this time.  We worked right up to the bitter end.  
  • This brings us to today, Monday, which is my day off.  Hallelujah.
There you have it.  Not exaggerating.  Particularly from Friday-Sunday, I worked and slept.  This coming week is worse, because the tech process starts on Tuesday, not Thursday.  Some shows are more difficult than others.  This one is more difficult, not because it's a particularly high-tech show, but because it's a hell of a downer.  It's about a young Jewish girl, hiding from the Nazis with her family and a few others during the Holocaust.  It's called The Diary Of Anne Frank, maybe you've heard of it?  Anyway.  It's an excellent script, the set and lights and costumes are exquisite, but WE ALL KNOW THE ENDING AND IT'S TERRIBLE. 

Last night, as we were approaching the end of the show, there was a lull in my programming and I was sitting in the booth working on a crossword puzzle.  After a few minutes I glanced up at the stage to see what the holdup was, and there was a goddamned Nazi on the stage, pointing a gun at the family.  Okay, it wasn't a real Nazi, it was an actor in a (fucking terrifying) black SS uniform, but my stomach still lurched and I started shaking.  Yeah, I knew it was coming, but I was tired and they caught me off-guard with their sneaky silent entrance.  I can guarantee you, when we get an audience in the theatre, there will be audible gasps and quite possibly tears when that happens.

Huh.  I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to ruin your Monday with Nazis, but they tend to ruin everything so I guess I'm not surprised.

So yeah.  That's what I have to look forward to this week.  70 hours on the clock and Nazis.  Now I'm depressed.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Drive-By Blogging

There will be times in my life when I just don't have time to sit and write a blog post. 

Today is one of those times.  This whole week, in fact, through Sunday, is pretty bad for us, dear blog.

Theatre.  It's more than a job.  It's a relationship. A very needy, demanding, one-sided relationship.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Inspiration, Persuasion, or Bribery: Whatever it Takes

Yesterday was a long-run day for me.  It was scheduled for Saturday, but even with my love of cold-weather running, I do have my limits.  A sub-zero wind chill is one of them.  Sunday was going to be marginally warmer and rather less breezy, so Jason and I opted to reschedule both our runs and go see a movie instead.

(Season of the Witch.  Good-not-great.)

Sunday morning dawned bright and beautiful, and Jason headed out cheerfully enough for his seventeen-miler.  I, however, could not get off my butt.  I had to finish my coffee.  Then I had to eat a banana.  Then some ibuprofen for the weather headache I woke up with.  Then I had to look at lolcats.  Anything I could think of to avoid pulling on my running shoes, I did.  But I HAD to run.  I'd already put it off one day, and I know exactly what happens if I put off things for more than a day--they run away.  They run away from me, like a beagle after a bunny, and they don't come back easily if at all.

It got down to my drop-dead time; if I didn't get out the door right.that.minute, I was not going to have time to shower and scarf down some food before having to leave for work at noon.  I heaved my still-headachey and now slightly-queasy tuchus out of my computer chair and dug some clean running clothes out of the dryer.  (I don't know why I was slightly queasy, as I am in possession of, if not an iron stomach, certainly an aluminum one.  I suspect the imminence of failure for the day was squicking out my subconcious.)  I promised myself that if I still felt like crap after half a mile, I could turn around.

Well, GUESS WHAT.  I didn't feel like crap after a half a mile.  In fact, I felt pretty darn good--which is exactly what I knew would happen.  I kept running, spiraling around my subdivision because my regular path was frozen over.  One mile, two miles, three miles--and I was done with my run, just like that.  My headache was gone (from the run or from the ibuprofen, I neither know nor care), my stomach had settled into its usual happy, gurgling, burping state, and my legs felt light and alive.  In fact, my third mile was my fastest since last spring, and I didn't feel like I was really working all that hard.

What I'm getting at is that, no matter how much you love running and want to succeed at it, there will be days when you really couldn't care less if your ass grows into your couch cushions.  Maybe it's hot.  Maybe it's raining.  Maybe it's cold.  Maybe you only have two hours to spare and you want to spend that time looking at lolcats.  Whatever your hang-up, the prospect of slipping into your shoes looks as daunting as the slopes of Kilimanjaro.   

There will be days when you don't care how hard you suck, as long as you can do it in front of the TV.

But!!!  There are ways to crush those thoughts!  Everyone has their own methods of dealing with those days.  Maybe you're trying to lose weight, and you visualize what you might look like when you reach your goal weight.  Maybe you know you'll be pissed at yourself in the future, looking back at that gaping hole in your records (that one works for Jason).  Maybe you're aiming to beat your marathon PR, and you think about those numbers on the time clock as you sail across the finish line like a goddamn Rocky Balboa.

Visualizing rarely works for me.  My brain just goes, "You're right, that WOULD suck to punk out and end up penciling in a zero for the day.  Here, have a brownie."  I need something more tangible.

  • Running clothes.  I admit it, I am a superficial twit--when I look good, I feel good.  I may be a mediocre runner, but my wardrobe is fantastic.  No billowing sweatpants or tent-sized t-shirts for me.  My tops are tight, my pants are tighter, and the modern tech fabrics keep me as comfortable as possible.  I wear bright colors, like hot pink, lime green, and electric blue; they make me happy and they make me visible--very important on a dazzlingly sunny day when there's a blanket of blinding snow on everything.  I have learned how to layer just the right amount to keep warm, and I have a variety of clothes and accessories for all types of weather.  There is no external excuse for me missing a run, with the exception of dangerous conditions: bad footing, lightning, blizzards, extreme cold (and by "extreme" I mean "near-instantaneous frostbite on exposed skin," not "oh noes, it's below freezing").
  • My Garmin.  It has set me free.  Before this blessed gift from Jason, I was limited to mapping out a predetermined route on Google Maps, zooming in close to pick out a bush or tree or driveway to use as a turn-around point.  It's a sketchy method at best, and most of the time I ended up on a boring out-and-back course because I didn't feel like mapping out an entire loop.  And if my route turned out to be flooded, or under construction, or otherwise obstructed, I had two options: venture off into unknown distances and hope I remembered it when I got home so I could map it out, or turn around and short myself.  Now, with the tiny computer machine strapped to my wrist, I can just run.  It beeps cheerfully every time I turn over a mile, and I find I spend a lot less time looking at my watch.  Running has become more of a leisure activity and less of a chore, now that the rigidity of maps has been eliminated.
  • Okay, so this isn't exactly tangible, but it is a rule that I never, ever break: on the days I am scheduled to run, I MUST do at least a half-mile.  If, at the end of that half-mile, I still don't wanna do it, I can turn around and run home.  That way, I've still run one mile, and I can say I tried.  The thing is, though--and this is universally true--if it's a purely mental reason for not wanting to run, once you get out there, you'll find that you're really okay and you can keep going.  Now, if you're injured or sick, that may not be the case.  I figure if you reach that point and you're still not feeling it, you probably shouldn't be running anyway.  Take a rest day, go ahead and plant your butt on the couch with some tea and soup, and try again tomorrow.
  • If all else fails, find something that spurs you forward.  Maybe it's a picture of those kickass shoes you'll treat yourself with when you've lost fifteen pounds.  Maybe you still have a pair of your skinny jeans in the closet, and you want to zip them up again, even if they're ten years out of date and the public will never see them.  OR MAYBE YOU COULD LOOK AT THIS...

Apologies for the crap sound quality, but it's STEVE EFFING PERRY, live in concert.  He looks psychotic.  I love him.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Suddenly, Cutting Is A Lot More Fun

I've begun the cutting process on the aforementioned quilt, and it's very nearly as exciting as I had expected it would be.  That is to say, Not Very Exciting At All.  I love sewing--hate cutting.  It makes your wrists hurt, there's never enough space no matter how big your work area, you're constantly having to line up the pattern or template *just so* and then it shifts and you drop a few f-bombs and line it back up *just so* and it shifts and you can't even throw the nearest object out of frustration because that's probably either pins or shears and neither one is safe for pets, guests, or significant others.  Also, pins are a pain to pick up, and shears are expensive.

BUT!!!  I have discovered a revolutionary (heh) cutting tool!  Granted, I have discovered it in much the same way that Columbus discovered North America--the Vikings totally got there first (oops).  Don't care.  It's new to me and I shall share.

Rotary.  Cutter.

Yes, seasoned quilters, I have only recently discovered the joy that is the rotary cutter.  For non-sewing-types, it's basically a razor-edged pizza cutter that goes through fabric (and your finger, if you're not careful) like buttah.  When Sister and I were at the nationally-distributed big-box all-purpose crafting supply chain store, they had most of the quilting supplies on a good sale.  I got a set containing one of these, and one of these, and a 12"x18" self-healing mat which for some reason is not featured on their website but which is a smaller version of this.

Because I am five, I HAD to try it out pretty much the second I walked in the door.  I hauled it up to the craft room, dug out some fabric scraps, made a few practice cuts and literally danced with joy.  Such a clean line!  Such a pleasing sensation as it slices the threads!  I think there is only one crafting experience I have ever found more satisfying, and that would be the pickle I embroidered on a kitchen towel.  (That was one soul-altering pickle, let me tell you.)  Jason came home from his run right around the time I was giggling like a sociopath and making cut after cut after fabricidal cut.  I made him try it.  He didn't seem quite as interested as I was, but deep down I know it changed his life the same way it changed mine.

So there you have it.  While I still find the cutting *process* mind-numbingly tedious, the cutting *experience* has improved immeasurably.  Rotary Cutter and I.  It's a beautiful thing.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Making It Up As You Go Along is a legitimate approach to life. The results may surprise you.

For the last few years, my immediate family has done a name-draw gift exchange for Christmas, rather than all of us doing gifts for everyone.  We're an average-sized family: Mom and Dad are still married, my older sister is married, my younger brother is in a long-term relationship with a woman whom we love but who does not observe Christmas, and I, as you know, have my Jason.

So.  Seven of us participate.  There are no children among our individual pairings, and we stopped exchanging gifts with extended family years ago.  I am by far the most cash-strapped of us, yet I think my mom is the only one who enjoys Christmas more than I do.  Therefore, since we're all adults who can manage well enough to provide for ourselves, I brought up the idea of doing individual gifts, so that what small budget I had could be used to the fullest extent.  YES.  I HAD SELFISH REASONS FOR THIS SUGGESTION.  Whatever.  At any rate, it works well and everyone seems to be happy enough with the arrangement.

Mom, of course, completely disregards the rules and buys gifts for everyone, but she doesn't have any grandkids yet so she's got to have someone to spoil.  Since I am included in that "someone," I am not complaining.  Also, my mom knows all of us kids very well and she makes an effort to make her surrogate kids (Jason, my brother-in-law, and brother's girlfriend) feel just as much a part of the family as the biological kids, so there is no hint of favoritism or anything underhanded in her gift-giving.

LOVE YOU, MOMMY, for reasons that have nothing to do with your gift-giving, but that's what I'm writing about at the moment.

(My dad pretty much rocks too, but his awesomeness will be extolled in a later post.)

What was I talking about?  Oh yeah.  Christmas gift exchange.

Sorry.  I had more than my share of a bottle of wine with dinner.  Oops.

AS I WAS SAYING, this year I drew my sister's name for Christmas.  As most sisters would say, "I know her pretty well."  She's always cold (physically, not emotionally); she likes rustic, homey things; she appreciates handmade items; she and her husband just finished painting and re-flooring their house.  Bingo, a handmade lap quilt that coordinates with their new paint and flooring!  So I've never made a quilt before, who cares?  It can't be that hard, right?

The short answer is, "Right."  See, the thing is--and I'm not bragging about this, simply stating a fact--I'm really, really good at looking at a sewn or knitted item and figuring out how it's made.  You may call it "reverse engineering," and I often do, but textile construction just makes sense to me.  My grandfather was the same way with mechanical, electronic, et cetera things.  He just got them.  He could crack open a non-functioning transistor radio and have it back on track within minutes.  There was not an engine around he couldn't fix.  He was complete crap at explaining their inner workings to the uninitiated, because he'd never really gone through the actual learning phase.  He simply understood it. 

That's how I am with textiles.  I always have been.  So when I decided that my beloved sister NEEDED a quilt for Christmas, I figured I could make it up as I went along.  How hard could it be?  Pieced top layer.  Batting in the middle.  If possible, a one-piece backing (but definitely a backing of some sort).  A reasonably sturdy edging.  Stitches to hold it all together.  It's a quilt, not a freaking nuclear reactor.

Truth is, and any die-hard quilters reading this are going to crap their pants at my saying this, it wasn't hard.  And it turned out well.  I'm not stupid; even my textile-related arrogance will concede that there are some things which you may get but which still require practice that I did not have time for.  Therefore, I did a simple six-inch-square checkerboard pattern of calico fabrics with plain unbleached muslin.  The backing was a solid piece of the same plain muslin, cut large to form the binding (I am aware that this is dirty cheating behavior.  I am also aware that I'm okay with that).  Rather than quilting, I opted for tying, which is less time-consuming and, again, requires less practice.

I have since discovered that my reverse-engineering skills were not perfect.  Yes, the quilt was finished, though not as quickly as it could have been; I did not even consider the possibility of strip piecing.  Every hat I have ever knitted is off to whomever came up with that shortcut.  I love nothing as much as a good time-saver.  Work smarter, not harder.  Also, I did everything completely and horrifyingly out of order, as in, the binding was sewn before a single tie was made.

Again, seasoned quilters are racing for a clean pair of drawers.

What ultimately matters is that the quilt did not fall apart in the wash (I may approach my crafting with a shoot-from-the-hip attitude, but I'll be damned if anything I make as a gift can't stand up to normal handling), and my sister loved it.  LOVED.  IT.  She went so far as to request a bed-sized one to match, and even offered to pay me and buy any equipment I may still need, like, oh, I don't know, A QUILTING FRAME.  That's right, I tied that mo-fo without so much as an embroidery hoop.

Since I loved making that stupid little five-foot-square piece of hodgepodge, I told her no pay, just buy the stuff I need, and I'll do it.  So that's my next project: a bed-sized quilt.  We went to the store tonight and bought the fixins for it.  Here's how much homework I've done: I'm not entirely sure I told her the right amount of fabric to purchase.  If I was wrong, I'll just go buy the extra out of my pocket, but I think (hope) I did the math right.

That, plus the plum-colored cardigan I'm knitting for myself, should keep me busy for a few weeks.  Maybe the camera fairy will even pay me a visit so I can decorate this here blog of mine!  Wouldn't that be festive.  (I'm aware that this "camera fairy" is purely a figment of my imagination, but it's easier to pretend that that's the reason I am so lame when it comes to getting pictures off the camera and onto the computer, which is another post entirely.)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Best day of the year so far.

Ah, the first run of a new year.  It's always a good feeling.  Blowing out the holiday cobwebs, sweating off the cookies, hacking up the lung butter from the cold your nieces and/or nephews gave you for Christmas.

Here on the Indiana flapjack, it gets pretty cold in the winter.  It's not Minnesota or North Dakota, but it's a good deal colder than most people like.  We had a particularly cold December, not getting above freezing for pretty much the entire month.  But it's okay.  I honestly don't mind running in the cold.  In fact... I kind of like it. 

Even if it does give me hives.

Yeah.  Cold weather gives me hives.  Even with my thermal tights and three tops on, I came back with itchy, red, bumpy patches all over my thighs, butt, and belly.  (I'm not giving you any numbers, but I will tell you that that is a significant amount of geography.)  IT'S A REAL MEDICAL CONDITION, OKAY?  It even has a scientific name, look: cold urticaria.  Fancy, huh.  Most of the time it's just a mild annoyance, although there have been times (usually after a bike ride, since it generates an artificial wind chill) when I've had to eat a handful of antihistamines, jump in a scalding-hot shower, put on two pairs of sweatpants and huddle under a down comforter for an hour before I can stop shivering.

Still, I'd rather run in the cold and deal with hives than run in the heat and pass out in a puddle of vomit.  I don't deal well with heat at all, which is a problem, because while we have cold winters, we also have sweltering hot and humid summers!  Yay!  (Grr.)  I figure I can always pile on more clothes to run in the cold (these tights are a new favorite, thank you Jason!), but there is a physical (and legal) limit to how much I can strip off to run in the heat.

Even NASA agrees with me--spacemen can walk on the moon.  Not the sun.  Also!  Submarines can take you far below the surface of the ocean, into the frigid depths!  Show me the machine that can take you down into the roiling, magma-filled plumbing of an active volcano.  Show me that machine.  Cold can be conquered.  Heat must just be tolerated, and sometimes it wins.

Anyway.  It was a brisk and breezy (the weather, not me) 5 miles, but they were the first miles of a new year, so I am well pleased with them.  I saw a good number of other people--runners and dog-walkers and older couples out for a stroll in the relatively mild weather.  We have a surprisingly extensive network of asphalt trails in our little town, and it's always encouraging to see others out using them.  (Traffic = maintenance = a really good place to enjoy the outdoors = more traffic = more demand = an ever-expanding web of places to run, bike, and walk.  Genius, faultless math!)

I also saw a couple teenagers walking away from one of the playgrounds, adjusting their clothes.  To which I say, good for them.  Better today in the light of sobriety than last night after a little too much vodka-spiked grape Kool-Ade, right?

Came home, took care of my hives, took care of my screaming hunger, took care of a blog entry, and now I shall take care of sitting on the couch.  Oh happy new year!