Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Leaving for the airport in 12 hours

I'm feeling pretty on top of things.

I've confirmed my flight & picked up a decongestant because I have a slight cold. My ears are popping when I drive down the hill from my house into town. Mountainous though it is, it's still considerably lower than cruising altitude, so I'm going to do some preventative self-medicating.

I've printed out untold numbers of pages of information, one for each city or destination we're going to visit, in lieu of an actual guidebook. I have the addresses & phone numbers of alternate hotels in the various places, just in case.

I bought coffee to give to Kostis, who is taking us sailing on one of our first days, and to George the Famous Taxi driver, who is taking us to Delphi on our last day.

I forwarded all the E-mail correspondence with the different hotels to myself and put it in an online folder so I won't download it back to this computer.

I made a calendar for Alex with the girls' school schedule, who needs lunches and snacks on which days, and where I'll be each night.

Most of my stuff is ready to pack, and Julia is "helping" me by putting it all in the suitcase
at the moment.

The main thing I still need to do is print out a clean copy of the tax forms and get Alex to sign them.

(The big trip doesn't actually start until Monday, and I do have a few things to take care of once I get to the States. I need to get an international driver's license and tell my bank that it may see a couple of withdrawals in Greece & Turkey. And of course it is imperative that I go to yard sales on Saturday!)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Just Another Manic Monday

Things I did today, in approximate order:

  • Fed the girls & made their lunches
  • Wrote up and sent the final itinerary to Mom & Lisa
  • Went to the gym
  • Bought groceries & got money from the ATM
  • Got gas in the car & air in the tires
  • Got clean clothes out of the dryer and re-hung the shower curtain
  • Finished the quilt
  • Updated the guild membership list & prepared materials for tomorrow's board meeting
  • Signed up for a new online radio station ( after Slacker joined Pandora in barring me for accessing it from outside the United States
  • Did my taxes (refunds on both state & federal!)
  • Did a load of laundry when Julia came home wearing a friend's jacket and then spilled ice cream on it
  • Helped my friends choose between two versions of a quilt design they E-mailed me
  • Swept the floor
  • Did the dishes
  • Bathed Julia
I'm about to take out the trash & wash the dinner dishes, and I hope to add the borders to Carolyn's quilt this evening.

Let's bottle some of this, no?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Describe the past two days in four words or less





Friday, May 25, 2007

Kaleidoscope Quilt

If I even started to caption these it would take all night, so I'll just let you follow the pictures this time. I started sewing blocks together a couple of weeks ago, then interrupted it to do the other quilt.

Yesterday I finished piecing the blocks, and today I sewed them all together. Tomorrow I'll layer & pin it, and start quilting. The whole thing needs to be done, bound, labeled & fitted with hanging sleeves by my board meeting on Tuesday morning.

As for the quilt for our guild president, I'll have to add any borders it's going to have, but I'm not responsible for basting, quilting or finishing it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Routine maintenance

When Twitter is down, they put up a picture of a kitty sticking its paw into an open CPU, with the words Some cat is working on the Twitter server. Thank you for your patience! This happens frequently.

For the first time I've seen since using Bloglines, I got a picture of a shrugging plumber with the message Hi, I'm the Bloglines Plumber. Bloglines is down for a little fixer upper. We will be back shortly. Bloglines will be all better when I'm done with it. Thanks, The Bloglines Plumber

I'm glad that the Internet refuses to conform to stuffy "professional" formality when there's no benefit to doing so.

If my service is down, I know qualified technicians are working to get it back up. Hearing about it from plumbers and kitties is quirky and unprofessional, and I prefer it that way.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Birth of a Driveway

Well, to tell the truth, it's not fully born. Not yet. But its water broke today.

May 10

May 11

May 13



All I have to say about today's series is that that picture of the city guys looking at the fountain is about 15 minutes after they shut off the water half a mile uphill from us, once the pressure was finally mostly spent. The guy that punched the hole, and the guy next to him, and the pine tree behind him, were all totally drenched. They had the rock over it by the time I was called outside so I didn't get to see how high it went, but I saw the results, and it went high.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Random quote of the day

What is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so.

From In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell, 1932

Found via BoingBoing

Sunday, May 20, 2007

O Hai

Well, will you look at me, all not posting for days on end.

Anyway, I finalized the layout for Carolyn's quilt. I did go back and rearrange the background colors because...well, because I had to.

But I couldn't do what I said (in comments) that I was going to, which was to sew the borders onto those blocks that simply had to have a given color. Having some of the blocks assembled would have made it easier to rearrange things, but as soon as I started to do the first one I realized that half the blocks are slanted in one direction and half in the other. Until I finalized the layout, I might know a given block's background color, but I wouldn't know which direction the slant should go.

So oh well.

What I wanted was a layout where the five background colors were well distributed; as in, no repetition of any color in any given row or column. That much wasn't too hard to achieve, but I ended up with big diagonal runs of several colors and, since I didn't want to to full-on diagonals, I needed to get rid of the nascent stripes.

However, moving ten pieces every time I wanted to swap two blocks got old fast, to say nothing of the times I needed to rotate three blocks or some such thing, so I Googled "magic square" to see if I could just find a formula for a good distribution of five variables in a 5x5 grid.

But it turns out that's not what a magic square is.

So I went back to figuring it out for myself, but this time in a more portable format:

This layout does have three mini-diagonals, where two blocks of the same color are touching at a corner, but every time I tried to get rid of them I just ended up back where I started, so I decided that my Type A side had gotten more than enough play and I went ahead and rearranged the actual blocks to correspond to that layout. (White is Orange and Green is Purple. War, however, is still not Peace.)

Once I was satisfied with the distribution of background colors, the blocks themselves had been shuffled, losing their original layout, so I needed to rearrange them to improve the distribution of color and value across the quilt. At that point, I had already assigned each block to a background color, so I could only switch a given block with one of the four others that shared its border color.

With fewer choices, it wasn't too hard to arrive at a decent distribution. I put some of the visually "heavier" blocks out toward the edges, and ended up arranging the blocks that had white or tan backgrounds in a kind of sweeping curve. Well, I can see it.

Once I had the layout all planned, I started sewing the borders onto each block. Aside from having to reverse engineer one of the seams in the very first block, and another one in the very last block, applying the borders was actually very straightforward.

Squaring up the blocks and trimming them to a uniform size was less so, at least at first. But fortunately after taking excruciating care and quadruple-checking every aspect of the first two or three, I got the hang of it and was able to trim the rest without incident.

Except for the two or three blocks with three-dimensional embellishments. The picture below shows the actual system I had to use to measure and trim this lovely block - there were no fewer than four rulers involved, but in the end it worked out:

Once trimmed, I arranged the blocks back on the wall and, once again, decided that this quilt really doesn't want sashing. But since I had the sashing fabric right there, I figured I would lay the blocks on top of it just to be sure.

Here's what it would look like (more or less) if I used the yellow sashing fabric as planned:

And, just to be sure, I even laid them out on the green/blue-green fabric that was intended for an outer border. Nope, that doesn't work either:

So it was confirmed that this quilt most decidedly does not want sashing. Tomorrow I'll sew the blocks directly together, which will look something like this:

Oh, and too? Scraps are pretty.

(Remind you of anything?)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Presidential material

Advice to non-quilters: You can pretty much skim this one. Read the first & last paragraphs of the post, as well as the paragraph before each photo and you'll know as much as you probably care to.

Our quilt guild is a new organization, just beginning its second year. As the first president neared the end of her year, she mentioned what I know is a tradition for many guilds: each member makes a quilt block for the outgoing president. In some groups, the president sets the blocks together herself, or uses them in some other way. I know one who requested blocks in a traditional house pattern she liked. She made herself a jacket out of the blocks, and called it her "House Coat," naturally.

Anyway, in our case the outgoing president did not select a particular block design, requesting only that the blocks feature the bright colors she is known to favor. Of course a size was specified, and at each meeting we reminded the members about the size, the colors, and the deadline.

We are going to actually construct the quilt, rather than just giving Carolyn the blocks, and somehow I found myself offering to put the top together. Knowing that the blocks would not really be the specified size (they never are), I had a thought about a setting that could compensate for differing block sizes, and I wanted to try it.

We received 25 blocks in all. Unfortunately, I figured I would wait and make mine when I was putting the whole thing together, and having 25 makes me want to maybe not make one myself. I do have a placeholder fabric I can add in order to round up to a suitable number of blocks, but it sure is tempting to stick with a 5x5 layout and let the assembly of the top count as my contribution, thereby avoiding the piecing of a whole sixth row just for the sake of including a block of my own.

Today I laid out the blocks - many of which don't really feature the bright colors requested - and tried to balance out the colors and shades that we do have.

Here's what I came up with:

Yesterday at our board meeting we selected five bright fabrics that I will use to frame each block before assembling the top. These individual block borders will have several jobs:

  • The five fabrics will start to tie things together by introducing some consistency among all this diversity.
  • The colors will help brighten up the whole, since a lot of the contributors didn't seem to be comfortable using the bright colors requested.
  • And, most critically in practical terms, the borders will compensate for the irregular sizes, since the blocks can't be sewn together unless they are all the same size.
Rather than a traditional border of straight strips, the bright fabrics will be applied in the form of four triangular strips. This will result in new, larger blocks, with each original block sitting on a slant within its new, bright border. Then, when I trim each block down to a specific size, the tilted orientation will hide the fact that some have to be trimmed more than others.

I have five bright fabrics and 25 blocks, so the system is pretty clear cut. I need to pair each block with a fabric that complements it, and hopefully avoid repeating any border fabric color in any given row.

I didn't even try to go all Sudoku and avoid repetition of border color within the columns, although this is largely because it didn't occur to me at the time.

I think it would be great if I could distribute the border colors better, but I also have to pay attention to the distribution of the colors, values (darkness/lightness) and general effect contained within the blocks themselves. So I don't know.

It's not the challenge of finding a decent layout that daunts me, but the fact that there are 125 pieces at the moment, and they just love to fall down off the design board (once again, I'm using a batting-wrapped mattress, but this time it's not one we need to sleep on tonight.) And when the border triangles do fall, they can easily peel six or eight other pieces off with them before I can get ahead of the cascade.

So anyway, here's what I've got at the moment. I had to take the picture from a pretty sharp angle and I've messed with the perspective to bring it back to approximately square, but it may still look a little wonky. Also, of course, this is all just laid out. It will be much more precise when it's actually sewn together.

When choosing the border fabrics, we also selected a sashing and border fabric. Sashing is an extra border between each block - think of the wooden lattice that holds a multi-paned window together. However, having laid these out like this so far, I'm thinking it may look better to sew the blocks directly together, rather than separating them with an extra strip of fabric.

The sashing fabric is yellow, and there's a green & blue-green batik for the outer border. If I end up putting the blocks together without the sashing, I guess I'll have the option of using either the green or the yellow for a border. Or both.

The nice thing about working on this quilt? I'm the current president of the guild, so what I do here sets the bar for how nice a quilt I get next year!

So this and the kaleidoscope quilt are the two main projects that need to be finished before I leave, two weeks from tomorrow. I also have to do my taxes (automatic extension due to living outside the US, so they're not late yet), attend one last board meeting, attend one quilting get-together and host another, and of course finalize the plans for the trip. As Twitter-watchers will already be aware, it turns out that I'm going to have to make all the reservations directly with each hotel and service provider because I've selected inexpensive enough lodging that it's not worth the travel agency's while to do it for me.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

I may lose a few of you on this one

When last we saw the kaleidoscope quilt we were discussing the vertical vs. horizontal layout.

Vertical was the clear winner among commenters, but Alex and I both vote horizontal, so there you go.

I am going to have a chance to start sewing it tomorrow, and I knew I wanted to tweak it a little before actually putting it together, so today I unrolled it and played with the layout.

I pulled the mattress off my bed and unrolled the batting on that. The triangles had held their positions very well, and although some of them were a bit crumpled, it could have been a lot worse. I don't really want to roll it back up to take to my friend's house tomorrow, though, so there may be a lot of careful taking down and laying out before I go to bed tonight.

Once it was unrolled on the mattress, I raised it up to lean against the banister here in my office, where there's good light and not a lot of traffic. Also, the computer is nearby for music and compulsive E-mail checking.

I started out by adjusting the flow of the first few bands of color so the red didn't climb so high up the side but extended a bit farther across the bottom instead.

The uniformity of this layout has bothered me right from the start - it looks too much like regular, even stripes and not enough like a flowing natural progression. When I got about halfway across the quilt in my layout adjustment, I finally decided to do something about it. I had been imagining a few triangles out of place, and decided to go ahead and do that to see how it looked.

Although it's been very hard to keep individual triangles from jumping out and shaking you by the lapels when you walk by, the overall effect was a definite improvement over what I had begun to think of as a striped shirt.

Aside from repositioning the greens a bit, I left the regular pattern intact on all the dark triangles, while mixing up the lights to eliminate the hard edges between colors.

I'm still not completely satisfied, but I'm not sure I ever would be, so this is probably pretty much how it's going to stay.

Here's the original layout:

And this is how it looks now:

Except that it doesn't really look like that right now. It's actually the opposite:

So let's hear it. Is anybody in favor of mixing it up, or did I lose everybody on that one?

Also, how do you feel about the orientation - does it matter if the light is in the upper left or right corner?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Today's world

Mom calls to talk to the girls and read them bedtime stories on Thursday nights. Last night while they were on the phone I got an E-mail:

To: Jennifer
From: Dad
Date: 5/10/2007 7:49 PM
Subject: Wake up Julia!!!

Phone is idle and Mom can't rouse anybody!

Not bad for 1800 miles away.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

See that freshly-dug path down in the previous post?

I choose to believe that sod laid after dark and in the rain has a better chance of taking root than that which is laid under any other conditions.

Those who might be in a position to know otherwise (and he knows who he is) should probably refrain from comment at this time.

If anybody needs me, I'll be across the street having a beer and some mediocre food that I did not cook.

After & Before

First, an "After" picture of the front steps. They look especially good when wet. This is good, because that's how they're going to be for the next few months.

We'll need to repaint the grates; somehow they're not blending in as well as they did with the green-painted cement steps...

On to some Before pictures of the driveway project.

It took the dogs all of about 15 minutes to figure out what the freshly-delivered mountains of sand and rock were for. They like the sand better, and it's proving hard to keep that tarp in place.

Here are a couple of pictures showing why we want a driveway:

In addition to, or rather as part of, the whole driveway extravaganza, we're putting in a sidewalk up to the front steps.

Alex got tired of explaining why his vision of the sidewalk (to the right of the tree) was better than mine (to the left), so he finally said to go ahead and put it on the left. Now I just hope I was right...he's not even here to give his opinion of the layout before things get permanent.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

We do nothing by halves

Here's what's going on out my window today:

We hope to have a driveway out of all of that by the end of, say, next week.

It's a good thing the driveway plans call for a new drainage-ditch-crossing mechanism, because this is what the sand and rock trucks did to The Grate Formerly Known As Flat:

Monday, May 07, 2007

Talkin' 'bout my generation

If you're from my generation, you might know what comes next below:

Pink hearts
Yellow moons
Orange stars
_____ _______ and
____ ________

Either way, here are some folks talking about their generation:

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Minutiae. And then some.

I finally decided to accept that these quilt patterns I agreed to draw up for the guild will not be finished tonight.

But rather than turning off the computer and going to bed at a decent hour, I sat here and fiddled with meaningless little add-ons in the sidebar.

I had been meaning to switch my blogroll over to automatic for a while now - I add and remove blogs from my list on Bloglines every now and then, and only occasionally make the corresponding updates here on this page. Now it'll be automatic.

And Twitter! Thanks to Sheryl for the invite. Because, it seems, every moment has a caption and with minutiae, enough just isn't enough. Okay, now I'm quoting a raccoon. I think it's time for that beer I already told the world I was going to have.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Things work out

Not too long after José bought the red car, the left rear seatbelt got jammed. I jiggled it but it stayed stuck, so I had Robin sit in the middle for the ride home. The next day I fiddled with it again and it released, and that was that.

A few weeks ago, it got stuck again. I jiggled it like before, but it stayed stuck. I had Robin move to the middle again, and every few days I would remember and fuss with it again, but it didn't want to budge. I figured we'd eventually have it looked at, but I kept forgetting about it since it wasn't inconveniencing me in a very noticeable way (except for the daily tragedy of the girls having to sit next to each other after school. Together! Touching!)

On the way up to my house, there's a spot where there are often pedestrians, but there's good visibility so it's also easy to tell if there's nobody around. When possible, it's good to build up a bit of momentum because it's the beginning of a two-mile climb. See, here's a picture from last year. The spot I'm talking about is right where the rain starts in this picture.

So I was heading home one day last week. There was nobody walking on the road, and for some reason the oncoming lane was a solid line of stopped cars, so I picked up speed as I approached the hill.

Except, of course, that someone in the solid line of stopped cars had very kindly refrained from blocking a seldom-used side street which was, at that moment, being used.

I am happy to report that the Brake/Swerve/Honk reflex was alive and well in both myself and the driver of the big red pickup truck that was trying to pull out into my lane.

I had actually been wondering about the "Honk" part of that reflex, since the horn in the red car works fine, but is a little stiffer than the one in the Montero and I have repeatedly failed when trying to give a gentle beep, for example before passing a stopped bus, or if it looks like someone is getting ready to back out of a driveway in front of me. But the OhGodHitTheHornNOW instinct goes straight from eye to hand, bypassing the section of the brain that, under ordinary circumstances, might hold back, and Honk I did.

So we both stopped short, his radiator about an inch shy of my side mirror. Somebody shouted something - I'm thinking it was the driver of the pickup giving his opinion to the person who presumably gave him the friendly "go ahead, I'll wait" gesture without checking for oncoming cars. Then I continued on my way.

All of this happened on the left side of the car, while the girls were buckled into the only functioning belts in the back seat - in the center and on the right hand side.

Two days later I picked Robin up at school and without thinking she got into the left rear seat. And put on the belt, which wasn't stuck anymore.

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