Monday, April 30, 2018

(Every Day is) Halloween Banner

Halloween is six months away. I'm not the kind of person who decorates their house for every holiday, but I do love decorating for Christmas and Halloween. Especially Halloween.  

I have a growing collection of glass pumpkins that I add to every year, and a Halloween tree. But of course there's room for more.

I have been diligently working on my Fox needlepoint -- honest. But a few nights back I had the house to myself for an evening and I felt like getting out my sewing machine and making a small project. But what to make?!?

At some point last fall I picked up some random stuff in the post-Halloween clearance at my local Jo-Ann. I couldn't resist the skull-patterned burlap, even if I had NO IDEA what people do with the rolls of burlap that appear for every holiday. Turns out, most people make wreaths. Really lovely wreaths. Who knew?

image from burlap wreath tutorial on Little Lovely Leaders

But I already have a Halloween wreath for my door, and I wanted something to dress up the mantel... so I decided to make a banner. 

When I found the pre-cut letters spelling out "TRICK OR TREAT" and "HAPPY HALLOWEEN', I couldn't decide which to make... so I bought both sets. Hey, they were 75% off ...

Because the letters were purple, orange, and black sequin fabric, I wanted something to set it off from the black-and-white burlap. Enter lime green tulle on a roll ... another one of those products I always see at the fabric store but have never bought. I'm told people use this tulle for wedding decorations, party decorations, and making tutus. But I figured a few layers of it on top of the burlap would add a hint of color.

So I started by sewing 4 layers of the tulle on top of the burlap -- using the entire roll of burlap and most of the roll of tulle. Four layers was enough to add a definite green tint, while still being able to see the skulls.

Then I took the big combined roll and cut it vertically into segments. Originally I had thought I would make triangle sections, but that didn't really work with the letters and the size of the burlap. So I made little rectangles, and then cut little ^ shapes in the bottom.

I thought I might sew the letters on ... but then decided that tacky glue would work just fine!

I arranged the letters on some ribbon I had in the basement. True confession: I have had this ribbon for well over a decade. I think I bought this ribbon after my Mom and I went to the lavender festival in Sequim and learned how to make lavender wands. And it's just sat in my craft supplies ever since. Using it felt like a tiny win.

Sewing the "flags" onto the ribbon was simple; I didn't need it to be perfect, just to be together.

happy accident when the O lined up perfectly with the skull!

And voila! Halloween banners!

An amusing aside: you will no doubt note that I'm missing the initial H on my "HAPPY HALLOWEEN" banner. I have NO IDEA where it went. It was there, and then, poof. I decided to to ahead and "finish" the banner for now and I'll add the H later. After all, I've got a few months... And, no, I won't be leaving the banner in place until then. Honest.

"Making a Halloween Banner" is also part of my #101in1001 project, which is moving along... slowly.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Tiptoeing through the Tulips

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival takes place every April. Somehow Wil had never been -- though one year we drove north on the first or second of May, thinking that there would still be *some* tulips in bloom, only to find that they had all been cut down.

We magically woke up early last Sunday, somewhat unplanned, and decided to jump in the car and head north. The first 45 minutes was fast with little traffic -- we even pondered what might prompt the "EVENT TRAFFIC: EXPECT DELAYS" road sign a few miles before we left the freeway.

We turned off the freeway and drove through Mount Vernon, hitting our first traffic -- but it was more "driving through a small downtown" rather than "thousands of cars on two-lane roads" slowing.

We continued for a few miles until we reached Roozengaarde; one of the two big tulip farms in the valley. We joined a small line of cars -- maybe 8 or 10 -- to get into their very well organized parking lot. With Disney-style organization, we parked pretty quickly. I had expected to pay for parking, somehow, but never saw a person to pay. Then we joined the line of several dozen people waiting to get in. While we waited, we got our first tulip fix: really beautiful mixed beds. My favorite is the orange, fuchsia, and purple mix above, but I also liked these purple and red:

and dark purple Queen of the Night and pale pink:

The line to get in moved quickly -- at least for those of us with cash! -- and we were in. First we looked at some of the show gardens. Just look at all these tulips!

and I do love a fritillary!

But we didn't linger with the building crowds.

What we really wanted was to see this ... FIELDS OF TULIPS IN BLOOM.

These tulips are being grown for bulbs rather than cut flowers. And seeing hundreds of thousands of flowers blooming in a field is... well... worth the drive.

I could look at these beauties all day.

These orange ones are my favorite:

There's a sign right next to Wil asking people not to walk between the rows of tulips, but to stay on the big path. Wil is following instructions... but a lot of people weren't. Sigh.

We wandered around the fields for a long time -- just kept admiring all the rows, the tulips, the colors. But when we looked up even the fields were starting to feel crowded.

We considered buying some bulbs for delivery in the fall -- but the gift tent opened late and no one had yet arrived to take bulb orders.  ("They're probably stuck in traffic.") So we decided we could wait and place our order online.

The exit was, surprisingly, not through the gift shop ... but back through the show gardens, where we admired some of the plantings. A star made of tulips and grape hyacinth:

a red and white tulip heart:

and my favorite color blend, again:

We headed out of the gardens and back to the car, where the two-lane road showed traffic stretching for miles, moving at a crawl. Oh dear.

We wondered whether we'd be able to get out ourselves, but then realized that we were going exactly the opposite direction. Win!

Because traffic was essentially stopped, we were easily able to turn out of the parking lot and make our way away from the fields. The one busy intersection ("CROSS TRAFFIC DOES NOT STOP") that I was a bit nervous about turned out to be staffed by a police officer, who waved us across. Win!

We made a stop at a nursery for a local arts and crafts show, and on a whim I went looking for an acanthus. Sure enough, I found one -- the variety I wanted, and for less than at the nursery on Whidbey. Win!

We then headed back -- again, with no traffic, but watching the people crawling in the opposite direction. We made a stop in Mount Vernon, scored free parking half a block from their street fair / market, and then wandered around there for a while. Yet another win!

I love this mural:

and this sign:

It was one of those brilliant days where everything just works. We even bought some local hard cider, which we spent the evening sipping in our own back garden. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Fox Stitch-a-Long, part 4

So. Much. Foliage. I honestly thought that I would have been able to stitch all of the green leaves during these three weeks. But I was wrong...

I did get the great big green leaf on the right-hand side of the fox stitched, so that's great. And last night it turned a corner -- literally -- and started stitching the green leaves in the center of the piece.

that big leaf on the right? all stitched!
I really love the way the leaves curl, just like real acanthus. Here's a bit of curling leaf:

And a gorgeous specimen of acanthus I spotted today while we were on a day trip.

However, when I attempted to buy a plant at the swanky garden center, they only had the "spiky" and the "white-tipped" varieties. But what's good enough for William Morris is good enough for me: give me the bog standard kind!

There's still so much to stitch here ... given how vividly it's printed, it's easier to see from the back. Here's the backside of the piece with my work light shining through it. So much left to go!!!

By next time I really hope to have the green leaves stitched, as well as half of the blue. To keep me motivated I've joined a stitch-a-long, where my fellow stitchers are making great progress on some spectacular projects. You can see what they're working on on their blogs:

AvisClaireGunCaroleLucyAnnKateJessSueConstanzeDebbieroseChristinaKathyMargaretCindyHelenStephLindaMary MargaretHeidiConnieJackieHayleyTony, and our two newest members, Megan and Timothy!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Cider tasting nerdiness

I've been thinking about this for a while now.

Without going full Wurzel or anything, I am a cider drinker.


No, I don't "drinks it all of the day" or even "every day". But I like trying new ciders and it's my first choice if we are out. I've often thought about creating something to track the ones I have tried and my thoughts. Not that I really have a vocabulary to talk about cider ... but figured I should read up a bit.

Naturally, there's a lot of information about beer and wine tasting ... but I also found quite a bit on cider. So I printed out a bunch of worksheets, took some notes, and put a bunch of scribbles together. And then I did nothing.

The other night Suz and I arranged to meet for drinks after work, and noticed that our local was holding a French "cidre" month. So ... I sketched up my layout, printed it out, and bound it into a little booklet. Yeah, I made one each for me and Suz.

Honest, I do know how nerdy this is. Subscores for appearance, aroma, taste, and overall impression, adding up to 50 points overall.

Suz arrived and we started our tasting. We had two from Lefevre, two from La Chouette, and one from Pierre Huet.

I'm not going to lie, I felt a bit silly trying to describe the "aromas" and not just say "tastes like apple cider".... But Suz -- long-suffering Suz -- dove right in and played along.

I should be clear that we didn't actually drink that much cider -- 4 12-oz bottles plus one 750ml bottle between us. Even the ABVs were low.

Here's how I scored our 5 ciders:

Lefevre Winter Cidre:  28/50 **this may be a "don't score too highly at the beginning** low score
Lefevre Cidre Brut: 24/50
La Chouette Demi-Sec: 42/50
La Chouette Rose: 45/50
Pierre Huet: Cidre Bouchet Brut: 39/50

The La Choquette Rose was the most remarkable; made from pears and red-fleshed apples it was striking in color, crisp and tart, and would be fantastic with autumnal dishes such as roast vegetables. That's definitely one I would go out of my way to find and drink again. The others were, while drinkable, not really striking.

Most of all it was fun to sit around and chat with Suz for a few hours -- and I'm hoping we'll do it again soon!

Oh arr oh arr aay.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

100 days of Ulysses, milestone 1

There are many ways to divide up Ulysses ...

One could take the number of pages, not including the preface or afterword -- 642. To read it in 100 days you could read 6.4 pages per day... or give yourself a little cushion and read 7 pages per day.

You could follow the "100 day challenge" idea of dividing it into thirds, or 214 pages every 30 days, and then allowing yourself the 10 days of cushion at the end.

Most of the "how to read Ulysses" pieces I've read -- okay, I only read one -- suggested that you should try, where possible, to read each chapter in one sitting... though I'm not sure I could get through a 150-page chapter (15. "Circe") in one go! That would mean 6 chapters every 30 days.

But regardless of how one divides up the work.... by pages, by chapters, whatever... I'm behind.

I'm only just over 100 pages in, mainly because I'm simply not making the time to sit down with Leo and Stephen and read. When I do read, I am enjoying it -- increasingly so -- so I hope I'll be more disciplined in the next 30 days!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Here There Be Dragons

The other night Wil and I went to a lecture at the UW, part of their "Serious Fun" lecture series. Why? Because we Very Serious About Fun.

The series brings together experts from various disciplines at the university to talk about non-traditional, interesting topics. We missed a talk about Rhythm which featured a poet, a musician, and a historian. We also missed a talk about Mysteries and Secrets which featured a Scandinavian scholar, an astronomer, and a historian. But this talk? Well, it was about DRAGONS.

The first speaker was Robin Stacey, who is most likely my second favorite historian of all time. I studied medieval history with her, and really love her way of teaching and sharing her passion for history. Years back Wil and I went to her Alumni Association History Lectures, where she lectured on Tolkien and blew my mind when she noted that Tolkien was a "war poet" -- like Wilfried Owen -- which really enhanced my sense of Mordor and LOTR in general.

Stacey spoke about dragons and Tolkien, and what they meant to him: "I desired dragons with a profound desire." In short, for Tolkien, while he was of course steeped in the RC tradition of dragons = the devil = devil, he also saw dragons as the essence of Faerie. And Faerie was important *because* it was escapist -- something to brighten dark times.

Then Chris Hamm from the Asian Languages & Literature department spoke about dragons in the Asian tradition -- and just how differently they are seen. In Asia dragons are the zoomorphic representation of heaven -- the divine energy of heaven. He discussed how the Emperor -- who was the "Son of Heaven" -- wore the dragon on his robes, but that often one only glimpses parts of the dragon in Asian art … glimpses of the divine.

And then … the amazing Brandon Peecook, a PhD graduate now at the Field Museum in Chicago, who approaches dragons from a "comparative anatomy" angle. And… well… WOW.

He started off by showing us images to help us understand where some myths come from. My absolute favorite was that the cyclops story:

Might really be spawned from finding a baby elephant skull:

Wild, eh?

Later he turned to the stars of the talk… Dragons.

He showed us gifs of dragons from movies and TV, discussing how they *might* be possible, in nature. Most of them were from Game of Thrones … everyone's (current) favorite dragons.

He showed a picture of a dragon skull from the basement of the palace. Then he showed a T Rex skull -- "clearly the front half of this skull is a T Rex skull … so that's possible."

This is seriously T-Rex-y:

Then he showed us a gif of Drogon blinking, where you could clearly see the nictitating membrane -- you know, the inner eyelid that reptiles have. "It's a tiny thing that most people wouldn't notice … they didn't NEED to do it, but they did, and that's nice."

He showed Drogons legs and feet -- how they have a rear-facing toe like a chicken, and how the legs are clearly T Rex legs. "So, again, that's possible… in nature…"

Clearly those legs are T Rex legs. CLEARLY.

Then he showed a clip of the dragons hovering and shooting fire, and asked where in nature we see something like that. A bunch of people in the audience -- and we were RAPT, by the way -- shouted "Hummingbirds!" … so he replied, "HUMMINGBIRDS CAN SHOOT FIRE?!?!?!?!"

But then he showed us footage of a beetle that can shoot boiling hot hydrochloric acid (Seriously! It's called the bombardier beetle!) and said, "So that's kinda possible…"

But it wasn't all praise for the Game of Thrones dragons... he showed Drogon's forked tongue, which was silly "because snakes use that to stick up into their brain so they can 'smell', and that tongue is way too short, so NO." He also showed us the teeth, but dismissed them simply with "that tooth structure is ridiculous, so let's forget about that."

stupid, stupid teeth!

And then we talked about wings, and how flight has developed three times in vertebrate animals in history. We got birds and bats pretty quickly, and then stalled and he said, "I can't believe you've all forgotten about the pterodactyl!"

We then talked about different wing structures, how bird feathers are really just modified scales, how pterodactyls have one long "finger" to stretch their wing membrane, but that bats have the same hands we do -- right down to the thumb, which they can "walk" on. And Drogon clearly has thumbs, so that's possible...


By then all of us had BOUGHT IN. When I excitedly told my pal Rebecca about the talk she said, "I love it when people love their work so much that they can excite everyone around them." And, yes, now we need to binge watch the past season of GOT to get ready for the final season.

Our next (and FINAL!) Serious Fun lecture features a Classicist, and Artist, and a Cosmologist to discuss how we interpret, measure, and experience the passage of time. Come an join us on April 25 at the UW. Learn more and sign up here.

PS: As an added bonus we got our Sakura on in the Quad. Lovely!!!