Monday, September 1, 2014

Table Manners: A Short Story

“God, honey, it’s disgusting!”

“What?” he said.

“My father! He sounds like a turtle chewing a hard boiled egg! There’s more couscous lodged in his wrinkles than he managed to swallow! One Labrador isn’t going to cut it. We’re going to need to get a terrier to clean the food off Dad’s shirt!” she exclaimed. 

“Oh,” Phil said. “Well, he doesn’t have to eat with us,” he problem-solved over his shoulder as he left the kitchen.

The next night at dinnertime Lois served four plates and then took one of them to the living room. Her father was sitting in his chair watching the financial news. She set up a little folding table without even waking him. Then she shook him gently by the shoulder. “Here’s your dinner, Dad. I thought you might like to eat here while you watch your show so you don’t have to get up.”

The rest of the family sat down at the kitchen table. When Junior finished his first helping he got up to take the biscuit basket out to his grandfather to see if he wanted another one. Then he sat back down and ate all the rest of the biscuits with butter and jelly.

After Lois cleared the table she went out to the living room to get her father’s tray. He had cleaned his plate. He always liked okra and tomatoes and meatloaf. And Lois had enjoyed hers more because she couldn’t hear him slurp it up. She felt very smug as she loaded the dishwasher that night.

On Friday night Phil brought home a rotisserie chicken. Lois cut off a thigh for her father. He liked dark meat. She arranged little piles of buttered rice and field peas. She set up the TV table for him while Phil and Junior served their own plates at the table. She sat down to eat and about the time Junior got a whole chicken wing in his mouth there was a crash. Lois ran to the living room. Her father sat with a knife and fork in his hands and all his dinner was scattered on the carpet. “Oh, Daddy!” cried Lois. She moved the TV table out of his way so he could get up. A waterfall of rice and peas fell onto the carpet in front of his chair. He stepped gingerly to not crush any into the carpet. Lois picked up the plate and the chicken.

“Buddy! Here Buddy!” Lois called. The dog came and obligingly ate all the rice off the carpet, neatly licking all the butter off every pea without swallowing a single one. Lois sighed as she went for a dustpan, a bowl of sudsy water, a sponge and a roll of paper towels. When she came back to the kitchen with her bowl of dirty water and soggy paper towels her father was at Junior’s place at the kitchen table finishing a portion of peas and rice while Junior gnawed on a chicken bone in the chair with no place setting. Junior asked his dad to be excused and everybody got up. Lois sat down to finish her own dinner alone, disappointed, but determined.

The next night Lois had to improvise because the financial news doesn’t run on Saturday. She served three plates as usual, then she put some of the mashed potatoes in one of her medium sized mixing bowls. She put in a spoonful of corn, some pole beans, and topped it with a slice of pot roast torn into bite size pieces. She poured some of the pan drippings over the whole thing. She poured some cold water in a plastic cup with a screw-on lid and a straw. She stabbed a spoon in the bowl and went to the back door where Junior was lying on the floor coloring. "Get the door for me please, Junior," she said. 

Junior opened the door and Lois took the bowl and cup out to her father. He was on the back deck with Forbes magazine and his binoculars near the bird feeder. Then she went in to dinner with her husband and son. She told Junior three times to get his elbows off the table and corrected Phil when he tried to put his dirty knife back down on the placemat. It should be placed across the plate. She was getting the hang of this. Table manners would prevail.

On Sunday morning Lois went for her long weekly run while Phil made breakfast for the men. After she got back and showered and came out to the living room with her coffee she found Phil and her father reading the funny pages while Junior was building something with his Lincoln Logs. She sat down on the floor for some quality time with her son. “What are you building, Junior? Is this your house?”

“Yeah, that’s the house where we’ll live when I’m grown up,” said Junior.

“And what’s that you’re building out in the yard?” said Lois.

Junior replied matter-of-factly, “This is a trough for you and Daddy at suppertime.”

That night was Sunday Supper. Junior’s aunts and uncles brought dishes of food over and they had a big meal together. Everybody sat at the long table in the dining room, even Granddad. 

On Monday night Lois left the TV tables in their little stand in the corner of the living room. She waited for the financial news to end, then announced that dinner was ready. Everybody sat down to eat together that night, and every night after that.

Updated version of the Grimm fairy tale "The Old Man and his Grandson," 
By Barbara Tomlinson ©2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Rise of the Gopher Tortoise

I have seen more new gopher holes this year than I have ever seen in my life. I don't know if they are just experiencing a real estate boom and all of a sudden they want more holes per gopher, or if there are actual new animals moving in to enjoy life near mown grass. Do they particularly like my yard and my aunt's yard because we are there mowing the lawn for them? Or did the tortoises and the people both pick the same spot for the same unrelated reason — hill tops are the best.

Today I was going to check on things at my aunt's house and take my trash to the dump when I saw a brand new large gopher hole by the chicken yard fence, not 20 feet from another burrow inside the garden under the grape arbor. Both gophers were in their holes, so it wasn't just an extra hole for the one gopher.
Foreground, brand new gopher hole, wasn't there Friday. There's another one
in the center of the photo under the grape arbor.
Here's a zoom shot of the gopher that lives under the grape arbor. View from the new hole. So close!
Of course I stopped and took a picture of it. It's how I do. Then I kept going up the driveway to take my trash to the dumpster. And I saw another new gopher hole under the blueberries. A few weeks ago I saw one just the other side of the driveway there too.

Another new gopher hole under the blueberries.
You can tell these are brand new because the sand is soft and all stomped on looking. As the holes get older the apron of the burrow gets kind of solid looking and smooth.

When I came back from taking the trash I decided to count the gopher holes I could see from the truck. I was wearing shorts so I didn't want to go tromping around in the briars looking for more, so these are strictly ones in direct proximity to our crude variety of civilization. Also I am terrible at counting, so I used my Logger GPS iPhone app.

Total Gopher Holes: 20
Number of holes with leaves in the entrance indicating no use in a week or so: 2
Juvenile holes, smaller than 7" across (by eye): 4
New adult holes: 3

I call this a juvenile hole. It's next to an old burn pile in the middle of the lawn,
which explains the charcoal. 
I don't know how old the juvenile holes are. I think they are all from this year. The juvenile with a hole in my yard has been there over two years. He has had a digging fit this week and has made his much deeper with lots of dark orange dirt on the apron. So these that are still light colored sand, I think they are new.

I didn't see any bitty baby holes at my aunt's house. I have 3 of those over here at my house, under 3" across, as well as 2 juveniles and 10 or more adult. Maybe I'll count them tomorrow.

Here's the plot of gopher holes done on Google Earth. I tilted the scene and rotated it to show surrounding area. Density increases the closer they get to the lawn. Some of these holes are just astonishingly close together. I've never seen them do like this before. There's 12 in under an acre if you ignore the ones up the driveway.

There were always gopher holes along the driveway at the ancestral home when I was a little girl. I don't remember any being in the yard though. And I don't remember any in the yard at my house. But we always had a dog, the big kind that would pick up a baby tortoise in his mouth and slobber all over it and worse. My aunt used to have this kind of dog too. Since she got a Beagle and keeps her tied up the gophers have proliferated.

The last week was a real scorcher too. Do gophers typically get the urge to dig when it's really hot and dry? I know their burrow at the bottom of the hole is usually at the water table so it's nice and damp. I can see digging deeper if the water table drops. But why start over from scratch?! They have excess energy so they just dig another hole just for practice? I don't know, but I'm happy to have them.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Matrix Poster with Red Pill/Blue Pill Shadow Box

I have a client who is addicted to Mondo Tees posters. I frame them for him for $25 each. They're kind of hard to get. They announce the sales on Twitter and then they sell out in seconds. I saw this Matrix poster announcement and immediately bought it. But my friend was, meh, it's not one of the popular artists. But he said he'd look at it when I got it and maybe in person he'd like it better. I think it's really pretty. I like the colors, and you can look at it for a long time. I like the silver ink for the bright parts. I also thought it would lend itself to a bit of embellishment. Sure enough, I talked my friend into it.

My embellishment idea was to add a shadow box with a red pill and a blue pill under the poster. I found an image of what the ones in the movie looked like.
These are probably DayQuil and NyQuil Liquicaps
I searched online bead shops for something that looked like these. Real capsules seemed like a bad idea because of heat and humidity. I tried grinding down miniature Christmas tree ornaments to look like these. Finally I just decided to get something that would look good from a distance, match the poster, and be easy to attach to the shadow box. (Note: it is impossible to take a picture of your own hands from the angle shown above. To get this shot I clamped my phone to the counter and touched the screen with my nose.)

That'll have to do.
I settled for some wooden beads. I got them from The Bead Factory. ( The colors are Light Siam and Aqua. I got 8 of each color for $1.50. If anybody wants a pair let me know in the comments.

I cut some little spacers of that black irrigation tubing they call funny pipe. Drilled holes in the back of the shadow box, ran some heavy duty thread through there, through the tubing, through the bead, and back down through the tubing and the hole in the backing. I tied a knot around a straight pin. Then I turned the pin until it was all cinched down tight and taped it down so it wouldn't unwind. This took two hands and I couldn't get a picture.
Very hard to photograph because of this reflective glass
When I finished I went down to my friend's office and talked him into moving Sleeping Beauty into the lobby with The Black Cauldron so we could hang the Matrix in the conference room with Back to the Future 1 and 2 and The Birds. I like it!

Reuse: Coach StarTAC case to paperweight

Did you see my stop motion video, Obsolete? Remember the Motorola StarTAC? After I finished messing around with that video (which really hurt my back, which is the reason for the extreme brevity of the film) I wanted to do something with that old phone and the nice Coach leather case for it. I thought of making it into a paperweight by strapping something heavy to the belt loop on the back, but then I realized it would be better to just replace the phone with something heavy. The case is really easy to pick up and the leather is soft. The phone went back in the plastic bin with the laptops.

Now I know what you're thinking, "But Barbara! You told us you were totally paperless!" That's true, I don't keep paper on my desk. But I do frame a lot of posters that come rolled up in tubes. They need to be flattened out. So I got out my sewing stuff and made a heavy thing to go inside the case. I measured the phone to see how big to cut my fabric.

6" around, so I'll make my pouch 3" wide and it
should fill out properly.
3 1/2" long
I had a choice of some black velvet, black speaker grill cloth, or the scraps off some gray black-out curtains I hemmed up. I decided the black-out fabric would be the tightest weave. The velvet kind of passes light if you hold it up to a window, and the grill cloth is right out. It's made to be air permeable. It would look better if it were black and not gray, but scroungers can't be choosers. I can always make a tiny black pillow case for it later. Ooo, I should make a little black pillow case with a wee antenna sticking out. But anyway, on with it.
Measure and cut the fabric for the 6" diameter, allowing for seams
Fold it right sides together and sew it up.
After sewing the two unfinished edges, turn it right side out and fill it with lead shot. I happened to have a 3 lb bag of lead shot from a neoprene scuba diving belt. I loaned the belt to somebody decades ago and never got it back, but the lead weights have been consistently useful regardless. But this one got a hole in it when I was using it to rivet patches on the roof of the Spartan. I fixed it with tape, but I felt ok about using it for another project.
3lb lead shot weight for scuba diving
Here's what's on the inside.
I worked over a dishpan to fill up the bag. I made a funnel out of an index card and poured the shot from the mesh bag into the new StarTAC size bag.
Here's the new bag filled with shot and hand sewn along the end that had the old hem.
Weight inside the case, side view

Weighted case, top view
When I finished I still had some shot left. I made another bag to be a paper weight. I had something ampule shaped in my mind when I sewed a freehand shape.
It's a... I don't know what that is.
This one was a lot harder to fill with shot. I don't recommend this small of a neck. It does have a wonderful feel in the hand though and is easy to pick up. 
Here it is doing its job like a champ
I use the Coach one face down so there's no chance of the brass ring making a mark.
The poster you see here is a Matrix poster from Mondo Tees. I did a neat framing ensemble for that.

Reuse: '90s Jeans to Laptop Sleeve

Everything has come together to compel me to write up how to make a laptop sleeve from a pair of old jeans. My niece started college this summer and asked me if I had a slim sleeve for her laptop so she didn't have to carry her whole big bag to class. I thought I had one but couldn't find it. So I made one. Later I found the store-bought one and offered to bring it to her but she said she liked the homemade one. Fall semester started yesterday. I got this text from my niece this morning.

Hmm, I wonder if this admiration for her laptop sleeve has anything to with this thing that happened over the weekend?
I love how it's called a "denim ensemble." I hear it in my head as AHN-SAHM-bbb, like somebody is trying to be sophisticated and then fell down the last step. My niece calls it, "Oh my gosh! That is wayyyy too much denim in one outfit". No, that is way too much denim in FOUR outfits!

Anyway, here's how I made a laptop sleeve that has just the right amount of denim for an outfit. (Pics from my niece in her dorm.)

Here's how I made a laptop sleeve that has just the right amount of denim for an outfit.

First thing I did was go online and find the dimensions of the laptop. My niece has a 15" MacBook Pro (she bought it herself when she was a junior in high school so she could use FinalCut Pro on it. Yes, her computer is better than mine, shut up.) The page with the Tech Specs for Macbooks is under the Support tab on the Apple website. I found the right one and used the dimensions to make a blank out of scraps of foam core. If you have the actual laptop just use that. I didn't have it.
Cut two pieces of foam core to the size of your laptop
Add layers until the blank is close to the right thickness. Better over than under I think.
The middle layers don't have to be full size. I stacked up various strips.
I used plain Scotch double sided tape to stick it together.
Get a pair of jeans from the '90s with big legs and cut the legs off.
Don't worry, you are never going to want to wear them again.
Waists went back up, but that loose thigh and small ankle part
 did not come back in style as far as I know.
I split the legs up the center of the back so I'd have plain fabric to sew without the heavy seams in the way. I'm not sure how my sewing machine would handle that. Play with the fabric and your blank to see how you want to place the seams. Because of the flair of '90s jeans these seams will come out slanted, but I decided to center them. Based on the ensembles above you can see there is no right or wrong to this.
I think something like this... Seam goes here.
The legs of my jeans were wide enough for the laptop but it takes both legs sewn together to get them to wrap all the way around it longways. I decided to use the factory hem of the jeans at the edges of the case, so I had to let the excess overlap at a seam in the back. I could pretty much put it anywhere, but I decided to let it fall at the top of the back of the sleeve, so it was one full leg and part of the other one. Because of the flare cut in the original jeans the original seams didn't line up at the cross seam. This probably best because they are so stiff they wouldn't lie flat if they matched. I let them offset and cut a notch so they both keep going the way they want to.
Try to get the seam in the back to lie flat.
After I made the legs into one long piece I folded it around the blank inside out. I decided how much of the top of the laptop I wanted to come above the front part of the sleeve so you can grab it and get it out. I pinned the sides tight to the blank and sewed it on my sewing machine. Then I trimmed the excess fabric and turned it right side out.

Now this part is counterintuitive. NOW is when you want to sew the buttons on to work as the closure. I messed up and ended up reaching under the lining to sew my buttons on, fortunately remembering before I'd sewed up all the edges. Best to go ahead and sew them on before you move on. The denim is strong and should hold the buttons fine. Going all the way through the other layers is just asking for trouble. I looked through my button box and couldn't find two big matching buttons. I allowed as how my niece could change them if she found better buttons later so I just went with a mismatch. I also had a shoelace in my sewing box. I cut off one of the aglets and sewed that end under the top button.

After making the outer shell I turned to the padding. I used 3mm Volara closed cell foam I had left from the Spartan project. I got it from  If you notice that web page says Yoga Mats at the top. By the transitive property then, you could pick up a yoga mat at TJ Maxx to make this project if you wanted. Cut the foam of your choice using your blank for a template. It needs to fold around it long ways and cover the flap too. I had a hard time getting it to come out with square corners. Watch out for the rhombus.

Cut some closed cell foam for padding
The idea is to get the foam to roll around the sides to protect the corners, but not so much as to bulk it up too much. The denim will provide some protection there with the seams. I put the foam inside the denim shell 

Next it needs a lining. I had some navy blue silk jersey that a friend brought me from a business trip to China. That will do nicely. Repeat the process for making the denim sleeve to make a sleeve out of your lining fabric that fits snugly around your blank.

Silk lining.
Before you sew the lining in, have you sewn on the buttons for the closure? There are lots of ways to potentially close this thing. I was just using what I had on hand. I was criticized by some for not using velcro, but I just don't think that works with this design. Other ideas would be to transfer some of the belt loops and tie it closed through those. Or attach a strap to the flap and a buckle to the front I had some buckles, but I just thought buttons would be less fussy and faster. You can get out of class in a hurry with a string and two buttons.

Once you have the lining made and slipped inside the foam and the denim you can figure out how to sew it in. I folded in the edge of the denim of the flap, folded the lining around the foam and pinned the lining to the denim and just top stitched through the two fabrics on my sewing machine with navy blue thread. You can barely even see it. I didn't stitch through the foam. If you sew the foam it is about the same as cutting it. It just separates and you end up with a little piece bulking up the seam for no reason.

I top stitched the lining to the front as well. It was hard to get up to the thick jeans seams so I did a little hand sewing to get it all secure. 

I hand sewed the lining to the denim in the bottom corners so it doesn't flip inside out like a starfish stomach. 

And there is it!