Sunday, March 31, 2013

Alleluia! Christus resurrexit!

O Love, O Charity beyond all telling, 

To ransom A SLAVE
You gave away 

Your Son.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

observing Good Friday right

How many of you have a CT scan (with contrast!  I gather that means I consume some sort of toxic substance on an empty stomach before the wanding) scheduled for the morning of Good Friday? 

That's what I thought. 

What better way, really, to start a day of fasting and abstinence? 

In the spirit of the liturgical symbolism of my gynecological adventures, I expect to hear on Easter Sunday that I no longer have any endometriomas (or other endometrial adhesions, although I know you're not supposed to be able to see those on a scan), and never will have any more, and can go off the Depo and get on with my life. 

Have a blessed Triduum, everyone, even if you decide to observe it in some candy-@$$ manner that doesn't involve contrast dye or a paper gown. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I fear gardening

The extremely disastrous and extremely upsetting porch project is proceeding apace.  In the sense that it is still extremely disastrous, looks like a construction zone, and is infintely more hideous than when I started (and the main project I've taken on so far was the cosmetic one - "make the floor look nicer").  And I haven't even begun to think about starting the project that was really supposed to be most of the work on the porch - insulating the walls. 

However, there is no longer an enormous hole in the floor:

So I guess we could call that progress.  I am hoping to have major, visible, amazing progress by the end of the weekend.  I have been hoping that every weekend in March, and also February, and I believe some of January.  So, believe it when you see it, people.  My goal is to be done with the floor by Easter.  Walls and radiator installation next.  How do small, just-a-few-evenings-to-clean-this-area-up projects take over my entire life? 

I have promised myself that after the porch is done, I will turn my full attention to the outdoors.  I am working on a vegetable and herb garden again this year (fifth year in a row?), with some modifications.  (1) I am not starting anything from seed.  Experienced amateur gardeners were impressed with the quantity of seedlings I got from seed last year.  So was I.  But I didn't end up with any vegetables.  Seeing as that is the goal, I am not wasting my limited time and easily-diverted attention on germinating seeds.  (2) I am planting more of everything.  Obviously, this just means I waste more money when nothing grows.  But I have decided I am willing to run at a significant loss this year, and if I fail again, then never again.  I will cover my yard and raised beds with colorful gravel. 

I also need to work on the uneven pavers in our side yard.  My DH took those on last year, but he's not happy with his results.  I hypothesize that my rather different work method - fail constantly for months, continually research new ways to approach the problem, try everything until you either succeed or no one you know is still speaking to you - may succeed here.  It succeeded with wallpaper, cabinets, floors, plumbing, the table, and the porch subfloor.  But yes, I still remember - I failed with that stove.  (Still need to sell it.) 

And then I need to work on fencing.  I have decided I am going to build a two-piece swinging gate for the back yard.  (I know that sounds crazy, but I promise it's not that much work, and it will save me some 90% of the cost of a decent pre-made gate.)  Then, possibly some time when my DH is away, I am going to put up green wire fencing around the rest of the back yard.  This will keep the dog in, and it will also provide support for the plants that grow around the perimeter of the yard.  And said plants will conceal the wire fence, so that it will all be just one nice landscape.  Plus, I don't think you need a permit to put up a wire fence.  (Let's just not talk about the gate.  That's going to need fence posts set in concrete, but maybe it will look like it has always been there...) 

I have decided I am going to fill in any bald spots in the shrubbery around the back yard with blackberries and raspberries.  According to my reading, these are weeds - strong-growing and aggressive, the sort of things that take over your yard.  This is exactly the sort of plant I need - something I couldn't kill if I wanted to.  Because I can kill pretty much anything, despite willing it to health and fruitfulness with all my strength.  (No comments.)  Also, these plants naturally want to be trained to four-foot-high wires and stakes - like they were tailor-made for my fencing idea. 

Which brings me to another subject.  Last year, I was wandering about Home Depot (in other words, my typical Saturday) and I saw blackberry bushes for sale.  $7 for one, and they grow into a nice big bush.  It was my first summer in my very own house, and I couldn't think of anything nicer than growing my own blackberries.  So I bought one, and a week later, I did much reading on its preferred habitat and found it a nice spot between two large bushes.  When I fetched it out of its wrapping, I realized it was a stick.  The packaging optimistically proclaimed it a "dormant blackberry bush," and I can't argue that sticks (of whatever species) are dormant, so I planted it.  For a few weeks I would go and peek at my stick and water it.  Then spring hit in full force and the many secretive flora that inhabit the entire DC area took over every blank spot in the yard and grew like, well, weeds.  I could no longer see the stick.  Not that it mattered, because I hadn't really been in the market for a stick in the first place. 

It was only recently that I learned of the aggressive growing habits of blackberries, and how perfect they would be for my plans.  So, had Home Depot not sold me a $7 stick, I would unwittingly have hit on a perfect solution - great for the area where I planted it (which gets a lot of sun), and great for my summer berry needs.  I find that with interior work, some percentage of the time I accidentally hit the nail on the head (both literally and figuratively) with my decisions, and they work better than I could have planned.  This isn't really unfair luck, because I put enormous energy into planning, but it means that things generally come together, and I can focus on the minority of areas that just aren't working out.  Thus I get results (after much labor) and I do not despair, so I take on more projects. 

The outdoors are different.  I accidentally get brilliant ideas; and I plant sticks.  All of my ideas - good and bad; neglected and dutifully tended; carefully researched and spur-of-the-moment - turn into piles of dead leaves in short order. 

Lately websites have been full of brilliant ideas for gardening and landscaping, and I obligingly click over, knowing as I do that this is what I need to work on for the next six months.  And I look at beautifully organized plants and lovely cheerful al fresco dining arrangements and magnificent blooms and little secret garden paths and I am enchanted.  They're even more beautiful than beautiful interiors.  And then the kindly authors explain just how they went about creating this earthly paradise, and my blood pressure doubles and I click away to the driest reading material I can find, hoping to hide from these manically cheerful people who have planted over 8500 individual creatures in their yards and now have 17,000 thriving, blossoming plants to show for it, and I think about the time that would take, and the good sense that I don't have, and how all of my plants would die and I would go into bankruptcy and still have no garden at all, and how I can assemble woodwork but pavers defy me, and how I would do all this to grow nice foods to eat and grow nothing, and how it is 1100 degrees out (in the shade) on the average summer day in the DC area, and I sunburn in 90 seconds in that weather, and how I love roses and how I feel when they die over and over again, and how I stopped trying to grow them in college because I was so intensely sad about it, and how during heat waves here (i.e., between May and October, continuously), if I forget to water for a single day the plants really suffer, and I am busy, and I do not water every day, and after the very first day I am consumed with guilt and I cannot bring myself to look at the plants, and then they die while I hide from them, and how long it would take to water even more plants than I had last year, and how I would probably accomplish that even less often, and how enormous my yard is (and, according to landscapers, how extremely numerous are the things that I could do with it) compared to just the inside of a house, and how it doesn't rain inside my house and ruin my work, and how much time it takes just to maintain the "distinct rooms" of yard that this article discusses, let alone create these rooms, with gravel in one, and pavers in another, and moss in a third, and then one with moss and a path, and one with a trellis, and then an arbor in another, and one with vegetables (that I kill every year) and another one with exotic flowers (that require endless tending), and a fountain to maintain of course, and then an area for a table and chairs (that need to go inside every time it rains), and every tall bush needs to be "underplanted" with something else for the perfect aesthetic display, and how I need one type of plant in front of my fence and something different for behind it, and how I need to plant flowers that bloom in late spring, and some in early summer, and some mid-summer bloomers, and some late-summer bloomers, all staggered in the same bed, so it is always in bloom, and also I need to repaint the fence all the time since it is outside, where it rains, and how each and every vegetable and flower is subject to different forms of disease and parasites, such that I must remove squash vine borers with my hands, and crush hornworms with my feet, and never overwater some for fear of root-rot, or under-water the neighboring ones as they are vulnerable to drought, and I have to make sure that every inch of my yard is "well-drained" (if it can't drain itself, what am I supposed to do about it?), and test the pH of each and every spot and treat it with chemicals if it's not perfect, and presumably re-test and re-adjust every ten minutes, and apply a special regimen of fertilizer to each plant on a different schedule, and apparently also cook food and keep my house clean and get some sleep and do my job and see my friends and spend time with my husband and call my mother. 

I feel physically ill.  Maybe I can just put plastic flowers and bushes in my yard and buy my vegetables at the grocery store like a decent person. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

make your own exotic fabric throw pillows - cheap!

You know how when you watch HGTV's DesignStar obsessively, and it gets later in the season and there are more and more camera challenges, the judges start hammering the contestants to share some brilliant design tip with the "viewer" that the folks at home would just never have thought of otherwise?  And how most of the design tips are stuff like "breathe new life into old furniture by painting it an unexpected color"?  Thanks, HGTV!  Paint!  Would never have occurred to me! 

(Although I will note that Karl and those sconces with the wires fed through copper piping were legitimately brilliant and fabulous and I still remember and am hoping to use the idea some day.) 

So you get the impression that every cool idea that creates an attractive result and isn't too difficult or expensive is already widely known.  That's probably true here.  But after trying this myself, I think it's pretty darn brilliant, and I haven't seen it anywhere, so I'm sharing.  Ta-da! 

The idea started as I would browse those reused-exotic-textile pillows that cost an absolute fortune - like this one, from One King's Lane:

It's $159 ("Estimated Market Value" is $399.  I'm not making that up.  I mean, I'm pretty sure somebody is, but it isn't me).  And Pottery Barn sells these patchwork kilim floor pillows for - you know what, don't even ask:

I think they're just lovely, but at that price, totally out of the question.*  But it occurred to me that exotic fabric is actually commonly available - in pashmina form.  And thus a plan was born! 

To do this, you will need:
  • 1 pashmina in the print of your choice, at least 6 feet long
  • 2 18" x 18" pillow inserts (preferably feather)
  • 2 zippers, 16" - 18" long (optional, but highly recommended)
  • pins, needles, and thread
  • sewing machine (again, optional but highly recommended)
(Obviously, you can use whatever size you want.  Convert measurements accordingly.) 

As I mentioned previously, I picked out a pashmina from A.C. Moore's extensive selection - it was just $5:

I note that pashmina fabric can be flimsy.  If this pillow is going to get real use, pick a piece in which the woven threads don't catch your fingernail if you run it down the fabric. 

For the reasons discussed by the Nester, you should always go with feather pillow inserts.  My preference is to get them by buying throw pillows second-hand (only if the covers have zippers) and cleaning them.  That's $2-3 per pillow.  C&B also has inserts for $12, and Ikea has 16 x 24s for just $7 (a pashmina would cover two in that size easily). 

I had one of these from C&B that I had picked up at a thrift store:

I really liked the fabric (real silk!), but mine was getting threadbare.  So I mercilessly set it on an ice floe to die stole its feather insert and tore out its zipper.  I did the same to another very similar throw pillow in a color I didn't really need any more.  Make all of your throw pillows work all the time

My fabric is pink and orange on the "right" side - what will be the outside - and green and blue on the "wrong" side, or inside:  

First you have to make sure that your fabric is long enough - it should be just over four times the width of the pillow:

(You could use the old pillow case to measure your fabric, but I just eyeballed it using the pillow itself.   If the case is a little tight, the pillow will just be fluffier.)  If it checks out, then cut it in half as shown above. 

Next, you'll want to zigzag-stitch (or stretch stitch) the raw edge you just cut - right away, before it starts to fray:

(If you don't have a sewing machine, you'll need to roll and stitch each raw edge instead of zig-zagging.)  Obviously, do this for each cut piece. 

Next, you sew together the edges I have helpfully marked with blue dashes (no idea why these pictures came out so tiny - sorry).  Do this WRONG SIDES OUT (see how the pink side of my fabric is shown on the inside below?).  And unless you have magic fingers, I suggest you pin the edges together first. 

Again, obviously, do this with each piece.  Next, pop the pillow on there and figure out where to cut the width:

These measurements are obviously rough; I just left a smidge for a seam allowance.  (I sewed my seams with only about 1/4" allowance [the distance between the seam and the edge of the fabric] because my pashmina was barely long enough.  If you like to be very precise, you could carefully measure a 1/2" seam allowance.  If you really want to.) 

Next, you need to zigzag stitch that raw edge you just cut - the one indicated with blue dashes below. Since you want your zigzag stitches to go through BOTH layers of fabric at once, you should pin them together first so they line up perfectly. After that's done, sew a straight seam just inside of the zigzags (I did mine at about 1/4"):

Turn it right side out now. So close:

Now, as anyone who has made pillow cases before knows, the last edge always has to be hand-sewn.  (Unless you can fit your entire sewing machine inside the pillow case, and also get it out afterward.)  I saved the hand-sewing for the zipper side, since I would probably screw up a machine-set zipper.  In a moment of uncharacteristically good planning, I also saved this operation for the edges that were part of the pashmina's original finished edge - they don't need hemming.  (If you prefer, you can just sew this side closed instead of adding a zipper.  But then you'll never get the pillow out again, will you?) 

So, first, take out the stitches that hold the zipper into your previous pillow.  Next, stitch the zipper onto the inside of the open edges:

As far as I can tell, the best way to understand how to sew in a zipper (if you haven't before) is to carefully examine how the zipper was attached in the previous pillow-case, and copy that.  The machine method is more complicated; the hand method is very simple: two long seams, then tack it down well at the ends.  The halves of my zippers were about 1/2" wide, and I sewed in the center (1/4" from each edge).  This gave the right clearance for the zipper to work smoothly.  I also made sure that the zipper was exactly flush with the edge of the fabric, like so: so:

This made for an almost-invisible zipper when I was done:

I could have finished the ends of the zippers a bit better, I know.  But I am very pleased with the results.  PRETTY PILLOWS:

These pillows came out to $2.50 apiece, plus inserts I already had (that weren't getting much use) and of course some thread.  I hope my explanation is clear enough that someone else can get some use out of this idea - for an outrageous savings off of some of the options out there! 

And, I am sharing my little idea at Susan's Metamorphosis Monday

* I note that there are things in the same general style for better prices. West Elm has this multi-sari version for $29, though I'm unsure about those fabric strips; World Market has a patchwork sari for $25; Pier 1 has something in patchwork for $40; and I just now ran across this, which is pretty amazing.  In fact, that whole site seems pretty cool.