Cats I Have Known

I wrote this post ages ago, while I was stitching the cat portraits. Now that they’re finished and framed I can go ahead and post it…

We adopted Frosty from a great aunt of mine, who couldn’t see anything wrong with starving a pure white angora cat so she would ‘keep the mice down on the farm’. Frosty’s hard start in life meant she hissed when people went near her at first, but she softened up a little (except to Mum, who called her ‘that little bitch’ in moments of frustration). She knew she was a stunner, and would sit inside the front gate, just out of reach, to attract attention – only consenting to come forward for a pat after much admiration and coaxing. She’d greet me there when I got home from school, and ride on my shoulders into the house.

Pepe le Pew was one of many cats dumped up the top of our street, where the greenbelt farms began, usually a few months after Christmas. We found him under the playhouse. He was the cat that turned my Mum from a cat hater to a cat lover. He would come inside and call ‘Mum! Mum!’ until he found her, then if she was napping come up and gently touch his nose to hers. He couldn’t purr, instead making a kind of husky pant that caused much hilarity during quiet pauses in conversation. Being such a pale cat, he developed skin cancer and despite our attempts to remove and prevent it he died at eight years old.

Peri Peri was my first cat. Well, my ex picked him at the shelter because he had ‘attitude’, and I suspect his mood swings were the reason his previous owners reject him. He nearly died a few months later from a blockage in his urinary system caused by the additives in ordinary cat food. Once no longer in pain, his ‘attitude’ changed into affection and playfulness and he became very talkative. We used to play a game where he’d chase me around the house – I’d hide and he’d race around to find me. When I split with the ex I Peri Peri behind, thinking it unfair to drag a cat from familiar surrounds, but adopted him again when the ex moved to an apartment. He soon won Paul over with his doglike ways.

Our current cat, Slinky, is another rescue cat. He was supposed to be 3 years old, but from his kittenish behaviour and his growth after we adopted him we reckon he was about one to one and a half. A former stray, he is freaked out by rain and garbage trucks, but likes people. He’s fast when playing, and easy to train though hard to dissuade from chewing power cords, scratching carpet and swiping at toes. He is a very talkative cat, and twitters at birds through the windows.

Post

We’re back. We’re jet-lagged and glad to be home, with our own bed, pillows, shower, hair products…

There are stories to tell, photos to sort through, and a lack of craft to talk about since I had barely any time for more than a few hours of embroidery over the whole month. But I did do a little sketching here and there – moments of creativity that were like therapy at times.

Of course, when I got back I eyed my workroom critically and made some changes. I’ve come to expect a mood for change after a time away from home. It’s much easier to spot the source of problems when you’re not in the midst of them. In this case, I considered how the space I’m meant to create in was so cluttered that I end up doing everything on the dining table downstairs, and realised that there was only one large thing in the room I would be able to remove without having to get rid of it completely and/or giving up a craft: the day bed.

So I pulled it out of the room, moved the knitting machine and drawing board to the walls and suddenly there is SPAAAAACE! And I decided to swivel the drawing board top so it lays flat to use it as an extra, though high, table.

I will store the daybed mattress under our bed and slide it out if I need to lie flat to straighten my back. We’ll put the base in the garage – since I made the daybed I want to keep it. Though there’s a chance we can fit the daybed in the lounge room, perhaps under the window – which Slinky would approve of.

I’ve also looked at my crafty to-do list. There are some WIPs to finish, projects-in-waiting, and new things to try. Thanks to tacking a pile of projects before I went overseas I feel I can now pick and choose as the mood takes me. The only pressure is to make cards and presents for a certain fast-approaching time of year. (Don’t mention the ‘C’ word.)

In other news, the back of our house isn’t falling off any more. The metals supports have been added to the verandah uprights, so the wall is much less creaky when it’s windy. The shade panels and centre panels of the balustrade are still to be installed, so I’ll wait until then for pics.

Six To-Do List Challenge Conclusion

Well, the six weekends have passed. I managed to defeat only four of the craft categories (if you include TV Craft as a category), but I’ve made a lot of things and got some projects done that have been hanging around for a long time.

The Categories:

TV craft – lots of jewellery projects tackled: Best project: gemstone choker (had lots of compliments)
Dyeing Day – category defeated. Best project: overdyed socks. I’m wearing them at last!
T-shirt Printing Day – category defeated. The t-shirt printing project was a dud, but I wound up spending four half-days on solar dyeing scarves.
Jewellery Day – the only item on this list was to try making something with metal clay, but it needs time to dry thoroughly before firing so I knew I’d have to abandon that category when the last weekend came around.
Overlocking/Accessory Day/s – not defeated but certainly reduced. I wound up combining the two categories since some of the overlocking projects were more easily done on the sewing machine. I probably wound up spending four days on various projects. Best projects: Yarn Shade Card Blanket, Painting Bag, Tweed Purse and Lazy Quilt. Didn’t finish the Fair Isle Hat, Passap Cover or get to the 2 seam 50s top.
Shirt Conversion Day/s – never got to this one. That’s fine – refashioning tends to be a warm weather craft for me.
Bookbinding Day/s – a category I added later, perhaps foolishly because I never got to it.

And the awards go to:

The Yarn Shade Card Blanket for Best Project

The Lazy Quilt for Best Make It Up As You Go Project

The Painting Bag for Most Unexpectedly Awesome Result

The Solar Dyed Scarves for Most Addictive New Craft

The Cook Islands Tshirt Replica for Greatest Anticlimax Project

Winds of Change

A few weeks ago we had an engineer come to look at the big verandah at the back of our house, and a balustrade and fencing company came to do a quote for a new balustrade and shade panels for the verandah.

The fact that the back wall of the workroom flexes in and by about an inch during windy weather had always made me suspect there was something dodgy about having the veranda attached to it. But then, there was a lot of dodgyness about the house extension. When I told the engineer about the flexing he looked horrified. On closer inspection, it looks like the weatherboards are becoming detached from the frame. Also, having the verandah posts bolted to the brickwork lower down is really bad, because brickwork is just cladding – it doesn’t actually provide support. The verandah’s swaying could be detaching the bricks from the real support structure – the framework inside – and the wall could fall down.

Baaaaad idea.

The engineer suggested we keep the verandah attached to the house above the brickwork, but have bracing beams welded between the verandah uprights. As luck would have it, the balustrade company guy said they could do that for us, as they often have to weld supports on to attach a balustrade to anyway.

A few days later, as I was closing the blinds in the workroom, I noticed a new, very strong and very cold draft coming in around the window frame. We’d recently had some unusually strong winds in Melbourne that came from the west rather than north, which had set the verandah swaying left to right rather than back and forth. I suspect they did some damage.

Our intended fix wouldn’t stop that, but when the engineers report came in it was clear he’d discovered the problem. He’d added a recommendation for a cross beam across the width of the wall which would address the flex in that direction. He’d also bumped up the size of the new beams considerably, too. Looking at the technical diagrams and the degree of likely flex in the uprights, it’s a wonder how the structure got passed in the first place.

Note the honking big metal u-beams required to make this thing safe.

We had to get a new quote from Standrite for the extra metalwork. It’s all going to cost quite a bit, but it’s become a matter of fixing a dangerous structural problem. With the bonus of an attractive new balustrade and extra shade on the house, and no more oiling the slats of the balustrade every year. And as Paul says, it probably would have cost it this much extra to have it done right in the first place.

In that way that house maintenance has, we’ll also need to get the metal parts of the verandah repainted, too. The existing paint is covered in rust spots. Since the painter will probably need scaffolding, that’s not going to be cheap either.

Inspections & Improvements

From time to time I notice Paul looking at houses online and get sucked in, and we start bouncing ideas off each other. Two years ago it led to us deciding to build a new garage and turn the old one into a studio. Lately we’ve been at it again, only this time we’ve gone to a few inspections. Just testing ourselves.

We’ve been looking at the one acre properties on the other side of the freeway. Expensive houses with pools and tennis courts. But many have no fences with houses positioned at the back of the block, back yards quite close to the neighbours’, so despite being large pieces of land they feel even less private than typical suburban blocks. Not enough gain and too much loss for the upheaval and cost of upgrading and moving.

When I ask myself what it is about our house I most dislike it’s how hot the upstairs rooms get in summer even with air conditioning. It seems every summer is less bearable (and not only because of menopause, though hot flushes in hot weather is a whole new level of discomfort). If our climate goes the way that’s predicted it’s only going to get hotter and windier.

When I asked Paul what he most disliked he picked the same thing, so we discussed what we could do to the house to reduce the problem. I already had a mental list that went like this:

* Work elsewhere in the house
* Work elsewhere out of the house (Rent an office? Buy a holiday home?)
* Plan to spend summer not working

Paul’s went something like this:

* Remove all the weatherboards upstairs, triple the insulation and replace them, fixing the dodgy flashing the builder put in at the same time.
* Get double glazed windows.
* Put in more ventilation.

So you can see, our minds were in two entirely different places.

Paul’s first two suggestions would cost quite a bit and require emptying the upstairs part of the house. When I said this, Paul pointed out that it wouldn’t cost as much as stamp duty or cause as much hassle as moving house. He also reasoned that we did the extension fairly cheaply and, five years later, we should think of any money we spend on these problems as the extra money we’d would have spent anyway if it had been a better quality extension.

Still, it would be nice to avoid a big upheaval.

We debated the groovy upward-angled verandah at the back and realised that we have quite opposing views about it. Paul doesn’t like how it looks and thinks it doesn’t work. I disagree. It’s meant to shade the house in summer, but by being angled up and out it allows sunlight below the verandah to warm the house in winter, as you can see here:

What bugs me about it, however, is that it makes the back wall of the house creak and move when it’s windy. Now the reason that happens is because, though engineers had approved it as a freestanding structure, the dodgy builder’s plumbers wouldn’t put the roof on it until it was attached to the house because they didn’t like how it swayed slightly under their weight.

As we were sitting in the back yard and looking up at it, I hit on the idea of detaching it again, adding cross beams to the uprights, then putting wooden slats between the cross beams to shade more of the house.

Paul thought it would be ugly. I reasoned that it could look, from a distance, like a balustrade for a deck on the back, and he didn’t mind the sound of that. Then I remembered that I’d found a company that would do a nice aluminium balustrade that could replace ours.

The one made by dodgy builder is shrinking and rotting where they extended the posts (because they made them too short to pass the building inspection) and when they removed the top rail they splintered some but reused them anyway, as you can see here:

Maybe, at the same time as replacing our balustrade, the company could attach matching panels to the verandah. Panels like this example from their site, but with the louvered slats facing out and down so I can still look between them into the garden from the workroom:

So I rang the engineering company we used for the reno to booked a consultation to make sure what we’re doing is safe, and made an appointment for a quote from the balustrade company.

Looks like we’re heading down the home improvement path again.

It’s August…

It’s been a month since I got back from my trip, so last night I had a look at the stuff I wrote when I first got back, in particular the to-do list that turned into an examination of what I do with my time. I’d highlighted what I wanted to do more or less of.

More:
Write short stories – done (well, a novella)
Attend writing critique group – not done
Exercise – done, though mostly unplanned activities
Home maintenance (gardening, etc) and improvement – done
Read – done
More art – done
Travel and take more holidays – planning to

Less:
Convention attendance – well, none have come up to not go to
Tv – no reduction
Craft related internet – moved to evening, mostly
Hobby group meetings during work hours – done

The best solutions were:

* Shift reading Pinterest and Bloglovin’ to the evenings, while watching tv, so I don’t get bored, feel the time is as wasted or hurt my back and hands embroidering too much.

* Do some gardening in the mornings instead. Not every day, though, and only for a half hour or hour to allow my body to get used to it. So far it’s been mostly tidying up – weeding, pruning, cleaning out and rearranging the shed, and putting mulch down. (This is short term, though. Once full summer hits the garden and I will go into ‘hibernation’.)

The other successes have been unplanned or easy because it’s easy to not do something. The novella was commissioned, not initiated by me, for example. I’ve had exercise, but mostly through activities, not imposing a routine. Not attending a craft meeting takes no effort or planning. The trouble is, the same inertia and lack of planning had me miss another crit group meeting, mainly because I didn’t make time to read the stories.

Most of our planning time and energy has been going into another half work, half holiday trip coming up, but Paul has started gathering info for an adventure we might do next summer, or the one after, and I’ve been toying with the idea of a short visit to Japan.

I’ve done some work-related drawing as well as progress on the portrait. I’ve designed and started another cat embroidery. If I hadn’t done anything this month I’d be very worried. I always write better when I’m doing some other kind of creative activity.

The weirdest thing we’ve been doing is looking at houses. Like I need another source of anxiety! So far I’ve concluded that there are a few things about this house I really don’t like, but maybe not enough to face the upheaval of moving and renovating a house to fit our needs. I’m not sure Paul agrees.

Looking back over the month… perhaps it’s all just resettling after a very hectic first six months of the year. Between art classes falling on Tuesdays, working on weekends, and fad hobbies, routine didn’t exist. Not that I’m the sort who needs a strict routine, but meeting more recent deadlines has threatened to send me down the same path again. I just want weekends to be weekends again.

Two free days I know I can plan for. Maybe then I’d plan a little crafting.

Home Again, Home Again, Zippedy Zee

I’m back from a two week part work trip, part holiday. Highlight: talking to Carrie Fischer (I kid you not!). Lowlight: bad food. In between: lots of hanging out with fabulous, interesting people and simply getting out of the house for a while. Oh, and doing my first cross stitch as a gift but forgetting to take a photo of it.

As always, I went into reassessing my habits mode as soon as I got home. I began a to-do list and next thing I was writing down every activity I engage in and picking out the things I’d rather do more or less of.

I came to the conclusion that I have a troubled relationship with craft these days. I enjoy it and it has great benefits, but it can be bad for my health, takes up more room than I have, and sometimes distracts me from more important things. Mostly because I have an obsessive temperament. And I am, as the blog title says, a creative fidget who flits from one craft to another.

The biggest issue I can see is that I spend an awful lot of ‘craft’ time on the internet reading blogs, blogging and looking at Pinterest, all sitting down. I need to get up and move.

I’m far more likely to do a craft if I can do it sitting in front of the tv of an evening, however. The rest of the time I craft on weekends, in the workroom or lounge, finishing a project in a weekend or two, and that does involve moving around. Lately I’ve set up in the lounge more often than the workroom – the sewing and Bond fads I had earlier this year required lots of space and the big dining table.

Like so many times before, I’m wondering if the workroom is the problem. I’ve managed to get everything to fit better, but it means movement is restricted. I suspect that’s why I still have the same piece on the table loom that I started over a year ago, and haven’t touched the knitting machine in ages. Still, the last six months were pretty hectic, work-wise, and that meant a sore back.

The trouble is, to get more space in the workroom I’d have to remove something, or several somethings. Perhaps abandon a craft.

So instead of trying to rearrange the workroom yet again, I’m considering the crafts I do. They seem to fit into three categories for me: odd projects that I do once that occasionally have leftover materials, fad crafts that seize my attention for a short while and I buy lots of stuff for, and commitment crafts that I do long-term that I bought expensive equipment for that takes up space.

Do I need to use up and/or cull the leftovers and fad craft materials? Maybe I’d have more room for equipment then. Though that sort of thing leads to obsessively trying to Use Stash Up rather than doing projects I want to do.

There’s furniture in here that doesn’t have anything to do with craft, too. The day bed, for example, which I do use and the cat loves. Or the drawing board, which I don’t use very often. Maybe I should make a list of furniture and rate it by how often it is used and get rid of the least used pieces.

Maybe I just need a bigger workroom. Maybe I’ve wasted half a morning writing a blog post about how I should spend less time writing and reading about craft.

Wine Glass Slippers

Another project inspired by a Pinterest pin.

Making wine glass charms has been on my mental must-do-someday list for a long time now, but I never got around to it – not even when I had my big jewellery-making temporary obsession last year. Then I saw these and realised if they were all different then they’d work both as coasters and identification devices.

I used felt rather than suede or leather so it would be easier to sew and two different edging stitches. They’re quick and easy, and would make great handmade gifts – perhaps using metallic thread. I considered stitching designs on them too, but figured that they’re likely to get red wine on them at some point. Stains won’t show on the black felt, but they might on the thread.

Loopy

This project has taken a long time, with lots of stops and starts:

A year or two back Mum gave me two doilies she and her sister embroidered as teenagers. She was 14 and my aunt 16. Not being a doily using sort of person, I decided to frame them, but spent a long time hunting for the right frames. Because the orientation of the pattern on the doilies is different they looked strange together, so I wanted separate frames, but I couldn’t find rectangular frames in proportions that looked right. Circular frames would be better, but there didn’t seem to be any of those available.

Eventually I hit on the idea of using embroidery hoops. I was going to sacrifice my own hoop, that I’ve had since I was a child, but once I saw how crappy the ones in Lincraft were I decided to buy two of those and keep my old one in case I needed to embroider something – something I’m glad I did now the stitching bug has bitten me.

Then lots of time passed with me trying to work out how to turn the hoops into frames. Simply stitching them onto cloth and stretching it over the hoops would have been easiest, but I wanted to put the doilies behind glass.

I found some pre-cut particle board circles close to the right size and I got the local glass shop to cut glass to match. Then I sewed the doilies to some calico and stitched that to the particle board. After bit of stain and varnish the hoops looked pretty good.

The hard part was finding a way to keep the glass and embroidery fixed inside the frames. I tried bending brass wall hooks into L-shapes, but couldn’t find nails or screws small enough for the frame. I wound up holding the glass in by hammering nails into the inside of inner circle and cutting off the heads, then using tacks on the back to hold the boards in.

I thought this project was going to drive me crazy a few times but, as always, it was just a matter of waiting for the perfectly simple solution to come along.

Scentendipity

I’ve been feeling pretty crap for the last few weeks. So crap that at times I didn’t even have the energy for crafting. There has been a lot of gazing at Pinterest and Bloglovin, googling stuff and online shopping (my heddles turned up – yay!). Turning to my stock of essential oils to try and ease the aches and pains, I found that some were now out of date. That led to gathering together all the essential and scented oils around the house and to googling phrases like “what to do with old essential oils’.

One of the suggestions I found was to make your own scent diffuser sticks. Now, I must have missed the diffuser stick thing. Probably because they look like incense, which gives me a headache. Or I saw that someone was trying to get me to buy what was essentially (pun not intended) sticks in a jar.

Other people out in the internets must have been as unimpressed as I was at the latter, and made their own by drilling holes in a jar lid and sticking twigs of bamboo skewers through it. I have an abundance of bamboo skewers because I’d experimented a while back on making my own hot chocolate pops.

I was all ready to find a jar to drill a lid into when, in one of those moments of serendipity, I spotted the plastic tube that had come off the long-stem rose Paul had recently bought for a photo shoot. The shape of a test-tube, but with a rubber stopper with, yep, a hole in the top. I have plenty of these from a bunch of flowers someone gave me a few years ago.

So here’s the ‘recipe’ for my Reused Flower Tube Scent Diffusers.
Add 20 or 30 drops of essential or scented oils to tube, attach lid, stick a couple of bamboo skewers in, tie a string around it (I used offcuts from weaving) and hang it on a hook:

Or a door handle

So now my workroom smells of rosemary and peppermint, the wardrobe of lavender, and the bathroom of cranberry and ginger.