Laundry Re-do

A laundry renovation was in our future from the moment we bought this house. The old one contained a wall of cabinets on one side, and just a rusty old sink, water outlets for the machine and a shirt airing rail on the other.

For storage we made do with second hand wire shelving and the cabinet we had to remove from the kitchen because our fridge was 5cm too tall. I asked the kitchen and bathroom company that did our ensuite if they did laundries, and they said no – and suggested we’d use cheaper DIY cabinets than their expensive high-end ones. I asked the plumber if he’d do it, and he said “put in DIY cabinets and then call me for the plumbing”.

In the last couple of years I had played around in Illustrator making plans and elevations so we could discuss the layout. We wanted a decent length of bench space so I can do wet crafts like papermaking and dyeing, and Paul could lay out photo processing chemicals when he used the laundry as a dark room. So this was to be a laundry used for more than washing clothes and storing cat food.

A couple of months ago we decided it was time. We had a layout we liked, and found a brand of flat-pack cabinets from Bunnings that would fit the space. The cabinets were easy enough to construct – similar to IKEA ones. Getting the heavy wall cabinets up onto the wall was a challenge, but we came up with a way that didn’t strain our backs. The plumber came over to sort out the pipes, install the benchtop and glue on the cement sheet for the tiling. I painted the wall, Paul added kickboards and I did the tiling and caulking.

And it was done:

I’m pretty chuffed that we managed to do most of it ourselves. The tiling was the most challenging, but only because space I was tiling was about 5mm off the tile size, and it’s really hard to cut a strip that small from a tile.

I’ve done some dyeing in there since. Paul has tackled most of the tasks he needs to do to use the laundry as a darkroom. He’s removed a set of wall cabinets on the other side, which meant I had to patch the plaster and help him repaint the area. He just needs to find a neat way to cover the window when he needs to and block the light leakage around the doors.

Internetlessness

We’ve finally got internet again after making the mistake of signing up for the NBN two and a half weeks ago. Paul has lost too many hours of his life to being on hold and arguing with Optus call centre staff. We had the NBN techies here three time. In the end, after the two companies blamed the other several time, it was a simple configuration problem spotted by a second-tier Optus techie that fixed it.

We weren’t completely internetless, of course, because we could access it on our mobiles. However, after we used half a month’s data in a day (Facebook appeared to be the main culprit) we turned off data for everything but email and Messenger.

It was an interesting lesson in how much we rely on it, and how much we don’t. I had to do my BAS (quarterly tax) on paper, which meant taking photographs of all the documents I didn’t have as files in case they went AWOL and sending Paul out to deliver them to my accountant. I had to photograph the pages of a Word Document on my computer screen and email them to my editor.

My biggest worry, as the weeks began to multiply, was that something would happen to my Dad, and Mum – who has dementia and never adapted to mobile phones – wouldn’t be able to reach me.

But of the ‘unimportant’ stuff, I was intrigued to note what I missed and didn’t miss. I missed this blog more than I expected. I was most frustrated about not being able to look up information, especially, I’m ashamed to admit, searches relating to shopping. Though I don’t buy a lot online, I certainly do a lot of research there.

What I didn’t miss was social media. And yet, I missed connection to my friends. The way they work is rife with irritations you put up with so you can know what your friends are doing at any moment and can arrange a get-together easily.

The pleasure of not being a slave to the Facebook feed led me to consider leaving it, as a friend of mind has temporarily, and cutting back on other distractions. I do something like this every holiday, culling what I follow so I can keep up, then when I get home I slowly accumulate again.

The phone is a big part of the problem. It’s with me, everywhere and every hour, at every moment of weakness. I finish doing something I think “what now?” and immediately pick up the phone to check social media, play another round of Words With Friends and eventually check my to-do list. It’s the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing at night.

I spend far less time just thinking, processing what I’ve absorbed, letting ideas come and develop, getting a sense of priorities. I could happily lie in bed letting my mind drift of a morning, content to look up the weather when I got to my computer or catch up with world events via the evening news.

I was a much less anxious person before I had an iPhone. Though I can’t blame it all on this device, limiting my use of it is something I can control. Unlike world politics, everyday unfairness and health problems.

Halfway

I’m getting close to halfway through the six month break from writing I decided to take in the hopes I could heal and strengthen my neck enough that I could at least get back to the level and frequency of pain I had before last year. It was all going well until about four weeks ago, when pilates classes stopped thanks to a minor virus forcing me to miss the last class followed by the school holiday break.

I was amazed at how quickly things went backwards. Clearly pilates is doing something good. It’s also the first time I’ve noticed that not doing something made it worse. Usually I’m looking for the thing I did that aggravated the neck. I can identify one activity that had a detrimental effect, but I did it a few weeks after the decline became obvious so it can’t be the cause.

The upshot is that after three months I feel worse than I did at the start, but I’ve learned something: don’t stop pilates even for a few weeks! I’ve got to work out how I’m going to manage that when the place closes over school holidays.

The Photo Album Project

Some years back, when I was on Pinterest, I followed a pin to a website with sensible suggestions for getting photos organised and into albums. I thought I’d managed the first step: getting all photos into one spot. After that I got busy, and the enormity of the task overwhelmed me every time I thought about tackling the next step. Especially this last year, when I had to start limiting my time on the computer. Making photo books was never going to rise high enough on the computer time priority list to ever happen.

As January arrived, I got all enthused again after I got some photos printed to use as photo references. It hit me that if I gave up on the idea of photo books and just had photos printed and slotted into album, the albums might actually happen.

Then I had a look at my old albums, and saw that some of the photos from my childhood are fading. I really ought to scan those or get a hold of the negatives and print replacements that’ll last longer. They’re in one of the old photo corner style albums, and I still haven’t got around to adding the corners for the last third of the album – the photos are just slotted loose between the pages where I intended to put them. So there was that to do. I started a list:

Photo project #1: finish first album

Once that album had filled up, I had kept the rest of my photos in plastic envelopes and a couple of albums for specific holidays. I really ought to put the photos in the envelopes into albums, so that went onto the list:

Photo project #1: finish first album

Photo project #2: put photos in envelopes in albums

Most of my holiday pics from the late 80s to 00s and are slides, because I used to take pics with Lonely Planet books in mind (employees and ex-employees were encouraged to, but eventually they started an image library and became very fussy about the style of photos accepted). Getting them scanned to print as photos was too cost-prohibitive in those days, but a friend scans slides for a modest fee so I recently had her do all mine. I just needed to select what I want printed. That became a task all of its own:

Photo project #1: finish first album

Photo project #2: put photos in envelopes in albums

Photo project #3: select, scan and print slides and put in albums

It occurred to me that my photos really fit in three categories: birth to independence, independence to Paul, Paul onwards. The Photo Album Project was growing rapidly larger, so this division seemed a good way to break a big project into smaller chunks. I also decided that the holidays from the ‘Independence to Paul’ era would be combined, chronologically, with photos of friends, family and events, but holiday photos from Paul onwards would be in separate albums since we’d already made a few photo books. So the list suddenly became more complicated:

Photo project – Birth to Independence

#1: scan and print fading photos

#2: add corners and insert rest of photos

Photo project – Independence to Paul

#1: move post-independence photos from first album to new one

#2: select, scan and print slides

#3: select photos from envelopes

#4: fill albums with #2 & #3 plus holiday album contents, chronologically

Photo project – Paul Onward

#1: select images of non-holiday subjects (family, friends, pets and events) from 2002 onwards, print and place in albums

#2: select images from holidays not yet in albums and either make albums or photo books

I could break the last task into the separate albums, too, but for now the list is intimidating enough! Of course, a lot of the work involved requires using a computer, so I’m delegating as much of that as possible to Paul.

I’d like to concentrate on one chunk of the project at a time, but so far I’ve wound up concentrating on bits of all them. I can’t do much on the Birth to Independence album because Dad is looking into whether he has negatives of the early photos. I’d start moving later photos from that album to the Independence to Paul albums, except we don’t yet have albums. I’ve found some nice-looking acid-free ‘slip-in’ photo albums online, but the shop doesn’t open until mid-January.

So I’ve been tackling the slides. This had me going through old diaries to date them, going through holiday diaries to caption them, renaming files and sorting them into folders (so much for avoiding the computer!), and I’ve just started selecting what I want to print.

As for the Paul Onwards albums, I’ve selected all my non-holiday photos. Once Paul chooses his we can print everything and start filling albums. It might end up being the easiest of the projects chunks to finish.

Deadlines, Lists & Tidying Up

The last couple of months have been a bit trying. I came back from overseas expecting an edit of my current book to arrive soon after, but it was delayed by a few weeks. Every day I’d wake up, check the internet and see it hadn’t arrived, and then decide what I wanted to do with the day. Which was nice, but had me constantly on edge, unable to plan anything.

Then the edit arrived and, oh boy, was it a mess! It took me a week just to go through and work out if there was a problem, and what that problem actually was. Then it took until last Wednesday to finish tackling them and submit the corrected manuscript.

Aside from the difficult format the edit was in and the number of issues to tackle, the main reason it took so long is that I still can’t work for more than an hour or two a day. I learned this the hard way when, a few days before finishing, my neck problem flared up again and I wound up in so much pain that over-the-counter pain killers didn’t work, and I resorted to vodka. (It was a Sunday, so no chance of seeing my doctor.)

As you can imagine, there has been almost no crafting for most of this time. Nothing to blog about, except maybe whinging that I couldn’t do any craft, and then my one to two hour limit meant I couldn’t type that anyway. The blog post I did make were mostly pre-written or constructed in several small sessions, eked out as long as possible.

Well, the edit is done and manuscript submitted. The next day we went present shopping. The day after I walked through the house and make a list of everything we needed to do to tidy up before Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and we spend the rest of the day tackling three quarters of that, and the rest all but one item (tidy the craft room) by yesterday. On Sunday I made a list of things to tidy up outside, but it’s going to take longer. A couple of trips to the tip are involved, and one major sewing project.

So not much craft has happened since I submitted the ms either! But last night I sewed together several squares of the Gampa blanket, and today is rainy so I’m thinking a tidy-up of the craft room is in order. Perhaps I’ll soon have something craft to post about.

2016 You Suck… Mostly

I hate to judge something as arbitrary as a year, but – aside from a few bright spots – 2016 has been a bit sucky. Not a disaster. Not terrible. Though premature deaths of people I admired, political stupidity and callousness and awful things happening out in the wider world have certainly added to the feeling of gloom.

Sucky:
The new garage sitting empty for six months because the concreter never turned up to finish the job.

Sudden worsening of my back, perhaps due to a compressed disc in my neck.

Which meant I could only work an hour a day and delivered a book four months late.

This meant I couldn’t do more art classes before my teacher retired at the end of the year.

Structural edits for the book are, for the first time, not straightforward and likely to take until December to complete.

Ongoing drainage issues around our house.

Not Sucky:
Painting doesn’t hurt my back.

Only being able to work an hour a day means I can still go to more than the one art class per week.

My portrait of Lucy made it into the Moran semi-finals (but not the finals)!

The landscaping looks great and has improved some of the drainage issues.

If I was the sort to believe ‘the universe’ was trying to tell me something, I’d conclude it was urging me to give up writing and pursue a fourth career in portraiture. I’m not sure I want to, though. I’ve turned art into work before, by working as an illustrator, and it took a lot of the fun out of it.

The List of Lists

Holidays can be like punctuation marks in the flow of daily routine. Sometimes they’re a like a comma – a small interruption after which life continues in the same vein. Sometimes they’re like full stops – things begin anew but on the same or similar subject. Sometimes they’re like paragraph returns – a shift in direction. And sometimes it’s like an entire chapter finishes and another begins.

The new problem with my neck that began at the beginning of this year forced me to find a new routine. I had to work out what I could and couldn’t continue to do by trial and error, and found that I needed to restrict sitting and typing/weaving/whatever to an hour at a time, once or twice a day.

Since what I do for a living involves sitting and typing, that meant lots of changes. But I had a deadline, which kept moving as I discovered my limits. Eventually I knew I’d finish just before going overseas, and a lot of things I needed or wanted to do were pushed onto the ‘when we get back’ list.

Now that we’re back, I’ve been considering all those things, and all my to-do lists. Last week I divided everything into six categories that fit across my computer screen: work, general, house, garden, art and craft. (I use a program called Stickies.) It allows me to not just prioritise within a category, but across them. And when one task is held up, I can consider spending my time on high priority tasks in other categories as well as in the same one.

It’s been working really well. When bad weather meant I couldn’t tackle many of the more important tasks, or items further down, I moved across the lists until I found something I could do. That turned out to be renovating a loom I’d rescued from the Guild. Knowing I really couldn’t do those other things means I could work on it guilt-free. I didn’t stuff around wasting time in the house or on the internet.

As a result I’ve got the loom finished in time to put it up for sale at the Guild’s Textile Bazaar next Saturday. I’ll be bringing in the Ashford Table Loom on the homemade stand as well as the Dyer & Phillips loom. Hopefully they’ll find new homes and I’ll make back the money I spent on them with a little extra for my time… to spend at the bazaar!

Bits & Pieces

After around twenty years of neck pain, I finally got around to having an MRI done last month. The physios and the one osteo I’ve been to over the years never suggested I get one. They’ve all said my problems are muscular, not spine-related. But after all the pain I had earlier this year, and the slow recovery, I figured it was time to have a closer look at what’s going on in there.

Though the MRI did reveal some minor spinal problems, like small bone spurs on one side and a slightly compressed and bulging disc, the assessment didn’t point to them as the major causes of pain. It is more likely it is soft tissue damage. The up side is that I can work on those. Bone and disc problems are much harder to treat.

It all means doing less of the things that cause the problems (typing, looking down or turning my head) and more stretches and exercise to strengthen the muscles. Actually I’ve been doing all of the above for years, just not to the degree I’m going to have to go to now. Since writing is the main culprit, it means cutting back on the activity that is my source of income. To put a more positive spin on that I’ll be calling myself ‘semi-retired’ for a while.

Does that meant more crafting time? Unfortunately, no. I need to avoid sitting for long periods, particularly when it involves extending my arms in front of me and making repetitive movements. What will I do with my time instead? Exercise, obviously. Short stints of gardening. Portrait painting. Helping Paul with his photography.

And maybe we’ll do some things we’ve talked about for ages, like travelling within Australia, cooking classes, learning a language and growing veges. I’m all for treating setbacks as opportunities. Who knows, I may like this lifestyle better!

To Donate, or Not to Donate

Vintage and second hand clothing has been very popular for a while now. More and more savvy shoppers have realised that the duds of the past were often better quality and made so that they could be taken in or let out. Retro became trendy. So has refashioning.

The authors of the three books I read visited charities to investigate what happens to donated clothing. Though they were based in Australia, the US and the UK respectively, they reported the same findings. The amount of good quality clothing has diminished as the good stuff has been snatched up or sold on to vintage retailers, and incoming low quality clothing has swamped stores with clothes only fit for landfill.

We’ve all heard how charity stores struggle to deal with people ‘donating’ actual rubbish, including soiled nappies and underwear among bags of clothing. Of people using the front of charity stores as a free rubbish skip. Thoughtless stupidity aside, people make a lot of assumptions about what happens to the clothes they give to op shops.

Of what charity shops receive, only a small portion is sold in their shops. The rest goes to rag-suppliers, fibre recyclers, the second hand market in Africa, or landfill.

The clothes that go to Africa are compressed into cubes wrapped in plastic. At their destination buyers have to choose based on only what they can see. African customers have their own clothing preferences (flares are hugely popular, apparently) and the best charity sorters keep this in mind when choosing garments. The unscrupulous use the system to dump unwearable rubbish in Africa, so there’s a risk for the buyers in every cube. One bad cube can put them out of business.

While it’s great that some of this clothing finds a home, the massive influx of cheap cast-offs has meant the local garment-making industry in Africa has been badly affected, and traditional methods of construction are in danger of being lost.

I’m not saying don’t give clothing to charity shops. It’s better that what you donate has a goes to a rag suppliers than landfill if it doesn’t make the cut for resale. But bear in mind when you shop that the low quality fast fashion pieces are probably going to end up in landfill, and if it’s polyester it’ll never break down.

Give the good stuff to charity shops. Wash it first. Iron it, too. And if you replace that button or broken zip, give the shoes a quick polish or clean, and even save shop labels until you wear an item the first time, because if you’ve never worn there’s a better chance of it getting on a rack.

Better still, if it’s in really good nick, consider refashioning, dyeing, repairing, giving or swapping clothes with friends.

Fast & Not So Fabulous

What was new and very fascinating to learn from the books and articles I read was this idea of ‘fast fashion’. It shocked me that I hadn’t noticed the huge shift in how garment retailers operate, though on reflection I had picked up on most of the signs. What I’d noticed was this:

Clothing is the same price, if not cheaper, than it was in the 80s.
Quality is more uneven and more often worse than better.
T-shirt material keeps getting thinner. Sometimes practically see-through.
Shops are having sales more often than not having sales.
Designs don’t stick around for a whole season, so if you go back for something chances are it isn’t available any more.
More clothing is made from polyester.

It turns out brands don’t release new clothes in seasons anymore. Instead they’ve shortened the time between new styles arriving in stores to weeks, even days. All three books pointed to Zara, a Spanish company, for introducing this system. They have basic full or partial garments made up in ‘greige’ somewhere like Bangladesh and air freighted closer to their distribution centre in Europe, so they can be dyed, finished and embellished according to phoned-in observations of on-the-ground trend reporters, and delivered in store in as short a time as possible.

Of course, that means that the foundation garments are essentially the same. What changes is the easy stuff like colour and embellishment. What doesn’t change that much is fabric and more dramatic cut and shape. Clothes are only in stores for a month or so before they’re removed, so it encourages shoppers to drop in regularly. And they do – two to three times more often.

Though it doesn’t seem like it would, this system reduces the amount of stock that doesn’t sell. For a fast rotation of styles to work means the clothes must be incredibly cheap. With or without it, clothing prices have been on a race to the bottom for a few decades now, and that means a generation has grown up thinking unsustainably low prices are normal, and the rest of us have assumed the old ‘high’ prices were due to brands taking a huge profit.

Interestingly, high-end fashion prices have been rising as dramatically as cheap ones have dropped. What has suffered is mid-priced, good quality fashion. Part of the reason for that is that garment manufacturers in developed countries survive by specialising in high-end product, while those in developing countries aren’t interested in the smaller order sizes that mid-priced brand require. This also means that new designers find it very hard to get a foothold in the industry.

And then there’s the fact that most shoppers can’t see the value in the more expensive garment and are confused by the fact that the same garment can cost more in a middle-sized chain simple because of the economies of scale – smaller garment manufacturing orders cost more per piece than big ones. Shoppers have lost the ability to identify quality, let alone value it. Even judging the quality of cloth by thickness is no guarantee, because additives can add a quarter of the thickness to it, only to be removed on the first wash. Most of all, having never made a garment or watched a parent or grandparent make one, young buyers don’t see the work that goes into making clothes or recognise the details that indicate good workmanship.

While fabric production and cutting can be done by machine, the making up of garments still relies on people. Large-scale production favours a system where each worker does one small task, so the training they get is only good for them getting the same king of job. Fancy design requires training or more skilled and expensive workers, so garments are designed with simple construction. This system has put countless skilled tailors out of work, in both the developed and developing world, and led to the dumbing down of fashion styling.

It raises the question: what price do you put on innovation and skill?

That’s the irony in the current way we buy clothes. It’s called ‘fast fashion’ to imply you are keeping up with on the minute trends, but it has made this era’s mainstream clothing more homogeneous and less adventurous.

Little wonder, then, that vintage and charity shopping has become so popular. Though that is facing it’s own problems… but I think that’ll have to be another post.