September 2004 Archives

boning and bone casing

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OK, after the grommet problem was resolved next up was the boning and bone casings. I already wrote about making the bone casings, and sewing them in place was fairly easy. Just place the bone casing centered over a seam, then sew it down on both sides, close to the edge. I did have to go slow to make sure the stitching was nice and even on both sides. Not only for neatness, but also if the seam drifted too far in, there wouldn't be enough room inside the casing for the boning.

The photo shows one half of the corset with the bone casings all sewn on. If I do say so, the two colors look pretty nice together. Even with interfacing these bone casings are a bit on the light side. I'd be worried about the boning popping out if it were going to get any heavy duty use, but it's just for a costume so I think it will be OK.

Next was the boning. There are two kinds of boning used in corsetry: white steel and spiral steel. White steel is a strip of steel that has a white coating, so it won't scratch I guess. It comes in various lengths, and you just buy the lengths you need. Spiral steel is made of tiny coils of steel wire, with a metal tip on each end to prevent scratching. I thought the tip was to prevent unraveling, but actually the coils are crimped together pretty well and don't unwind. It also comes in precut lengths, or you can buy a 10 yard length and tip it yourself.

(There's also plastic boning, which I think is used in clothing where lighter support is appropriate, like prom dresses. But plastic wouldn't hold up in a corset, everyone uses steel.)

I already had a bunch of white steel from my old corset, which I originally planned to reuse. But then I read that the advantage of spiral steel is its flexibility. White steel, being a flat strip of metal, only bends one way, while spiral steel bends in all directions. Apparently if you're trying to create a nice hourglass figure with your corset, spiral steel is the way to go. Also it's easier to move while wearing the corset if it has spiral steel. Which is a good thing!

So I ordered spiral steel. For cost reasons I bought the 10 yard length instead of precut. Most of the boning in a typical corset is 1/4" wide, but I lucked out and also got 10 yards of 1/2" wide because they sent me the wrong thing. They let me keep the half-inch and sent another roll of the quarter inch. The delay of a few days was no big deal, so it worked out great for me.

Cutting and tipping spiral steel requires a lot of tools. The corset supply company sells a very expensive boning cutter, which I did not buy because I already had a bolt cutter. In fact I had a funny exchange with Lisa when she was here helping me tear down the paneling in the bedroom: I was looking for the extra pry bar, and didn't find it, but did yell out "Hey, I found the bolt cutters! I need those for my corset!"

Unfortunately the bolt cutters didn't slice right through the boning like I thought they would. It was more like wiggling the boning back and forth against the bolt cutters to snap the individual wires. Sometimes I also needed a pair of wire cutters to finish them off.

Once the boning was cut, getting the tips on was a bit trickier. If you squash them flat with pliers, the sides splay out. But if you pinch the sides, the top and bottom puff out. The only way I found to do it was to use two sets of pliers at once: wide ones on the sides, and then needle nosed on the top and bottom. Alas, I did not get a photo. It was hard enough just to do it, I didn't want to fool around with making Georg take a photo too.

The boning fit into the casings just right. A bit snug, but they went in there so all is well. And with that, the corset is almost done! All I have left to do is finish the top and bottom edges. Then the chemise and bloomers have to be made, but those will be easy. Actually the corset was easier than I expected. It was time consuming and tedious, but there weren't any tricky seams or anything. I've made dresses that were more difficult.

grommets redux

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Well I was working on the art gallery site redesign tonight, but frankly the presidential debate was so depressing I couldn't concentrate on my work. I'm filled with a sense of dread and creeping panic about the election. Why did I even watch that stupid debate? Damn sense of civic duty.

Now the debate is over and we're watching tonight's Survivor. Ahh, much easier on my mental state. Armchair analyzing the strategies of a bunch of losers on an island is so much more fun than analyzing the strategies of our evil overlord and his would-be successor. I'm so cheered up that I can finally write up the progresss on my corset.

Okay, the first thing I did was replace the piece I had done backwards. I had to remove that whole end piece, cut new fabric and sew it back together. This time I sewed the layers together, but didn't sew the piece onto the corset until I was sure the grommets were in right. I did get a photo of the grommet setter. Which, let me repeat, is a waste of money which no one should buy. As you can see, it looks like a hole punch, with a place to put each half of the grommet.

The problem is that unless your hands are strong enough to crack walnuts, there's no way to exert enough pressure to set the grommet. I had to hold it against the makeshift anvil (dumbbell) with one hand and whack it with a hammer with the other. Very awkward. Note also the cutting board, which I used to make sure the hammering didn't mark the coffee table.

The grommets did go in OK this time, I managed not to put them in backwards or anything, and sewed the piece on. Next up, boning!

Movable Type 3.1


I just installed MT 3.1. They charge now for an installation with multiple authors, but they credited my previous donation, so the cost was very little. Besides, it's well worth it for a tool I use so much. Here's hoping this entry posts!

server errors


I've been noticing a lot of server errors with Movable Type. Some investigation has determined that the MT-Blacklist plugin is the likely cause. I can't get rid of this plugin because it blocks the evil comment spam. (On a slow day I get about 30 comment spam; yesterday I got over 200.) I tried reinstalling the blacklist but that seems to have made it worse.

I'm going to try upgrading to MT version 3, but I won't have time to do that for a few days. In the meantime, sorry for all the errors when comments are posted. Generally the comment is getting posted but the server is crashing during the rebuild. In other words, there's no need to repost your comment.

the communal shirt


Thanks to Jeanne it was a cool day today. Which gave me the opportunity to wear the very loud polyester shirt I bought at Pennies for Change earlier this year. I bought it right when it was starting to get warm, so I hadn't been able to wear it until now.

Sylvia stopped by the station during my show this afternoon. Based on the way her eyes bugged out when she saw my shirt, I thought she was just really impressed with my fashion sense. But no, it turns out that my shirt has a history. It seems that Niku bought this very shirt from a thrift store and gave it to Sylvia. It didn't fit quite right, so Sylvia gave it to Pennies for Change. From whom I bought it, making me the third XDU dj to own the shirt. That we know of -- there could be more!

I commented to Sylvia that the shirt is like the station's monkey paw: we can't get rid of it. But does it bring good or bad luck? She said that I should embellish the shirt's origin story, and Howard suggested I could say that I found the shirt in a basket, wrapped around a baby. And I took the shirt but left the baby.

But jeez, I think the shirt's true origin is interesting enough. It's the XDU communal shirt or something. I feel like I have an obligation at the end of the season to give it to another DJ, so it can continue its journey through the closets of all of XDU. Anybody want a really loud, slightly used, polyester shirt?

save our starlite

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Had a good time at the car show this afternoon. Took lots of photos, almost all of which turned out horribly blown out from today's extra-bright sun. Why do you never have a polarizing filter when you need one? (it's actually on order but hasn't arrived yet, boo hoo.) But what the heck, I had fun. Didn't make it to the benefit show at Ooh la Latte but I did manage to write some reviews for the station and plant nasturtium seeds. Also last night made some major progress on the corset, which I will be writing up soon I hope.

tgi .. whatever

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Been working a lot. Work, work work. It's good to have work, although not so great when two jobs conflict. One thing I have learned in the past week is never, ever drop everything to respond immediately to a client's computer crisis. I did that a couple of times when I had no work & was glad for an opportunity to get out of the house and get paid. I'm way too busy now to rush right over when they call, but it's awkward because they've come to expect it. (Kind of annoying too: they're not paying me to be on call.)

The other important lesson I learned: before putting in extra hours to get a project off your plate, make sure you're working on the correct part of the project! Earlier this week I put in tons of time to get something done before a client's meeting, only to find out that they don't have any time to work on it before the meeting and wanted me to do something else. Grr! I have no one to blame but myself for that one. But still, grr.

I just got done subbing the RPM show. It was very fun, though the last forty five minutes were a bit chaotic, what with the urban DJs and their friends piling into the control room and setting up all their equipment. We had a potential equipment crisis because they needed the turntables, no one there knew the combination to the cabinet, and we couldn't get anyone on the phone who knew it. But we did finally talk to the urban director who gave us the combination. They dragged out the turntables and set them up, only to discover that they were both missing the needles! We took the needles off the regular turntables, which will totally fuck them up if they do any scratching. But what could we do, they had to have needles.

Anyway I felt like my show pretty much fell apart in the last half hour because of all the commotion. I guess I don't have good concentation, because I have a really hard time doing a show with a bunch of people in the MCR with me, talking to each other and taking cell phone calls. At least they were all friendly and unfailingly polite. (One of them had brought a little acoustic guitar that kind of looked like a ukelele, and played along with my last track. That was cool.) And the best part is the regular RPM dj promised to bring me back an Alcatraz t-shirt. Yay!

I was at the station last night too, doing new DJ training. I'm not really a joiner; I should attend board meetings and music staff meetings but I never go to either. Training is good because otherwise I'd never meet anyone at the station. Hung out for a little while with Christa and Rick! afterwards, but I was feeling a little hoarse from talking to the trainees for two hours so I didn't stay and talk for very long.

Not much time for gardening this past week, but I did divide and replant some irises. Big blue bearded irises, very pretty. My friend Peggy had given them to me when I first moved in here, and I didn't know I was supposed to divide them. So they had just sat in the same spot for years and years, getting more and more crowded. I divided them yesterday and planted them along the driveway today. Once they were divided it turned out to be so many! They really fill up the space I had set aside for them. I added a few new ones -- blue and white, peach, and black (which idea we got from Lisa, who's planning black tulips in her garden) -- but it's mostly all the blue ones from Peggy. They never bloomed much where they used to be. I think this was because the soil was bad, they weren't getting enough sun, and we recently discovered that Thirteen likes to pee there. But the new bed is nice and sunny, I added lots of compost before planting, and it's outside the fence so the dogs can't pee on it. If the irises like it there and bloom well, it will look really impressive.

My friend Nancy offered to give me irises (blue and yellow bearded, and blue and purple siberian) when she divides them later this year, so I left room to add them to the iris bed. I'm amazed at how generous gardeners seem to be. Several people have offered to give me perennials from their own gardens. My friend David is even having his father (president of the TN daylily society) bring me some daylilies when he visits next month!

beer on my weave


The first new episode of America's Next Top Model aired tonight and it looks to be another brilliant season. I do not understand why I am the only person I know watching this show. It's far and away the best reality show out there.

This time they showed part of the casting process in the first episode. Which is a trend from Real World that I'm not crazy about, it just muddies the water by introducing a lot of people you aren't ever going to see again. But on the other hand it was fun to see the audition interviews. They made the right call by keeping the bitch who's just mean (for instance, calling the painfully thin girl "disgusting" to her face and accusing her of lying about whether she had an eating disorder), but getting rid of the bitch who started a bar fight on their first night. If they feel like they need someone to create conflict, they're better off with the one who makes people cry as opposed to the one who throws beer bottles.

The painfully thin girl (who insisted she did not have an eating disorder, but nonetheless was scary thin) did not make the cut. Frankly I think the only reason she was there was so they could get film of Tyra saying her body sends a negative message to women. They've gotten a lot of mileage in previous seasons from conflict between the Christians and the non-religious, but there were no obvious bible-thumpers yet. Though there was one girl who talked about her conversative values and wore a gown with the US Flag on it, who might fit the bill.

(On a totally unrelated note, I have to laugh whenever I see someone talk about how patriotic they are, and then show it by wearing a dress or suit made out of the flag. The vast majority of those hyper-patriotic displays of the US flag are not only tacky, but violations of the official Flag Code. Every yahoo who wears a flag shirt or attaches flags to their car windows is actually disrespecting the flag. When the car window flags were in vogue, I thought about making up little flyers with the Flag Code on them and leaving them on windshields. But that seemed too much like work. Silently snarking on them is much easier.)

The show did include the regular line-up of blandly pretty women, plus a few with one minor flaw or unusual quality (bad skin, big nose, somewhat short, etc) that will come in handy if they need an easy elimination; the plucky disabled woman (lupus last season, blindness this season); and the token plus-sized woman. Who I must say is actually large, not large-for-a-model size 8 or something, and also seems honestly happy with her body. Of course she won't win, but I read that Tyra includes at least one larger woman in every season because she wants to show young viewers that they don't have to be super-skinny to be beautiful. Then again, Tyra herself is (bizarrely) considered a bit large for modeling, so maybe a TV show set in the modeling industry isn't the best milieu to try and promote positive body images.

Alas, the episode ran a minute or two late so the DVR cut out before the preview for next week. I can't wait though. Any show that includes the line "bitch poured beer on my weave" in the very first episode has got my full attention. They're going to rerun tonight's show on Friday in anyone wants to catch up.



I'm at a client's office trying to repair their crash-happy computer. (I seriously need this T-shirt.) Right at this moment the disk doctor is running, so rather than sit around looking stupid I might as well do something of my own. Luckily I brought my own computer along.

So, this past weekend we planted the hydrangea bed in front of the house. The bed in front of the house has been a problem for a long time, because the dogs like to sleep up against the foundation. I guess it's cooler against the concrete blocks. They also like to dig at the ground wherever they sleep, again to cool down. Over the years this has resulted not only in nothing growing there, but also in a ditch a foot deep or so, all along the front of the house. This is very bad. It encourages water to sit there, which can eventually cause the foundation to crack. You really want the earth up against your house to be higher so the water will run off, not the other way around.

I never used to like hydrangeas, but someone mentioned them to me recently (I wish I could remember who so I could thank them), and I was surprised to discover how many varieties are available online. We bought all different varieties, but tried to choose ones that will be about the same size (4' high and wide) but have different flowers. Of course we'll probably end up with one that's much taller than the others, but it will be a few years before they get big enough to notice.

We ordered six from Joy Creek Nursery and one from I had hoped to get them all from a nursery nearer here, since that way we'd know they could handle Southern summers. is in Atlanta, but they are very expensive and seem to specialize in lacecaps, which I'm not crazy about. Those are the ones that have a mass of little tiny flowers with a ring of big flowers around it. I prefer the ones with a big pom-pom of flowers, which are called mopheads. Joy Creek, in Oregon, had better prices and a really good selection of mopheads, so most of our order came from them.

The plants from Joy Creek arrived last Thursday and luckily, the one from came the very next day. They were all very well packed and looked healthy. Actually one of the Joy Creek plants was a bit the worse for wear, but I think it was because the plant was leggier, so the leaves got bumped around a bit more. The root structure looked great so I think the plant will be fine. A couple of them were in pots but most of them were wrapped in damp newspaper with plastic wrap wrapped tightly around the newspaper, instead of a pot. I think I already posted about putting them in shade and mulching them so they'd have a couple of days to get used to their new home before planting.

Creating the bed was actually pretty easy. We hardly had to do any digging because the dogs had already dug up that whole bed. There were just a couple of lingering plants to be removed, and a little digging near the edges of the house where the dogs don't tend to sleep.

We filled the space up with two giant bags of peat and eight bags of compost. Also, when the dogs were digging they tended to kick the soil up onto the concrete path, where it packed down and eventually covered the path. I had almost forgotten that there even was a path under there. Georg scraped all that soil off the concrete and shoveled it back into the beds. Not only did that add a bunch of surprisingly nice soil to the bed, but the path looks great! Like a real sidewalk that people would actually want to walk on. He even swept the walk after he was done shoveling.

Because of all the peat and compost, the soil in that bed is about a hundred times better than anywhere else in the yard. I hope the hydrangeas are happy there! The light there is good for them too: dappled semi-shade most of the day, then in late afternoon (4 pm or so) the left side of the bed moves into full sun and the rest of it goes into full shade. We put the sun-tolerant ones on the left side, but none of them will ever have that brutal mid-day summer sun beating down on them.

The last step was to prevent the dogs from digging again. I don't want them to get in there and undo all the work we did! We put up a lightweight 2 foot fence, just bamboo stakes and some plastic mesh. It wouldn't keep them out if they really wanted to get in there, but it's enough of a visual barrier that they haven't even tried. I'm hoping that by the time we get that whole bed mulched and planted up with ground covers, the dogs will have forgotten they used to dig in there all the time, and the fence won't be necessary. Which sounds silly, but sometimes my dogs' habits are surprisingly easy to break. If you can just distract them long enough, they seem to forget all about it. (My friend Nellorat used to say that when talking about dogs, "loyal" is a good euphamism for "stupid," i.e. "Dogs are so loyal.") For instance, Lina used to sleep on the bed all the time, but we kept her out of the bedroom for eight weeks after her surgery so she wouldn't jump. When we finally stopped shutting the bedroom door, she'd lost interest in the bed & hasn't tried since.

Unfortunately I don't think we'll get any flowers next year, because hydrangeas bloom on the previous year's wood. And the plants are so tiny now that they don't yet have any branches big enough to produce flowers. Actually the one from might; it's quite a bit bigger than the others. I guess that's maybe why it was more expensive. But whenever they do flower, they should look really nice. We got three blue ones -- one bright blue, one lighter, and one with interesting flowers that don't open all the way -- one bright red/purple, one bi-colored purple and white, one white with a hint of blue, and one pure white.

Of course, the soil acidity affects the color. Soil here in Durham tends to be acidic, which would make the flowers all blue, but we added so much fresh soil to that bed that I think it's probably fairly neutral right now. I guess at some point we'll do a soil test and see if we need to add lime to keep the red ones red. Gina told me she knew of someone who had poured sulfer around the outside of a hydrangea, and lime in the middle, and ended up with blue and red flowers on the same plant! That sounds really amazing, though I think we'll get to know our hydrangeas the way they are before trying anything fancy like that. (Remember how I mentioned that I tend to go for information overload? A month ago I didn't know anything about hydrangeas. I thought there was only one kind: blue.)

isabella rattalinni


My friend Nellorat just posted photos of her pet rat Isabella wearing the "Queen Gloriana" costume I made, for which Isabella won Best Costume at a big rat show over the weekend. It looks really good on her if I do say so myself! It matches her coloring perfectly. The other rat costume gown is, if I recall correctly, soft green and gold. I hope they have a girl rat with tan coloring to wear it.

david byrne

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The David Byrne show was fantastic. Loads of fun. Thanks to the greatness of Christa we were right up at the front, maybe 15 feet away from Byrne. He played a great mix of old stuff, new stuff and even songs he likes by other artists (like Ceseria Evora, yay!). He was accompanied by the Tosca Strings, who show up in Waking Life, and we recognized one of the musicians from her animated self. Cameras were strictly forbidden but I got a few shots with my camera phone. I wore tights (pair #10) for the first time this season! It truly is fall. Probably the highlight of the evening was "Don't Fence Me In" from Red Hot and Blue. Byrne has a crazy cool dancing style, including walking backwards around the stage during non-vocal interludes. Would write more but tired now.

first day of fall

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I don't care what the almanac says, today is the first day of fall. It's not the first cool day, but the past couple of days were grey, rainy and muggy. This is the first day that's cool and sunny and not humid. In fact, it's a glorious day. The kind of weather that makes me happy to be alive & to have made it through another summer.

The tree men came! They showed up around noon and were finished just after 2. I was amazed that it went so fast. We went out for lunch and missed all the action: they were just starting to bring it down when we left, and everything was on the ground by the time we got back.

(By the way, beautiful fall days are not a good time to go to Fosters. The line was so long at the regular counter that we went to the salad counter, which is normally much faster. But after standing there for 5-10 minutes being ignored by a stream of employees who had perfected that "not my station" lack of eye contact, we walked out. Had a nice lunch at Rick's Diner instead.)

It's a good thing we had the tree removed when we did, as it had a big hollow spot in the middle. Yikes! We are so lucky that none of those hurricanes came anywhere near here. The tree guy said all the other trees looked healthy. That's what I thought too, but I asked them to take a look while they were working in case they could see something I couldn't.

While the tree men were taking down our poor dead tree, we planted our hydrangea bed in front of the house. Which I will write about in more detail in another post, because I have photos which I haven't processed yet. Also because I have to get a shower and get ready for the pre-David Byrne-show-cookout at Christa's.

chop wood, carry water


No carrying water, but yesterday I did split wood. Know what? Splitting wood is hard. Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn't it? And I'm not totally stupid: I was expecting hard work. But it's not like on TV, where every log splits perfectly with a single swing of the axe. Actually, it might be like that for a man who's a foot taller and around 75 lb larger than me. Which seems like a more likely profile for a person splitting wood than my 5'1" and *ahem*lb.

I have two disadvantages: first, I don't have the strength to comfortably hold the 15 pound maul1 back over my shoulder and swing it all the way around. I had to hold it up in the air and let it more or less fall on the wedge. So the arc traversed by the maul is shortened. Even if I could swing it all the way, the arc would still be short because my arms are shorter than those of my imaginary typicall wood-splitting tall guy. I'm not sure if I would do better with a lighter sledgehammer that I could swing further, or if I'm better off just letting gravity do its thing with this maul.2

So instead of perfectly split wood piling up around me with every swing, I have to fit the wedge into a crack in the log and whack it with the maul, over and over. I got 3 logs split in 45 minutes before I gave up, totally exhausted. Which sounds pathetic, and maybe is pathetic. But then again, those were pretty big logs, enough for a fire to last a whole night. If I could split 3 logs twice a week, we'd be fine for the whole winter.3

Needless to say I'm really sore today. I was expecting soreness in my shoulders but it's all around the torso too. I guess all those muscles are needed to stabilize the body while swinging that maul around. I can say with certainty that splitting wood for 45 minutes is a better upper-body workout than I ever got in the weight room. On the other hand, I was too sore to do the planting I had wanted to do today, which was a bummer. But then again you're really not supposed to work soil while it's wet. I would have done it anyway if I could have made my back obey, so maybe the soreness is a good thing.

In other news, despite his promises the tree guy did not show up during the long periods of no rain yesterday or today. Nor did he return my phone messages yesterday or today. I'm mildly irked, but all contractors are like this. Besides, we're not expecting any more hurricanes so a few days' delay is no big deal. If Jeanne were still heading for us I would have been more energetic about hassling the guy into coming out here right away.

We'll be ready for him when he comes, thanks to Georg's great work clearing away a bunch of brush and fallen wood that was blocking access to the tree. We didn't bother raking everything up neatly, since we're about to fell a tree right there, but already it makes the back yard look twice as big. It kind of makes me wonder how much we need the landscapers for the backyard. If he could make that much difference in one evening, how much could we do in a few weeks of concerted effort?

1 A maul is like a sledgehammer with a wedge-shaped thing on the end. In theory you can use it to split wood without the wedge. That doesn't work for me because I can never manage to hit exactly the same spot, so I use the maul to make a hole to fit the wedge into, then hit the wedge with the flat side of the maul.

2 This is what happens when geeks chop wood. But hey, I had to think about something while I worked.

3 I just found out that Textile does formatting for footnotes. Isn't that cool?

note to self


After two years of near total abstinence from caffeine and sugar, it's probably not a good idea to drink tons of iced tea and then eat a giant bowl of cookie ice cream in one night.

so not tired ....

happy day


Today was a very good day. Started this morning by going in to Chapel Hill for a conference call. Which went very well. I had an allergy attack in the middle of it, but luckily someone else was doing the talking. I was able to sneak out of the room and blow my nose before anyone asked a question that I had to answer. And I managed not to sneeze at all (I have a very loud sneeze that would have been heard even from the other room).

I was supposed to have an art car meeting at lunch, which I blew off so I could work. I felt badly about it especially since the guy I was meeting didn't get my message and waited for me at the restaurant. That sucked. But still, I'm really glad I stayed home because the tree guy showed up during that time. He said that weather permitting they'll get it done Saturday, so we'll be fine for Tropical Hurristorm Jeanne. And he's not even going to charge that much since we want to keep the wood. We'll split the big logs for firewood and I guess we'll rent a chipper and turn the branches into mulch. (Get your Fargo jokes out of the way now, folks.)

Then my afternoon meeting cancelled on me, which meant hours of uninterrupted time that I could work! During the day! Got a lot done too. After work I spent some time clearing overgrowth out of the way so the tree guys can get to the dead tree. After that it was to the mail center, where our hydrangeas had just arrived. Yay! Six hydrangeas to go in front of the house, all different varieties. We ordered plants that will all be about the same height, but the flowers will be different shapes and colors. (By which I mean, in neutral soil the flowers would be different colors. I'm aware that in our acid soil they will all be blue. We'll probably lime the red ones so they stay red. I think the white ones may stay white on their own.)

We're going to plant them on the weekend. So in the meantime I unwrapped them, set them under the eave of the house where they're shaded and won't be pummelled by Ivan-related rain. Then mounded mulch up around the pots and gave them a good watering. Actually only two of them were in pots; the other four were wrapped in plastic wrap. I loosened the plastic wrap around the top and poked a drainage hole in the bottom, but left them in the plastic for now.

The nursery packed them really well and shipped them fast. I have nothing but compliments. My only disappointment was that the invoice says "Thank you for your order, enclosed find a gift Dianthus." But there was no dianthus in the box. Bummer! I'm not going to say anything to them, since it wasn't part of my order and the extra plant wasn't an advertised special offer or anything. But still, it would have been nice to get a free flower.

By then it was time to leave for Chapel Hill again, where I met Gina for an evening of photography fun. She has the same camera as I do, so we walked around taking pictures of the same things and comparing our settings. It was awesome. I learned so much. The camera can show you a histogram for each image. I knew how to read a histogram, but I didn't know what to do if there was a problem with it. (Or as I said at the time, "I know what it means, but I don't know what it means.") Gina showed me what was a great histogram, what was acceptable, and what to do about bad ones, like how to move the data further to the right to brighten the image. I still don't know how to increase the contrast in an image that is all in the middle of the histogram, but I guess that will come with practice.

Besides the photo lessons I had a great time just walking around Franklin Street and talking. Considering that Gina and I have only seen each other a handful of times in the past 15 years, it's amazing how much we have in common. One thing we discussed was our shared tendency towards information overload. Which is interesting because I had talked about the same thing with Lisa a few days ago. If I am delving into something new, whether it's gardening, photography, or even just buying an iron, I want to know everything I possibly can. I tend to research things to death. Too much information can lead to paralysis, but I feel much more comfortable making decisions based on information, rather than jumping in and learning as I go. I guess it's the "J" in me, if you want to get all Myers Briggs about it.

Good food was had as well. I highly recommend the grilled brie and bacon sandwich at Carolina Coffee Shop. Mmmm, melty. And that new ice cream place which I don't know the name of. They mix stuff into the ice cream on a marble slab. The only problem was that I asked for a small and they gave me a medium. When I pointed it out, they charged me for a small, which was cool. But the medium was too big and though I tried not to eat too much, I didn't stop in time. I don't feel sick or anything, just a little overfull (and sugar-shocked, probably).

good & bad

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bad things:

-running around to stupid meetings and errands every day this week, then working until midnight every night

-sending out a deck order then realizing the next day that I had written the wrong name on the inscription, which required breaking open another deck to send a correctly inscribed book

-the fact that there is another hurricane out there after Ivan, this time headed right for us, and we still have a f***ing dead tree in our yard

-a client niggling endlessly at my layouts

good things:

-the same client telling me I should teach technical writing

-another client loving my layouts & wanting almost no changes

-being full from a yummy dinner made by Georg

-my camera

-my pickaxe

the joy of tools

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The past couple of days have been all about having the right tools: how nice that is and how they make life easier. First, the camera. I didn't realize how much I enjoyed having a camera with me all the time, until I was without one. It seemed like everywhere I went last weekend, I saw something I wanted to photograph. I still miss my old camera, but I think I'm really going to like the new one.

Now that I have a camera again, I can write up our gardening progress from the weekend with photos. We were really busy and got a lot done. On Saturday we got up early and went to the farmer's market. I had seen a beautiful plant called goblet flowers last weekend. The leaves look like an iris but the flower looks like an orchid. I didn't want to buy it until I had looked it up to see if it would grow well here. Turns out it's from South America and we're on the northern edge of where it will grow. It's so beautiful that I'm going to give it a try. They were out of it unfortunately, but they said they'd bring two for me next Saturday.

We also bought a couple of butterfly weed, a bush with pretty blue flowers called Mexican petunia, and another plant that feeds butterfly larvae which I can't remember the name of. Which is bumming me out, because I wanted to check on the size it will get before I decide where to plant it. I really like the plant sellers at the farmer's market. They have a much nicer variety than Home Depot or Lowe's, not as expensive as the chichi nurseries, and the people are nice and know a lot about the plants.

Georg had to work, so I went home and spread the mulch. I stopped at Home Depot on the way home to get a pitchfork, which made the job a lot easier than it would have been with a shovel. Plus I feel so "American Gothic" with a big old pitchfork in my possession. The newspaper thing seemed to work great. You put a thick layer (20 sheets or more) under the mulch. The newspaper helps to kill the weeds underneath, but eventually it decomposes so there's nothing to pull up, you can add more mulch right on top of it. I didn't put newspaper on the slopey part of the bank because it might make the mulch slide down in the rain, but I used it all over the flat part at the bottom. Thanks to Shayne and Niku for giving me old newspaper!

The mulch covered much less of that bank along the driveway than I thought it would: only about a third. But that's okay, because on Sunday we covered the bare part with black plastic. Strangely I feel even happier about the plastic than about the mulch. Because the weeds were starting to spring back up along that bank. Which as you may have noticed, is fairly long. Every day as I walked down to the road to do my morning gardening, I would look at the weeds getting taller and thicker, and get a sinking feeling that things were going to get out of control again. At an hour a day there's no possible way I could have cultivated that entire bank before the weeds took control again. But the black plastic takes care of that! It will kill everything underneath it, then we can take it up and start planting when we're ready. Now we have room to breathe & figure out what we want to work on, rather than racing to try and prevent the weeds from getting out of hand again.

Up at the top of the bank, near the house, I also planted a few annual herbs. Which brings me to the next wonderful tool: a pickaxe. It made breaking up that clay about a thousand times easier. I don't know if it's because of the shape, or because swinging the axe provides more force, or what, but it works great. I wish I had known that before I dug all those holes with a shovel! But as Georg said, "don't think of it as harder work, think of it as better exercise." Still, I'm glad to have a better tool to make the digging go easier from now on. The herbs were nothing fancy, just basil and cilantro. I know it's the wrong season to plant annuals, but they were cheap and I think we'll get a couple of months out of them before it gets too cold for them. I used the last of the mulch to put a big thick layer around them & I hope that keeps the weeds down.

Today I did no gardening because I was too excited about the camera. But I did hang another bird feeder in the front, so we can watch the birds from our front window. I hope it doesn't take them too long to find it. I might also hang a finch feeder because we have seen goldfinches occasionally over the years, and I'd love to have them as regular visitors.

the camera


The camera arrived this morning! Woo! I had my HKB meeting and my show, so I've only had time to put it together and take a couple of quick snapshots. It really does feel a lot different from my old Nikon Coolpix. For one thing, the digital display doesn't show a preview, you have to look through the viewfinder like a film camera. (Actually there might be a way to change that but I haven't had a chance to read the manual yet. Or there might be a reason to keep using the viewfinder that I don't know about.) And it is so fast! It's so cool to aim at something, press the button and watch the image snap into focus. After a few snapshots it looks like the kit lens can get within about 6-8 inches of the subject and still focus. Which is great, that means I won't need a macro lens right away.

The one thing I know already I'm going to miss is the way the Nikon's body swiveled. You could hold the camera high above your head pointing down, or on the ground pointing up, and still see the display so you knew exactly what the photo was going to look like. Oh well, it's back to lying on the ground or climbing up on a ladder to get those odd angles.

I so don't want to do my show. I want to go outside and play with my camera!

corset update


Haven't posted on the corset in a while, for the reason that I haven't worked on it in a while. With so much work on the house and yard, plus paying work being busier lately, I haven't had the energy for sewing. Besides, I was also kind of demoralized by messing up the grommets and then trying it on and discovering it's a bit too big. But enough time has passed that I want to work on it again. So I thought I'd start by writing up the last work I did, a few weeks ago.

The last thing I did was the grommets and the busk. Which are the fasteners on the back and front, respectively. You might be wondering why it needs fasteners on both sides. Because it's a royal pain in the ass to deal with clothing that requires a long series of laces to get in and out of. As anyone who's ever worn twenty eyelet Dr. Marten's knows. The busk in front allows the laces to be used just for tightening, so you never have to unlace them all the way.

Because the grommets are very visible, it's important that they be placed just right. So the first step was to measure carefully. This was supposed to be done after the boning was put in, but I wanted to try it on and possibly alter it first, so I had to estimate where the bone casing will be. I have a magic disappearing ink pen for this kind of thing. It works like a charm: the only problem I have is that in very humid weather, the ink disappears in a couple of hours! So I had to work very fast before the measurements disappeared.

Once the measurements were marked, time to punch the holes. Scary! The grommet setter came with this tool, whose name I don't know. It's basically a metal stick with a sharp hollow circle on one end. You bang it with a hammer, and it punches a perfect circle into the fabric, into which you then set the grommet. You're supposed to do this on an anvil, but I don't have an anvil. So I used a 15 pound dumbbell. All the pounding kind of screwed up the smooth edges of the dumbbell, but the part were you grip it is still fine, so I don't think it matters.

I practiced on a piece of scrap canvas until I got the grommets nice and even. Unfortunately, I didn't take any photos of the grommet setting tool. (How did I miss a photo of that? I have no idea.) It looks sort of like a hole punch, with a place to put each half of the grommet on each side. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in an earlier post, it's a piece of crap. There's no way to squeeze the handles tightly enough to set the grommet. I ended up holding the grommet setter against the anvil (dumbbell) and whacking it with the hammer. Which was very awkward.

They sell much less expensive grommet setters at the fabric store, but those usually aren't really grommet setters, they're eyelet setters. Eyelets only have one piece of metal, which is pushed through the hole in the fabric and then flattened around it. In my experience this makes eyelets not only rough on the inside, very bad on a garmet that will be so tight against the body, but prone to pull out under pressure. Which is very bad on a corset.

Grommets are much better because they have two parts that are flattened around each other. That's stronger and also a better finish, because the rough part (the part that gets bent when you whack it with the hammer) is completed encased in the two halves of the grommet.

Well the grommets went in, and they looked good if I do say so myself. Except for the small matter of my having put half of them in backwards. The fronts are white and the backs are silver, so this goof is really noticeable. I was too bummed to keep sewing at this point, so I finished the bone casings. If you look really closely, they're not exactly the same width; there is some slight variation. But I think they're plenty good enough for the costume. That trick of sliding them under a pin works really well.

Next up was the busk. A busk is sort of a metal hook and eye thing, although they call it "stud and loop" in the instructions. Corset supply shops typically sell busks in a variety of lengths, on which the studs and loops are evenly spaced. But I'm reusing the one I got in the Past Patterns kit, which has the fastener over the belly moved down a bit. I don't know if this is something about Victorian corsets, or something particular to Past Patterns, or what.

The two halves of the busk must line up perfectly in order to fasten it when it's sewn in. This means that accurate measurements are even more important with the busk than with the grommets. And I have to say, the instructions in the Simplicity pattern for this step are absolutely terrible. They have you center each half of the busk on the fabric, mark and sew, without ever measuring the halves against each other. That's a recipe for disaster, especially with so little margin for error.

There's a much easier way: all you have to do is center the loop half of the busk, sew it in, then lay the finished piece down against the other half of the corset so the fabric lines up. Mark with your magic disappearing ink pen inside the loops, then put the studs into those marks. That's it! The busk is guaranteed to line up just right. (Again, I can't believe I didn't take a photo of this. All I can say is that screwing up the grommets threw me off my stride, so I didn't think of photos.)

Once I had the busks and the grommets in, I was able to try the corset on. Which I did, only to discover that it's a bit large. By myself I can tighten it so much that the back is completely closed. It should be small enough that even with someone else pulling the laces, and the wearer hanging from a bedpost like Miss Scarlett, there's still an inch or two gap in the back. I was worried about this beforehand, because I had heard that modern corset patterns are sized to be worn just snug, no tightlacing. I made it one size too small, but I guess I should have gone two sizes or even three.

The other problem with the fit is in the bust, just like the other one I made. (If you think this is too personal, just skip to the next paragraph.) It doesn't fit tightly over the bust at all; it's quite loose, almost like a shelf for the bust to rest on. Since I've had this problem with both corsets I've made, I'm beginning to wonder if this is the way the corsets are supposed to fit. Maybe I shouldn't be expecting a 19th century corset to shove the bust up into that massive cleavage that you get from an 18th century corset (think Dangerous Liaisons). I guess with that loose chemise on, it maybe won't be too obvious if the corset is a bit loose in the bust.

So that's where I am now: needing to remeasure and figure out which seams need to be ripped out and resewn to get a better fit. And also needing to recut and resew the end panel that has the backwards grommets in it. And needing to clean up my sewing area, which is currently stacked up with books I pulled out of the bedroom before redoing the walls. Sigh. I suppose I shouldn't have flat-felled those seams.


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Sand & Soil seems to be the place to go for mulch. It's way the heck out east of Durham. (We drove past the Starlite on the way, but didn't see the remnants of the screen because it had all been cleared away.) They only charged $20 for a whole truckload! Though I have to say, it looked like a lot more in the truck than it does in a pile in my yard. I had thought that two truckloads would be all I'd need for everything in the front of the yard. But now I'm wondering if two loads will even cover that bank along the driveway.

My friend David went with me to get the mulch in his truck. We had originally planned to get two loads, but his truck was a bit under the weather (backfiring constantly and threatening to stall at every stoplight), and so was David (hangover). So we got one load and then called it a day. David is an avid gardener so we had fun along the way talking about his garden. He offered to give me a bunch of perennials when he divides them this fall, which will be great. He goes for native plants & a natural-looking garden just like I do. Nothing too fussy or high-maintenance.

I'm definitely going to need several more loads of mulch, and probably a load of soil too. I hate to take up so much of David's time, but I wouldn't really feel safe borrowing his truck and driving it alone. So I may have to look for another friend with a truck I can borrow, or maybe spring for delivery of a really big load.

back to the vet

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Lina this time. She's not sick, but she has an open cut or sore of some kind on her leg, right where she had her surgery last December. I noticed her worrying at it last night, put some topical antibiotic on it, then took her in to St. Francis this morning. The doctor (not Dr. Lindeke, someone else, who was very nice) said that the cut isn't bad in itself, didn't need stitches, but she's a little concerned about why the area of the incision opened up like that. She said maybe there was a suture in there that just decided it needed to come out or something.

So we have to give Lina an antibiotic capsule three times a day (no problem, she loves pill pockets), wash the wound three times a day, and apply the topical antibiotic at the end of every day. If it hasn't healed up in ten days we have to take her back. The only really bad part is that she's not supposed to lick it, ever. Most of the time she's good about leaving it alone when I tell her to, but there are times when I'm scolding her constantly to stop licking. I feel bad about it, but the alternative is an E-collar. Which would make Lina absolutely miserable. Me too, from having to deal with her misery. Having to watch her all the time doesn't seem so bad in comparison.

irma vep


Sept 7 movie: Irma Vep. Kicking off the Maggie Cheung tribute with a winner: this is a hilarious French film about an eccentric, formerly brilliant director named René Vidal, doing a remake of the silent French classic Les Vampires, which stars Maggie Cheung (playing herself) as Irma Vep. René starts to fall apart and the production follows him down, with a lot of great moments along the way: Maggie's silly costar, who tries to rehearse a scene using a squeak toy shaped like a steak for a gun; the reporter who interviews Maggie, knows nothing about her career and only wants to rave about John Woo; the replacement director who talks about high principles and then admits that he needs the work because his welfare is about to run out. Irma Vep is low-key and dryly funny until the last few minutes, when they show the footage René edited before (or maybe after) he completely lost his shit. It's bizarre and brilliant. A fitting tribute to Ms. Cheung.

(I tried to take a picture of the movie within the movie, which is when I found out that my camera was dead. I miss my camera!)

new camera


I bought a new camera. Okay, so I'm not one to waste time, at least not when new electronic toys are at stake. Really once I found out how much the repair would cost and how long it would take, the decision was made and there was no reason to wait.

I got the Canon EOS Digital Rebel, which is the entry level digital SLR. It didn't make sense to spend $600 on a camera that was just like my old one (with better resolution), when for a little more I could upgrade to what I ultimately wanted. It's called "prosumer" (better than point-and-click but still not good enough for a professional) and it will be a big step up for me. And the nice thing is that it takes the same lenses as all Canon SLRs, film or digital. So you can invest in good lenses & when you're ready, upgrade to a better camera body and all your lenses will still work.

I felt weird about switching from Nikon, but I read a digital photography forum where the Nikon board had a lot of complaints about mechanical problems and bad customer service. I know that these boards tend to overemphasize the complaints because people don't post about problems they're not having. But the Canon board on the same site was mostly people sharing tips and photo galleries, not complaints. Which seemed encouraging. I wish I could have put this off another year or two, but then again I probably would have invested in a lot more accessories that I would have had to give up. As it is the only thing I feel bad about losing is the telephoto lens which I just bought recently. But I knew I was going to switch to digital SLR eventually and it wouldn't have worked with the Nikon SLRs either.

I'm sure I will be super excited once the new camera arrives and I start playing with it, but right now I'm feeling a bit of sticker shock. Also I'm bummed that I couldn't get it in time for the Chicks Rock show this Saturday, which I was supposed to shoot. Looks like Lisa B. will have to take enough photos for both of us. No pressure!

in non-camera news, this morning I solved a PDF problem that has been plaguing me ever since I upgraded Quark in the spring. Then I drove all the way to a client's home office to help them fix their internet access. The problem? An unplugged modem. They didn't check that because they didn't realize Road Runner comes with a modem. (You might be wondering why they never saw the modem sitting right next to the computer, but it's a somewhat untidy office.) That was aggravating but at least I got paid.

I'm also very annoyed at the weather. My mulch trip got postponed and I couldn't even do any planting because I was afraid the torrential downpours would damage the seedlings. Then we hardly even get any rain! It's a bit of a let-down to be all hunkered down for extreme weather, and then get nothing. And I read that it's very bad for soil to work it while it's wet, so I have to wait until everything dries out to get back to planting. On the other hand, I'm grateful for the lack of wind. Now we have time to get that tree down safely.

camera repair


Anyone know of a good digital camera repair service? I just dropped my camera and now when I turn it on, it makes a loud noise and says "system error."



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September 6 movie: Hero. Georg has already posted just about everything I wanted to say. So I will just add that this was amazing. Zhang Yimou's sense of visual spectacle doesn't fail him; the use of color is exquisite. There's been some criticism of the politics behind Hero. I don't know too much about it because I was trying to avoid reviews before I saw the movie. But I think it has something to do with the story about sacrificing oneself to help a tyrant who does good for the people despite his brutality. I guess some people feel like that message is a little convenient for the current Chinese government. Perhaps that is a compromise one has to make in order to make films in cooperation with the Chinese government. Or perhaps Zhang really feels that way. Or perhaps people are reading too much into Hero & it shouldn't be treated as an allegory. My understanding of Chinese history and current politics isn't what it should be, so I can't really come to a decision on that one.

Anyway, back to the movie. All the principles were great -- Jet Li, Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Chen Daoming -- (though I didn't even recognize Donnie Yen!) but for me the standout was Maggie Cheung. She is simply luminous. While the plot is more about Jet Li, the emotional core of the movie is the relationship between Cheung and Leung. She's come a long way from playing Jackie Chan's ditzy girlfriend in the Police Story movies.

I added several Maggie Cheung movies to the Netflix queue -- Heroic Trio (which we've seen before), and The Soong Sisters, Ashes of Time and The Dragon from Russia (which we haven't). We've got the DVD of Irma Vep around here somewhere, I might watch that if I have time in the next couple of days.

zatoichi challenged

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Sept 1 movie: Zatoichi Challenged. We finally got around to watching the second Zatoichi movie IFC had shown a couple of weeks ago. This one has Zatoichi delivering a boy whose mother has died to the father, in another town. I must say, the addition of a cute child to the Zatoichi formula was not an improvement. Bonding scenes between Zatoichi and the child took up way too much time that could have been spent with Zatoichi kicking bad guy ass. This was probably my least favorite of the Zatoichi movies I've seen. The subplot (about an artist who is forced to paint pornographic images on fine china for the black market) probably would have made more sense if I were more familiar with Japanese cultural history.

I don't know whether we read this in a review, in an IFC factoid, or if Georg looked it up somewhere online, but apparently "zato" means both "blind" and "masseur" in Japanese. Which is interesting because Zatoichi is a blind loner who makes his living as a masseur. And "ichi" means "one," so I guess that makes him the "lone blind man" or "lone masseur."

arsenic and old lace

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August 31 movie: Arsenic and Old Lace. This was a bit -- actually a lot -- zanier than I typically prefer, and I'm also not crazy about play adaptations that still feel stagey (all the action in one room, everyone projecting to the balcony, etc). But Cary Grant makes just about anything worth watching. Plus a great role for Peter Lorre, whose character has more sense of humor than in any other movie I've seen. The constant reminders that it was originally a play actually increased the humor in Grant's job as a theater critic. (Though I can't help thinking that they could have made him a movie critic -- did they have movie critics back then?) And the last line -- "I'm not a Brewster! I'm the son of a sea cook!" -- is, if not quite as good as the last line in Some Like it Hot, still up there.

weekly gardening update

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We continue plugging along in the garden, no dramatic transformations but steady progress. Last weekend we put down black plastic to cover the side of the yard that had the worst overgrowth before. We saw on a TV show ("Gardening by the Yard" on HGTV, I love the goofy host) that thick black plastic, if left in place for a couple of months, will completely kill everything under it. Then we can start over, and either sow grass seed or build a flower bed. We haven't decided which yet. The brush and brambles were already starting to come back, so I think we got the plastic down just in time.

Then Georg cleaned the gutters on the back of the house (the landscapers had done the front). Watching him up on top of that ladder made me nervous, but I felt like I needed to stay outside so I'd be right there if anything happened. So I cut down a stray shrub that we hate, and also deadheaded the butterfly bush. I don't know if you're supposed to do that or not, but it had dead flowers all over it so it looks much better now.

I think Monday was the day it rained, and all I got done was to see that one of the downspout extenders wasn't working properly and fix it. I had to dig some soil away from the downspout to make room for the extender, which was kind of a mess since I didn't wait until it stopped raining. The downspout extenders seem to be doing a good job of taking water away from the house. Unfortunately, even though the gutters have all been cleaned there's still water spilling out right in front of our front door. From the ground we can't tell if the gutter is still blocked, or if it's rusted through. Argh.

The rest of the week is kind of a blur so I can't give a day-by-day review. Though I do remember spending a couple of hours digging up brambles, planting some more herbs in the herb garden, and also planting the balloon flowers and obedient plants down by the road. I did that yesterday, and this morning my wrist hurt like hell. It woke me up around 5 am feeling all numb. I'm convinced that shoveling is aggravating my wrist: normally it wouldn't have hurt like that unless I had spent all day working on my computer non-stop. Maybe I should wear the wrist brace while shoveling.

This week was supposed to be the big mulch trip, but alas my friend with a truck cancelled because he had a work deadline run a day late. So we have tentatively rescheduled for next Tuesday, though we may likely have to postpone due to Frances-related rain.

Did not do a darned thing in the yard today. I meant to plant the black-eyed susans but we spent most of the day at Carmax (in case Georg doesn't write about it, he bought a car!! A 95 Toyota Camry, with V6 and leather seats! It's really nice!) and I was strangely tired in the afternoon so I read a book instead of working.

We did go to the farmer's market in the morning, didn't buy any plants but had fun looking. We saw a few things we liked & may go back for, notably "goblet flower," whose leaves look like an iris and whose flowers look like an orchid. I looked it up online; apparently it's an unusual plant from South America and we're on the northern edge of where it will survive. I'd like to get just one or two and see how they do. And we saw something beautiful called "rain lily" but I looked it up in my gardening book and they have to be dug up every winter. Forget that!

We've been going back and forth on what to plant in front of the house, along the foundation, and I think we've settled on hydrangeas. I've always thought of them as kind of plain, but I was looking around online and was surprised at how many interesting varieties there are. Unfortunately, I also discovered that they are toxic. Which is a problem for anything planted inside the fence, because Lina has a bad habit of chewing on leaves and grasses. She doesn't seem to eat them, just likes to pull them out. It's like a nervous habit I guess. But still, I don't want to plant anything poisonous inside the fence where she can get at it.

More research revealed this page on cat-safe gardens, which says that hydrangea is only mildly toxic, and the animal would have to eat an entire flower head to get sick. It's highly unlikely that Lina would ingest that much. That same page also revealed that azalea, iris and ivy are also toxic. All of which we have plenty of in our yard, and none of which Lina has ever chewed on to my knowledge. So I feel safe planting hydrangeas.

save our starlite

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The website is now online to accept donations of cash and services, and to post progress updates on the rebuilding effort. Plus we made some snappy logos for linking to the site. Please consider making a donation and/or giving Save Our Starlite a link!



September 2 movie: Fiesta. Last night was our own little fiesta: Sylvia came over for dinner and Ricardo Montalban movies. We had originally planned to also watch My Man and I, which Sylvia has on tape, but due to the lateness of the evening we only got to Fiesta. Montalban's first English language movie, Fiesta is a fun little romp about a young Mexican who is expected to become a matador like his father, but secretly wants to be a concert pianist. For an Esther Williams fan I think this would be a disappointment as the movie is sadly lacking in water. But for a Ricardo Montalban fan, it's a treat.

The movie is an unintentional exercise in multiculturalism, with Esther Williams playing Montalban's twin sister, Mary Astor as his mother, Fortunio Bonanova as the father (at least he's from Spain), Akim Tamiroff as the family retainer, John Carroll as Williams' boyfriend, and Cyd Charisse as Montalban's girlfriend. Montalban may be the only Latino actor with a speaking part in this movie entirely set in Mexico.

We had fun with the accents (or lack thereof): Astor, Williams, Charisse and Carroll didn't even try (we laughed every time Williams addressed her boyfriend Pepe as "Peppy"); Bonanova and Tamiroff produced passable accents; and Montalban's was so over the top we would have thought he was faking if we didn't know better. It was as if he felt like he needed enough Mexican accent to make up for all the others.

Other funny moments were watching the bullfighting scenes, as they shifted from close-up to long shot, with a running commentary of "Ricardo .... not Ricardo! Ricardo ... not Ricardo!" Also, early in the movie the father bizarrely threatens another character with "And for that, he must pay with his life!" From then on every time anyone disagreed with the father, Sylvia would hilariously add "and for that, you too must pay with your life!"

Dinner was as fun as the movie. We had Mexican food, naturally! Nothing fancy, just a Rick Bayless recipe for a stew of chorizo and chayote. Which is a summer squash that looks vaguely like a pear but tastes vaguely like zucchini, only milder and sweeter. Raw chayote also leaves a gluey paste on your hands when you handle it. The cookbook said you just need to scrub your hands, and I did (with the scrubby pad even), but that stuff does not want to come off. I still have some of it on my hand. Next time I will definitely wear gloves.

We also had green rice (rice with pureed parsley and cilantro added to the cooking liquid) and Sylvia brought fruit salad, heirloom tomatoes and some really nice avocado flavored cheese. She also brought a "Hungarian Black" pepper which looked a lot like a black jalapeno. Georg and Sylvia ate it but I did not. They said it was not as hot as a raw jalapeno, but still hot. It was really nice to make dinner for a friend without it being some huge elaborate dinner party that takes days to prepare. Just a fun, low stress evening.



Cafepress is having a sale on their yellow messenger bags, which I've been eyeing for a long time, so I designed & ordered one on Monday night. While I was at it, I did a bumper sticker that says "I am your traffic jam entertainment," which I've been wanting since I heard of an art car driver who had one. Coincidentally they had a sale on journals from your own store, so I made one of those too, using a VRT image. I'm really interested in seeing how that one turns out. If it looks nice, I might do some VRT products for general sale.

I pestered poor Georg with fiddly questions all night, like "Should these three bubbles go here or there?" and "Which of these colors do you like better, the purple and grey or the blue on blue? The purple? You're sure? It's not too purple?" and "Is this typeface hard to read from a distance?"

When I asked him whether he agreed that I should eliminate the dot over the i in entertainment on the bumper sticker, he gently pointed out that it was, in fact, only a bumper sticker. To which I replied that I would pay this much attention to detail on a project for a client, and shouldn't I go to the same effort for myself? Of course the main difference is that I generally work on client projects during the day, when I have to make these decisions on my own and can't bother him about them.

I offered to make something for him too, so it wouldn't all be about me, but he didn't want anything. I think sometimes it's hard to choose something from Cafepress because it's so open-ended. "Do you want a T-shirt?" "What would it say on it?" "Anything at all. Anything you want." It's kind of hard to come up with something on the spur of the moment.

happy wednesday


Yesterday afternoon my gardening chore was to dig up those brambles along the driveway. It's not as fun as planting flowers, but I feel good about having done it. I worked for about an hour and made a pretty good dent in them. The only problem is, I'm not sure how much of the root system needs to be removed. Some places I was able to pull up several feet of root, but in other places I could only get the big rhizome. If they need that rhizome to survive, then it may only take us a year or so to eradicate them. But if they can come back from any root, then we'll never be rid of them. They have roots criss-crossing that entire bank, and I'm afraid to till because the main sewer pipe is right under there, I'm not sure how deep.

Then last night my friend Patricia and I went to AV Geeks in Raleigh. She had never been before, and she loved it (of course!). The show, "Drinky Drink," was (as you might guess) all short films about alcohol. Most of them were negative, PSAs about the perils of drinking and so forth, but he did a good job of presenting films that were funny and/or interesting, not too much of a downer (for instance, he avoided the gory drunk driving films they used to show in driver education programs). There was even an episode of Fat Albert! Although for me, the most interesting part of the show was the videotapes of Japanese TV he showed before the "Drinky Drink" program began. Included were a deranged game show about (I think) two Japanese men sent to Latin America to be migrant farm workers, and an appalling comedy show in which one member of the comedy troupe needed to have a mole removed, but instead of going to a doctor the troupe came up with inventive ways to remove the mole. (He did go to a doctor at the end, after the series of disgusting mole removal methods all failed.)

This morning I drove Georg to work, then since I was half-way there already I went on to the farmer's market. Bought peaches and some plants. The peaches weren't as nice as last time (they don't give free samples on weekdays so I had to guess which were the nice ripe ones), but I did well on the plants. I got some sad, scraggly herbs -- regular thyme, tricolored sage, and chamomile -- for 75¢ each at the big nursery, then went down to the stalls and bought some flowers and a couple more herbs.

There's one plant seller at the farmer's market that I like in particular. They're called Archer something, Archer Farms maybe. They carry the kinds of plants I want, their signage is very helpful, and so are their staff. I bought blue balloon flowers to go with the white ones, black-eyed susans, something called "obediant plant" (spiked flowers that don't need staking! yay for the book of lists!), chives and greek oregano (to go with the mexican oregano). I ought to find out where the Archer people's nursery is located. I bet they have a lot more plants there than at the farmer's market. (Lisa, they have many different types of ferns -- you might want to check them out when you're ready to plant.)

When I got home there were of course a couple of "oh my god where are you??" work crises. After dealing with them I went ahead and planted the herbs, but saved the flowers until the weekend, after the mulch is down. The herb garden is starting to look nice! I'm trying to plant them far enough apart that they won't end up horribly crowded. But I've probably miscalculated and will end up moving some things next year.

While I was working a neighbor from across the street came over and introduced himself. It was kind of embarrassing to have to admit that no, we hadn't just moved in, we've just been slack-asses about the yard. But he seemed like a nice guy and didn't say anything judgemental about the formerly appalling yard conditions. And he was nice about the dogs & didn't mind them barking at him while he walked over, so he wins bonus points in my book.

The weird part of the conversation was that apparently the landscapers had told him Georg was "just getting back," and somehow in his mind he added "...from Iraq" to that sentence. So he had this romantic idea in his head of me as a grieving war wife, hiding behind all that overgrowth while my husband was on active duty. And then when he got back we were so happy we cleared out the yard, opening our home to the world again. It was such a great story that I hated to disabuse him of it.

We also talked briefly about Rod Torfulson's Armada. He asked me if I played drums because he had heard them recently, and I just pointed next door. He said that he's a music teacher (teaches piano in his house, how cool is that) so he also plays drums sometimes. But he doesn't have the amps cranked up to 11, thank god. I told him that we were hoping to reach a compromise with the kids where they could practice their music without it being so noisy. And without us losing our minds, bleeding from the ears, or calling the cops. Actually I didn't say that part out loud.

This street isn't designed for foot traffic (busy road, no sidewalk), and I've never been very outgoing with neighbors, so it was nice to meet a neighbor and have a pleasant conversation. And not feel like I had to apologize for bringing down his property values.

So we've decided on a plan of action for the back yard. See, the landscapers told us that the back yard was going to be more work than the front, which I assume means it will cost more. Meanwhile we noticed that one of the trees in back is looking sickly, if not dead. The tree looms over our shed and is also tall enough to hit the house. Clearly, that's the priority. So here's our schedule for backyard work:

1. take chain saw in for repair (check! did that yesterday.)
2. cross our fingers that Frances lands someplace else and tree does not fall on house or shed.
3. get chain saw back next week. Use it to cut down "volunteer" saplings (I love this term!) that are blocking access to the tree.
4. Hire tree guy to remove tree.
5. Hire landscapers to come back and do the rest of the back yard when we have the money together, probably October.

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