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Scarlet Quince Ramblings

Cross stitch ... art ... life

February 16th, 2010

I was watching “The Heiress” last night on TV. Olivia de Havilland is a wealthy young woman without many other attractions, wooed by a fortune hunter (Montgomery Clift) who abandons her when her father threatens to disinherit her, then returns to try his luck a second time after her father dies. She spends a lot of time doing needlework in a frame attached to a floor stand. I’ve seen the movie before but never noticed how Olivia was stitching — two handed! At first I thought she had two needles going, but no. She had one hand above the frame, and the other underneath. She would poke the needle into her canvas from above with her right hand, then pull it through with the left, and still with the left, poke the needle into the underside of the canvas, then pull it through with the right. She was going fast!

I keep my left hand under the fabric as I stitch, but it’s not really doing anything. I just keep a finger near where I’m stitching and I’m not even sure what the purpose is. I do all the stitching with my right hand which involves constantly moving it from the top of the fabric to the underside and back, which is certainly not optimal. So I tried this two-handed stitching. The most awkward thing is inserting the needle into the fabric with my left hand — it’s very clumsy and it’s hard to position the needle accurately, but I think with practice that might go away.

It appeared to me that Olivia de Havilland must have had considerable practice stitching this way. Although they didn’t show closeups of her work, she clearly wasn’t making random stitches (as I would have been stitching at that speed with my left hand). And I don’t think it is a technique that would occur to you first crack out of the box, so either someone coached her or she was a stitcher in real life. Do any of you stitch this way?


February 9th, 2010

I intended to post pictures of the new letters after I finished X, but… and then after I finished Y, but… Don’t ask me what happens. I have no idea.

Here is the lower left ornament, and X.

Ornament-X

The ornament took from December 6-17. I think the various swirls are not as symmetric as they could be, but I let it go. X took from December 17-26. This one actually came out symmetric without any corrections to the chart.

And here’s Y and Z. I’ll finish Z tonight.

Y-Z

Y was a killer, but by stitching my brains out and neglecting lots of other things I could or should have been doing, I finished it by January 15. I’ve been working on Z since January 16. The flowers at the bottom aren’t where the chart calls for them to be because I counted wrong but it’s the right effect and no one will ever know.

Just one more ornament! I originally hoped to finish this by the end of December, then the end of January, and now by the end of February, but we’re going to be gone for a few days at the end of the month so even that is looking iffy. I’m anxious to take it off the scroll rods and see what the whole thing looks like — and how much fabric I have to work with at the edges (remember, I calculated wrong at the beginning). But I’m going to finish it as a banner and put a border on so there doesn’t have to be much fabric.


January 6th, 2010

Once in a while, a package I’ve shipped doesn’t arrive when expected, and I get an email asking if I have a tracking number. I always say, “We don’t ship with tracking because things almost always arrive even if they take longer than they should, so please give it a bit more time and I’m sure it will arrive, and we’ll replace it if it doesn’t.” Just about always, people get their orders within a day of asking where it is (which is very odd). My feeling has always been that (given the very few orders that really get lost) it is more cost-effective to just replace them than to pay for tracking on every shipment. I think the only package that ever got lost, within the US, was sent to an address where no one was home for 6 months, and when they returned, surprise, their package wasn’t there. Not so much lost as stolen.

But recently there has been a spate (where spate = 3 or 4) of orders that took a lot longer than they should have to arrive, which I reshipped. So I looked into tracking.

I found that basically the Postal Service doesn’t do tracking. (They claim that they handle too much mail to scan every piece — like anyone is asking for that anyway.) You can get delivery confirmation, but that only tells you that the package has or has not arrived, but not where it is. I’m not worried about people saying they didn’t get their order when they really did, so that doesn’t help. And I doubt that that little tag with the bar code leads the post office to handle those pieces any more carefully. (I once sent something certified mail and they didn’t ever scan it so I got no information and they were completely unrepentant. I know the person I talked to about it WASN’T sorry, but couldn’t they have SAID “sorry” anyway?) The only service that includes actual tracking is Express Mail, which of course is much more expensive, particularly outside the US. We could switch to UPS — UPS tracks everything — but it also costs quite a bit more than ordinary mail, plus UPS is particularly destructive, so everything would have to go in boxes which adds to the cost of shipping, and would make the packages heavier, which adds again to the cost of shipping. And UPS outside North America is absurdly expensive.

Maybe there’s something I’m missing about why tracking has to cost so much. But it seems to me that there’s a business opportunity for someone to offer non-express shipping of small packages with tracking at a reasonable price. I would think that the Postal Service intends to force people to use Express Mail if they want tracking, except they don’t make it at all clear that that’s the case.

And back to the original problem — a package I shipped to Canada on November 16 arrived, finally, on December 30. Not to some village on the Arctic Circle — to a city. The reshipment sent on December 15 hasn’t arrived yet. I know there’s snow in the midwest, and the holidays are just over, but that is ridiculous.


January 2nd, 2010

As I was lying in bed this morning thinking about getting up (it doesn’t do to rush into these things) there was a tremendous BOOM, as if Big Bird had flown into a window. I got up and asked MRA what that was? He said there was a flash associated with it so apparently a transformer had blown up. Sure enough, no electricity.

The first thing that occurred to me is that I can’t fill orders. Then I remembered that one had requested express shipping. Can’t email her to tell her the order won’t go out today — I could call her, if only I could get to her phone number which is only on the computer.

So what CAN I do? Here’s what I came up with.

  1. Dust, by hand.
  2. Pick up clutter.
  3. Read a book (near a window).
  4. Practice the violin (near a window).
  5. Mop the kitchen floor.
  6. Go for a walk.
  7. Do some yoga (what I can remember without the DVD).
  8. Make Happy-New-Year calls, if the cell phone is charged (unlikely).
  9. Play with the cats.

When I was in high school, we lived in a house with a well (and an electric pump), and when the power was out, there wasn’t any water, either. What a drag that was!

But obviously the power is back on now, so I’m back to filling orders. That alternative day sounded kind of nice…


January 1st, 2010

One of the oddest things people do here is wrap lights around the trunks and lower branches of live oaks. We don’t have conifers, mostly, so people have to decorate what they have, but it creates a very strange torso effect. I’ve never been able to take good pictures of them, so here goes with bad pictures. (The lack of a tripod makes them sort of arty, she says hopefully.)

Lights 5

Clusters of trees look best, I think.

Lights 4

Single trees remind me of an old movie, “Monster Tree Stump”.

Lights 2

Lights 1

Everybody does this.

Lights 3

Then there’s the Christmas pig, or maybe it’s a bear. I don’t really get this. I would argue that it takes more than a Santa hat to make something a Christmas decoration, but obviously not everyone agrees.


December 25th, 2009

It’s a little different.

Longhorns

At night the longhorns have orange lights all over them, making them not just Texas longhorns but University of Texas longhorns. I don’t get the rein-dog.

Agaves

There aren’t many conifers around but people decorate what they have!

Agaves 2

I love the decorated agaves!

Santa

Nandina

The Nandina is Christmasy! Merry Christmas, everyone.


December 17th, 2009

Last year we got 3 heating pads for the cats. These are special pads designed for animals that get warm only when there is weight on them, and just warm, not hot. Although we have 3 cats, I didn’t think we really needed 3 pads. I was wrong. Apparently, it is very, very cold. They like the heat from the lamp, too.

Topsy & Lucky

This is only a 2-cat table so Jemima has her own place. It’s best this way because she can’t really be close to Topsy or Lucky without taking a poke at them.

Jemima on the heating pad

Topsy is a good sleeper.

Lucky & Topsy


December 7th, 2009

I just finished W and it’s time for a picture before I scroll up to start THE LAST ROW!

V-W

I added two columns to the solid square in the lower left corner of the V. I originally made it 2 rows taller than charted because it was clearly not the same size as the empty square on the right. I didn’t notice how unsquare that made it look until I had taken a picture.

I love this W! But it too had problems (minor ones). The ornaments around the bottom were not symmetric and it was really obvious. I only needed to add 2 stitches that weren’t charted, but I wonder why this keeps happening? Is this some kind of “the gods would be jealous of perfection” schtick? Carelessness? If you don’t want it to be symmetric then make the two sides different, don’t make them 99% the same. At least that’s my view. Fortunately I don’t feel constrained to stitch it as it’s charted but all this checking to see if it’s going to be symmetric or not is wearying.

I started the ornament in the lower left corner last night. It’s basically a circle made of 4 swirls, and the swirls are not all alike. I’m still stitching the border but I will have to look at this more to see if I can stand to stitch it this way. They’re hard to compare since they’re all rotated, i.e. there’s the top one, then the one on the right is rotated 90 degrees from the top one, the bottom one is 180 degrees from the top, etc. If I had charted this you can bet I would have done one and then copied it 3 times, but maybe somehow it doesn’t fit that way.


December 6th, 2009

We finally got the potstickers made and they were delicious as always. (If you don’t know what potstickers are, they’re Chinese dumplings filled with cabbage and pork, then fried on the bottom and steamed on top. Sometimes Chinese restaurants have them on the menu but usually you have to find a dim sum place.) These are the active ingredients:

ingredients

I’m always surprised when they turn out well because we don’t follow the recipe much at all (we open the “The Key to Chinese” Cooking by Irene Kuo to the relevant page to remind us of the ingredients, and then the negotiation begins: “I’m going to put in 4 green onions”. “It only calls for 1! Let’s have 3.”). We use napa instead of bok choy — I think the first time it was a mistake, or maybe the store didn’t have bok choy — but we’ve stuck with it because we like napa. It calls for a small amount of ginger but we used almost that whole piece and it was just nicely gingery.

Nowadays we make two batches because ONE of us doesn’t eat meat and the OTHER doesn’t eat veggie burger stuff. So one batch is made with pork and one with Morningstar Griller Crumbles (rank). MRA makes the filling, which involves a lot of food processor work, and I make the dough. Making two versions of things isn’t a lot more work but it does make a lot more dishes. At least the napa can all macerate together:

macerating

Meanwhile I am making a hot water dough (just hot water and flour). We need 64 4″ circles so the first step is rolling the dough into a long snake and dividing it in half. Then each snake is rolled thinner and longer, divided into 4 pieces and then marked into 32 sections. I cut the dough apart, roll it into balls, and mash the balls into cookies before rolling them out. This was my mother’s rolling pin and it’s so nice to use.

rolling pin

After the napa macerates (you mix in a little salt and let it stand for 10 minutes, after which a lot of juice can be squeezed out) it gets mixed with the previously chopped pork, ginger root, and green onion and then bits of other things are mixed in. There’s a little corn starch mixed with water, sesame oil, a pinch of sugar, and so on.

As the dough circles are rolled out, I put them under a damp paper towel to keep them from drying out. Once they’re all rolled out, one side is pleated. This makes the dough into a shallow cup shape (and also makes the potstickers cute when they’re done).

pleating

With any luck the filling and the pleating are done about the same time. MRA is in charge of dividing the filling into even portions and allocating it to the wrappers. Since they vary somewhat in size there’s always some redistribution. Meanwhile I’m getting the floury paste off my hands.

filling

To close them, you pinch the edges together, then holding the pinched edge, mash it down flat so it has a bottom, and bend the corners around to make a crescent.

closed

I add a little water to a drop of food coloring and mark the veggie ones. It took us an hour and 45 minutes to get to this point. Cooking is about 10 more minutes.

To cook, you first fry them briefly, then pour on boiling water, cover and steam for several minutes. Then they are uncovered and the water is cooked off. )Oh, and do yourself a favor and use a non-stick pan. The name wasn’t chosen at random.) It makes an awful mess of the cooktop.

frying

At this point the top is soft and tender and the bottom is crisp. I like them a red-brown, just short of being burned (they’re not black although the picture makes them look that way).

finished potstickers

Delicious! They aren’t very good reheated — the dough gets tough and the bottom is never crisp — so instead we cook just what we’re going to eat and freeze the rest. If you put them on a sheet of waxed paper in the freezer, not touching, and freeze them that way, once they’re frozen you can put them into bags and take out whatever you want the next time. You don’t need to defrost them before cooking — just start them frozen.

As a nod to the season, I also made a sweet potato pie, though not the same day.

pie


November 28th, 2009

I’ve been intending to post pictures of the alphabet since I finished U, but now I’ve also finished V and am well into W.

S-T

S was a monster with all that solid area but the sort of Navaho-y decorations are nice, I think. I like the decoration around T too.

U-V

U was really time-consuming but I like it a lot. Very Art Deco. V was one of those letters where I wasn’t satisfied with the chart. It’s supposed to be symmetric but the squares at the bottom aren’t, even though I made the solid square taller to match the cut-out square. I think I need to make it 2 or 3 stitches wider.

I was hoping I could finish this by the end of the year but with 5 1/2 letters and decorations left to do it doesn’t seem even remotely possible, especially since I have not managed to stitch at all this week (well, maybe an hour). I had this image of stitching all through the Thanksgiving weekend which has totally not happened. I usually get at least an hour of stitching while I watch the news, but I haven’t seen any news this week.




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