Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Simplicity 5197

gingham shirt
Fabric can be found here.

This is a fun top. I wore it around all afternoon and think it's one I'll actually reach for in my closet. It's Simplicity 5197--view B. It's a pattern that's out of print, but can be found here on ebay. Snag one while you can. Thanks to Michelle of Green Kitchen for the idea. I fell in love with hers the moment I saw it.

closeup collar
My repertoire of skills is going up. Yay me! This time, new to me, but no big deal: inserting a collar. I like this kind of sewing...baby steps.

I'd like to make some more clothes, but I'm sort of at a standstill. My sewing machine is an industrial long arm Brother Nouvelle. I love it and it loves me back, but it only does a straight stitch. I'd like to have the freedom to make buttonholes and do a few fancy stitches. We'll see what happens.

Next up: pants for the hubby per his request. Anything for my lover. ;)

Saturday, June 27, 2009


I've been enjoying my little veggie patch in the side yard. Here's what it looked like in early May: veggie starts

And this is what it looks like now:
planter box

One of the challenges we've had with this garden is that neither of our two hoses can reach up to this part of the yard. For a while, we were making trips back and forth from the front of the house up and down the stairs to the side yard with the watering can. Not my idea of fun!

Then my husband got the brilliant idea to install a rain barrel just a few steps away from the veggie garden. Seriously, this thing has made watering a pleasure. The day he installed it we had a torrential downpour that filled it up immediately. Then we were kicking ourselves for not having more than one--all that wasted rainwater not being collected! The shame. Of course, since then, we had a record 29 days of no rain. But no matter, the water lasted a good three weeks, and this is a pretty busy downspout, so even a little rain gives us a few days worth of water.
rain barrel

The way it hooks up is pretty neat, actually. It diverts the water from the downspout into the barrel. If we get more water than the rain barrel can handle, then it just goes down the spout.

rain barrel2

There are so many reasons why I love my RB. The best thing about it is that it makes me conscious of the water I use and aware of the amount of rain that falls from the sky. When I lift the cover to check how little is left, I envision the area reservoirs getting low and start freaking out a little. A good nature lesson for me and the kids...a reminder that, no, water doesn't just come from the hose.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Where's the red lipstick?

This dress makes me want to go shopping for bright red lipstick, strappy heels, and a string of pearls. It's a simple wrap dress very loosely based on one I bought during my honeymoon in Hong Kong 16 (gulp) years ago. I wanted to make something cool and comfortable for the summer--one that would challenge me a bit, but not turn me off of sewing clothes. This one fit the bill.

Things in my comfort level: quilting weight cotton, bias trim hems, and the ties. I've done all that before.


Things out of my comfort level (which turned out to be NO big deal): darts--two in the front and two long vertical ones down the back, and a buttonhole.

Fabric: Michael Miller's black dumb dot

I think the biggest challenge for me was that instead of the smaller projects that I'm used to finishing in one or two evenings, this one took a little longer. Seems a shame that all that hard work results in only one blog post. Ah well....maybe when my legs are a little more tan, I'll model it. That's another post right there. Yeah.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Change of Plans

Field Trip to Earthwise

This weekend we decided to take the plunge and plan for chickens. Hubby had the coop dimensions all planned out. The kids had already chosen names for the chickies, and I'd figured out what breeds we would get based on what color eggs they lay.

We took a trip across the bridge to Earthwise to see what sort of reclaimed wood, windows, doors, etc. would be available for us to work with. I love places like this where folks are free to roam around and look and touch and feel the history. On our side of the bridge, the older homes are from the 50's and 60's. Since moving here from our 1936 home in Michigan, I've really missed the charm and good feelings that come with older homes. I love looking at all this old stuff and imagining what could be done with it. (By the way, if you're in the Ann Arbor/Ypsi area in Michigan, this is an awesome place to go for architectural salvage...we used to go there all the time).

So, armed with ideas, we came home. Then it struck us that perhaps we should look and see if our subdivision allows chickens. Oh, duh, they don't. No poultry. Stink!!!! The kids were distraught and we were kicking ourselves for having even mentioned anything to them (bad parents). So until one of us becomes president of the neighborhood association and gets the rule changed, we're onto plan B. Angora rabbits anyone?

Friday, June 19, 2009


I'm building up my stash for garment sewing. Woo hoo!
lantern bloom
The gorgeous Lantern Bloom by Laura Gunn. Yes, it's just as yummy in real life as it looks all over the internets.

This is also my first time to get my hands on Andalucia by Patty Young. Also v. pretty!

**Happy sigh.**
I ordered this from Above All Fabric, by the way. Got it in 2 days. Man, was she fast!

The garment sewing is going well. I don't know what I was so stressed out about in my last post. So far all the skills seem to be transferable.:) Hopefully I'll have something to show you early next week.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Piano Lessons

me @ the piano w/my bro

When I was little, I'd sit at the piano bench, close my eyes and pray that when I opened my eyes, an amazing miracle would occur--one in which my fingers would automatically know how to play some super fabulous classical piece that would dazzle everyone within hearing distance. Isn't that funny? That's a dream that never came true. I never did manage to be great on the piano. My "problem" was that I didn't really like reading music. I much preferred to play what I wanted to play, and would spend hours tinkering away at the keys writing my own tunes and thinking that if I could hear the song so clearly in my head, then it should possible to make it happen on the piano.

Here I am years later, fundamentally the same, but now instead of the piano, it's my sewing machine. I dislike following patterns. I'd much rather tinker. I see the finished product in my head and find ways to make it happen. I'm not "Miss expert sewist" by any means, but one gets to a point where he/she realizes that he/she is tired of making tote bags and is ready to move on to the next level. That's me. And I've come to the realization that moving on to the next level is going to require guidance and learning some new skills that I just might not have the patience to practice as I should.

Well, the next level, for me, is garment sewing. There's something a bit daunting about garment sewing (i.e. it has to look good, make me feel good, um, actually fit!?). I've decided that this is the summer I'm going to make all my own summer clothes. Sometimes I just need a good challenge, you know? I don't have time to take a dressmaking class (who offers them from 9pm - midnight, anyway?), so I'm going to just check a ton of books out from the library, arm myself with a few patterns, and actually do the step-by-step stuff that is against my nature. And maybe if some miracle happens, I'll wake up one day and be this automatic prodigy (I wish!!!).

Monday, June 15, 2009

Happiness is...

feeling good enough to finally get some sewing done. The two oldest are at a nice age where they can entertain themselves for a bit. The youngest seems just as happy as I am...he's making his own little work of art: scraps of fabric pushed through the upright head of a pin. (Yes, I let my baby play with pins!) Why shouldn't I? He's a genius.

mikey pile3

mikey pile2

Said little boy is getting a big boy room with these fabrics. Another thing that makes me very, very happy.
bot camp
In case you're wondering: Bot Camp by Michael Miller.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Moaning and Groaning

Hubby was diagnosed w/pneumonia earlier in the week. This was after my oldest son spent 1 week out of school with some mysterious virus. Then my other 2 sons had fevers, which they've recovered from. Then yesterday after feeling crummy for 3 days, I dragged myself to the doctor and was diagnosed with bronchitis. It has been no fun at our house. I've been so so tired. More tired than I've ever been. Thank goodness for antibiotics and cough syrup with codeine. Thanks to the codeine I slept straight from 4 pm to 7 am. This has been my view for the last 3 days.

guest room ceiling
That's the guest room ceiling. I've had myself in quarantine so I don't spread this to my family.
And when I've had the energy to venture outside , this has been view 2, from the hammock.

view from hammock

A hex on you, sickness! Because of you we missed out on celebrating our anniversary, our youngest's 3rd birthday, and today would have been our first Seattle Quilting Bee (which was supposed to be here). Moan, moan, moan.....

Hopefully my next post won't be so complainy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Clean Dirt

worm composting header pei pei

What is worm composting?
Worm composting is using worms to turn kitchen scraps into a rich, natural fertilizer. There’s something that looks, smells, and feels like dirt—that’s the worm compost or “castings,” and there’s “worm tea” which is the moisture and liquid produced by the worms and also from the water that you pour over the worms to keep the whole thing moist (they like moisture)! If you have purchased a worm kit, your kit probably has a tray that will collect the worm tea.


How did you get started w/worm composting and how long have you been doing it?
I was living in Berkeley as a college student in the early 1990s when I first heard about composting and worm composting. I was really intrigued by recycling, composting, and reducing waste. I don’t know why that kind of stuff excited me so much. I was attracted to the idea of reducing what I throw away everyday. My landlady had a vegetable garden and she composted. I literally saw her yard waste turn into soil when she turned her compost pile. I then came across an article about worm composting; it talked about a guy who was selling handmade, wooden worm composting boxes. I called the guy who made the boxes and hopped on BART to get to him (I didn’t have a car and didn’t know how to drive anyways). I paid $45 for one of his worm boxes that was about 4”x 3” x 3”. I really don’t know how I carried that thing from the BART station to my rented room in a house, but I somehow managed!

I bought my own worms at a local bait shop, made a bed for them using damp, shredded newspapers, threw in a little dirt from the garden and started composting. I did this for less than a year before I left Berkeley for law school in Los Angeles. I was able to gather several harvests of worm castings which I put in the vegetable garden. I remember that the worm castings smelled rich and sweet, like clean dirt. It was really cool.

I didn’t know how weird “worm composting” was until I left Berkeley to go to UCLA for law school in 1993. When I told my law classmates that “I used to have worms for composting,” of course they thought I was crazy. Nobody had ever heard of it, and apparently nobody cared about reducing waste in Los Angeles. I stopped recycling and worm composting when I came to Los Angeles. When I went back to visit my landlady up in Berkeley, I asked her how the worms were and she said she had tossed them into the garden soon after I left and assured me they were happy there. I now know the red wrigglers you get for worm composting don’t survive in a garden, but that’s okay. She at least threw them into back into nature.

I restarted worm composting in mid-March 2009. It had been nearly 20 years since I last worm composted, and I had been feeling a twinge of guilt throwing away all the tea bags, broccoli stems, apple cores, and banana peels throughout the years. What got me started again was listening to Good Food on KCRW (one of the station in L.A. that carries NPR). The hostess, Evan Kleinman, was interviewing a Canadian woman who was selling worm kits over the internet for about $160 and I thought “I used to do that, and I’ve wanted to do it again for such a long time, so what’s stopping me?” I did a quick internet search and found out that my very own L.A. County was offering Smart Gardening Workshops at various locations and selling subsidized worm & composting starter kits. I went to the very next workshop and purchased my well-made, well-designed worm kit for only $65. There were quite a few people at the workshop who all wanted either a composting bin or a worm kit. It was heartening to witness. So, for this second go-around, I’ve only been worm composting since March of 2009, about 2.5 months. I like my second bin a lot more. It’s made out of 100% recycled materials, is designed to keep out flies, has a tray to collect worm tea, and came with instructions, bedding material, and a half pound of worms!


Tell me about your worms—are they a certain variety, or do regular old earthworms work for this job?
Earthworms absolutely do NOT work for worm composting. Earthworms like to go deep and come back to the surface. A worm composting box is not very deep, so the earthworm would not be happy living in the box. The type of worms you need is red wrigglers, or tiger worms, (Eisenia fetida) and they are surface dwellers. (Click here to see a photo of Pei Pei's worms in action.)

Worms can eat about half their weight every day, so a pound of worms can eat a half-pound of food per day. That’s a lot of apple cores!

My worms had to get used to their new environment, and in the beginning, it seemed they were trying to “escape.” Every time I lifted the lid to the bin, I’d find worms on the side, on the lid—they didn’t seem to be eating! I’d use a pair of chopsticks to push or flick them back into the soil. But after about 10 days, they settled in and were munching on the banana peels I had thrown in there. I tended to fret over them—always checking in on them, needlessly opening up the lid, causing them to wriggle down into the soil/bedding (they don’t like the light), checking on the food level, and looking for uneaten food that has gotten moldy. I’m much better now.

The worm population will adjust itself. If you don’t have lots of food to offer them, some members will eventually die. If the food level picks up, then they will breed and eat more. I have found the tiniest, littlest baby worms imaginable—they’re translucent! It’s very cool!

They like a moist environment, so you have to occasionally pour some water (about a cup or so) over everything. But once I made it too wet and for the next few days, I again found worms on the sides and on the lid of the bin. If that happens, just throw in some dry newspaper or cardboard to absorb the excess moisture.

worm compost newspaper

What do they eat?
I cook a lot of vegetables, and almost all the trimmings can go to the worms. They love to eat apple cores, banana peels, coffee grinds, coffee filters, tea bags, vegetable and fruit trimmings, and things like that. They can eat shredded newspapers, napkins, and paper towels forever. What you can’t throw in there is protein and dairy products, so no meat, fish, raw eggs, nor cheese. No oils or grease, either, and avoid acidic fruits (like citrus). A few carefully rinsed out egg shells (crushed) is good to add, to help maintain pH levels.

What I like to do is chop their food into small pieces. This is where my Knife Essential Skills, courtesy of a cooking lesson at Sur La Table, has paid off! If you chop the food into small pieces, they can eat it more efficiently. I also cover what I throw in there with a few layers of damp newspaper; doing so really helps prevent the bin from drying out, and also helps prevent the food from attracting flies or bugs.

You have to remember that the food doesn’t just disappear overnight. It disappears slowly over several days, each day it’s a little mushier, a little bit more decomposed (but not smelly), and it’s not until weeks go by that you recall, “Hey, I threw in 3 banana peels about 1.5 weeks ago, and it’s gone!” Meanwhile, you keep adding new food every day, but not too much. You have to adjust occasionally. I have thrown out food that has gotten moldy (the worms won’t eat moldy food); it was when I got lazy and didn’t chop up the banana peels into bits.

You mentioned that you don’t have a garden. What do you with the compost when it’s ready? (and how do you know when it’s ready?)
I am less interested about the worm compost than I am about reducing what I throw out. However, I have used diluted “worm tea” to water my various houseplants and orchids. You have to dilute it because otherwise it is too strong. It could just be in my head, but I swear, after I watered my orchids with diluted worm tea, it seemed as if the shoots and buds grew overnight, and actually, come to think of it, I have no problems with mealy bugs this season.

I think I would just use the worm compost on the landscape of my condo complex. We have a communal loquat tree that I would like to fertilize, too. Or I could secretly fertilize the various plants of my coworkers and see if it makes any difference on the anemic office plants.

The worm compost will be ready in about 4-6 weeks. I’m sure I am able to harvest some compost right now, but as it’s not my main objective, I’m not that eager to harvest.

What is it about worm composting that gets you excited?
What really gets me excited is that worm composting is my small way of reducing the food stuff that I throw away. Think about all the coffee grinds each office throws away every morning; wouldn’t it be cool if you didn’t have to throw any of that stuff away, but recycled it instead? Wouldn’t it be awesome if in the process of recycling your coffee grinds and filters, you actually produced nutrient rich fertilizer? Knowing that you could, why wouldn’t you do it? It’s really cool when you make something like banana bread (that’s one of the very few things that I bake) and you throw NOTHING away in the process. All banana peels and egg shells can go into the worm bin. I just find that very satisfying.

Do you have questions or comments for Pei Pei? Email them to me at joanna (at) greatturtle (dot) com and I will pass them along.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


introducing clean dirt

One of the things I love about having a blog is having a voice and a forum and people to share my excitement with. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that if I find a good deal on something or a new-to-me way of doing something, I can't stop myself from posting about it.

Is it just me, or do all bloggers feel like getting their friends to blog too? My mom, for example, is so full of stories and life experiences. She's a great writer, and I wish she would just have a blog already. I have friends who are awesome cooks. They need to just blog too, for pity's sake. So in the interest of sharing my forum (and proselytizing the joys of this bloggy way of life--ahem!), I've decided to try something different and open my blog up to guest bloggers who have something to say. Any subject is fair game. I have a few guests in mind at this point, most of whom are blogless and some of whom will probably need a little arm-twisting. They have stories to be told; passions to express; knowledge to share. I'm so very excited about this! I'm eager for you to meet my friends--some new, some old.

I must say, I'm feeling a little funny about the convergence of my real world and blog world which have been separate for so long, but it's time for this old blog to be something more. Most of all I'm just happy to share my space with people who help to enhance my understanding of this world.

Think of it as a monthly field trip to a different perspective...I'm calling it The Clean Dirt. The first issue, by my friend Pei Pei, will be coming tomorrow.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Making Do


The weather went from 90 degrees to 60 in one day flat--from "no way am I going near yarn" to "hmmm, maybe it's time to start that cabled hat I've been thinking about." Can't find my stitch marker? No problem. That little piece of twine on the counter can fill in. What? No cable needle in sight? Eh. That double pointed one will work just fine.

It's been that kind of weekend.

Friday, June 05, 2009

As if by Magic

This shirt was made for me by a dear friend. Isn't it lovely? This is how it came to be: She came over to watch the kids one night after they were in bed already, told me to pick some fabric from my stash, and when hubby and I came back later that night, there it was.
z shirt

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

It Spoke

piped tote

The fabric spoke to me. It told me it wanted to become a huge totebag that would be able to lug all the towels and toys to the pool this summer. It also wanted to be able to carry books back and forth to the library. It wanted to have piping and be paired with canvas. It wanted to be unfussy and basic and just plain useful. I listened.