Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I got back from vacation last night and unleashed four days' worth of saved-up sewing.

Henry pants!

Henry pants!


They're for Henry, the most adorable baby in the universe. Ever. His parents were nice enough to let me stay with them Sunday night and took me along to a delicious dinner/pumpkin-carving/dog-petting/Muppets-watching evening.

I borrowed a pair of Henry's pants with the plan of drafting a pattern, but then remembered the simple pants pattern in the Simple Sewing for Baby book I have.

The pants from the book turned out the same size as Henry's, except the length -- they were about 3 inches shorter. So maybe he'll have capris. I got the hanger at Bitters Co. in Seattle for $12. It's from Paraguay.


I also powered through this last night.

Potholder! I stopped in Bozeman on my drive home and got some Insul-Bright. Every store in Billings has been sold out of it for the last year, so I was glad to find some at Main Street Quilting Company. It was only $3 a yard!

I didn't follow a pattern, but I did get my idea for the back from Oh, Fransson!



It was nice to be able to sew up pants and a quilted potholder in an evening. I bound it this morning, but still. A year ago, I would have no idea how to do any of that stuff. And six months ago, it would have taken me a weekend.

The first big thing I sewed/quilted was actually a quilt for Henry when he was born last February. Now, more than 10 months later, the list of sewing stuff I don't know how to do is still longer than the skills I've acquired, but I've got most of the basics down. If I was graded on a elementary school report card, I'd be "fully performing" in all the essential areas.

The coolest thing I've learned is how to hand-bind. Before my mom taught me, I never thought I'd like it. Now it's one of my favorite parts of quilting. It has a cool rhythm and it seems like the part of the process you have the most control over, I think because of the slow speed. Plus the final quilt looks so perfect and it gives me an excuse to watch dumb movies.


And now it's back to a quilting project I started before I left... More on that later...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Season shift

That's it. I'm calling this fall. Even though the garden doesn't agree. And it's supposed to be 70 degrees on Thursday.

Still going strong!
Go Vikings. I'd add an exclamation point, but it's hard to do when they're 1-4.

That's tomatoes, zucchini, carrots and beets. And gourds, for some reason.


Welcome to the (tomato) jungle.

Welcome to the (tomato) jungle

That photo doesn't quite do it justice. There are probably -- no exaggeration -- 40-plus green tomatoes on those plants. And with the weather we're having, I don't think we'll lose them to frost.

Heirloom tomato

What a beauty.

I have a confession: I pulled the zucchini plants -- with a few blossoms still attached. Honestly, I just can't eat another zucchini. I picked two today. There's still a six-pounder in our kitchen waiting to end up in a cake or some other dish that transforms healthy food into a butter-and-chocolate monstrosity.

The former home of the squashes

That poor little lavender plant in the lower right corner hasn't seen sunlight since July, when the zucchini went bonkers and grew 10 feet in a week. But it smelled like lavender when I pulled away the squash vines today.

Get this -- I had a strawberry from the garden today. I didn't think to take a photo, but the strawberry plant is thriving. Especially in the last three weeks. I know it's an ever-bearing variety, but still. It's strawberries. It's October.


Billings' first dog park opened over the weekend. We took Chowder.


That's what she did the whole time, when she wasn't busy peeing on her own tail. She was so afraid of the other (all very nice) dogs.

Even these guys.


Staying a safe distance from everybody else:


Total panic.



As much as Chowder failed at the dog park, we succeed at the Friends of the Library book sale.


All that = $12. That's a lot of new books there!

I found a great Amish quilt book too. Not patterns, just photographs of a collection. Tons of inspiration.



And this book. Totally impractical, but awesome. And only $1.




We had the kind of day on Saturday that makes me like Billings. We ate at a killer restaurant we've been meaning to try for months. We made out like bandits at the book sale. We went to a party at the brewery. All that happened within blocks of our apartment. We basically did Democrat-liberal-hippie things in this very cowboy town. If we keep having Saturdays like that, my opinion of this place might turn a corner. I also had three cupcakes that day, which played an important factor in my happiness.


I finished up this wonky piano keys quilt during the Saturday rainstorm. It's made with 1930s reproduction fabric. I started this top months ago, and then it just sat around while I worked on more time-sensitive projects.


At first I was pretty "meh" about this quilt, but once it was bound I had a total change of heart. I finished it while we were watching Fargo on the couch and it went into insta-use. That's why it's so wrinkly in the photo.



I got a start on my next project, but I don't have any good photos to share yet. And I won't for a while because I'm off to Seattle on Thursday!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday roundup

This week I pulled out a quilt top that I've had done for months. And I quilted it.

Here it is.


There's one more row, but I couldn't get it to hang if it showed.

And here's the back.


It's wonky piano keys. I used 1930s reproduction fabric, which is out of my comfort zone. But I love it.

The pups probably have something to do with that.


This is the smoothest my quilting has been! And this little top is so happy to finally get quilted. Yup, I just anthropomorphized a quilt top.


I think I'll bind it in white. I've been on a white binding kick lately, and I have some left over from my last project. It's enough to finish three sides, so I don't have much more to make.

Last night after work I made a new cellphone-card holder case. It's a project that's been on my mind for a while, and suddenly seemed important with my trip to Seattle rapidly approaching. My old case was was d-i-r-t-y and the button placement was starting to bother me. The new one is the same size but has a Velcro closure.

New phone case

I love those moons.

Phne case

The outside and pocket fabric are a heavier linen-cotton blend (Heather Ross' Far Far Away II and III). I sandwiched two layers of muslin between the pocket front and back for stability. The lining is quilting cotton.

The case is padded with bamboo batting. I drop things a lot, and I know the batting in my old case saved my phone from many a sidewalk death. I also sprayed it like crazy with Scotchguard. Here's hoping that keeps the staining down.

Phone case

I've made a few of these cases now. The first had a flap and the second had a loop-and-button closure. I was tentative about the Velcro because of the noise, but snaps didn't seem like a good option because I'd be pressing down on the phone to shut the case.

A package came today with some new fabric!

Four Kona solids and two Essex linens

How manly, right? Good, because it's for a man -- my little brother!

He turns 25 soon, and that freaks me out.

So from left to right, that's Konas in Orange, Jade, Earth and Daffodil. And then it's Essex Linen in PFD and Sand. I really like the Sand color. It's the grey I've been searching for to put in recent projects.

I prewashed today in warm water. I figure that my brother, being a guy, might not pay close attention to washer settings or that this quilt might get dirty and need a warm-water wash. So I got the shrinking and color running out of the way.

Score one for Shout Color Catches.

Shout color catchers

The white one in front is an unused sheet. See how much it ran?

So tonight I'm going to (I hope) make some more binding and sew it on my quilt front. Then I'll leave that project downstairs to work on in bits and pieces while we watch movies and the like. Upstairs in the sewing room, it's going to be all Al's quilt all the time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Being outside in Billings isn't scary

I took Chowder on a strange walk this morning. We diverted from our normal route.

Chowder is the kind of dog that thrives on routine. Everyone should always leave for and return from work at the same time. Dinner is at 6:30 p.m. And walks always follow the same route.

So today, when we turned left instead of going straight, her whole world briefly fell apart. At first, she just stayed the course, not registering that I was going a different direction and calling out "Hey. Dog. This way." It was rough.

The first 10 intersections were a disaster. Are we going to cross the street? Turn right? Hang a left? She wouldn't start walking until I took a few steps and proved that, yes, the street wasn't going to fall out from under us.

But she survived.

I'm a creature of habit, too. She's so familiar with our route because we travel some version of it every day. I think that's because when I've got both dogs or I'm running Tom, the part of my brain that negotiates street crossings, uneven sidewalks and the like runs on autopilot. My active senses are used up worrying "will Tom notice that cat under the car?" and "how drunk is that guy swerving down the alley?"

But today I was on a mission. When I was driving over to the West End to meet Tim for lunch on Tuesday, I saw a sign at a motel. It said something like "if ppl arenT suppozed to drinkndrive, How cum bars have parkin LOTS?!!!!"

I did my best here to represent the whack spelling and feel of the sign, but it doesn't do justice to the real thing. So I wanted to take a photo. Hence the change in walking routes.

Turns out my memory blows and I we never found the sign. I swear it was on First Avenue North. And it might be, but farther west than we got today. Oh well. There's always tomorrow.

But I got some other photos. First, we met the God of Tires.

The god of tires

Then we found one of the few industries that's probably worse off than newspapers.

The only industry worse off than newspapers

We saw a cool ghost sign.

Old signs

Old sign

And a not-so-old sign, but I like the i.

Not-so-old sign

And a pretty crappy basketball hoop.

A funny sticker.

(The crossed-out part at the bottom had a message about safe sex, which the sticker owner did not agree with.)

Some brewery byproducts.

Behind the brewery

And the standard Chowder-in-front-of-a-wall shot.

Chowder and a wall

So our route was weird and different. Much like walking in general is weird and different for most of Billings.

That sounds snippy and judgmental. And it is. But it's also true. And it was a pretty nice transition to something that's been bothering me since we moved here.

I sat down after dinner tonight and did a little math. On weekdays, I average seven miles of walking and running in and around downtown Billings. Today I walked Chowder four miles and ran Tom three. Before midnight, I'll walk to and from work three times.

In all those miles, I didn't see another person out walking or running for fitness. Not a one. I usually don't.

I can't remember the last time I saw another runner. And I'm not just throwing that statement out as an illustrative point. I honestly cannot remember the last time I encountered another person out on a run.

I work odd hours, so I know there must be people doing their thing when I'm at my office. But I run during what's lunch hour for normal folks, and it's through downtown and residential areas. You think there'd be someone else out doing the same.

It's not that I don't see other people. There are folks walking to restaurants, their cars, offices. And there are plenty homeless with no place to go.

In Butte, I ran Tom with a special collar that made it easier to pull him away from other dogs. Because we always ran into other people out with their mutts. But here, he wears a harness because we so rarely cross paths with other dogs and their owners.

I heard a story on NPR this week about Lexington, Ky., being named the most sedentary U.S. city by Men's Health magazine. So I found the list, and ... look where Billings is.

No. 74. On a list where 100 is the worst. It's us and a bunch of Deep Southers and the Midwest. Which confirms my argument that Billings isn't really Montana. But that's a different topic.

Anyway, my point is this: Please, Billings, go outside. It's not scary. If Chowder can do it, so can you.

Chowder walk

Friday, October 7, 2011



This pie.

Not to brag or anything, but it might be the best thing to ever come out of an oven. Not just our oven. An oven. As in all ovens across the world.

All-butter crust

Oh my.

I'm a little sad I didn't take any photos of the cooking/baking process. The making of a masterpiece should be documented. Plus it was really pretty. But I was rushing to bind a quilt/take a shower/bake blondies for work and didn't have the time.

Anyway, here's what went into the filling. The crust is an all-butter crust (2.5 cups flour, 2 sticks butter, 1 teaspoon salt, 5 tablespoons ice water, minimally mixed ... to the point where it barely held together ... for maximum flakiness)

2 big parsnips, chopped into smallish pieces
3 big carrots, cut like the parsnips
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, smashed to tiny bits
Frozen peans
Veggie stock
Olive oil
Salt, pepper, sage, thyme and chives

I sautéed the carrots and parsnips with salt and pepper in a lot of olive oil, like a half-inch deep in a big pan. I let them go for about 10 minutes over medium heat. They didn't quite brown up, but they got soft. Then I added the onion and cooked it all for another 5 minutes, then threw in the garlic and took it all off the heat.

I drained out and kept the oil, then moved the veggies to a bowl to cool. I added the olive oil back to the pan, along with a few tablespoons of butter and the sage and thyme (both dried). I cooked that until it foamed, and then added the flour to form a paste. That cooked for a few minutes, and then I whisked in the veggie stock until I had a thick cream.

Then I dumped the veggies back in the pan, added the peas and chopped chives and let everything cool while I rolled out the bottom crust. Then I assembled the pie and baked it at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes. I used a massive pie dish; it'll probably need less time in a normal-size one.

It's seriously so good. And cheap, too.

I don't have any photos of us eating it because I forgot my camera at work. But if I'd taken any, you'd see an almost-half-gone pie by the time dinner was over.

It was that good.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

General update (what a lame post title)


It's almost here.

Sure, most days last week had highs in the upper 80s and 90s. But the nights were cooler. Cooler than they've been all summer.

And the leaves are changing. The warm weather can't stop that. Though I thought it would somehow. I guess I don't understand science as well as I thought I did.

I've been sewing less and running dogs more.

Pre-run tomtom

Post-run Tom

And baking. That's been happening a lot these days.

This bread went so fast I didn't have a chance to photograph it baked. DSCN9318

There was also tomato pie. Tomatoes from the garden! Tomato pie

I've never had or made a tomato pie before. It turned out good. Really, really good. Tomato pie Recipe here

I have done some sewing in the last month.

These linen blocks turned into... holly sept


... pillows!


They still need to be bound. But first I'll need to clean off the dog hair.

I made a pouch for laundry (NOT soda money for the office) quarters.


An owl and undies!


I also made a mini quilt.


I'm a big fan of the mini quilt. It's fast, easy and gives me a chance to practice skills -- appliqué, in this case.


The idea for this quilt came from here.

I got all the fabric from the scrap bin plus quarter-yard cuts of the brown and blue at a local fabric store for $10. I mixed in some other scraps from my stash once I was home and ended up with lots of leftovers.

It went together very quickly. I started by cutting out the vegetable shapes. I used fusible web and did two at a time because I knew I was making two quilts. (There's a second one, it's just not bound yet.) Then I selected what greens went well with each veggie and cut the top leaves, again with fusible.

I appliquéd the leaves first, using a zig-zag stitch. I used the same green thread for each of the leaves.


Then I appliquéd the veggies. I used the same burnt-orange thread for everything but the garlic.


I used 1-inch painters tape to mark my quilting lines and went vertical in the brown (dirt) and horizontal in the blue (sky).

I backed each with a fat quarter. I had an inch of overhang on each side, so these suckers are about 17 by 21 inches. I didn't plan it that way, but it worked out nice.

I added a hanging sleeve before I bound then up, so they don't have to hang by two little bluebirds.

But the birds are pretty cute, right? They came from Astoria this summer.