A lifetime of Christmases.

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My Mom gifted each of her kids a Christmas ornament every year.  Many of the ones from the 60’s and 70’s were lovingly handmade.  Each was carefully labeled with our name and year, using some NASA-calibre tape that has held on all these years.  I pulled them out this year and reminisced on the story they tell.

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My first one, top-left, was an angel head (angels were a recurring theme), handmade by Mom, who was living in a trailer in a god-forsaken frozen tundra during a blizzard with four kids under the age of 5 1/2, one a newborn.

Another notable one was a handmade dove of peace, made the Christmas after she buried her second child.  I think the bird must have had special meaning for her.

A styrofoam-topped ice cream cone, with hand-stitched felt, was our ornament the Christmas of the year Colleen was born.  Followed by a mischievous elf on a bell for Francine’s first Christmas (appropriate, in hindsight).

A golden satin angel with a foil halo, also handmade, bears a label written in my little-kid cursive handwriting.  I must have been “helping” her that year.

I did the honors the year that I took shop, making festive wooden shapes for me and my siblings using a bandsaw and a drill press.  Apparently, sanding was not covered in shop that year.

Noreen got in on the fun the year she was an exchange student, bringing home colorful ball ornaments from Japan.

The year we moved overseas, we spent Christmas in a barren apartment with loaner furniture from the airbase, as all our earthly possessions were being shipped over on a (very) slow boat from the States.  In years since, Mom always remarked that she felt bad about Christmas that year for us.   I expect it was hardest for her.  But, nevertheless, she gave us each a Hummel ball ornament that year – she loved Hummels.

A wooden toy horse was the ornament the year Brian left for college, spending that in the USA with Noreen.

The next few ornaments were from Christmases when I was away at college, the first one of which Colleen and Fran were still living overseas with Mom and Dad.  It must have been weird for them to be the only ones home for Christmas that year, before moving back to the States.

A few years later, I was the one that moved away, across the county, for what turned out to be forever.  Mom still gave me an ornament when I came home from wherever I lived each Christmas.  She kept a handwritten list up to date, and stored them for me in a box until I took them with me one year – I can’t remember which one.  Then I became the caretaker of the ornaments and the list.  I don’t hang many of these up, because they are so old, but each one is very special to me.

Thank you, Mom. ❤

B-bye BB’s.

Last night Monte and I went to our local pub for dinner and to watch Monday Night Football. Since we don’t have cable, we have to go out to watch the Seahawks play. We won! 🙂

It was bittersweet, though. Our local favorite and most awesome pub, BB Rover’s, is closing for good in 2 weeks. 😦

I’ve enjoyed lots of good times and good beers in that place over the last 23 years. Post-softball-game celebrations, after-work happy hours, St. Patrick’s Day corned beef and cabbage dinners, darts, Austin Sailing Society meet-ups, live music and open-mic night, and many games of pinochle with friends. It is very sad to see it go.

Fare thee well, BB Rover’s.

Sailing is HARD.

My sailing friends left Galveston on Saturday, December 1st, headed to the west coast of Florida, and arrived five days later on Thursday, December 6th.  I am thankful for this, but it was not an uneventful passage.

The tiny, purple vessel in the middle of this image, south of Lake Charles, Louisiana, was S/V Trident on Sunday evening, as they were making their way along the safety fairway amongst cruise ships, tankers, commerical fishing boats, and other ships.

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Before they left, I told Lori I’d be her land-buddy / emergency contact.  So I carefully recorded all the info for her float plan, and put the various Gulf of Mexico Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Centers on speed dial.  Monte was sending them localized National Weather Service weather updates every day, and we had the luxury of being able to see them on AIS as long as they were within reach of a receiver.  MarineTraffic.com is a website you can use to follow boats that have AIS transmitters.  Although, after about 48 hours they were out of range of land-based receivers and their location was no longer being updated.  After that, the only thing we had to rely on was Lori’s satellite device, a Garmin InReach Explorer+ 2-way communicator, which transmitted their position every 10 minutes, and allowed for terse 2-way texting.

This is the their track from their Garmin InReach device, through which friends and family followed their progress.  Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 12.47.06 PM (1)

On Monday evening, their satellite device stopped sending updates (note the gap in their blue track south of Alabama).   Before Lori left, we discussed what to do in this situation – i.e.,  if their position was unknown and they were not reachable.  We agreed that if I didn’t see updates for a while, and after sending a text and not hearing back after waiting 3 hours, I’d officially start to get worried.

That happenend Monday night.  I waited 4 hours and then called the Coast Guard to ask if they could simply hail them through a VHF relay.  VHF only transmits a distance of 10-20 miles and S/V trident was about 200 nm off shore.  But ships commonly relay VHF messages from one boat to another and/or to the Coast Guard.  After a couple hours, the Coast Guard called back and said they were not able to hail them via a VHF relay.  Later that night, Coast Guard sector New Orleans called me back to say they had dispatched an aircraft to fly along their track to see if they could make contact.  God bless the Coasties.  Semper Paratas.  After 10 hours of not getting position updates, at 4 am, two things happened at the same time:  I got a call back from the USCG saying they had made contact with S/V Trident by radio, and S/V Trident’s Garmin tracker started updating again.   Lori sent a message after that saying that the tracker was buried under some cushions.  Whoopsie.  All good.  🙂

The next day, a cold front reached the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Trident was in its midst.  Late Wednesday afternoon, Lori sent me a message saying that they had lost steering and had not been able to hail the Coast Guard.   They were taking emergency steps and were able to regain control of the boat.  They were not in fear of losing the boat, but they were in distress.  I called USCG again, and the St Petersburg District monitored the situation for a bit, and then decided to send out their patrol boat given the bad weather and sea state at the time.  It took another 4 hours for the Coast Guard boat to close the remaining 40 miles or so to reach S/V Trident, who was still making way eastward.  It took another hour or two for them to establish tow and head back east.

All seemed to be good at that point.   But, then at 4AM, Lori texted that one of her crew had been injured, her sister, Janet, was thrown down the companionway in the violent seas.  The towing Coast Guard boat arranged for another boat to intercept with paramedics aboard.  Janet had fractured both her hips and endured 6 or so hours flat on her back in pain, on a boat thrown about in high seas.  Once inside Tampa Bay in the morning, she was transferred to another USCG vessel and to hospital where she is recuperating.  Thank goodness.

Sailing is hard.  You have to be ready for anything.  Sometimes all at once.

God bless the Coast Guard.

Headed East at sunrise.

Today is the first day of December 2018. It is also the first day of my dear friend Lori’s cruising dream realized.  After a lifetime of planning and one hellacious year of hard work, she left Galveston this morning, setting sail for Florida, and then on to the Caribbean.

She and her crew on this leg, Mike, Janet & Will, will take S/V Trident across the same Gulf that Monte, Joe and I crossed with her back in February.

My heart is full, as I see them pull away from the dock this morning. You did it, Lori. 🙂

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Fair breezes, safe seas, and Godspeed my friends!

G’nite y’all.

We had a bit of a Wii frisbee golf-a-thon tonight. As I turned out the kitchen lights at the end of the night, the silhouetted tulips caught my eye. Keeto says, “night night go seepies.” So, off I go… 🙂

A roof with a view.

This is the fantastic Austin skyline view from Mike’s new condominium rooftop.

Mike just moved in after a many month delay. And today he is headed to the coast with Lori to sail through the Caribbean for the next six months. We’ll hold down the fort ’til they return. 🙂

Save the little flowers.

We brought our vulnerable outdoor plants in when the weather turned cold last week. Most of them are in the shop. I brought a few small ones into the house. I’m enjoying this one, a pretty pink impatiens.

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Girls night IN.

Just because we’re not 10 years old anymore doesn’t mean we can’t have slumber parties!

Last night I joined several friends for an evening of wine, games, talking and laughing.  We wrapped it up with a good old sleepover.   We missed some of our BFFs who couldn’t make it, but had a very fun time.

One of the games we played was Apples-to-Apples, the G-rated and tame precursor to the naughty game Cards Against Humanity Fun.  It’s a great staple game to have in the hall closet, always good for a laugh no matter the age of the players.  At the end of the game, for another laugh, you can read the adjective cards you’ve won to see if they describe you or not.  Seven out of eight aint bad….   🙂

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Canvaswork bits & bobs.

I have been entertaining / vexing myself for the last week or two with a further foray into learning to sew boat-canvas projects.  This time, it was two projects for Lori and Trident; a propane canister bag in her Sunbrella color (forest green), and a lee-cloth made out of Phifertex, bordered with Sunbrella.  A lee-cloth is a sheet of fabric attached to the open side of a settee in the salon of a sailboat; the purpose of which is to keep a sleeping sailor in her berth, as opposed to flying across the salon during a rough passage.

We could have used one on the crossing from Florida to Texas back in February.  On that trip, Joe was thrown from the settee while asleep during his off-watch time and hit his face on the other side of the salon.   I’ve never seen nor used one, but Lori and I did a bit of prototyping last time I was down in Kemah and I came home with a sort of pattern.  Her settee is about 6 1/2 feet long by 20+ inches deep.  We agreed that a 4′ x 4′ finished dimension would work, with a field of Phifertex, bordered by about 3 1/2″ of Sunbrella on front and back.  Lori also asked for a run of Sunbrella up the middle, to give it a bit more structure when strung up, and a pocket for phone, glasses, headlamp, etc.   It will be anchored on the boards below the settee cushions and secured fore and aft above the cushions, by smallstuff tied to grommets.   Lori picked Phifertex because it is an open mesh vinyl fabric, to allow for airflow.  I found it to be a great fabric to work with.   I’ll be ordering some for my next project – new halyard bags for Nirvana.  Stay tuned.

And…. Voila! <<use your imagination to envision this lee-cloth being displayed against the settee of a sailboat, and not the couch in my living room>>  The pocket ended up a bit wonky, as I was running out of material, but it’ll work.

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If you’re not into sewing or canvaswork, you may want to stop reading now.  Because I will document here some of the things I learned working with Sunbrella using my valiant, but limited, Kenmore model 385 sewing machine – for no reason other than I would have loved to have known some of this ahead of time, as opposed to learning by trial and error.

  • A walking-foot sewing machine (which mine is not) is really the right tool for the job.  As it consistently pulls the fabric from above and below at the same time.  My home sewing machine only has traditional feed dogs below.  As a result, the stitches are rarely consistently spaced, due to variations in how fast/smoothly the fabric feeds under the needle.  An industrial sewing machine is designed to handle the fabric thickenesses I’ve been doing and much more, with much more ease and less pain and suffering (and swearing) and re-doing on the part of the operator.
  • Longer stitch lengths are desirable.  The max stitch length setting on my machine is 4… not sure exactly what that translates to, maybe 4 mm stitch length (?).  But whatever it is, it is not big enough.
  • My Kenmore, surprisingly, has handled everything I’ve thrown at it so far, the max of which was about 6 layers of Sunbrella and 1-2 layers of Phifertex.  Not bad.  I’m using a 110/18 needle with V-92 bonded polyester thread.  If you want beautiful and consistent topstiching, however, you’ll need to spring for a Sailrite or similar walking foot, industrial machine.
  • Pinning through several layers of Sunbrella requires fingertips of steel.  After watching a number of videos, I learned that the pros rarely use pins.  They use double-sided basting tape to hold surfaces of fabric together until they are stitched.   What a great thing!
  • My sewing machine is not rigged to use the ginormous spools of thread canvas work requires, they are too big to sit on the tiny pin on top of the machine for a normal spool of thread.  In addition, the thread has a habit of falling around the bottom of the spool, aka “pooling,” which can mess with your thread tension.  Instead, they need to sit at table level (or lower) and feed up above and then down to the machine.  I don’t know what this doohickey is called, but I’ve seen them on industrial machines, and made one of my own out of a wire clothes hanger, cutting and bending it to do my will.
  • Speaking of tension, whatever the max tension on my machine is, it was not enough for some stitching tasks.  I had to literally pinch the top thread in my right hand to add additional tension so that stitches didn’t loop on top of the fabric for one or two parts of my projects.  I found this to be the case, in particular, when topstitching the webbing that I used on top of the Sunbrella for the propane bag projects.  It didn’t happen when stitching just Sunbrella and/or Phifertex, thankfully.
  • Sunbrella doesn’t like to stay folded very well.  If you run the point of an awl along your fold line, though, it yields a bit more, helping to hold a hem until stitched.
  • A soapstone pencil (a common quilting notion) came in handy for marking Sunbrella.   It marks the fabric nicely, and easily erases with a damp cloth.   I found a #2 lead pencil and eraser worked great for marking the Phifertex.
  • Cutting Sunbrella can be a pain, because it frays.  The right tool for the job is an electric hot knife.  But I stuck it out using only my fabric shears, followed by an application of glue along all the cut edges to minimize fraying.  This took forever to apply and to dry.  Then I took the time to double turn all the hems, so no cut edge was exposed.   If I do much more of this, a hot knife is definitely in my future.

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I’ll stop there.  If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading!  I hope some of this helps a fellow newbie canvasworker.

No lions, tigers, or bears.

I checked the SD card on my critter cam yesterday.  I moved it a few weeks ago to point at the opening of a burrow I discovered that some animal had recently dug in the middle of our back lot.  I just wanted to see what I could see.  I captured countless daytime visiting backyard bird species (doves, blue jays, cardinals, titmice, wrens, mockingbirds,…).   But it turns out, it’s quite the popular nightspot.  Here are some snaps…it’s a jungle out there.  I thought these were the most interesting visitors.

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Nine-banded Armadillo – time to set up the trap again
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Gray Fox – we’ve seen this guy during the daytime as well
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Damn cat – this guy and several buddies are out here day and night, chasing my birds away
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Opossum
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Cooper’s Hawk – bottom left of frame
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Racoon – this guy also stars in some crittercam footage I took of our trash can
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Another dillo – this one is posing standing up on his hind legs, almost cute, no?

 

In case you are interested, this is a nice reference for wildlife of Texas put out by Texas Parks and Wildlife.

 

Boat run.

We are pet sitting this week – our niece, Julie’s, dog, and Doray & Tom’s parrot.   Because of that, we have been sticking close to home.  But, today we took the opportunity on this beautiful day to take a drive.

We stopped by several vantage points around the lake.  With the emergency flooding situation behind us, Lake Travis is dropping about 1.5 feet a day now, currently at 695′ above mean sea level.   The butterflies were thick today, which makes me very happy – so much of what humans do have hurt their populations over the years.  It’s nice to see them out there despite us.

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I believe these are Queen butterflies, on blue mistflower.  I think I’ll plant some of this in my yard!

We also stopped by the marina to check on our boat.  Our marina’s staff has been doing a wonderful job keeping all the docks floating and clear of obstacles.  They are running a shuttle to the docks for boat owners, since the lake is still flooded, and the water level is still about 15 feet above the parking lot.  Everything looks fine.  Our batteries are doing well (electricity has been off to the docks for 12 days, so far).

I brought my completed propane bag out to the boat and hung it.  It works great, and I found the perfect spot for it.

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Citizen Sheila.

I scored a civic triple this week. I chatted with my district’s city councilman at a neighborhood block party over the weekend, voted early yesterday, and today I headed downtown for jury duty; on the bus, no less. There’s too much traffic and not enough parking to try driving down there and back at rush hour. Monte gave me rides to and from the metro station and I caught the Express, which drops me and picks me up two blocks from the courthouse.

What I did today.

Monte built a set of bookcases for a client and I spent the day helping him install them.

Nice, very nice…

I also learned a new joke from a friend who called just to share it with me. I’m working on trying to remember it, Pilar.

🙂