Saturday, December 28, 2013

Bye-bye Babs

Babs, the Shabby Chic Washday Quilt

The winter season did not find me or my Etsy shop brimming with finished quilts for sale. Not a great business plan, but life caught me working a lot and spending time on the all-important sock monkey hat project.

Quite unexpectedly, my best customer ever surprised me with an order. Something tells me she got an Etsy gift card recently and decided on another themed quilt. This one is quite shabby chic with a light spring feel, so maybe that's just what she wanted in December. Bye-bye Babs, behave yourself in Texas.

That leaves one lonely quilt sitting in the cupboard, feeling like the last one to be picked for volleyball.

Ewe! The humility!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Knitting my brow while crocheting a hat

My sister Janice taught me how to crochet when I was young, and it has served me well through the years. I've made lots of blankets and throws, pot holders and cotton dishrags. I've learned through those projects that I have a rather loose crochet style. That means size is unpredictable. If I want to make a gift, I buy the yarn, read the pattern, throw the pattern to the side and do my own thing and see how big or small it turns out. The gift tag often reads:

Here is your potholder/baby blankie/couch throw/California King bedspread. 
Watch out - it may shrink/stretch.

I'm really good at square shaped projects, not very good at things that must fit on a human body. I've tried various times to make matching baby booties to go with a baby blanket, but have always ripped them out when they were getting too big for even an NBA player. 

Sock Monkey yarn - ready to roll

Why I got it into my head to make a sock monkey hat is beyond me. I didn't even know they existed until I saw one for sale on Etsy. Instead of just buying one, I figured it couldn't be that hard to make. Crocheting isn't at all scary like knitting is - with all that poking action and the threat of everything falling off the needles. The worst that can happen with crocheting is that my blunt tipped hook falls off. Big deal, I just stick it back where it belongs and keep crocheting the car cover/circus tent/tea trivet.

Molly proving that dogs can be embarrassed.
 My first attempt at crocheting a sock monkey hat was overwhelmingly successful - for a Neanderthal. I ripped it out, started with a smaller sized hook and re-read the directions. If it turns out, I have a cute new hat to wear for RBC kitchen work. If not, we have ourselves a sock monkey pool cover.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Life lessons from Chicago

When my parents got married, they decided to high tail it out of Chicago and move west. They first went to Arizona. I'm glad they didn't stay there, because I would probably have even more wrinkles than I already have. They kept on going and settled in Oakland where my brother was born. Then my Dad took a job in Sacramento and they bought their first house when my sister was a baby. They eventually had three more of us rug rats children. Arden Park was a lovely place to be born. Losing mittens in Sacramento meant you had lost a mitten, silly kitten, not that your hand would fall off from frostbite. I'm glad my parents heeded the call to Head West, young couple.

But with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins still back in Chicago, that meant family trips to the Windy City. When I was a baby, the family would take the train. My siblings have fond memories of the sleeper cars, dining cars and the domed observation deck at night. In time, the trips were on airplanes, and those are the only ones I remember. It was fun having family far away which involved big trips to visit them. We got to see all the "Chicago relatives" all at once and my parents didn't have to play favorites of who to visit when.

This past work weekend in Chicago brought back lots of memories for me. It was fr---eee---zing cold. I have to hand it to my Mom for her career girl days working downtown. Bundling up in all those clothes, taking the street car and the L to get downtown - she did it for years. I still cannot picture her in fur lined boots and a hat smashing her beautiful hair, but I'm sure she somehow stayed warm and fashionable. She married in her mid-twenties and I think moving away from all that hairdo smashing weather was a good idea for her!

Things I learned in Chicago

  • I learned at my rich Grandma's house that you grab the utensils from the outside of the place setting and work your way in. I learned about separate water glasses and how to eat a soft boiled egg from an egg cup and how to play Robber Rummy. I learned how fun it is to play in an attic and a basement, that people don't need fences around their houses and how to work a wringer washing machine.
  • I learned at my not very rich Grandma's house how to buzz in at an apartment, that a small place can be just as clean and appealing as a house with an attic and basement and that a twinkly genuine smile is the best thing to put on each morning. I learned where my Mom got her sweetness from.
  • Chicago taught me my first lessons about crime. I was in awe as a young child that the restrooms at Marshall Fields had cages on top of the stalls so people would not reach over and steal your purse. It had never occurred to me that someone would do that. The amount of locks on my Grandparent's doors was also a novel experience to a born and bred Arden Park girl. We didn't ever lock our doors and didn't know where the house keys were. Chicago was another world.
  • I learned from my step grandfather what hit-in-the-gut, jaw dropping prejudice sounds like. I have spent my life trying to undo the ugly things said by people like that. I know it's impossible, but I still try.
  • In Chicago I learned what real heat and humidity feels like. I woke up one night and asked my Mom what happened to the air? She said to just go to the window and try to breathe. Then I realized what Sacramentans mean when we say "But it's a dry heat."
  • I remember riding the L and passing right by people's apartment buildings as their curtains blew from our train car whizzing by. I knew then that I was a Have and those people were the Have Nots. I wished I could move their apartments just a few feet back so their curtains wouldn't blow as I traveled by in the train with my sweet mother and grandmother.
Proper footwear is a must
About 16 degrees at this point.

Snow angels are worth getting a devil of a cold backside.

Me and The Bean

Public Art is so wonderful. Because Earth without art is just Eh.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Taking Tree

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

...And after a long time the boy came back again.
-"I am sorry, Boy, "said the tree, "but I have nothing left to give you — My apples are gone."
-"My teeth are too weak for apple, "said the boy.
-"My branches are gone," said the tree. "You cannot swing on them — "
-"I am too old to swing on branches" said the boy.
-"My trunk is gone," said the tree. "You cannot climb — "
-"I am too tired to climb," said the boy.
-"I am sorry" sighed the tree. "I wish that I could give you something. . . but I have nothing left. I am
just an old stump. I am sorry..."
-"I don't need very much now" said the boy. "just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired"
-"Well" said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could, "well, an old stump is good for
sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down... and rest."
And the tree was happy.

The End

The trees in our yard are not so altruistic. The orange tree is amazing, no complaints there, but the rest are not much to speak of. The huge pecan in the back apparently needs a girl friend pecan tree, because his, um fruit, comes out all powdery and disgusting. There is a very crooked juniper that looks like it needs a chiropractor and a palm tree that just needs to go.

Tree-wise, the thorn in our flesh now has to be this:

The Taking Tree
According to the arborist (that's a tree guy who charges more because of the fancy name) it is a very dead, very tall, very big Modesto Ash. It straddles a fence, the property line and electrical wires. It has a certain shape of the trunk that's just ready to rip apart and only the most experienced (read $$$) should even touch it. In the business, this specimen is known as a "Widow Maker". I think what that means is that Mrs. Tree Guy is getting a really great present for Christmas and we'll be left with a stump in the yard.

But it has to go, because where the Tree of Death will fall is where our future orchard area is. Mrs. Pecan will go in here to make Mr. Pecan find his purpose.

Some day, the Garden of Eatin'

There are more projects planned after Mrs. Tree Guy gets her diamond earrings - we are fixing up and expanding the pool house! Now it looks like this:

Now, don't be getting all jealous, you should see the inside.

Why the lovely plastic tarp, you ask? We decided to go to Romania instead of fixing it this summer, and plus it adds so much ambiance. The mess all started right after we moved in - remember that wee bit of rain we got in December 2012?

Ernst playing Noah.

Get out the paddles!

So here we go with our plan, all worked out by Ernst and Adrian. First, build another pool house, right next to the first one. I know, this is where I thought What?, but hang on. When the new one is done, we'll move all the junk items from the 1st into the 2nd, creating an office for Ernst. Then they'll jack up the 1st one, What? put a new foundation under it, set it back down, re-plumb the toilet and sink and fix the outside shower which will be in a breezeway between the two now unified buildings. The old part will be a true pool house with a place to change before swimming, without having to fight the avalanche known as the Ernst Library.

Once we start the project, it'll be sure to start raining, so we look at this as doing our part to end our dry winter. Soon spring will be here, and there will be pool parties with no more embarrassing tarps in all the pictures. But if the tree comes down in the completely wrong direction, you'll be changing into your swimsuit in the orchard.

Wishing for swimming weather.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

I was a secret shopper - Part Two

The ads for secret shoppers typically say that if you love to shop, secret shopping is for you. Maybe that was the problem. While grocery shopping is cart loads more enjoyable for me than any other kind, I'm a get-in and get-out kind of consumer. I'm not there to browse, compare, meander, lollygag or fritter away one more second than is required. Head down, list in hand or memory, death grip on shopping basket - let's get this done. I don't like ads or flyers or buy one get one free (BOGO), buy 15 get seven half off, it's this price today, but next week it goes up, until it goes back down. I can't stand the visual clutter of a regular grocery store caused by all the prices going up and down weekly. I love Trader Joe's transparency - this is how much we charge for this product and you can buy it if you think that is fair. It will be the same price for a long time until it goes up. I also like Raley's produce and the nice open feeling to the aisles. Things are where they ought to be in Raley's and I can get in and get out with my produce and the items I can't get at TJs. Costco fills in the blanks and short trips into other stores keeps us in rice and beans.

The fact that only about 5 other humans knew I was a secret shopper for "WaySafe" meant I had to keep the complaining to a minimum. More accurately, I had to keep my complaining funneled to a minimum of people. Those poor souls. I complained a lot. Why is secret shopping so hard? It's just shopping, right? Let me walk you through just a portion of a secret shop:

Arrive at the store during the time assigned. Check parking lot for cleanliness and loose carts. If there are more than ten loose carts, heads won't roll, but it must be reported. Grab a cart, noting the cleanliness of the entrance area. Approach first department, let's say the deli. Note the following:
Is the department clean and neat?
Are the products fresh and appealing?
Time it took to get noticed?
Name of employee? Read this discreetly while the employee is wiggling and turning every wrong way so you can't read it without looking like a stalker. (I came to really love the name Bob.)
Did Bob smile?
Did Bob greet?
(Now's the time to prompt for a sample. Not ask, prompt. Is this potato salad salty? Are these baked beans really sweet? Is the ______ crunchy? Mushy? Crispy? At this point Bob is supposed to offer a sample.)
Is Bob knowledgeable about the product?
(Now request some kind of special preparation, like packaging up in smaller quantities, putting spices on meat, halving the cabbage, slicing the bread, etc.)
(Now prompt for an escort. Where are the toothpicks? Bob can't just say they are on aisle 3, he has to offer to take the customer to the location right in front of the toothpicks and point them out. Poor Bob.)
Was there a "connection" with Bob?
Did he make a personal parting comment (such as I hope those beans don't give you gas, Ma'am!)?

Then go do all that again in Bakery, Produce, Floral, Coffee, Pharmacy, Meat and Seafood and Customer Service. Check the bathrooms for cleanliness, check each line to see how many shoppers are in each (not to exceed 4), try to get another employee to ask if you need help and escort you to a product, find a problem (such as an expired product), look to see if any carts or pallets are blocking products, check the floor for cleanliness and then proceed to check out. Get the checker's name, banter about some in-store promotion, get the bagger's name, see if your receipt is correct and if everything is bagged correctly and that they used your name and asked if you wanted help out and didn't just say good-bye but that they said something personal like I hope that cream works out for your problem, Mrs. S_______. Get out to the car, note the time and write down if the carts got collected while you were shopping. And then drive to the next If there is a third store, do it all again...again. And then get home and see you still forgot to buy toilet paper. 

The worst part was the mind numbing monotony of it all. Just about every WaySafe store is a cookie cutter version of the last one. The same ugly fake wood floor in floral and produce, the same tile in the bathrooms. It was a grocery shopping version of Groundhog Day. They are revamping a lot of stores to a newer look, but it will be the same look in all the stores. 

The best part was the traveling! I love to drive and I love to drive alone. Just me and NPR. WaySafe had me going all over Northern California. Once I got there, the stores were the same, but the drives were different and I got paid for driving and for mileage. Doing the far away shops is where I made the $$. Lodi, Pollock Pines, El Dorado Hills, Lincoln, Auburn, Chico, Paradise, Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Orinda, Walnut Creek, La Fayette, Dixon, Davis, Fairfield, I went all over the place, multiple times. The farthest drive was San Francisco. Ernst went with me on that one. It was a totally jazzy and cool WaySafe near the ballpark. We got stuck in traffic on the way back and made a mint. I loved the far away shops!

The other day some young friends were asking if I had to work this week. I got to spill the beans about being a secret shopper for two and a half years! Although I hated it and I'm glad it's over, there were parts of it that were kind of fun. Did you know, that if prompted, certain WaySafe produce guys will offer you a blind taste test of organic versus conventional bananas? Did you know that the downtown Sacramento WaySafe does karaoke on Friday nights? Did you know that certain WaySafe checkers will tell you more about their love life than you ever wanted to know? Did you know the rudest WaySafe employee ever is also by far the cutest ever? Secret shopping for WaySafe - it's all out of the bag now!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Half my quilts sold on Black Friday!

Wow, what a day Friday was. Half my quilts sold! The fact that there were only four to start with? Only a minor detail. One of them, the Alexandria quilt had sat in my Etsy shop for one year. It got looks and likes, but no takers. At long last, a looker and a liker became a taker. Let the dance of joy commence.

The Emilia quilt barely got out of the dryer and sold just like that, to the same customer. More dance of joy. Now I need to pack them up nice and cozy, print out the label and go stand in line at the Post Office. If I start talking to the box, telling them not to get lost like Anastasia did, maybe I'll get invited to the front of the line?