Saturday, May 30, 2015

May in Review

How was May?  Outside... quite stormy and wet. Weather stats say we got 7 inches of rain compared to the usual 2.2 inches. I think the grass grew 3 inches for every inch of rain. :P

Inside... I made some progress toward the changes I want to make. On May 1, I stopped eating fast food. I've "cheated" twice - once picking up a turkey sandwich on the way back to work after a doctor appointment and once ordering Chinese take-out (which isn't exactly fast food, I guess).

On May 18, I stopped drinking soda. I've cheated only once, indulging in a soda with pizza. This is fairly remarkable considering there's a beverage cooler full of free soda only 26 steps from my desk at work. A 6' tall glass-front cooler, I might add, so the tempting beverages are in full view.

I haven't done well with avoiding the couch, mainly because I feel tired all the time. :(

The constant fatigue is one reason I had blood tests done last week. All the results were normal except ferritin, which is related to the amount of iron stored in one's body. The normal range is 11-307; my result was 11. Even though that is technically normal, it's obviously very low. Research on the internet (which I do view rather skeptically lest I "die of a misprint") seems to indicate levels below 50 can cause symptoms such as the fatigue and hair loss I'm suffering.

The hair loss is particularly disturbing. My hair has always been very thick, but around March, I noticed that two spots in the front were suddenly very thin.
It is NOT normal to see scalp through my hair.

I fervently hope that low ferritin is the only cause of the hair loss and that the hair will come back if I get my iron levels up (though it will probably take a year). My thick hair is one of the few things I like about my appearance and I will be crushed if I lose that.

So what's coming up in June? I'll keep working toward my health goals. And I want to DO something... anything besides sit around and feel tired. Maybe I'll make a list of not-too-demanding projects and try to do one each day. I will feel better if I can accomplish things, even small things.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Harvest Time

Spring has been odd this year. It has been cloudy and cool almost every day for the last month, with rain more often than not. I am loving it! :)  It has been a nice respite from the near-constant glare of the Burning Orb which generally torments me.

Of course, this is not a popular opinion among residents of Colorado, who are mostly solar-powered and really tired of the rain by now.  But I'm going to enjoy it while I can.

Except for the mowing.

With so much rain, the grass is growing like mad. And before I can get outside to mow, it rains again. The result is knee-high, sopping wet grass.

If my little dog Bean Sidhe were still around, she would be completely hidden.  Who am I kidding... velociraptors could be hiding in there.  :P

Even with a brand new blade and the mower on the highest setting, I can barely push through. Forget the mower; I need a combine.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Tutorial: DIY Fold-Up Fabric Tote

This tutorial will show you how to sew a lined tote which folds/rolls up into a neat little package. Though it may look daunting because of all the steps, it's actually not hard to sew. Every seam is just a basic straight stitch.

"Quilting" cottons work well for this project. I used two cottons - a black with dancing skeletons for the outside and a beige bones/skeleton print for the lining. I had about a yard of each fabric and made two bags. You will also need about 12" of 1/4" elastic and a shank button for each bag.

First step is to cut the fabric to the measurements shown in the photo below. I made a pattern out of graph paper; you could measure and mark if you prefer. Cut one of the main fabric and one of the lining fabric. Note the bottom is on the fold - don't cut there.

Next, cut the fabric for the handles. Cut two of the main fabric. Again, note the fold.

To make the handles, you first need to heat up the iron for some pressing. Start by folding the handle fabric in half lengthwise, wrong sides together. Press. Unfold.

Fold each edge in to meet the middle crease, wrong sides together. Press.

Fold the fabric in half lengthwise along the middle crease. Press.

Repeat for the other handle. Now it's time for some sewing!

Topstitch along the length of the handle. Stitches should be fairly close to the edge of the fabric. I used the presser foot as a guide, aligning the edge of the fabric with the edge of the foot. Repeat along the other long edge. Repeat for the other handle.

Your handles now have a line of topstitching along both long edges.

Pin the handles to the main fabric. With the right side of the fabric facing up, measure in about 3" from the side and pin one end of the handle here, lining up the raw edges. Repeat for the other end of the handle, again measuring 3" in from the other edge, ensuring your handle is not twisted. Repeat the process to pin the second handle to the other end of the fabric.

Cut a piece of 1/4" elastic about 12" long. Pin both ends to the center of the fabric, lining up the raw/cut edges, to form a loop. (You need the elastic only on one end.)

Sew on the handles. I used my serger to stitch and finish the edges (red lines in the photo below), then used my regular sewing machine to add short rows of stitches at each end of each handle (yellow dots in the photo).

Place the lining fabric on top of the main fabric, right sides together. (I first finished the edges of my lining with my serger, thought it's not shown here.) Stitch two rows along each edge (red lines in the photo). The second row should be about 1" in from the edge.

The next step is hard to explain. It's a bit of a spatial relations test.  :P  The goal is to fold the fabric so that the raw edges of the main fabric line up continuously with the raw edges of the lining fabric, right sides together. This allows you to stitch the side seam of the main fabric and the side seam of the lining fabric in one seam.

In the photo below, one raw edge is at the top of the photo and the other raw edge is at the bottom of the photo.  The bottom fold of the main fabric is to the left and the bottom fold of the lining fabric is to the right in the photo. The seams you just stitched to attach the handles are along the middle top-to-bottom line.

Stitch the fabric together along the raw edges. These will be the side seams of the bag. One seam (shown in a red line at the top of the photo) can be a continuous seam. In the other (shown in red lines at the bottom of the photo), leave an opening of about 4" in the lining fabric.

Stitch the bottom corners. Fold the fabric diagonally along the notches so the raw edges line up, right sides together. (In the photo below, the green dots show the inner corners of the notches and the red line shows the side seam you stitched in the last step.) Add a second line of stitching for strength. 

Reach through the opening you left in the side seam of the lining and pull all the fabric back through it, turning your bag outside out. Stitch the opening closed.

Tuck the lining down into the bag. Press along the top opening of the bag.

Topstitch along the top opening of the bag. This keeps the lining in place and further secures the handles.

Sew a shank button to the outside of the bag, on the same side as the elastic loop, about 1.5" down from the top.


To fold up the bag,  first fold it in thirds lengthwise (fold toward the side without the button).

Then fold the handles down.

Then fold/roll up from the bottom and secure the elastic loop around the button.

Here's the bag with groceries in it to give a sense of size. Inside the bag are five cans of vegetables, a box of crackers, a box of spaghetti, a bag of crisps, and loaf of bread.
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(I don't actually recommend bagging cans and bread together... unless you're that guy at Safeway, in which case you'll put the bread on the bottom and the cans on top.)

With the double and triple seams, the bags are quite strong. Folded up, they're easy to carry around.  They're also machine washable. I use mine for groceries, much to the amusement of the cashiers. :)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Moving Forward

Thank you all for your replies to my last post. I'm coping with the loss pretty well... except when I broke into tears in the produce section buying baby carrots, one of Bean Sidhe's favorite treats.

As to the issue of job stress -- much of which was due to feeling overworked and under-appreciated -- I am happy to report good news. I got a promotion and a raise. :D My boss, who is awesome, also gave me a not -trivial "spot" bonus to show appreciation. I will still be super busy, but now I can feel that my compensation is more in line with my efforts and contributions.

Now that I have gotten past the initial impact of losing Bean Sidhe, and I'm no longer sleep deprived, and there has been some resolution of work issues, I should be feeling less weighted down and sluggish. But I'm not.

So I am beginning to suspect the inertia is being caused at least in part by a physical issue.  The fatigue and weight gain I was contributing to stress and unhealthy diet. But there are two other symptoms not as easily dismissed. One, my feet are always cold. Not the chilly feet of a cold winter, but uncomfortably ice cold feet even when the rest of me is almost too warm. Two, the hair at the front of my head is suddenly alarmingly thin. Possible culprits include anemia (I've been borderline in the past) and thyroid problems (which are not unusual in women my age). I'm going to have some blood tests done.

In the meantime, I'm trying to get back into the spirit of Bat Fit and make some long-overdue changes.  When I've attempted to adopt healthier habits in the past, I didn't have much success with small tweaks or gradual changes. It was too easy to backslide just a little into the old habits. So I'm trying a new approach of immediate, bigger changes. On May 1, I stopped eating fast food. That has been a little bit annoying because I hate cooking, but so far, so good.  On May 18, I will make two changes: no more sitting on the couch watching TV and no more drinking soda. The first shouldn't be too difficult because it's a habit only recently acquired as my dog was losing her sight. The second... well, that's an entirely different story. I have loved soda for as long as I can remember. Giving it up is going to be VERY difficult, especially at work where a fridge full of unlimited free sodas is mere steps from my desk.

And for those of you who are all "Enough talking about yourself! Get on with the projects already!" (and quite rightly so!), I have nearly completed a tutorial for a fold-up grocery tote complete with happy skeletons. I'll post it soon.

Friday, May 8, 2015


Inertia: 1. Resistance or disinclination to motion, action, or change.  2. The tendency of a body at rest to remain at rest...

This body has spent too much of the last few months sitting around.  It started as a way to avoid having to constantly step over my dog, who was losing her eyesight.  Then I began to worry about her health, which, combined with all the idleness, started to make me feel depressed.  At the same time, my job was growing more and more stressful.  And my dog's kidney issues continued to worsen, and she had to get up more frequently each night.  Eventually, I was lucky if I could sleep for two hours continuously, and I became very sleep deprived.  I didn't have the energy or brain power to do much of anything except make it through the workday and collapse at home.

As you may have guessed from my use of past tense, my dog is gone.  She died on April 20.

I noticed on a Thursday evening that she had gone completely blind (suddenly, as with most of her health changes).  She was walking into walls, she couldn't find her way around, she couldn't find her food unless I put her nose in the bowl.  I wasn't sure if it was temporary blindness caused by a seizure, or if she'd lost the last of her sight.  Over the weekend, it became clear that it was the latter.  It was time for me to make that most difficult of choices - to let her go.

I had to be at work Monday, so I arranged to take Tuesday off and made an appointment with the vet.  I came home to check on her at lunchtime; she was doing okay.  I refilled her water bowl, which she had knocked over, gave her a glob of peanut butter and said my usual goodbye.  I had to get back to work.

When I came home later that afternoon, I found her lying dead in her bed.

Though of course I sat on the floor and sobbed over her little body, I also felt I'd been given a reprieve.  It was as though she had done one final kindness for me, sparing me the trauma of taking her in for euthanasia.

I'm dealing with the loss much better than I thought I would, probably because of the circumstances.  I am sad and I miss her... but if I'd had to take her to the vet, it would have ripped my heart out.  As these things go, we were both fortunate.

I caught up on sleep, and finally feeling clear-headed, I talked to my boss to try to address some of the issues that are making my job stressful.  I think there will be some positive changes.

And now, there are many other changes I want to make in my life... if I can just overcome the inertia and get moving.