Whilst in the backyard propping up my broken echinacea plant (I’ll share if it survives) I saw a rabbit who’d found the perfect sunbeam through the hedgerow. It was shining only on her and she was stretched out in it, practically glowing.
Bombus ternarius (AKA orange-belted bumblebee, or red-banded bumblebee) are bees common in Cheyenne, despite our harsh weather. They are single season (colony) bees, so a colony thrives in our hot summer and the new queen(s) hibernates through the winter. They are ground dwellers, so I’m sure that helps here.
This worker was on my single echinacea plant shortly after I found the other plants eaten. Should I say that? I mean, the remains of the asters told the tale, but the seedlings were gone, so I couldn’t have found them. They were conspicuous in their absence and I concluded what had happened to them. I could be wrong. They could have been abducted my aliens.
Some success has been had! One bee, one flower – good start.
Now the echinacea has a proper bloom.
The original plant had two promising buds. The second, lower and smaller one was bitten off, I saw this morning. Ambitious bunny? Busy squirrel? I will never know since our security cameras don’t cover the plant area. Will have to arrange for a flora and fauna cam.
The backyard revamping is coming along. Above you can see the echinacea plant blooming. I was worried about it because for almost a week after I put it in the ground the lower leaves turned yellow. They weren’t crispy or soggy, so I didn’t take action. That worked out, apparently, because it finally came out of bud mode and into flower mode. The lower leaves are slowly returning to green. The asters are still iffy; three seem like they’ll survive, one of them is shriveling up leaves like it is rebelling against life – or my debased and nugatory dirt. We’ll see.
In the meantime, I had two types of sunflowers started from seeds and they went gangbusters in the starter tray. Had to take them out early as they outgrew the cover and were bending over. Also started from seeds were some dwarf convolvulus (morning glory), which seem to be eager to grow, despite their delicacy. My fourth seed efforts were lavender, which I have a personal history of disaster with. They declined to sprout at all, so we’re both spared the heartbreak of their inevitable failure to thrive under my care. The viable (hopefully?) seedlings all got put in the ground on Sunday and there was still green out there when I peeked through the window on the way out this morning. Their environment looks inhospitable, but that is how it’s going to be. No coddling these backyard plants. If they can’t make it, I’ll find tougher ones.
Last week when taking out the trash, I saw a tall yellow flower amongst the weeds. In a hurry to get to work, I delayed taking a picture until the evening, but found it closed. This morning I was out and found another of that flower, this one with multiple buds.
This flower is the root cause of my latest project, which is turning the center area of our backyard into a wildflower and plant haven. If this weed can survive in our crappy, rocky soil, battle off the horde of dandelions, and look pretty to boot then I need a lot more of this type of plant. The center area has been abused over the years (by us and bad concrete contractors) and will take a lot of work to get back to a “perfect” looking grassy yard. But, I hate grass. I hate mowing, I hate wasting good water that we pay for on needy, stupid, pointless grass. So, I’m going to weekly take a shovel and scrape up the bits of grass, the loads of weeds and plant hearty flowering weeds and plants. These plants will all be selected for their hardiness, ability to survive in our restrictive zone with minimal or no maintenance and for their benefit to honeybees (first), butterflies, and birds. I’ve already got an echinacea planted, along with some specific asters. My aim is to add a plant every week so I’m not overwhelmed.
While I was doing that, I saw a bright green and found that our apple tree has started production on a new batch of apples! Yea! This is the yearly foreshadowing to the apple harvest battle – how many, if any, apples will we get against the ever-vigilant squirrels, the sudden damaging hail, and the resilient bugs.
We have some damaged old lawn chairs that I’ve brought out. Some minor refinishing work and they’ll be pleasant to sit in on the rare cool evenings we’ll get. We can sit and look at the productive plant life out there. If nothing else, we’ll have less mowing to do and something pretty to look at.
Yesterday, I set up a little Easter egg hunt in our backyard for Slick as a bit of weekend fun. I put peanut M&Ms into big plastic eggs and spread them around the yard in the morning while the squirrels were out, everywhere, noisy and frisky. It is springtime, after all. After that, I made us a spot of breakfast, made sure Slick had his coffee, then sprung the activity on him. He was game, thankfully, but as soon as we got outside I knew my plan had gone off the rails.
The third squirrel egg. While I was making breakfast, I saw from my kitchen window that this egg had been disturbed, but I assumed the squirrels had merely knocked it down as they went about their frisking.
After I notified Slick that the egg hiding had been tampered with, he began a different type of search and found the first, pink egg over in our neighbors yard. It was bitten on both ends and most of the candy guts remained spilled on the grass. Our guess is that we disturbed the squirrel thief from eating his treasure completely.
We never found the orange egg. I hope we’ll come across it one day, to see where it was absconded to by an industrious squirrel.
The egg hunt turned out to be more interesting than expected, so that was fun. Slick’s Easter basket was a tool bag with a red stuffed bunny in it. I figured a tool bag would be more inviting for him to carry around the yard, plus it has much greater reuse potential.
Sunday saw sunny skies and our temp got up to 40F! I went to shovel the walks some more (so they could melt away in this warm sun) and saw that the snow was PERFECT sticking temp. Thus:
I haven’t built a snowman for decades. This guy is seven feet tall. I couldn’t reach the top of his head, had to have Slick come out and put the head on for me. The eyes are a pair of rocks we picked up on a beach in Ireland on our honeymoon. He won’t last long in our expected three days of warm weather.
Our home landscaping efforts have been slow and usually involve more wreckage and destruction than productive results. This work is positive, though:
New trees! These two newbies are hawthorn trees. They have white flowers in late spring, and in autumn bright red berries that won’t fall off the limbs. They are hearty enough to survive our altitude and winters. Here they still have blooms. They are good for bees, butterflies, and birds – and squirrels and rabbits can eat the berries, too, if any get to them. Besides narrowly missing a sprinkler line with my shovel, the whole thing was easy and straightforward. We’ll see how they hold up for the coming summer.
followed by a discussion of my sewing machines
Alright, it seems that time is getting away from me. I have a number of things I’ve failed to share in a timely manner, so I’m really making an effort to catch up now, but in a reasonable manner. I’m going to plow through all the May things I’ve skipped, in order. Yes, I have some things from April and older, but this is my compromise for catch up.
I did a little workshop work a couple weeks back. I still have so much to do! Cabinets, shelves, finishing items like putting on window trim and outlet covers. It is going to take me years to call it “done” since I only make progress once or twice a year. Can’t be helped – I like working in the workshop more than working on the workshop itself.
One of the small bits I accomplished was to put some semi-dead storage shelves in. My treadmill is a good-sized one, and hefty, since I needed it to get me jogging (or walking) through the long Wyoming winters and run for many years. Unfortunately, the size means there is wasted wall space – that is a sin if ever there were one! The space is behind the treadmill, where the main control panel backs to the wall. It leaves a good 16″d x33″w x30″h space under the control panel, in front of the tread – above where the motor is. You don’t see this area when the treadmill is up, but it sits there, undisturbed and not being useful. And let me tell you that doing the morning exercise for an entire winter will give you plenty of time to think about how to reclaim that wasted space.
Beautiful! Since this is only seen while the treadmill is down, and you’d have to put the treadmill down to access it, only items of notable value, but limited usage would be appropriate here. This is why I call it semi-dead. My “spare” sewing machine fits this bill and fits part of the space perfectly. You can read later why I have a spare machine, if you care.
Oh, you can see the new catwalk here, too. Now the cats can get to three different windows without touching the floor, or (and more importantly) wrecking my shit on the way.
And with the treadmill up. Not even visible. Ugh, my desk is still exactly that messy. I moved a bunch of stuff onto so I could have some workspace to build these shelves, then never cleared it back off. I have too much stuff.
That’s it! A simple and incredibly useful project for me. If you want to read about my spare sewing machine, carry on. Otherwise, I’ll have more new stuff up soon.
My sewing machines
Yes, plural – I have four as of a month ago, used to be just three. But, with only three machines, I’d still get incredulous people who visited my workshop. “Why do you have three sewing machines?!?!” as if I were mad somehow. These are usually sourced from people who don’t sew. What they don’t understand is that it is like asking a painter why they have more than two brushes, or a woodworker why they have a garage full of tools. Simply, they do different things. Here is the breakdown.
1. Gretchen, my Pfaff, which I bought as a showroom-used model 11 years ago) was (until a month ago) my main machine. It is a basic model, there are no fancy stitches or options, no computer chip, all mechanical. I have used the hell out of Gretchen and I am confident she will travel through hell with me for another 11 years and more. The older mechanical Pfaffs are excellent, new computerized ones not so much.
2. Suzy. Before I learned to free motion sew, I eyed with silent envy the computerized machines that would stitch out cute little icons or letters for you. They seemed so shiny! I found Suzy, my spare machine, at Target, on sale, many years ago. It could do the basics plus decorative, flowery, patterns, and multiple alphabets! All for under $200. A quick check of the internet revealed bad news – the machines are worth what you pay for them. Approximately half them were duds, the rest fine. I gambled and won – my Suzy was a keeper. (I call her Suzy because of all the many stitches she’ll do for how cheap she was = Suzy the stitch slut.) Whenever I had to take Gretchen in for regular maintenance or a timing fix (because of the previously mentioned hell I put her through) and needed to sew during that short time, out came Suzy. Plus, Suzy was good for a number of labels, dates, a short poem or two, some decorative work, etc. As well, I do sometimes run multiple machines at a time for involved projects, but that is a subject worthy of a different post.
3. Diva (or sometimes, that fucking Diva of a machine!) is my Sashiko II from Babylock. This was mostly an impulse purchase at a quilt show, but I love the sashiko (hand stitched) look it will produce. In summary, it is an overpriced, under-functioning, one-trick pony that is unreliable. It only does the sashiko stitch, that is all. It has to be significantly readjusted with any thread type change. The timing is too easy to throw off and way too hard to fix. Even the shop I bought it at couldn’t fix it and replaced it with a new one to fend me off when I took it to them. I’ve cursed more at this machine more than any other machine (any, sewing or otherwise) in my life. I’ve envisioned smashing it with a sledge, setting it on fire, and (sometimes) running it over with a truck. It skips, snags, pulls, breaks, and sometimes shreds threads. It is a fickle piece of crap and I don’t suggest ANYONE buy one. If you’re thinking of it, instead hire a local kid to do stitching for you. Even that will be cheaper and more accountable. However, with all that said, I still love that stitching – when it works. Looking at those stitches twangs my creative heartstrings. While I will put Diva away for lengths of time to avoid harm (to both of us), I keep bringing her back out and playing her damn games.
4. (no name – Janome brand) I had to take Gretchen in for some overdue maintenance. [There was so much lint fluff in there it was becoming felt!!] While at the shop, I decided to look around. I’d only the day before on the internet seen some way-fancy free motion machine designed just for that purpose. Of course, it was overpriced and unreliable, so I wasn’t even thinking of going for it, but I did now have a thought in my head that I could stand to look around, a little, if I wanted, no meaning to it. Yes, that did it. The shop was having a remodeling sale and I found my new machine and it came home with me that day. It is … well, almost awesome. As in, I am almost in awe of it. It does all the basics, it does all the fancies, and it will free motion with a mere foot change and a switch flip. This is heaven for me. Plus, I bought the surface extension that fits onto it. I FMQ’d the whole “Black Cat in Rainbow” quilt as the first project on it. It didn’t snag once, it adjusted tension automatically, and it has an auto-thread-cutter. That alone has saved me a lot of time, especially with the 40+ thread changes I did on that quilt. This thing is great. I didn’t exactly plan to buy it, so I have some weird money-splurge guilt for something I didn’t really need, only wanted. It seems I now have a new main machine.
I still have Gretchen. There is nothing wrong with her, she is as perfect as if I’d bought her yesterday. If I keep her, I should get rid of Suzy, since Gretchen would become the backup and my new Janome can trump Suzy’s fancies with a glance. I am torn about what to do, but I am sure some time will help with the decision. For the time being, anyone who comes into my workshop might still ask, “Why do you have three sewing machines?!” Little will they know I really have four, with one hidden from sight on the new shelf.
As usual, our spring is sprinkled with sporadic crazy weather. After a couple days of perfect 65F + sunshine + gentle breeze, we had a day of wild wind, then a freak two-hour snow storm that made the roads insanely slippery.
A couple hours after that, the roads were completely dry. The air was crisp. It is an unexpected pleasure to be able to walk around on dry sidewalks while there is snow on the grass and layering the trees.
On a bloggy subject, I’ve added thumbnail images to my project bar tracker on the side. It seemed a little boring with only the trackers and text. Yea for pictures!