Hello, my name is Sandy.

Of fun times and fresh starts

The sun set strongly on the year. We spent Christmas week in Sydney, with most of the days down at the farm. I've never been there in the summer, and it was remarkably green versus what I was expecting. We spent the days eating and drinking and giving each other shit, then kicked off the evenings with tranquil hill views.

This is the first Christmas I've been away from my folks (not counting the year we went to Japan cos we still had a family Christmas a couple days before) and I missed them terribly. But I can't complain too much. I have three families now, and they're all pretty rad. Getting to hang out with the family with brothers was a rare treat I'm so grateful for.

rifle targets set up along a fence

We played with an air rifle on Christmas day. I bloody loved it. I have great plans to visit a gun range sometime this year and learn the art of marksmanship.

And I played heaps of Avernum: Escape from the Pit. It was exquisite to sink my head into a game and decompress - and get a strategy RPG fix to tide me over until my next D&D session. It was a bit surreal playing computer games and surfing the net at high speed in the sticks.

You know what was awesome, though? Writing. I only did a bit, but did it under a tree surrounded by birds and nature sounds. Is it the most productive way to write? Probably not. But wow, it felt good and I hope to make writing holidays a more regular thing.

a street performer squeezing herself into a tiny box

Back in the city, we saw a contortionist squeeze herself into a little box. I don't usually stop for busker shows, but I couldn't help it for this one. It was odd and unique, and kind of amazing to see what the (someone else's) human body can do.

giant Sylvanian Chocolate Rabbit

Also saw a giant Sylvanian Chocolate Rabbit, which, after spending the last few months following @forest_fr1ends, was utter perfection. Merry Christmas, tw*ts.

planner, notebook and pen

Aaaaaaand now we're home and ready to start 2017 with a bang. Already, I've been rock climbing (bouldering), geocaching, karaoke-ing and gaming with friends, and it's only been two days.

I now have a navy blue Hobonichi Weeks and a cheapo little notebook to keep me on track, along with clear, achievable goals and some strategies for accomplishing them. I have felt like I could be doing more, working smarter, working harder... I wrote some thoughts about it in Soft Signal.

I've started asking myself, "What do I want to get out of this X?" Where X could be the day, the week, the month, the quarter. Let me share a couple of things I hope to get out of this week:

  • Working on my novel
  • Gaming with friends done 2/01
  • A crafternoon done 2/01
  • Working on my Pico-8 game
  • Visiting the Ninja Academy done 7/01
  • Visiting a shooting range (or at least finding a good one to check out)

What do you want to get out of this week/this month/this year? Find me on social media and let's chat about it.

Garden things in November 2015

my veggie patch at the end of spring

This is what my veggie patch looks like after a growing season (3 months exactly!). Mental, huh?

We have:

  • Flat leaf parsley
  • Corn
  • 3 sunflowers
  • Spinach
  • Basil (sort of)
  • Lavender
  • Zucchini
  • Marigold
  • Nasturtiums

The flat leaf parsley went crazy. My big mistake here was overestimating how much we actually eat parsley, ie. hardly at all. I've been told tabbouleh is the way to use this all up. Parsley pesto ain't half bad either. There's a chance we won't have that much after removing the crap leaves anyway.

an ear of corn

Out of the four corn kernels I planted, three got eaten by something. Probably birds. I replaced them, and only one sprouted, but hasn't flourished. Only the one proud hero stands, bearing two hairy ears of corn. As soon as those hairs turn brown and dead, we'll have our first proper homegrown cob snack.

The sunflowers are crazy tall. Taller than me. Taller than niaalist. Probably taller than if I were sitting on his shoulders. The tops of those giant stalks have buds that look like they'll put out a decent flowerhead. We may have some tasty sunflower seeds to nibble on through summer.

Our spinach was a success. Too successful, in fact. We had more than we found appetising. Don't know if we'll grow it again. We planted a lavender in the middle of them, as a bug repellent. Seemed to work well enough, if we got that many edible leaves, I guess?

zucchini fingers

After my run-ins with powdery mildew, I thought our zucchini crop would surely fail, but to my surprise, we're getting nice healthy looking summer squashes. We harvested a handful for the last BBQ we went to. Gosh, they tasted so good. We'll be having some tonight in a pasta bake!

mo junk in da trunk

Especially this weird one. The front half looks like a little courgette finger, but the butt is huge like the ones you get at the supermarket. I wonder why it did that, and why it's the only one?

grape tomatoes

Just outside the veggie patch are a couple of grape tomato plants that seem to be thriving. I didn't plant these. They sprung up like a weed from our worm compost. Yes, we do the dumb thing of letting seeds go in with our scraps. I don't see it as a bad thing. If they're seeds from our food, they'll make plants we're more likely to eat.

I'm annoyed that the tomato plant I actually made a point of planting and fertilising and paying extra attention to is pretty much dying. Balls to that. But I'm excited to actually get some tomatoes out of this season.

It was the same story with basil. I sowed seeds, I fertilised and watered - in the end, the only one that grew and survived was one that sprung up as a weed. Just a couple weeks ago, I did see that one of my deliberately planted seeds has sprouted. It's in the shade of the zucchini plant, so it'll grow slowly, but I expect it to get going as we clear areas of the bed for the next planting.

My many attempts at growing chilli failed. From seed again. Maybe summer will be better for it.

I didn't get any photos of our marigolds and nasturtiums because they're not much to look at anymore. I'd always thought they produced smells that repelled insects, but this didn't turn out to be the case. They seemed to attract the insects that would have otherwise feasted on my herbs and veggies. The nasturtiums were especially distracting, and grow prolifically. The marigolds lasted longer than I thought. They actually kept their delicious heads, where previously, my marigolds would be eaten very quickly by snails. I'm hoping their impending demise will leave seeds that spontaneously spring up next season. Hooray for sacrificial plants! A+ would grow again.

a sleeping cat

Freelancing has been going well. I am pretty much constantly working my arse off, but we don't call it work anymore. We call it "life choices". :) Today's life choices are newsletter and website copy, twitterature, researching interactive fiction, and another 1667 words on my NaNoWriMo novel. I also hung out the laundry and ate a sandwich. How am I so good.

Garden things in July 2015

top down view of cos lettuce growing in a garden bed

It's been a while since the last Garden Thing, so let's get into it, eh? These are my cos lettuces in our no-dig garden bed. They indeed survived and appear to be thriving. Hooray, the garden bed is OK!

side view of cos lettuce growing in a garden bed

Except... are they actually cos lettuce? That's what the label said, but they don't look like what you get in a pub Caesar salad. Maybe they grow into that - we will see.

top down view of my new strawberry tower

We finally have a strawberry tower. I've wanted one of these for so long, but kept getting stuck on fretting over how to make it. Eventually, I decided to just suck it and see. Plants are hardy - if it doesn't work, I'll just put them somewhere else.

But looks like it has worked. It's been a couple weeks and the strawberry isn't dead. There's even new leaves growing.

The easy, cheap way to build a strawberry tower

Get 3 medium-sized pots, and maybe a little one to go on top. Fill with soil, stack, then plant. Water well for the first week or two.

Some tutorials tell you to cut holes into the pots - more holes means more spots for leaves to poke out - but I'm not down with the cutting, in case I need these pots for something else.

tomato seedling in a garden bag bed

I have two garden bag beds, containing the soil I've been cultivating over the last two years. Over the weekend, I found a little tomato plant growing out of it. At least, I think it's a tomato. It looks right, but the leaves don't have that tangy tomato smell (tomatine?). This bag bed gets full sun for most of the day so it's the perfect spot for my pre-season tomato.

carrot growing in a garden bag bed

In the other garden bag bed is a carrot crop. Not a particularly exciting one - I was hoping to have them harvested by now, but carrots take a long time, and I planted them quite late in the season. So, we'll just wait and wait. Once these come out, we'll give chilli another go.

a pleasant pot of catnip

Potted some catnip and cat grass too. Every time we've tried to grow these, they've ended up getting mangled or dead. But we're trying again in some nicer pots, in a nicer garden, to see whether they'll live longer.

At the very back, to the left, you can see a bromeliad, though I'm not sure what. It should be dead by now, but every so often, I notice it's grown a tad longer, so I'm hopeful it'll grow into something remarkable enough for me to figure out the name of.

Back and centre is a Crassula tetragona, grown from cuttings taken last October. Yes, they're still alive!

Partially in the photo, on the far right, is... drumroll... an arabica coffee tree! :D They have them at Bunnings now, so you don't have to drive all the way out to the larger nurseries to find one. It'll take 18 months or so before it bears fruit, but fingers crossed, we may eventually get enough for half a cup of coffee. It's growing in a pot, so it can come with us when we eventually move again.

a little succulent trio

OK, last one - my donkey tail Sedum morganianum with a freshly trimmed Crassula ovata (Jade plant), and a Lithops I've had for a couple of years. It wasn't looking happy indoors, each new leaf pair smaller than the last, so we'll try this outside instead.

All right, it's cold and I'm thirsty. Time for tea before bed. :) What are you growing in your garden?

We must catch up

a heron taking off from the water

It's been hard to sit and write lately, despite wanting to. I'm tired after work, and at other times preoccupied by little adventures. Tonight was set aside for Prison Architect, but instead I think I'll have tea and tell you what's been happening.

pumpkin soup with Gourdon

So, before we left for the farm, we turned baby Gourdon into food. Here he is as a pumpkin soup. Bland pumpkin soup. It turns out Jarrahdale pumpkins are nutty, almost squash- and zucchini-like in flavour. The pumpkin-ness is mild, so they are better suited to curries. Lesson learned. If you're making pumpkin soup, use Butternut or a fecking Kent (also known as Jap).

pumpkin curry with Gourdon

Gourdon also became a curry, the mild flavour working well with spices and chickpeas. I used too much cumin, which gives me a headache if I don't cook it for long enough, so whatever's left in the freezer will need a long, long re-heat time.

We meant to make pumpkin pie too, but what was left didn't last til we got back from holiday. I think we would have ended up with similar results to the soup. The next pumpkin adventure will need to be a sweeter breed.

electronics button panel

I finished my Arduino course, the projects book that came with the starter kit. This is what an electronics button panel looks like without the actual buttons on top. The little interlocked E shapes are non-touching ends of a circuit. When you press the button, it mashes a conductive material across the two E's, which closes the circuit and transmits the button-press.

That alone was mindblowing after a lifetime-thus-far of a) not knowing, and b) never even thinking to wonder. Imagine the exhilaration to then hack the buttons to make the device think someone pressed a button when really it was my computer sending a false signal. I felt briefly boss-like with a hint of cyberpunk.

Raspberry Pi 2, unboxed

So, now I am an expert n00b. I'm scared to fall into the trap of just reading a bunch of stuff and thinking it's as good as actually doing it, so my next project will be to set up an LED display board for some kind of computer machine. I'm excited to learn about power ampy volty chargey stuff, cos electricity never made sense to me til now. But bless my gentle, patient physics teacher for trying.

#listersgottalist fav. expressions

In April, I joined the #listersgottalist challenge, but stopped halfway because I wasn't enjoying it. There's nothing inherently wrong with the challenge, but some days - many days - I didn't find it interesting to answer questions.

I felt obliged at first to see it through, but then remembered it's important to be as good at quitting as you are at continuing. My newfound konmari habit kicked in, and I chose to focus all my art energy on #100daysofteacup, which I am really enjoying even though it's hard work.

It's awkward to convey what a difference the konmari approach has made in my life. Whenever anyone asks, I feel like that person you worry about for maybe having joined a cult. Everything making me happy nowadays can be attributed at least in part to this "life-changing magic of tidying up". The joy aspect is what hit home for me, but for a good summary of the practical tidy-up stuff, I quite liked Chisa's blog post on konmari. Go read it. :)

beans and rice at the markets

I've been batch cooking food in advance, and calculating the cost per meal given the total expense. The first batch turned out great. We got 14 meals at about $6.50 each. I'm on my second batch now, which has so far averaged at $7 a meal, with another week's worth of food left to go. This will be my part-time finance's saving grace.

The one downside is eating the same thing over and over. Even with takeaway and ad-hoc meals in between, it's... OK, it's not actually that bad except I made 3 bean-based dishes this time around, and things are not so elegant in the stomach area. Learn from my mistakes.

homemade meal

I was so very happy about this, though - this picture is of a totally homemade meal. Homemade baked beans, homemade (handmade) bread, and homemade ginger beer. And I ate it on a little wooden table Niaal made for me. :D

One day, I hope for this to be a totally homegrown meal too. I want to grow the beans and tomatoes, the flour and the avocado, the ginger and the honey. Maybe even make the plates and bowls they get served in. It's my dream to - not necessarily be totally self-sufficient and live off the grid like a mega-hippie - but to understand how stuff works and be able to provide when I choose to. Even tiny progress like this makes that feel attainable.

fantastically smooth bars of soap

And I did end up making some soap. I took a lot of photos, which I cbf editing now, so I will tell you about that another day. It was heaps fun, and not as scary as I thought, and I'm game to try making some from scratch once we're in a bigger kitchen.

All right, my teacup is empty. Time for a refill. Good night, friends. :)

My soap kit arrived!

Toys toys toys! -- Err, I mean, serious grown-up business supplies.

My mind has constantly wandered to soap. Making soap, the history of soap, regard for soap in various cultures. It's odd to suddenly give a shit about it. Though, actually, maybe quite predictable for someone like me.

It was Dwarf Fortress that got me interested. I love games where you start with nothing and eke out a civilisation using wit and wilderness (and as much beer as you can brew without your villagers starving to death). Soap is one of your manufactured items. You take fat from butchered livestock, and lye made from furnace ash, and come out with this vital commodity in dwarven healthcare.

In case the apocalypse happens, I want to know how to make the stuff that'll keep my underarms clean, so it's time to learn how to make soap.

Yesterday, I ordered the "Scrubby" starter kit and a book on soap-making from Aussie Soap Supplies. Hooray, hooray, they're in WA, so mail arrived today. I'm not working with lye yet. I am scared of hazardous chemicals, and want to make sure I'm comfortable going through the motions before getting my science face on.

The kit comes with pre-made soap, where all the lye has been used up in the saponification process. To make a nice bar of end-user soap, you simply melt the pre-made stuff, mix it with lovely things - oils, fragrances, grits, butters, etc. - and pour it in a mold to set.

Simple, yah?

From this step, I hope to get a feel for ingredient and mixture textures, and how they behave throughout the process. And to get my head around good hygeine practices, cos that'll be so important when it's time to use (and eventually make) the caustic lye.

I'm real excited about this. But can't start today. We just got a call from our rental agent about the house move, so the rest of my week will be spent prepping for prospective tenants to come through. Maybe it's for the best if I can't start soaping until after we've moved. Our kitchen isn't the best size for separating chemical things and food things. To be extra careful, I'll also avoid making soap that looks and smells like food.

Stay tuned. Learn with me. :)

Recycling a t-shirt

Merginas t-shirt mod - front

I don't love sewing - let me be upfront about that. Sewing machines have so many moving parts I fear will snap off and fly in my eye. And I don't have room for a proper chair, so I sit on a very uncomfortable Bekväm step stool. But do love seeing something quite new emerge from something quite plain. And I love knowing my clumsy hands and sore butt contributed to it.

This was my first attempt at something like this, and I didn't know what I was doing. The key features of this t-shirt mod are:

  • Darts - front and back
  • Waist made to fit - sort of, roughly
  • Simple hemming
  • Boat-neck
  • Side splits

darts under the bust, front

This whole project was for learning how to sew darts - folds sewn into the fabric to add 3-dimensional shape. The front darts came out all right, but the back ones were in the wrong spot. Passable still, but far from what you'd call "fashion".

darts in the lumbar area, back

I used these tutorials and references for the darts:

trimmed sleeves

The original neck and sleeves were trimmed and hemmed 2mm away from the edge. Now when wearing the top, the hems sometimes flip over, showing the raw edge. I think this means I should have used bias tape? Gah - mistake, but yay - learning!

2mm hem

One annoying thing I found was how warped the original t-shirt was. Maybe that's a quirk of our home, but all our clothes end up slightly twisted after a few washes. I suspect perfect fabric isn't a thing here, though, seeing as how my favourite t-shirt mod reference involves a lot of outright destruction.

I'm keen to find more ways to recycle clothes before resorting to donation. I read that goodwill donations still end up in landfill, so, you know... disappointment and panic. :(

We can do better. I want to believe we can. Re-making stuff is fun - way more fun than walking through crowded shops, imo - so at least having a go won't be boring. Besides, how cool would it be to get good enough to make yourself some decent clothes? Even if they're frankenclothes.

It might be time soon to invest in a good chair. :)