Dusting off the old blog

A Now page is a dated update about what I’m currently focused on. And it has been over two years since I wrote one. It feels like a good time to bring the blog out of mothballs and poke at it. Today is Tuesday 8th November, 2022.

Thinking about
US Midterm elections. Yes, I voted.

Trying out Mastodon instead of Twitter, found a server I like and the internet there feels like I joined a BBS with the cool kids but they’re not being all snobby and exclusive and I can play.

Grateful for
I’m taking a week of PTO and it is “unplugged,” which means I got temporarily booted off work Slack on my phone. It is delightful and I’m actually resting, which I really need.

Cats are great barometers of physical and mental health. One of mine has been clingy and following me around more than usual, he knew something was off before I figured it out. Thanks, TJ Maxx Planck.

Broken by Jenny Lawson which includes her TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) experience.
Third Girl by Agatha Christie, I’m still on a Poirot kick, liking him more in the later books because he is more developed as a character and less of an annoying know-it-all.

Craft and Creating
Working on two knitted hats for different males with large noggins. Seems this is a problem for them and they can’t get hats to fit. One in sock-weight yarn, one in sport-weight.

I have some green wood waiting for me to carve it into spoons, the blanks I got are roughed out by axe and knife. Cherry for two pieces and holly for a third, which is a new wood to me. There’s a USPS box of green wood billets taking up a whole shelf in the freezer that I need to decant and explore, I’m planning to saw one billet into three and make scoops or fidget pieces.

I got a Pixel Watch and it’s small enough I don’t feel like I’ve strapped a minivan to my wrist. The weather app got stuck on San Francisco for a while and nothing would shift it, but that sorted itself out eventually. The Fitbit sleep tracking is nice to have.

Lessons learned

Happy, well-rested people are the best people to work with. So use your vacation days and rest
If it can be null, it will be null. So don’t let it be null.
Be kind to yourself like you would be kind to a friend. Check on your people to see how they’re doing
Dates and times are hard, daylight savings time is worse
If your sleep is messed up, that could be a warning sign that you need some professional help
Have you tried turning it off and on again?
Hanlon’s Razor: never mistake for malice anything that can be explained by incompetence
The full text of War and Peace is freely available from Project Gutenberg as test data
The No Asshole rule: anyone can be a temporary asshole because of poor sleep, a fight with their partner, a sick child or [insert emergency here], but don’t be a permanent asshole
Elevated stress levels mess up your knitting gauge and make the stitches too tight
Many experiments will fail, but that’s no reason not to try them anyway

Shaggy dog story

This extended pun/shaggy dog story is the explanation behind my Twitter and Instagram handles, BritishKoalaTea.

A man walks into a tea-shop while on holiday in Marseille and asks the waiter about the specials. He is told that the house serves a delicious tea that is doubly special because it is brewed by koalas at the local zoo. Thinking this interesting and always up for sampling local delicacies while on vacation, he orders some. When his order comes, he picks up the cup and takes a big gulp. Almost immediately, he begins coughing and spluttering. He spits the tea back into his cup and begins wiping his tongue with a napkin. 

The waiter hurries over and asks if everything is all right.

“Of course it’s not alright.” the man says. “You didn’t bother to strain out this tea. I got about half-way through a sip and started choking on the leaves.”

“But don’t you know?” the waiter responds. “The koala tea of Marseille’s not strained.”


The origins of that one are a quote from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strained; 
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.

Old jokes

I love the cheesy sequence jokes I used to hear as a kid:

How many elephants can you fit into a Mini Cooper?

How do you know if you have an elephant in your fridge?
Footprints in the butter

How do you know if you have two elephants in your fridge?
Two sets of footprints in the butter

How do you know if you have four elephants in your fridge?
There’s a Mini Cooper parked outside

Then there’s the “one X short of a Y” series:

One token short of a toaster (when you collected tokens to trade in for toasters, days long past)
One can short of a six-pack
Has the whole six-pack but not the plastic thing to hold it together
Wheel is turning but the hamster is dead

What I have learned from carving wooden spoons

Hubby and I took a spoon-carving class at Perennial St Louis last December. I’ve been carving on my own and using the Perennial woodshop as a member when I need the big power tools. This is what I’ve learned from ten months of spoon carving:

Spoon, scoop, and branch.

You can burn wood on a belt sander if you leave it in one place too long, or press too hard. It smells fantastic!
Your mouth is smaller than you think when making an eating spoon. A lot smaller
It’s hard to measure the size of your own mouth, just measure a metal spoon instead
Cherry wood is forgiving, walnut is hard, apple is a granite monolith that will resist all assault
Go with the grain when sanding by hand. If you go across the grain, you have to spend a bunch of time sanding out those marks later. By going with the grain
Band saws don’t go in straight lines by themselves
You can’t eyeball a straight line either
Even if you have a straight line marked out, you’re not always going to be able to follow it
Just use a guide to make the band saw go roughly straight and fix it later
Apple wood shavings smell sweet
If you have those knuckle and fingertip plasters/band-aids around, you won’t need them.
You can sand blood off wood, it doesn’t soak in much
That Kevlar knitted glove the store insisted you get with your first carving knife is why you still have a functional left hand
Close the laptop before you start sandpapering anything
Perfect symmetry is for machines, embrace some imperfection
Maple wood smells like syrup when you saw it
Hand-sawing in a straight line isn’t guaranteed either, even with a line to follow
Most mistakes, glitches, and bad cuts are fixable with some improvisation

Now, 24th May 2020

A Now page is a dated update about what I’m currently focused on.

Thinking about
I am one of the lucky ones. My employer mandated everyone who can work remotely should do so, as of March 16th. I’ve done ten weeks working from the table in my craft room and business has largely carried on as usual for my division. We have excellent healthcare and our employer pays the lion’s share of the costs. We don’t know when we will go back to our offices, but we have a corporate update every other week telling us we won’t go back until we can do so safely, and that it will probably be months from now.

Biggest influences recently are Janelle Shane’s book “You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place,” and Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson’s book “Remote: Office Not Required.”

The first book made me look into data science and machine learning as a possible study avenue, so I’m watching PluralSight classes on data science. The second book I read because I wanted to check I was doing remote work right. Turned out there was a lot I could improve on.

Craft and Creating
My 1914 Singer sewing machine was made in Clydesdale, Scotland, between January and June of 1914. I oiled it thoroughly and used it to make face masks and drawstring bags. After hearing we will be home for months, I got a Babylock Presto 2 electric machine, and I’m amazed to see the innovations in a hundred years of sewing machine technology. The new machine will thread the needle itself! There’s a lever for that now.

I’m carving a cooking spoon for a friend in New York from maple wood. It is a right-handed spoon with a shallow bowl and a right-angle corner on one side to reach into the edges of pans and jars. Sawing it out took a while because I couldn’t go to Perennial and use their band saw.

Finished three dishcloths on my loom from kitchen cotton using a pattern with a pick-up stick, which is a new technique for me. After that I warped to make a pair of kitchen towels. Found a new way of messing up the warp by leaving it loose and floppy, fixed it and the loom is back in business again.

Started knitting a 1950’s inspired bolero from Mongolian wool I got from a Kickstarter last year by ULA + LIA. The wool winds well with no knots or tangles, which is a treat.

Husband has been watching Asian bread videos with subtitles, we have made carrot buns, caramelised apple buns, and tomato cheese buns so far, all were delicious. There’s still regular sourdough bread baking going on.

Artwork I love

Posting some favourite artists and artwork for a serenity break in your day.

Hasui Kawase

Caz Novak’s Pacifica and European series

Harmston Arts serigraphs

galleryReina colour pencil work

Serena Supplee

Katsushika Hokusai

Karen Spratt especially the Hokusai and Venus pieces

Ben Kwok’s Bioworkz animals

Heather Brown’s Surf Art

Old friends in verse

I’ve been reading poetry lately and my newest favourite is Warning by Maw Shein Win. Below are older friends, from school and old books and dusty libraries and long summer holidays, in approximate date order of writing.

The Flea by John Donne
I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud by William Wordworth
She Walks in Beauty by George Gordon, Lord Byron
Hope Is The Thing With Feathers by Emily Dickinson
Smuggler’s Song by Rudyard Kipling
Adelstrop by Edward Thomas
Night Mail by WH Auden
Walking Around by Pablo Neruda
Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen
A Martian Sends A Postcard Home by Craig Raine
Warning by Jenny Joseph
First Day At School by Roger McGough

Working adaptations

You don’t have to smile all the time on a video conference. Maintaining ‘interested-engaged-face’ is exhausting. Tell people it is OK not to smile, and OK to turn their video off for a few minutes. Spending a whole day bouncing from one video meeting to the next is exhausting.

A little yoga helps with tight hips and legs, especially pigeon pose and downward dog. Mid-morning workout breaks are a mood-booster, if nothing else for the smug feeling of not having to workout after work. I have to make myself get up, stretch, pace, and walk during the day, where in the office I spent a lot of time walking between meetings and to talk to people.

It is a rare meeting that is without a visiting cat, dog, child, or spouse. That’s absolutely fine too!

Commute time has turned into ‘purring cat wanting to show how cute she is so she gets fed’ time. It’s an improvement but I really miss my highway driving time and singing in the car. Singing in the car in the garage isn’t the same, and the neighbours can hear me.

Karate lessons and group class is happening over Zoom, and it’s working, I’m learning Long 4 kata, which is new to me. Sworkit is making me get regular workouts in also.

My sewing machine, a 1914 Singer model 28k (‘k’ means it was made in Clydesdale, Scotland, obviously) with a turn handle, still works. So far I’ve made a face mask for a friend and a lined drawstring bag for me, which is more sewing than I did in the previous decade and a half, or possibly ever.

The new normal

This has been a weird week for everyone. My company went global ‘work from home if you can’ starting 16th March, 2020, and I’ve never done more than one day of remote work before. Getting a home office organised, negotiating for desk space with sun-loving cats, and dealing with both Cisco WebEx and Sococo struggling under the load was tough. The quiet was deeply strange after being used to an open-door office outside the kitchen in an open-plan company.

On Wednesday, my karate studio closed. On Saturday we heard that St Louis county will be mandating people stay at home for 30 days as of Monday 23rd March 2020. We baked bread this week, and made curry and chilli and lentil soup. Hubby and I watched some of the movie Outbreak, but it struck too close to home and we turned it off. My church is doing the second week of streaming services at 10am today.

I ripped out a hat I was knitting because it was too tight, and washed and blocked a shawl from handspun yarn. I got the fibre from Punkin’s Patch at the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber festival in Lexington in May 2019 with my friend Laura H, two days of sun and chatting and wandering and animals, with a bourbon distillery visit.

We don’t know how long this new normal will last, and how much things will change afterwards. Be kind to people. Check in on your peeps.