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. :)

Sketch: Buggy On Mars (pastel)

fan art for The Martian: Watney's rover driving through dust

Last month, I read The Martian by Andy Weir. It's a story about a botanist who gets stranded on Mars when a mission abort goes awry. I loved this book. Couldn't put it down, and there was so much to take in each time. Weir nails the nerd banter; I felt right at home.

So here is my fanart. I wanted to draw the protagonist's vehicle driving through dust, so decided to learn how to use pastels. Which is why I'm a month late with this drawing.

It's a bit weak - in hindsight, I should have gone harder with the colours, or maybe used different coloured paper - one that doesn't dull the orange hues so much. But oh well. I'm just glad it's over now so I can try drawing things that are not clouds.

For anyone interested, I made a board of Mars pastel cloud references.

Next fanart will be for Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan. Might go back to pencil and paper for this one, so I don't fall behind again. ^_^;

Garden things in March 2014

miniature pine tree crassula

It has been overcast and gray, and sad as it is to say goodbye to summer, I hope we've turned the corner into autumn actual. Hot weather and sun-blast days destroy my motivation to hang out in the garden.

But today, we were back in business with 3 simple goals:

  1. Repopulate the worm farm.
  2. Plant something that will pay off.
  3. Tidy up a bit, you're a disgrace.

Repopulate the worm farm

For the last few years, whenever hot weather wiped out my worm tower, I'd do the suburban middle-class thing and buy a booster box, then hate myself for being so damn consumer. This year, things would be different.

We took steps to dodge the heat by moving the tower into the shed. This turned out to be utterly useless, because the one time we moved it was our weekend away, when it was cool and rainy here in Perth. This filled me with a false sense of security, so the next heatwave, I fell back on optimistic denial, and all my worms died. Mea culpa.

Luckily, a gardener friend mentioned she had put all her worms in flower pots and the garden bed before summer. So this afternoon, I sifted through our garden bed and found a few little wormies - alive! These little Adameves have been moved from Eden to the worm tower, to beget many wriggly Cains and Abels. Hopefully with less jealousy and murder.

The plan now will be to continually move worms between the tower and garden. Not only should this help towards self-sustaining plant beds, but it'll provide safe-havens for future breeding stock.

Plant something that will pay off

very messy garden bed

So, carrots. Baby ones.

After seeing how reasonable a pumpkin we can grow with some focus and attention, I'll try to be more conscientious this season.

We have 2 rows of 8 or so plant sites, with 3 seeds in each, taking up half the veggie bed. Once they've sprouted, the seedlings will be distributed more evenly across the whole patch.

Which is, at the moment, a right mess. Seems to be customary after every new planting. Whatever cat winds up living next door regards our yard as their patrol zone, so to protect our tender garden from harsh piss reality, we tart it up like a death trap until the plants are big enough to crowd out visitors.

Tidy up a bit

I'm not overly invested in carrot stocks here cos we may upset everything in a couple months. We're planning on moving to a house with more growing space, so it'd be worth it in the end.

In preparation, much of my funemployment time will involve finishing the konmari of our home, cleaning up, and packing. We don't know yet when this will happen, but we cut a deal with both the rental agent and the future landlord, that we'll be ready to haul ass asap at a moment's notice.

I'm excited about kicking off with this level of unpredictability. I don't think I could have taken it before, but with all the introspection and lifestyle changing lately, this feels befitting - like if it were to happen any other way, it would feel as though nothing has improved. There's a fire under my arse now. I don't feel so asleep today.

freshly planted marigold seeds in a red pot

This post is looking pretty bare, so here are a few more photos. Today, I planted some fresh marigold seeds. Here are the seeds in a pot. Exciting stuff.

Shari, talking about goats at the Less is More Festival

We went to the Less is More Festival this afternoon at The Grove Library, and while waiting for the ecoburbia goat workshop to start, the presenter Shari came round with a bag of dried marigolds for people to take home!

Danielle, talking about urban livestock at the Less is More Festival

My favourite workshop was on urban livestock, not just because the presenter Danielle is my friend, but because it was super interesting to deep-dive into some of the details of animal rearing. There are so many domestic animals I never thought of as livestock before today. I almost feel like a real suburban farmer now.

twin crassula

These are my Crassula tetragona cuttings from last October. They grew ever so slightly over summer. As you can see, some of the soil has washed away, so they'll need a top-up soon. I quite like how they look in this very tiny bonsai pot, though I'm not sure how well they'll survive. I have a larger pot with another cutting that hasn't grown at all. Maybe these twins should become triplets and encourage each other as a team.

Sedum burrito

Finally, this guy. At the start of summer, I found a 'Little Donkey' Sedum morganianum under a pile of detritus. It had fallen off a plant that didn't even come close to making it. Somehow, spending months ignored in the dank shade kept this guy alive. He only had one 'tail' when we found him, but has now become three-tailed. We kept him shadowy and moist during the hot weather. I think he might be all right after all. I'd like a whole pot full of this, please. :)

What does your garden look like at the moment? What are your plans for autumn and winter?

Things that could have been

sunrise in pastel

This post isn't what it was meant to be. By now, I wanted to talk about my projects, but I didn't end up doing them.

My next 20 book pledge fanart hasn't been started. I decided on a pastel instead of a sketch, so I've been spending this time learning how to pastel. The photo above is one of my practice pieces.

I wanted to share my pumpkin dish with you, but we still haven't even decided what to make.

And I wanted to talk about the arduino stuff I did yesterday, but woke up so hungover and didn't actually do any. The night before was my last day at work, you see. I felt loved at the farewell meeting, then very loved at farewell drinks.

That was supposed to be a 2-pint night. Oh, the things that could have been.

This job would have been so perfect for the me of 12 years ago - idealistic, in love with code, and immune to hangovers.

rhoeo, dianthes, myoporum and callistemon in a sandy garden bed

The me of today has other dreams, though, and it's time to go chase them. Yes, it sounds romantic, but at the moment just amounts to looking for a part-time job.

This year is my 20th anniversary of being a web person. It's surreal because I don't feel how I expected. I thought I'd be an expert, but as each year passes, I feel increasingly like I don't know my arse from a hole in the ground. They say this happens as you get older - you do know more, but also grow painfully aware of what you don't know.

Since I was a teenager, I worried I'd turn out to be an uncommitted person, so I'm at least proud of having stuck with something for this long, even if I did jump between various sub-disciplines. Sometimes I think I would feel more expert-ish now if I had specialised, but that never worked out. I need the variety of multidisciplinary work.

I'd like to think you can specialise in being a generalist - it's just harder to find a name for what you do. And when you don't have a name, people can't ask specifically for you. So it's hard for you to say, "I fit exactly here."

I've talked about plants being the next step for me, but my instinct says that's only an approximation. Nearly a year ago, I finished my horticulture course, hungry for an interesting yet unnamed combination of things.

When I was 14, I found myself getting on with ordinary life, then stumbling into web. Now, web is ordinary life, and I'm stumbling into this next step. I had no idea what a "web developer" was until I'd already been one for a few years, and I imagine it'll go the same way here. What do you call a plant-tech-craft person? And where exactly can one fit?

I'm pretty nervous. Quite scared, actually. What if I can't afford this? What if there's no place at all for me or the things I want to do? Yet these fears are nothing compared to the fear of waking up 20 years from now, wistful.

So, onward we go.

Little baby Gourdon

my Jarrahdale pumpkin, the good side

We'd like to welcome a new addition to the family. He's a beautiful C. pepo Jarrahdale, harvested today, after 58 days of fruiting (126 days plant age). We have named him Gourdon.

I was going to wait til the plant died completely, but Gourdon looked ripe enough. His wound started looking strange, and ants were creeping under the band-aid, so thought it best to bring him indoors.

my first pumpkin

Here he is with sunburn and wound, which I only noticed after harvesting had hardened up a bit. I could have gotten away with letting him grow for longer.

close up of sunburn and wound

It's interesting to see how plants recover. The hole is rough and hard now, like a callous.

scab from early trauma

Here's a scab from trauma earlier in Gourdon's life. He started growing into his trellis one day, and got stuck. Big old scrape as we pulled him out; the blisters repaired quickly. Looks a mess now, but that's life, innit.

pumpkin smaller than a cat

He is smaller than a cat. Probably about the size of a small cat curled up for a nap. I like to think he could have been bigger if we had more space, and a watering system more reliable than me.

my Jarrahdale pumpkin, from behind

I've learned heaps from this adventure - and I don't mean just how to grow a pumpkin!

Firstly, to achieve your goals, you must respond to problems that come up - be it sunburn, flesh wounds, or general life stuff. You can't wait around hoping things will fix themselves. Of course, you can't control everything, but what you can control can help tip the odds in your favour. And it's nice to have odds in your favour.

Secondly, everything comes and goes with the season, including the motivation to tend plants for 20 minutes a day. It's one thing to be excited and enthusiastic, another thing entirely to be disciplined and commited. Success requires all the things, and where you wane, you need loving, supportive people around you to help keep you going.

Finally, however much you obsess over your beloved vegetable, the fact that you can harvest early, cut off the gross bits, and eat the rest shows this is not at all like having a child. So I can put to rest my dreams of Gourdon growing up to be a football star or Greens senator.

The best I hope for will be curry or a pie.