Monday, June 29, 2015

Weekend Fun

Last weekend, hubby took an extra day off, so with a beautiful day in the weather forecast, we decided to do some "fun things".

First on the schedule was visiting the Harley Davidson Factory in York.  It's only open Monday to Friday, so it seemed like a great opportunity, although there's actually no factory working on a Friday.  They offer free factory tours, which are really informative, even when the shop floor is quiet.  Apparently there are over 1000 people working at the site, with the shop floor working 10 hour shifts Monday to Thursday.  They only ever make the bikes to order - no stock - and unsurprisingly the process is quite high-tech, with lots of robots, although there's some hand-finishing too.  You also get the chance to sit on some of their motorbikes to get a feel for the different models.  Hubby particularly liked the trikes...

Next up was the "Turkey Hill Experience".  Not the feathered variety - Turkey Hill is actually a local dairy, which makes ice cream and ice teas.  Really aimed at kids, but we still enjoyed making our own ice cream creations in the Taste Lab - adding flavours, sprinkles and syrups to a pint of vanilla ice cream base.  A sophisticated cherry chocolate fudge swirl for me, and a rather sickly banana, peanut, butterscotch, caramel, fudge concoction for him!

Then, admittedly feeling a little sick, (well, we had to eat it all, otherwise it would have melted), we went home via Nissley Winery (ie vineyard).  Very pretty estate, where you can take a short self-guided tour through the wine-making process, ending with a chance to sample some of their fare.  It would have been rude not to join in, and we told ourselves it was all in the aim of educating ourselves on the American grape (to add to our "knowledge" of European and Australian grapes).  The winery also offers outdoor evening music concerts in their beautiful grounds over the summer, so I'm sure we'll be back one warm summer's evening in the near future.

Finally, after an exhausting (but highly educational) day of motorbikes, ice cream and wine, we headed into central Lancaster, to the "Celebrate Lancaster" event - now an annual event where 2 blocks of the city are closed off to cars, and then filled with every variety of food vendor you can think of.  Once you've made the difficult decision of what to eat / drink, there are 2 live music stages - great place to listen to live music, munch away and people-watch on a balmy summer evening.  It was really busy - about 17,000 visitors were expected throughout the day and evening.  Apparently the evening ends with fireworks, but we were tucked up in bed by then!  (Are we getting old?!)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Beaded Daffodil Embroidery

A while ago, back in April, you  may remember I posted about the daffodil bead embroidery that I attempted.  I think I left the story around about the point where I'd beaded the outline of the daffodil:

Well, I finished it a few days later, but only now have I got around to posting about it!  Here's the completed daffodil before I trimmed and edged it:

And here's the almost-finished piece:

As this was very much a learning piece, I'm really pleased with the result, although there are a few things I would change if I did it again.

At first, I really wasn't sure about using the tracing paper template as the backing to the embroidery - convinced it would be visible through the beads and would add a "crinkle" effect to the finished piece.  But it isn't visible, and  you can't really tell it's there, so it works pretty well.  I'd still like to research other "cleaner"

options for transferring patterns and outlines to the backing felt, though.

Adding the beaded edging means that you tend to lose a bit of the definition of the shapes - eg the petals aren't quite as "pointed" anymore.  I've tried to overcome this slightly by edging them in a paler yellow colour, so that you still get the definition from the darker yellow beads, but it's something to bear in mind in the future.

That said, I'm not sure about using translucent beads for the edging - the fact that they're slightly translucent kind of detracts from the whole point of the bead edging technique - ie to hide the edges of the backing felt.  Not a big deal (except see below), but another thing to bear in mind for the future.

The one thing I'm really not happy with is the stem of the daffodil - I learnt that green felt tip pen hides a multitude of sins!  I've actually coloured in the (white) backing felt either side of the single bead stem, between the translucent edging beads, because it was so visible.  With hindsight, a single line of beads isn't very robust, and there's only so much that your edging beads can do.  If I did this again, I'd probably avoid embroidering the stem, and separately weave-stitch a stem instead (ie without the backing felt).

So here's the finished piece, finally completed with a brooch fixing:

A nice spring-like brooch to wear, and a little reminder of Wales to-boot!  More bead embroidery will definitely follow!


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Yard Sale Bargains

A few weeks ago we succumbed to the lure of a "yard sale".  Yard sales over here are a bit like our UK boot sales, but held, unsurprisingly, in the householder's front yard.  There are home made signs on lamp-posts in the local area most weeks advertising them - apparently this is a regular occurrence in the Spring and summer months.

This one was being held a few doors down, so we went for a wander.  Slightly intimidating walking alone into someone's front garden to nosey round their belongings (or is that just coz I'm British?), but we felt a bit more comfortable when someone else drove up to take a look too. 

And we found some bargains!  We've (I've) been looking for a couple of lamps for the living room, and picked up a very dusty pair with faded shades for $10.

After a good clean and some new inexpensive shades, they look good as new!

The following weekend, some other neighbours were holding a "moving out" yard sale, and we picked up their dining table and chairs for a mere $40.

I could get into this bargain hunting lark!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Cat Walks and Catios Part 2

On the third occasion of Cinders opening the fly screen and letting herself outside, I knew we had to think of another option to allow the cats some limited freedom.  The daily walks were fine, but as it got warmer and warmer, inevitably Ash seemed to prefer lying out in the cool grass rather than walking anywhere, which got a little boring for the "walker".

So we needed somewhere they could sit / lay outside, get some sunshine and some fresh air, with good views of the wildlife, but still be confined and safe.  It had to be a catio.

The research started.   A catio is basically a screened-in outdoor area for cats.  They vary considerably in size and shape, and unsurprisingly, there are some extremes out there.  Just google "catio" and see all the different options that pop up.  I started on Pinterest: from the basic wooden frame and chicken-wire rustic structures, to multi-level home-made spaces, to beautiful works of architecture, they're all there.  Whilst I liked the idea of being able to make our own custom catio to fit the space we had (and also aware that, whatever we did it had to be "temporary" for our rented house), I wasn't entirely convinced of our respective wood-working skills (between us: zero). 

On to commercial options - and unsurprisingly, they come with some hefty price tags, too - anything from $400 to $2000.  Noticing that the word "cat" seemed to bump up the price (much like the word "wedding"), I even tried to get creative and look up chicken runs and rabbit runs, but nothing quite fit the bill.  Could we find a local carpenter to put a basic frame together for us?

And then I came across this pin from
Ingeniously, it's a sturdy cat-proof structure made from those wire-frame storage cubes.  And it's completely customisable to whatever shape you need / want.  The website gives lots of information and examples about how to set about building your own catio space, so I drew up a rough plan of a simple rectangular cage design, and worked out what I'd need.  I found the storage cubes online at K-mart for just over $20 each, and bought 3 packs, with free shipping - they arrived 2 days later.  A quick trip to the local DIY store for cable ties (3 packs of 100) and some wire cutters, and I was ready to start.

Putting the wire panels together was straightforward, although my fingers got sore after a while, and a hammer was useful for the odd difficult panel that wouldn't click into place properly.  Within half an hour I'd put the first end together, complete with cable ties, quickly followed by the second.

Obviously I'm not capable of working without supervision, and Cinders ensured that I kept up the hard work:

Once the first long end was complete, I moved it all outside and started to put them all together, along with the roof.  I also added a couple of "shelves" for the cats to hang out on and get a better bird-watch viewpoint:

Finally, in just over 2 1/2 hours, I'd completed the structure and added cable ties at all the joints, including extras in the doorway.  I also attached some cardboard to the shelf "perches" for them to sit on - I'll replace this with plastic or wood of some sort soon so that it's more weather-proof.
(look carefully in the background and you can just see Cinders coming to check on progress)
The doorway took a little figuring out with the connector points, but it works for now. We may change the design slightly in future weeks so that we can give them free access to the catio via the patio doors (somehow), but for now we have to physically move them in and out.  I'm not sure we'd leave them in there unsupervised, but I can at least work downstairs and keep an eye on them through the fly screen.  The best thing about the structure is that, whilst it's very sturdy and stable, you can easily cut the cable ties and take it apart to tweak the design or add extra panels as needed.
Cinders wasn't sure what to make of it at first, but soon started rolling around on the concrete (her favourite activity when outside) and eating copious amounts of lemongrass (I'm sure we'll pay for that later), whilst Ash just laid out and chilled...

A successful catio so far!  We might even invest in some more storage cubes and make another one for the top patio... 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Cat Walks and Catios Part 1

Ever since the weather has improved, our two cats, particularly Ash, have suddenly "woken up" to the fact that there is a whole world outside the window, after nearly 8 months of hibernating in the house.  All of a sudden, Ash started to cry at windows and doors, clearly desperate to get more than a sniff of fresh air through the fly screen.
Feeling sorry for him, (especially when the crying at the door was getting a little tedious), I ordered a harness and lead.  (With a bit of research, I found these for a reasonable price online). 
It wasn't straightforward at first - even now with the harness on, sometimes perplexingly he seems to lose all ability to be "cat", and actually falls off things without attempting to save himself; he also walks like a robot. 
However, after a few indoor practices, we ventured outside.  That was it - the devil was unleashed, and it became my evening ritual to be shouted at as soon as I came home from work until I put his harness on (he jumped onto the cat tree in readiness) and took him outside. 
Over the next week or so, we explored the big back yard and the patio, munched tasty patches of grass, and met a couple of rabbits and a chipmunk (he didn't know what to do with himself), and even though we had a couple of initial escapes from the harness (luckily he didn't go too far), he seemed eventually to get the hang of things and liked his daily walk.
Then Cinders realised what was going on and also started to demand to join in the fun.  So I ordered her a (much smaller) harness.  I'd been wary of taking her out, as she's always very skittish and scares easily, but we gave it a go.  The first time, she lasted all of 5 minutes before she got sensory overload and just sat there amongst the birdsong, quivering...    But she too eventually got the hang of things (still walking like a robot), and didn't venture far, but seemed to enjoy this new version of freedom. 
Goodness knows what the neighbours thought of us as Hubby and I paraded slowly round the backyard, each with a cat on a lead...  (yes, I am slowly turning into my Grandmother, who used to take her cats camping with her).
Things got tricky when Hubby was away, and taking them both out together wasn't an option (have you heard of herding cats?), so I had to take them out one at a time.  Cinders did not think this was fair, and spent the entire time crying loudly  and pawing at the patio doors until it was her turn.  Then one evening she clearly got fed up with waiting, and worked out how to open the fly screen herself. 
I was in the middle of the back yard with Ash, and suddenly became aware that she had stopped crying - I looked behind me, and there she was, pottering about on the patio!  Cue much under-breath swearing, shoving a bewildered Ash back in the house, and legging it back out to the patio with cat treats to entice her back in...  She was more interested in rolling around on the concrete, so luckily was recaptured quickly. 
However, after she'd opened the cat screen twice more, I knew we had to think about something different...

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Trip to Washington DC

At the end of May we took a long-weekend trip to Washington DC.  Somewhere I've always been intrigued by from the movies and TV.  It's about 2 1/2 hours drive from home, so not too far at all for a weekend visit.  Driving on the 6 lane motorways on the outskirts of the city, and then in the one-way streets in the centre to get to our hotel was "interesting" (especially when the SatNav had a small meltdown) but we got there in one piece with only one slight detour.

Having dumped our bags and acquired a map, we had a quick lunch at the hotel restaurant before heading out into the sunshine.

We hit the obligatory sights first - from the White House (for me, a little underwhelming) and then over to the Washington Monument and then down to the Reflecting Pool.  Even in that short time, we walked several miles, and were happy to return to the hotel for a brief rest before dinner.  Hubby had booked a wonderful 10 course taster meal at Rogue24, and we had a ring-side seat next to the kitchen area.  Beautiful food, and we splashed out on the drinks taster menu to go with it...  Good job it wasn't far from the hotel!

The next day, we took a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour around the city, enjoying the top deck views and commentary in the (rather hot) sunshine. 

During the tour, we passed the gathering area for Rolling Thunder - where hundreds (if not thousands) of motorbikes were starting to gather for the Rolling Thunder Run on the Sunday.  Quite a sight to see, including this biker with his helmeted handbag (should that be panier?) dog! 


After enough sunshine, we jumped off the bus at the Lincoln Memorial to stretch our legs and to see the famous Lincoln monument.  By this time, things were really starting to get busy for the holiday weekend, and there were people everywhere, so we slowly headed home by foot.


On the Sunday, as the weather was forecast to be even hotter, we decided to take in some of the museums. There are lots of Smithsonian museums, and all are free entry, which is amazing, although unsurprisingly there were long queues for the most popular ones.  We picked out 3 that we were interested in, and headed off into the heat...

We started at the Air and Space Museum, seeing exhibits from the Wilbur Brothers' early flights, to Amelia Earheart's exploits (I hadn't realised she'd gone MIA), to fighter planes in the world wars and then on to space travel.

Next was the National Museum of the American Indian, which included indigenous groups from throughout the western hemisphere, with exhibits on their history and lifestyles.  There were also exhibits of their artwork - of particular interest to me were all the beautifully beaded items - so detailed and precisely geometric.

Then finally, we took a trip to the  Natural History Museum, which by this stage was crowded with people.  However, we'd seen a sign for a Live Butterfly exhibition, which we thought might be fun.  We entered a small butterfly pavilion where lots of different butterflies flew around our heads (and feet - you had to watch where you trod!) - beautiful colours, some almost looked like they'd been painted - you can't help but smile at butterflies!

Then, as we dipped in and out of the museums, we happened to catch some of the Rolling Thunder Run - an impressive site, and a constant roar of motorbikes for a few hours!
A fab weekend in Washington, with beautiful weather.  With hindsight, booking for a holiday weekend perhaps wasn't the best idea given the crowds, but I'm sure we'll be back with so many more sights to see.