Fabric face masks

23 07 2020
A few Aussie friends outside Western Australia have reached out to me privately about the face masks I made for family oh so long ago back in mid-April. So, I’ll summarise it all here so that it’s in one place:
  • Pattern: This is the pattern I used: https://leahday.com/pages/how-to-make-a-face-mask-free-pattern. It makes a three-fold surgical style mask (with a pocket for a removable filter medium), with either tape ties (for kids) or elastic (for adults). She has two pattern sizes (kids and adults), and there’s a video as well as written instructions.
  • Fabric: If you’re making your own, quilting batik is best as it’s a high-weave cotton, followed by general quilting cottons, followed by everything else. When I say quilting batiks or cottons, I mean the good stuff, NOT the low-weave cheap fabric you can buy at the big store starting with S. Find your local quilt store/fabric shop and you’ll have a treasure trove of fabrics awaiting you! If you can’t find a quilting fabric store locally, then many do online orders, and I recommend two in Western Australia: Handcrafters House in Midland (https://handcraftershouse.com.au/; phone 08 9274 4955), who have an online shopping facility, and Craft Collections (Mummery Cres, Bunbury; phone: 0419 616 714). Further afield is Sew Gentle Era (Bridgetown), Cotton Rose (Vasse), and The Blue Box (Busselton)
  • Other bits and pieces: I used chenille pipe cleaners (available at the S store in the aisle where they have the kids’ crayons etc.) cut in half for the wire inside the mask over the nose area, but you can also use stretched out paper clips (just remember to fold the ends in on both so they don’t pierce the fabric; use pliers to make that job much easier!). Elastic can be any type, as long as it’s fairly narrow (again, the S store has elastic), and tape for kids masks can be made from woven cloth tape (typically about 12 mm wide; the S store calls it ‘header tape’ and it’s kept near the ribbons in my local S store) or fabric strips.





Bobbin tension not quite right

19 07 2020

I rarely have trouble with bobbin tension on my Handi Quilter Sweet Sixteen (I use Jamie Wallen’s method here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1mRhcquZTM), but it was playing up a bit this morning. I was still getting good stitch formation, but found I was having to keep loosening the top tension. I checked the bobbin case and it was threaded correctly, but it was a bit too loose. I initially tightened the bobbin case screw, but then I noticed something—the outer tension ‘spring’ didn’t seem to be sitting flat and locked in.

I’d cleaned it out with a business card when I finished quilting yesterday (one of the things I do when I clean and oil the machine at the end of the day). On closer inspection, with my magnifying glasses on, I saw that the bottom ‘hook’ bit wasn’t quite in properly (see where the red arrow is pointing in the photo below). I gently pushed it with a small screwdriver and it snapped into place.

Bobbin tension issue solved!





Trying again with ‘no knead’ bread

15 07 2020

When I made blueberry muffins the other day, I also tried my first attempt at ‘no knead’ bread. It was a disaster!!! Just a hot glob of yucky dough. It seems that dried yeast has a shelf life—who knew?! So I bought some more yeast and tried again today. (And put the yeast container into the freezer afterwards to prolong its efficacy.)

So far, so good—my first loaf has just come out of the oven and it smells and looks great. The proof will be in the eating, of course, but that won’t happen for a few more hours. It’s quite a small loaf, so next time I may double the recipe.

Some tips for my future self: The dough mix was quite dry and didn’t bubble after 3 hours, as stated in the recipe and as shown in the video. So I put the bowl containing the dough in the oven on ‘warm’ (about 50C) for about 10 minutes to kick it along. I don’t know if this made any difference or not, but figured I should mention it in case this happens again. Otherwise, I followed the recipe and timings exactly.

Recipe is here: https://www.jennycancook.com/recipes/faster-no-knead-bread/ (2-hour method: https://www.jennycancook.com/recipes/2-hour-fastest-no-knead-bread/)

FAQs about the recipe are here: https://www.jennycancook.com/no-knead-bread-solutions/

YouTube video (with lots of comments/suggestions) is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0t8ZAhb8lQ

And pics just after it came out of the oven

Bread cooling down

Bread cooling down

Bread fresh out of the oven and still in the cast iron dutch oven I cooked it in

Bread fresh out of the oven and still in the cast iron dutch oven I cooked it in

The underside of the loaf

The underside of the loaf

I couldn’t resist and cut into it while it was still quite hot! Delicious—hubby loves it too! It’s a bit denser (similar density to sourdough) than bread you’d buy in the shops, but it has a lot of flavour. That said, if I make it again, I’ll try the recipe writer’s variation with more yeast and a shorter ‘proving’ time, and perhaps a tad more salt. Others have added rosemary, cheese, olives etc. but that’s for another day.

Sunday 19 July 2020: I made it again, but this time I used the 2-hour method, which uses more yeast and has a lot shorter proving time. Recipe and method here: https://www.jennycancook.com/recipes/2-hour-fastest-no-knead-bread/

This time the dough rose nicely and went bubbly, as per her YouTube video (see link above). I wanted to add more salt, but based on the comment left after my first write-up, I didn’t know how to adjust the yeast to match the extra salt, so instead I scored the top of the load and shook over some chili flakes and a ground a bit of rock salt on top too. Hopefully that will add just that little bit more flavour. As usual, the proof will be in the eating, but it’s too hot to cut just yet! Because it had a better rise at the dough stage, I don’t expect it be as dense in texture as the first loaf.

Verdict? YUMMO!!!! As expected, the texture was much lighter. Still had that amazing crust. Tasted delicious!

Monday 27 July 2020: Attempt #3, but second with the 2-hour method, which will be the method I use from now on. Cut 8 slits across the top of the dough, sprinkled on chili flakes and a bit of coarse salt so that what you can see on the top of the loaf. The house smells AMAZING! Just out of the oven in the pics below.

Thursday 30 July 2020: Hint: If you keep your dried yeast in the freezer, take out the quantity needed about 30 mins before you start and put it on the kitchen counter to warm up. I did this for the loaf I made today and got the best rise I’ve had and a much better (less dense) texture after baking. For this attempt, I added nigella seeds (black sesame seeds) to the top instead of chili flakes and salt. (Yes, I also baked some more muffins.)





Cataract surgery

4 07 2020

The time had come… Back in February, I went in to the optician to get new glasses as mine had a scratch on the lens. He did an eye exam and advised me NOT to get a new script until I’d seen my ophthalmologist about my cataracts. Cataracts? What cataracts??? He said I’d had them for a couple of years now, but he only mentioned them now because I was only now mentioning that my vision was getting worse—didn’t want to scare me, or something like that. So off to my lovely ophthalmologist, Russell.

Russell confirmed the cataracts and said that they typically didn’t tell people they had them until the patient started to complain about vision loss. That’s to stop patients worrying unnecessarily about something that could take several years to manifest as an issue. I could see the logic in that, but still, I think I would’ve liked to have known earlier.

Anyhow, we booked my surgery for 2 July; it was originally going to be March before my planned trip to the US and Morocco in April and May, but as the recovery time before you can get new glasses would be about 6 weeks, I pushed the surgery back until after I was due back from my trip—I certainly didn’t want to be away and travelling and not being able to see properly! Of course, between February and March 2020 the world changed with COVID-19, and with it a whole lot of things that we could and couldn’t do. My trip was off, for starters. And in Western Australia, all non-urgent elective surgery was cancelled to free up medical staff, PPE, and hospital beds for the expected influx of COVID-19 patients. That didn’t happen in our state, so by May 2020 restrictions on elective surgery were lifted. I fully expected my cataract surgery to be pushed back to October or later, but the 2 July date was still OK.

I was scheduled to have both eyes done at once, under general anaesthetic. This is NOT the norm—typically, you get one eye done under light sedation, then the other eye gets done some two weeks later. But I freak out if any instrument comes near my eyes (long-lasting trauma from major eye surgery when I was 12), so Russell, who knew about this phobia of mine, suggested he do both eyes under general. He said it’s not the norm, but he was fine with doing that, and besides, he didn’t want me to have two lots of general anaesthetic a short time apart.

My surgery was to correct my medium- to long-distance vision and Russell said that I’d need about 1.5 magnification glasses afterwards for close work. I had originally opted for good short vision as I do a lot of computer work, sewing, reading etc., but then I thought about the long-term situation with glasses and realised that if I went for good short vision, then I’d forever be getting prescription glasses and sunglasses (at $400 a time) for driving, watching TV etc. However, if I went for good medium to long vision, I would only need to buy el cheapo magnifying glasses for close work from any pharmacy or other places that sell them (and there are a LOT of places that do); same for sunglasses. And I wouldn’t be restricted to special frames or styles as I was for my prism prescription lenses. So within days of my appointment with Russell in February, I called to change the request to be for good long-distance vision.

2 July 2020

Off to the hospital for day surgery… The first stage of prep was getting several courses of drops put into my eyes over about an hour; this was to dilate the pupils. One of them really stung, but the other was fine. Then into the very stylish (not!) gown for the operating theatre and into bed under the snuggly heated blankets. Next came the anaesthetist who had trouble finding a vein (I did warn him) and so he waited until I was in the very bright light of the anteroom outside the OR, and even then he had to try several places to get a cannula in. Then he left me in the very bright light (dilated pupils and bright lights really don’t do well together) while he went into the OR to discuss things with Russell.

He came back in to tell me he had to mark my eyeballs with some sort of marker while I was sitting up but that he’d give me a local anaesthetic first. It would’ve saved me a LOT of angst had he told me HOW he was going to administer this local anesthetic. Instead, he left me alone with that information for about another 10 mins, but which felt like a lifetime. I was already stressed to the max about this operation, so hearing about a local just added to that. I seriously considered getting up and doing a runner because the idea of a needle near my eyes was too much to bear! When he came back, I asked how he was going to do the local and he said via drops! He could have told me that right from the get go!!! The most difficult thing was trying to tame my brain from the terror and worry that if anything went wrong…. And my body was as tense as a board because I was so mentally stressed.

Once he administered the local anaesthetic drops and did the marking (no pain, though it was a bit perturbing having the marker coming at my eyes), I was wheeled into the OR and put under. Russell said he’d be putting in a Toric lens, which is hoped to reduce/eliminate my strabismus, and that’s why the marker.

Next thing I’m waking up in the recovery area. The lights were very bright but I was able to see out of both eyes so that was a massive relief. The plastic shields over my eyes were removed after about an hour and were no longer required. After some food and drink, my DH came to pick me up and we headed home. We watched TV that night and I could see everything clearly with NO GLASSES! First time ever, I think. But boy, every light in the house was certainly bright and all the LED lights had BIG halos around them. That night I slept semi-upright in the recliner as I didn’t want to sleep on my side in the bed in case that was an issue for my eyes.

3 July 2020

Day 1 with my new eyes: Everything is so white and bright! I was able to watch TV last night without glasses for the first time in probably forever. But now I have to wear glasses for computer work, reading, sewing, and quilting. I’d been using magnifiers for some reading for a while (e.g. newspapers, but not ebooks ‘cos you can increase the font size for that), so that’s no different, but wearing them for computer work is. Fortunately, I have a few magnifiers, so I just leave one pair near the computer. Today was a normal day other than getting used to the brightness outside the office window, and getting used to putting on my glasses for the computer or anything I have to read, like the fine print on the eye drop bottles.

My eyes seem fine, though they’re a bit weepy and feel like they are just brimming with tears for much of the time. I slept in the bed tonight, with no problems at all.

Some of the precautions I have to take:

  • two different types of eye drops 4 times a day for two weeks
  • NO water in my eyes from showering etc. for at least two weeks—I borrowed a friend’s diving mask to wear in the shower so I can wash my hair and it works a treat!
  • no bending over, unless you keep you head on a fairly even horizontal plane—I have a grabber tool I can use to pick things up off the floor if my DH isn’t close by, or for getting the newspaper from the driveway in the morning
  • no strenuous activity (that one’s not hard for me!!!)

4 July 2020

Day 2 with my new eyes: Everything is still very bright (I’m glad it’s the middle of winter here—it would be much worse in summer when the Australian summer light is so harsh), but I seem to have lost the big halos around the LED lights, which is good. We went for a 160 km drive today, but first I had to get some new sunnies from the pharmacy (and another pair of 1.5 magnifiers so that I’ve got enough to leave in all the places I need them). I had to wear the sunnies at lunch as the light coming from the bright sky and from the water outside the restaurant were too much to bear. I noticed that by mid-afternoon on the drive home the vision in my right eye was a bit blurry. I believe this is normal. In general, my left eye seems to have more clarity than the right eye (which was the case before the surgery too).

I also noticed when I was reading the paper this morning (head tilted down to the table, which probably wasn’t a good idea) that I was getting little flashes of light at the far corners of my eyes. I’ll have to hunt out an angled drawing board I have for reading the paper and doing the crosswords to see if that helps get rid of the flashes. Again, these are likely normal for the first few days/weeks.

One other thing I noticed is that because I can’t wash and splash my face in the shower, my eyelashes have got a bit matted from the ‘sleep’ and the drops. When I was at the pharmacy getting my new sunnies and magnifiers, I asked about something to gently clean my eye area, and they suggested eye wipes (a Murine product). They helped a lot in getting rid of the accumulating gunk!

The watery eye feeling seems to have gone, except after putting in the drops, of course.

My follow-up appointment with Russell isn’t for another few weeks yet, so I’m using this blog post to note down all the changes, differences, and variations of vision that I experience.

From here on, I’ll only update this post if I notice changes.

Bottom line: Am I glad I had the surgery? So far, after two days, a resounding YES. There has been no pain and no issues other than sensitivity to light as my new eyes adjust to their ‘new normal’.

Update 9 July 2020, one week after the surgery: I’m getting used to the brightness of everything, and it’s becoming my ‘new normal’. I still get the occasional white flashes on the outer corners of my eyes, but these are very intermittent and very seldom. I’ve had some ‘floaters’, again very seldom and very intermittent, and much smaller than the floaters that I had occasionally before the surgery. The wateriness has well and truly gone, and I’m getting used to wearing glasses for reading instead of distance.

Update 16 July 2020, two weeks after the surgery: As for 9th July. One eye has a bit more clarity/sharpness of vision than the other, but I’ll talk to the ophthalmologist about that when I see him for my post-op follow-up next Tuesday. It’s likely related to the type of lens used to correct the astigmatism (strabismus), and the slight blurriness is nowhere near as bad as the double vision I had before. I can stop the eye drops at the end of today too, and shower without eye protection!





Mrs America (TV series)

3 07 2020
Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly, from the Mrs America TV series (photo from IMDB)

Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly, from the Mrs America TV series (photo from IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9244556/mediaviewer/rm3950416641)

I watched Mrs America recently and it took me back to my late teens when I segued from high school in a regional Western Australian town to university in Perth.

For me this transition occurred in the early ’70s, right in the middle of the US and then global women’s rights movement. It was an awakening time in many ways, as it often is for those going from the comfortable existence living under their parents’ wing in a country town, to the ‘radical’ ideas and different norms of life at university in a big city. Perth was a city, but in terms of population and mores it was more like a big conservative country town. Things from the outside world didn’t penetrate very far—there was no internet, social media, etc. so all news and information came via tightly (and conservatively and male) controlled newspapers, TV news etc. Of course, some at university had other sources and so there were alternative opinions and ideas offered in the student newspapers and at the protest marches of the time (mostly against conscription and Australia’s involvement in Vietnam, though there were some women’s right marches too—I’ve never been an overt protester so I never went to any marches). That sets the scene for where I was for much of the time period covered by Mrs America—sheltered from the big bad world, living on the far west coast of Australia under the wings of my parents, and then at university. I was a member of the Women’s Electoral Lobby for a short time while I was at uni.

I’d heard of some of the American women involved in the women’s rights movement—Gloria Steinem and Betty Freidan, mainly, though I think I’d heard of Bella Abzug too; Shirley Chisholm was a vague recollection—but I never read any of their books. In Australia, the publishing and bookselling industries were very controlled and getting books from the US was almost impossible, so I’m not sure we even had access to those books at that time, except perhaps from underground sources. Being Australian, The Female Eunuch (Germaine Greer, 1970) was the main feminist work I was exposed to. Other writings I recall included Our Bodies, Ourselves (Boston Women’s Health Collective, 1970; I think I still have my copy of that!) and a bit later, Damned Whores and God’s Police (Anne Summers, 1975 [Australian]).

I had never heard of Phyllis Schlafly, though I think I’d heard of the STOP ERA group.

So I came to Mrs America knowing a little about the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) struggle, but not much, and what I did know was way back in my memory banks and half a world away from where I was living.

First, I loved this series and all aspects of its production. The costumes and sets were exactly as I remember from the time, even the excessive smoking everywhere. And the acting was superb. The two Australian leads—Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly and Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem—were brilliant and both deserve awards for their performances. The plot moved along at a good pace, and the focus of each episode on the main players of the time and the chronological sequencing of those episodes was done well. There was SO much to love about this series, and I intend watching it again.

But then there was the subject matter, and so much of it brought back feelings of frustration and anger rage at how little has changed for women in general, and especially for women of colour and LBGTQIA women. And anger that the ERA STILL has not been ratified in the US (I can equally point fingers at Australia—we certainly don’t have a good track record on the rights of anyone but white men either).

But my deep well of anger was reserved for Schlafly and her team of STOP ERA slaves (what else do you call people who work for all hours for nothing but the crumbs from their controlling mistress?) and for the far-right wing evangelist Lottie Beth Hobbs (played by Cindy Drummond) who Schlafly joined with (well, bulldozed is a better description) to gain more supporters for her cause, and as a result added a pro-life, anti-abortion, anti-gay aspect to her platform to appease Lottie’s conservative right-wing Christian evangelical followers.

Schlafly, as depicted in Mrs America, was the biggest hypocrite. Her platform was against women working outside the home, yet she had a job as a political lobbyist (adviser on nuclear and defense policy at the highest levels of the US government), ran for the US Congress twice, wrote several books, gained two degrees, and had 6 children by the time Mrs America starts, and had a law degree by the time it finishes. And how did she do all these things? She had Black women to run her household (no doubt paid a pittance), a well-heeled lawyer husband to support her financially, and an unmarried (and belittled) sister to palm her children off to when the Black women weren’t available. And once she started her newsletter and the STOP ERA movement, she had a team of unpaid volunteers (women like her with children, but not necessarily with the same support networks to look after them) who she worked to the bone and treated like her minions. As depicted in the series, one of these was obviously being abused by her husband, but Schlafly’s response was for her to dismiss it and to tell the woman to stay in the marriage. Schlafly was bossy and super controlling, was always right (in her mind), and what she said was law. She saw no hypocrisy in taking the stand that a woman’s place was in the home, yet working for a living and doing few, if any, homemaking activities herself. She was anti-gay, yet one of her sons came out as gay in 1992. She was supportive of her minions and staff baking bread and pies (no doubt financed by them, not Schlafly) to bring along to ‘bribe’ officials, yet did no baking herself. She swanned around bossing everyone with her upper middle class white privilege, yet taking no responsibility for what happened in her wake. I hated her. I love how well Cate Blanchett played her (she had to be good for me to hate the character), but I was so angry that Schlafly and her tribe hijacked the ERA.

(Aside: Some names that appeared in some of the episodes are still appearing in news stories today — Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, etc.)