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Catus Dyspepticus

Between staying up late and errands and a dyspeptic cat,* I’m behind schedule today. Hmm. A writer with no time to write. Must be time for a cat picture!

I love cats, and have since my very first. This is me with Oliver, a.k.a. Cat Number One(-ish, he’s the first I remember with any clarity). He was black as night and could jump from the floor to the top of a swinging door.

* * *

* She lost her lunch… everywhere.

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So.

Oh, America. On those who broke into the Capitol in the hopes of overturning a valid democratic election, and those who incited, enabled, failed to prevent, declined to censure, and continue to support? This is not a good look.

This isn’t a partisan thing. It’s a democracy thing. I could go on but there’s a lot of good material on yesterday’s events out already.

As Inigo Montoya said, “Let me explain! No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”

What I thought yesterday morning:

“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts…”*

― Abraham Lincoln

What I’m thinking this morning:

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

— Kurt Vonnegut

We’ll get through this.

Stay healthy, safe safe. Here’s to better days ahead.

* I originally used a version of this quote that ends with “and beer” because 1) I liked the idea of including at least a tiny bit of levity to this entry, and 2) it feels true, but the background on that addition is murky. Proving the point about facts! So I’ve removed the bit about beer, but you don’t have to. Go forth and enjoy a frosty adult beverage (whatever that means for you)!

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Pexels.com

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tl;dr today I’m sharing my favorite mask pattern

Handy Guide to this Seriously Long Post

* * *

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

It’s been a while, but let’s just chalk that up to 2020 and move on, shall we?

Speaking of, it’s been a year, hasn’t it? We haven’t seen friends, family, or done anything more exciting than rescue feral kittens in months.*

Like so many of you, I miss my family.
I miss my friends.
I miss not knowing the latest hot news in epidemiology;)

I wanted to write about how things were going. I wanted to write something encouraging. I wanted to write, period.

But.

I just didn’t have it in me. And sometimes that just has to be ok. So I worked, managed and generally tried to keep my fashizzma together while the world did 2020.

I haven’t been writing. I haven’t been to the workshop. My sewing machine crapped out on me. I have been reading, at first to study a couple of new genres I wanted to understand from a writer’s perspective, but then I just wanted happy endings.

You know, those things that used to be a luxury but now feel like a necessity. At least to me.

But I’m slowly coming out of it. Fall is sliding into the cold sleep of winter but paradoxically, I’m waking up.

I had a story idea the other day. It wasn’t all that good, but whatever. Thank you, brain.

I’m also doing what a lot of people are doing. Buckling down, cooking, making masks, the quintessential pandemic pastimes.

And I had the urge to share. So I’m here today to share my favorite DIY mask pattern.

* * *

Mask Talk

Despite dramatic progress on the scientific front, we don’t have as many tools in the fight against Covid-19 as we’d like (I know, stating the obvious). What we can do, right now, is socially distance, wash our hands, and wear masks. Why masks? Check out this cool NYT interactive or this handy explainer to see why masks are effective.

Short answer, breathing other people’s spooge is nasty. Masks help.

There are a lot of ways to buy masks these days, and it’s certainly possible to find a variety of options for sale. But if you, like me, enjoy being able to customize your style, size and fabric, then this pattern may be for you.

In the early days of the pandemic a lot of civic-minded makers designed and shared mask patterns. One of the best I found for me and Mr. Man (whose face has a striking set of cheekbones), was this pattern by Tom Bihn (check out the videos and notes).

I’m sure I’m not alone in the search for a mask that fits my face, is comfortable and also effective. For me and Mr. Man, the Tom Bihn design is that mask. This spring, the company was agile enough to add mask production to their line, but also generous enough to share the pattern.

I like the shape and structure of that mask, but wanted a filter. The modifications Rachel posted are helpful, but I realized that the top seam was too thick for me. It added more bulk than was comfortable and all that fabric didn’t quite shape to my face.

Was that something I could fix? It was. Would Tom Bihn be open to me sharing this new version? Yes!

* * *

The TBv3+ (Cue Rainbows and Dramatic Music!)

I give you my modified mask pattern, the TBv3+ with a flat top seam and bottom filter pocket.**

Pattern snapshot

* * *

Many Photos of Same

I’ve streamlined the process a bit from my first versions, so hopefully the pattern will be relatively straightforward. I’m not set up for sewing videos but here are some photos to help you get started!

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An Excessive Number of Notes:

This mask is a medium size and fits me well. It’s a bit tight for Mr. Man (those cheekbones!) so for him I add 3/8” to the bottom seam and go from there. This extra bit of fabric is enough to cover his chin and keep the mask in place while he’s talking. If that still isn’t big enough for you, consider printing the pattern at 110%, which will give you more room all around.

Fabric density does matter, so hold any potential candidate up to the light. If you can see individual fibers and holes between them, it’s not a great option. If it’s all you’ve got, bolster your protection with an extra layer of filter.

Want different fabrics inside and out? Fold the paper pattern in half along the top seam line, then add 3/8” to the top seam. Cut out two pieces from your front fabric and two from the interior fabric. Stitch together at the top seam and proceed from there. You’ll have a thicker top seam (as with the original TB pattern) but it may be worth it to you if you like a smooth inner lining (Mr. Man requested this approach; some fuzzier fabrics were interfering with his Movember).

— I flip things around a lot (I was probably 30 before I realized that my goofy childhood habit of flipping things was actually a touch of dyslexia, kudos to my parents and teachers for making it work), so one thing I have to watch out for with this pattern is where to put the elastic. It can feel backward to start sewing on the right/outside of the fabric, but that’s the way to do it. Stitch away!

On nose bridges: The first draft of this pattern added an external fabric nose bridge to the outside of the mask in the final step. It works and makes it very easy to change out the nose wire, but it does add more fabric and is a bit fiddly. By the time I finalized the pattern I’d shifted to adding one additional stitch line, centered below the top seam. If you leave a half inch or so on either side, it’s fairly easy to slip a nose wire into the resulting pocket from the inside of the mask. That’s what I do now.

with nose bridge fabric and without; guess which one is easier

On nose wires: Of all the options I tried, a thin strip of aluminum was the best. I ordered rolls of aluminum because it was so much cheaper than the pre-cut version, but if I had to do it over again I’d go with pre-cut. Freshly cut aluminum is sharp, y’all, and sanding it down is tedious. Other options I’ve tried in descending order of effectiveness: heavy-duty floral wire in foam (effective but annoying to slide in), the industrial twist-ties from Vistaprint masks (good but not quite stiff enough), doubled-over pipe cleaners (weak), thin floral wire (very weak). You may have other options.

some possible wire and elastic options

On elastic: lots of options here too, from the thick white kind harvested from an old fitted sheet to pre-cut resizable versions. I’m using the latter now because it’s faster and less annoying, but I had good luck with 6mm elastic from my local fabric store, with or without little plastic pony beads (what do ponies have to do with it, I wonder?) for sizing adjustments. (If you go with the pony beads, add an inch or so to the elastic length and tie a knot on the end to keep the bead from slipping off in the middle of Costco. Ask me how I know!)

Is that it? Probably not, but hopefully it’s enough to get you started. If you have questions, check out the linked TB videos or let me know.

Even More Notes:

* Granted, it’s been a lot of kittens. A kindle of kittens, even! Cute as heck, but consider supporting your local animal rescue organizations; Humane Society and neutering program closures have started a wave of ferals and strays, and winter. is. coming.

** The usual caveats apply: no mask is 100% effective, fabric density matters, adding a filter helps, cover both nose and mouth while wearing, wash after wearing, social distance, wash your hands a lot, etc. Fun times, am I right?

* * *

Congratulations, you’ve worked your way through all this text! As a thank you, here’s an Inspiring Quote from someone who lived through much worse than this year and used it to create things both astonishing and beautiful.

Stay healthy, stay safe!

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Obligatorily Inspiring Quote!

The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.

― J.R.R. Tolkien
the sun rising over mountain peaks

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I’d like to say something inspirational, something supportive, something that will help you navigate the challenges we’re all facing these days. At the moment, though, I’m coming up a little short.

Instead, here’s an image that reminds me that even in the darkest times, our persistence, our knowledge, and our shared humanity will help us find a way forward.

 

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Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way.
— Abraham Lincoln

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We, Not Me

Canada has an election next week. Politics aside, the Conservative party slogan has been bugging me and now I know why.

Conservative party slogan
“It’s time for you to get ahead.”

Not “us.”

When I first came to Canada from the U.S. one of the things that stood out for me was a subtle but telling difference in language. Driving north, I saw a billboard that read “Let’s remember…” Let us, together, for the good of all. Once I noticed it, I saw that same framing in many other places as well.

I don’t see that as much in the States. I still love my first country but I’m not blind to its faults, either. There’s a lot more “Do this” followed by ”here’s how you’ll benefit,” sometimes accompanied by “or else.” Not “let’s come together to build a better world” but “look out for yourself.” The unstated follow-up is that no one else will. Not so here. No country is perfect, of course, but there’s a reason folks here can see a doctor or fill a prescription and not break the budget.

This tendency to work for the communal good is one of the many things I love about Canada, and one of the things that, regardless of political party, I hope we all remember.

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From the Library of Congress:

Today in History – February 7
On February 7, 1867, Laura Elizabeth Ingalls, the author of the beloved semi-autobiographical Little House series, was born in Wisconsin, the second daughter of Charles and Caroline Ingalls.

Little House on the Prairie etc. were some of the first real books I read.* They were also where I learned (among many other things) to make candy from maple syrup and snow, twist straw into logs, cast bullets, make candles, that nails were once a precious commodity, and that life before modern medicine was often hard and sometimes deadly.
***
Speaking of modern medicine, I’ve been following the new measles outbreaks. Here’s a little public service announcement:

“Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.
“I feel all sleepy,” she said.
In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.
— Roald Dahl, on his daughter Olivia and Measles

 

Now, some people can’t be vaccinated.** That’s why the rest of us should. “You are a human shield”! (I love that, and I love being a real-life superhero and all-around good neighbor.) Thank you to the researchers who made vaccines possible, to the public policies making it a requirement, and to my parental units for helping me be part of a healthy community by keeping my vaccinations up to date!

***

* Ok, Hop on Pop and other such books are real too, but these had chapters and everything! Also Little House was only semi-autobiographical and had some race issues, but acknowledging that lets us know how far we’ve come.

** For more on the “don’t” rather than the “can’t,” check out this TED Talk: Why (Some) Parents Don’t Vaccinate.

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Happy Day!

This isn’t me, but it could be:) For all those in the path of the storm, stay safe and have fun!

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So, November.
/vroom!

Yeah. Like that.

November is (of course!) National Novel Writing Month. I’ve taken part for the past however many years, and it has been fun. I laugh, I write, I cry, I win. Then I collapse in a mostly useless heap for the next many weeks. The holidays don’t help post-NaNo productivity, of course, but I don’t know that a draining push to write write write write does either. I’m looking for sustainable output.

I’m also distracted this year. As mentioned, I’ve taken up woodworking and it’s fun. I like the challenge, I like the creativity and idea generation, the inevitable roadblocks, problem-solving, and the triumphant conclusion.

It’s a lot like writing, actually, only with more finished product and results that don’t depend on the vagaries of editorial preference.

So this November, I decided to do something a little different. Instead of NaNoWriMo, I opted for NaNoMakeMo.

Me, one month, making stuff, with the definition of “stuff” being flexible. Words, wood, whatever. I’m one of those people who can be well and truly stuck on one project but super productive on another. As long as I’m working on whatever my secret brain wants to pay attention to, much gets done.

I decided to use this quirk to my advantage. It’s a classic productivity trick called structured procrastination. I may have mentioned it here before.

The first rule is there are no rules.

Write, turn, bake, sew, whatever. The goal is what’s important, not how to get there, and for November the goal was simple: Make more stuff.

I pulled on my big girl work clothes and got to it.

/insert 30 days of work work work work work.
/ok, fine, I didn’t work all 30 days
/some days I sat inside by the fire and read, because winter and cold and snow, people!

* * *

So how did the first inaugural NaNoMakeMo go?

My original plan was to post updates (with photos and witty commentary even!) as I went along, sharing each and every project through the twists and turns of the creative process. When that didn’t happen, I decided to make an awesome advent calendar-style image map linking all of the awesome into one aesthetically-pleasing package.

Yeah, that didn’t work out. Images and updates take time. Thinking about how to frame a project takes time. Stepping back from the desk or workbench or computer takes time and also the sort of mental space I don’t always have when I’m mid-stream. And the interweb informs me that image maps have been out of style Like For Ever.

Too bad, I was going to use this fun image. It pretty much sums up my month.

Instead you get this uber post. Also, I made this list.

(Yes, that’s my list handwriting. It is both teeny tiny and impossible to read, or so I’ve been told. I have no trouble with it at all. Let me just get a magnifying glass;)*

* * *

So how did it go? Pretty well, actually.

I got a lot done on a lot of different projects, which I find very satisfying. Rather than feel I’ve ignored much of life in order to focus on one dimension, writing, I’ve made progress on multiple fronts.

For evidence of same, please see Exhibit A (note: some projects have been excluded in the interest of maintaining holiday-related surprises;)

I made things, I broke things, I learned more about what to do and what not. Yay:)

* * *

What would I change? Next time I might plan a bit more. Fifty thousand words is a little nuts but having a target helps your aim, you know? Goals and also alternatives, for when the old attention span is minimal and absolutely everything looks interesting except the work on the desk. Maybe I’ll list the different possibilities on little pieces of paper and keep them in a jar for when I need to pull out a new project.

(Teeny tiny lists on teeny tiny scraps of paper, in a Swedish glass jar. Because that’s how I roll, and if there’s one benefit to the passing years, it’s figuring out new ways to work around my own crazy:)

In sum: NaNoMakeMo may be a less dramatic way to approach creativity than NaNoWriMo but it’s also, at least for me, more sustainable. And in the end, a productive, constructive life is the true goal.

And so I declare the inaugural NaNoMakeMo a pretty not-bad success. Here’s hoping you enjoyed your month too!

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* The point usually isn’t the reading. It’s about thinking, and the process of sketching out an idea or problem helps me think it through. I find that works best when I’m scribbling on the back of some envelope, or a scrap bit of paper or the corner of a random flyer. Who says no one uses the mail anymore?

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(today I bring you a dispatch from the wilds of suburbia)

I just mowed the front lawn. I hate mowing. We have an electric mower that’s great, it’s a small yard, no big deal, but it is not my cup of tea.

English estates popularized lawns, but it took America to democratize the things. I’ll cite a few lines from a nineteenth-century book based on Frederick Law Olmsted‘s work (via this excellent article by Michael Pollan), but the real push for lawns started in the 1950s.

“Let your lawn be your home’s velvet robe, and your flowers its not too promiscuous decoration… A smooth, closely shaven surface of grass is by far the most essential element of beauty on the grounds of a suburban house.”
— “The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds,” Frank J. Scott (1870)

Pretty? Sure, if you like uniformity. But in terms of land use, water use, and pesticide chemical use, lawns are terrible for the environment. They are also a massive time suck. Don’t get me wrong, I love Olmsted’s take on keeping nature in cities and improving society through physical design, etc. But there has to be a better way.

We planted a clover-grass mix (yes, on purpose:), but by the time the clover is tall enough to flower, the grass is twice as high and seeding. The neighbors have beautiful, chemically-induced perfections of green. They look askance at our “grass plus” mix, and at the way we wave the weed control van on when it comes around.

And so to keep the peace, I mow. Even when the clover is flowering and the bees are buzzing and can’t understand why I would take away their glorious buffet. I’m not sure why either. I ask the bees for understanding, and I mow in slow motion to give them time to leave the all-you-can-eat-restaurant-turned-food-desert and under my breath I’m asking myself “What’s the flipping point?” I mutter it as I mow the clover, the edible wood sorrel and lamb’s quarters, and the wild strawberries that spring up under the bushes.

Except I don’t say “flipping.”

We’re still looking for ways to shift our lawn to something more useful, but it’s a process. Want to save time, money, and the planet? Here are a few ideas to get you started.

The back yard doesn’t get as much sun, and only patches of clover flower there. I let them grow anyway.

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