Monday, December 30, 2013

The Kickapoo Casino, Eagle Pass, Texas

Gambling is not legal in Texas and in many parts of Texas you cannot buy alcohol either but you can buy guns and ammunition and, under certain circumstances you can legally use those guns to kill another human being. Governor Rick Perry signed a number of bills ensuring that one Texan may lawfully kill another - The Castle Doctrine, Stand Your Ground, Civil Immunity and Peaceable Journey, described in this wiki.

Texans who live in 'dry' counties still drink, they just have to drive further to buy it, or join a 'club' for a few dollars a year and they can purchase a drink in select places by displaying their membership card. Just outside Tyler TX, a dry city, as you leave the city limits there are at least 5 liquor stores in a cluster.

It is difficult to get around the gambling ban, so many Texans drive into Louisiana or Oklahoma where there are dozens of casinos, pouring Texas dollars into the economy of these states and out of the Texas economy. According to this wiki the only forms of gambling allowed are: Texas Lottery, parimutuel wagering on horse and greyhound racing; charitable bingo, pull-tabs, and raffles and one Indian casino.

Our first experience of gambling in Texas was a casino cruise which was gambling 7 miles out in the gulf, and we only did that once.  The waiting around to board, the 7 mile cruise before the gambling could commence, and the same 7 mile cruise back without any entertainment, and the long wait to disembark really did remove any value from the few hours of gambling time.

Our next attempt at keeping our gambling funds in Texas was a little better, but I don't think it was enough to encourage us to stop heading out of state to casinos with more oversight, and better amenities.

Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino

Yet another wiki describes: " The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is a 1988 United States federal law that establishes the jurisdictional framework that governs Indian gaming. There was no federal gaming structure before this act. The stated purposes of the act include providing a legislative basis for the operation/regulation of Indian gaming, protecting gaming as a means of generating revenue for the tribes, encouraging economic development of these tribes, and protecting the enterprises from negative influences (such as organized crime). The law established the National Indian Gaming Commission and gave it a regulatory mandate."

According to an article on the Texas State Historical Association website:

..."The Kickapoos did not legally hold title to land in Texas until 1985, but because they have traditionally camped near the international bridge between Piedras Negras, Coahuila, and Eagle Pass, Texas, they have long been identified with this state. On January 8, 1983, Public Law 97–429 resolved the Kickapoos' ambiguous land situation. Under this statute they were officially granted lands near El Indio, Texas, and became identified to United States authorities as the Texas Band of the Oklahoma Kickapoos, thereby becoming eligible for federal aid. Nevertheless, the people still call themselves the Mexican Kickapoos, as they are called in Mexico, their primary place of residence. Today the Mexican Kickapoos are distinguished by their retention of their traditional culture. From religion to home construction to language and education, the coherent Kickapoo way of life has survived, even if somewhat modified by a veneer of western civilization. The group, which numbers between 625 and 650, spends the major portion of the year in El Nacimiento-about 130 miles southwest of Eagle Pass, Texas-but still lives a seminomadic life that has been adapted to modern economic conditions. In middle to late May most of the residents of Nacimiento divide into family-based bands and set out across Texas and other western states to work as migrant agricultural laborers. By late October or early November the bands make their way back to Nacimiento, where they pass the winter hunting, planting crops, raising cattle, and participating in religious ceremonies. Though some earn money by selling agricultural products and crafts, most depend upon federal and Texas welfare programs to supplement their meager income."...

The hotel at the Kickapoo Reservation had only been opened a few months when we visited.  Everything was still in good condition, so the small, almost utilitarian bathrooms were acceptable.  The bedrooms were clean and adequate also and the food was good, not great, good.

The casino was enormous and all on one level.  It has 150,000 square foot of gaming space featuring 1,900 gaming machines and 22 table and poker games.  There are 3 restaurants two bars, a bingo hall and a live entertainment area.

Probably our biggest issue, after the obvious lack of oversight, (obvious not because we didn't win even small amounts, but we saw no winners in the two days we were there, and that is unusual), was the lack of complementary alcohol while gambling, hard to understand as I suspect that they would make more money from 'merry' gamblers than from those totally sober.  A complaint I had was the complete lack of a decent cup of coffee, but that is a problem I have learned to live with in Texas.

We support the lobby to legalize gambling in Texas, along with about 80% of Texans, what can be wrong with creating more jobs and keeping Texans spending their gambling, eating, drinking and entertainment dollars in Texas?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Unexpected dangers in an early morning workout

We are lucky enough to have a well equipped exercise facility on the ground floor of our office building. My office is on the 3rd floor and we have free, secure access to this facility 24 hours. A shower room, naturally, is essential where there is an exercise room.

It may sound like I am complaining, and really I tremendously appreciate having these facilities, I just wish they were not so fraught with danger, the discomfort I can tolerate but the danger is intolerable.

recumbent bike and no ceiling fans
As I said, the exercise room is really well equipped, and fairly spacious. We have almost a full set of weight machines, there are just a few missing that would be nice to have. We have two Treadmills, a StairMaster, an Elliptic, two Stationary Bicycles, though both have their drawbacks. One is an recumbent bike and I am not sure if it is because my legs are so short, or because the bike is badly designed, for whatever reason in order to comfortably reach the pedals I find that my knees keep hitting the panel. The second bike is upright but the saddle is huge - almost like a tractor seat, and really uncomfortable and the front wheel (yes, it has a front wheel) appears to have an alter ego as a fan, so the faster you pedal the stronger the wind blowing into your face. I really hate wind in my face, in fact I don't like air movement coming at me from any direction. This brings me to another issue I have.

replacement fan
There used to be two ceiling fans, these gave just enough circulation to keep the room cool without causing an uncomfortable wind, and even on full speed, it was possible to keep out of the direct line of fire. I guess that was why they took them down - though I really suspect it was in order to save money. Does a big, almost industrial, floor fan use less electricity? I don't know, but I do know I can't workout if that fan is blowing - I am no lightweight but it almost blows me off the treadmill, plus it makes a noise like a small aircraft about to take off, making the TV about useless even at its highest volume.

All of the foregoing are just minor inconveniences, and worth suffering to save a gym membership, plus - the most value to me - it is open to me any time I care to be there. The dangers lurk in the shower room, and to a lesser extent, in the corridor outside the exercise room.

There are two showers, one is the requisite handicap friendly - that is it has an adjustable height shower head and bars all around to hang on to if you are capable of standing. While not a danger, definitely an unforgivable waste of water, it takes 5 minutes (yes, I timed it) for the water to heat up first thing in the morning. How much water goes down the drain in 5 minutes I wonder? Surely a tankless water heater would be cheaper on electricity and would definitely help save a commodity very scarce here in Central Texas?

Back to the shower, once you leave the shower, presumably at the very least a little wet, you have to navigate the tiled floor which takes on the behavior of polished ice once it is wet. At the best of times I am worried about crossing that floor barefoot, and when I started back working out after my foot surgery I was terrified.  I tried wearing flip flops but they were not much better when wet and how do you wash your feet? I now put the spare rubber mats across the floor and bring extra towels to walk on. I have nightmares about losing my footing and hitting the tiled floor hard at 4.30 a.m. in the morning. I am guessing I would probably have to lie there, wet and naked for the best part of 3 hours before anyone came close enough to hear me, assuming I was in any state to make a noise, and then they would need to have a security card programmed to open the ladies' shower room door.

There is a wooden bench along the wall opposite the two shower stalls, with hooks on the wall above and an electric socket behind the bench. Luckily it is well away from the running water because it has been in bits, falling off the wall for almost 5 years now, and I have seen people use it for hair dryers.

badly lit, undulating corridor
The final danger element, that I am aware of, is, as I mentioned, the corridor. Most people who use the exercise room also choose the stairs over the elevator, the corridor from the exercise room to the stairwell is long and not very well lit, therefore it is not possible to see the undulating nature of the surface as result of major work required to the foundation of the building about 5 years ago. Apparently when they were replacing the concrete floor they didn't have a spirit level, or even a piece of string. In fact, the floor looks undulating due to the bad lighting, but the shadows are deceiving and the dips and waves are not where you would expect.

Shortly after the work was completed, I was heading to the stairs after my workout when I stubbed my toe on one of the 'waves'. I suppose  tired muscles and heavy gym bag combined to ensure that I completely lost my balance and in attempting to avoid a fall, I twisted my knee badly. I was limping for weeks and my knee has never fully recovered from that injury, despite physical therapy.

I continue to use our wonderful benefit, but I also continue to be extremely careful in the shower room, and walking to the stairwell.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Thank you Bruce Morrison

I often wonder how other people create budgets, keep track of household accounts and generally manage their income and expenses.

A long time ago, after my first marriage broke down (why do we say 'broke up' when it is really a break down?).  We sold the home we had lived in for most of our three children's lives, there wasn't much equity to share, just enough for me to buy a car, pay off my share of debt and pay a deposit on a rental. After that we, my three teenagers and myself, lived in a couple of rentals, with a few months in between where we were homeless. Thankfully not on the street, I slept on my mother's couch in her tiny one bedroom apartment and each of my children stayed with family or friends. They were tough times and my income just didn't meet our basic expenses. I couldn't face the reality of my financial situation and very quickly had a large plastic bag filled with unopened bank statements, bills and, I am sure, final demands for payment. I couldn't pay any of them and my bank account was overdrawn, I had no solution and so didn't open them. My theory was 'why get even more stressed when there was nothing I can do about it?'  I was, of course, well aware that the problems would not go away and that ignoring them was irresponsible at best.

I don't know what would have happened if I had not won a green card in the lottery - what was known as a Morrison Visa - (incidentally, did you know that a green card is actually pink?)  My eternal thanks go to Bruce Morrison, the author of the immigration Act of 1990 that allowed me to apply for this visa and to the Universe / fate / luck - whatever you call it, for allowing me to win that visa. See more about Bruce Morrison here.

Luckily, when I won the visa, my children were no longer children and so I was able to follow the route so many of my ancestors took when times were rough. When I left Ireland I knew that this was probably my one and only opportunity to correct my mistakes and create a new life. I also knew that the streets of America were not paved with gold, but I was fairly sure that I could make a new life for myself. I was determined it would be a successful one, to spend only what I could afford, open every envelope delivered to my address (assuming of course it was addressed to me) and keep careful track of every penny coming in and going out, including keeping all receipts and bills carefully.

And I did.  I started out keeping a note of my spending and income in a small notepad but as soon as I bought myself a computer and discovered it came with a free version of Quicken Light, I used that and have been using Quicken ever since, over 18 years later.  However, having once been totally irresponsible I did a complete 360 and became totally anal.  I spent hours each weekend carefully documenting my spending, checking each receipt against my records, filing every piece of paper relating to income and spending.  Very soon I had boxes of receipts everywhere, each box marked with the date range.  Each box never accessed again but gathering dust and taking up space in my small home.  When I moved these boxes came with me.

On the plus side, I knew to the penny what my financial situation was, and what I could and could not afford.

I met my husband in 2001, five years, almost to the day, after I arrived in the US.  He convinced me that I really didn't need to keep 5 years of receipts that were not tax related - the receipts I saved included grocery, gas and other items long since consumed and reconciled in my accounts.

So, now I keep receipts through the week, once I reconcile my accounts I dispose of them with the exception of receipts for goods which may or may not need to be returned in the foreseeable future. I keep only 3 months of paid bills, and I might add, all bills are opened and paid on time now.

Thankfully technology allows me not only to keep track of, and reconcile, my household expenses, but also to keep a very close eye on my bank accounts online. The reward is that I can now not fear the mailman and I can sleep at night.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Child friendly / child safe

It is surprisingly difficult to make your home child proof, and by that I do mean both safe and friendly. I don't claim to be any expert, so don't mistake this article as instructional. It is, like all my other writing, random thoughts and personal musings.

When I first encountered the principle of making a home child proof, it was because I had a child for the first time. Fortunately, at least from the point of view of keeping him safe in the home, I had very little else. But even so, most of what childproofing was done, was 'after the fact'. Trial and error. I hasten to add, I am not stupid, but I was very young, and I had no previous experience, hence 'first child'.

Naturally I already had medicines out of reach, because that is what you do with medicine with or without children. As I said, I didn't have much.  We lived in a 'bed-sit', more grandly referred to as a studio apartment. One big room in an old Georgian house, built when rooms were very big. We had a tiny separate kitchen and shared a bathroom, shared with the rest of the house so not mine to proof, but also well out of his immediate domain. As soon as he started to show signs of becoming mobile, which was fairly early, what little I had was moved out of reach. Sharp corners were covered, or removed, after the first bruise and, I am ashamed to say, the electric fire was screened after the first blistered tiny finger. To this day I feel guilty about that.

When my daughter and her baby son, my first grandchild, came to visit me I had just moved into my first house in Texas. Everything was new and there wasn't much of anything. Before they arrived I spent some time putting childproof locks on the lower cabinets and that was really all I had to do. I did not have a fireplace and there were no sharp edges.The locks I used screwed into the inside of the cabinet door, like this one, they were still on the cabinets when I moved 12 years later and served to keep many other small visitors safe.

This year, that same first child of the burnt finger is coming to visit me for Christmas along with his wife and their son, almost four years old. Our household now is well established and we three old people have been living in this house for 3 years surrounded by a merger of two well established households, and with a fireplace along with many other potential dangers.

We have started childproofing and as I write this I begin to realize all the things we have not yet considered. For instance, we have a cover on the pantry door knob and even I find that quite difficult to manipulate as I have some permanent damage to my hands from carpal tunnel syndrome which I suffered from before it became fashionable, and therefore didn't have treated until it was too late.

I was about to explain to you that the beautiful doll hanging from the door knob is not some witches curse or satanic ritual, but a clever storage unit for plastic bags (we don't have many as we do use green bags, and those we do have, we reuse), plastic bags!  oh goodness, that little doll will need to hang on the inside of the door, in fact she needs to hang up much higher inside the pantry, just in case my grandson can manipulate the door knob cover.

We also put a cover on the knob of the laundry room door, inside is just a washer and dryer and a storage closet. I did move all possible dangerous substances to higher shelves in the closet there, but we decided to be extra safe. Here is a photo and a warning to us all to remember to actually close the door fully. No amount of childproof locks will work if the door is left open, even just a little. Maybe it isn't obvious from the photo here, but the door is not fully closed and tiny fingers would have no difficultly getting a grip and opening it. As I said, inside there is probably nothing that could do him any harm, but he is way to precious to take that risk, as are all children.

Next we studied our kitchen and bathrooms, where most of the dangers lurk in any home, medicine cabinets are all well out of reach, check. I emptied the cabinet under the sink in the main bathroom. It was well overdue a clean out and for the moment what I think I need to keep is stored out of reach in a box. By the time they leave I will (I hope) realize I don't actually need most of the various hair products and other items and just dispose of them.

In the kitchen we really only had two cabinets that required proofing. One contains liquor and the other cleaning agents. Once again, it may be a challenge for me to get past the child locks but there will be enough people around with fully operational hands to help, and it makes me feel more confident that if I can't get into these protected areas, my grandson probably won't either.

Back to the bathrooms, we have a half bath downstairs and a full bath upstairs for visitors convenience. Stairs are also not extremely safe for an almost 4 year old though he is very good at navigating them I would prefer that when the need is urgent, he didn't have to, so we purchased a step and a child sized toilet seat for both bathrooms.

Again, I see another issue. I need to remove the plunger from behind the toilet upstairs and put it in the garage. The garage! We definitely need to put another of those covers on the door out to the garage, apart from all the usual dangers such as tools and garden and household cleaning agents, there is a step down to a concrete floor.

I also purchased soap for washing tiny hands - of course we already have soap, but if washing hands is fun, it is much more likely to also be thorough.

Finally, we bought a screen for the fire. Like I said, I still feel bad about that one. And, as you can see, we also bought Christmas stockings, not really part of the child proofing, but definitely child friendly.

Ah! Looking at this photo I see another potential danger. To the left of the fireplace as I look at it, I see the door to my mother in law's master suite, therein lies a whole new set of dangers. Another fire, another bathroom filled with potential adventures for a small boy, and a large bedroom with all the small items an elderly lady gathers through the years. Here is another door that needs a cover for the handle and we will have to be sure to keep that door closed at all times.

So, what have I got?
1. Remove plunger
2. Cover garage door handle
3. Cover great granny's door handle
4. Remove the plastic bag doll

Oh, and we do have a safety gate to prevent him wandering down the stairs at night.  Hopefully that will do it, I am still not stupid but now I am old.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

E for B

Used to be an advertising slogan when I was a kid.  ' E for B and be your best ', then they roped in George Best, a famous soccer player in the 70s and it became 'E for B and Georgie Best'.

Watch on YouTube

I like eggs, and frequently have two poached eggs for breakfast, and when I have eggs, I particularly like them with hot salsa on.

At work we have a fully stocked kitchen, but only egg substitute is available and I prefer real eggs, so I bring my own from home.  Even if I wanted to cook them by the old fashioned method in water, I can't because we don't have a stove, but as it is now possible to microwave them successfully, without major issues - usually - that is what I do.  I have a purpose designed microwave egg poacher and it works really well.

Sometimes however, either I forget it at home or it is in need of a wash, so I got in the habit of using a disposable paper bowl, with another upside-down on top, that works equally well - usually. This morning I broke two eggs into a bowl, covered it with a second bowl and mircorwaved it for 30 seconds, checked, another 30 seconds and another check, then a final 30 seconds - perfect!  Added a spoonful of hot, chunky salsa and cut into one of the eggs.  Note to self:  'cut the egg before adding salsa'. The explosion would have been less messy. I guess I should be thankful that I added that extra 30 seconds and the eggs were not soft.

Yes, it exploded and I don't just mean it popped and spat a bit. No. It was a massive explosion, I could actually see the debris flying in all directions. And the smell! oh dear me that was horrible! my desk was complete covered in small globs of egg and salsa.  Worse, it was in my hair, my face, up my sleeves and down the legs of my jeans.

By the time I had wrapped what remained in the bowl in a few layes of tightly sealed plastic bags and transported it to the bin in the kitchen (didn't want that smell lingering in my office all day if I could help it), wiped down my desk and rinsed off the spots and splashes from my clothes, and picked what I could see out of my hair, I was ready for breakfast. Yes, I know darwin award on its way, I tried again.

This time I did have the sense to not add salsa, but surely it wouldn't happen a second time.. right?  wrong!  3 x 30 seconds, pulled the eggs out, they looked lovely, but I stood as far back as I could and gently poked one with the tip of a knife
it exploded too - not quite as spectacularly, but with the same appauling smell.

Another trip to the kitchen with a plastic bag of the remains and I settled for some fruit and nuts for my breakfast.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The foot again

Apparently it takes as long to make a baby as it does to heal from bunion surgery.  Mine was the 8th of March, and  this week, for the first time since my operation, I noticed that the swelling has finally gone and my foot has returned to a normal size.  I am sure the hammer toe was minor compared with the bunion and as the last of the swelling was all based around the joint of my big toe, I attribute this long healing period entirely to the bunion.

The main reason I noticed is, due to the icy cold weather, I got out my very comfortable, fur lined boots and discovered I could finally get my right foot into them.

Today I wallowed in the comfort because these same boots, while cozy and comfortable as far as my left foot was concerned, always caused me at least, some discomfort and often considerable pain due to the hammer toe. Now both feet felt utterly wonderful.  Warm, cozy and completely pain free. This, because the second hammer toe is not yet developed enough for the joint to be forced up into the boot upper, that will happen eventully, but I am hopeful that I will be able to schedule surgery before it gets too bad. (see original blog on the new hammer toe here)

However, in this photo I am seated. When I walk I do notice some slight friction on the hammering joint of my newly deformed toe, but nothing like it was for the other toe - yet. Surgery will be in March and of course, then I will have to go through another period of wearing a surgical shoe and allowing the swelling to subside, and have the pin removed, before I can once again get into my own shoes, but the expectation is that the recovery period will be much shorter for one small toe. This time I will not have to worry about the pin removal as last time it was completely painless. Even better, because I am electing to have the surgery in March, as before, I can look forward to my winter boots fitting for next winter, though I do hope it won't be as cold as it has been so far this year.

I am excited to try on all of my other shoes now.  They have been tucked away in my closet for well over a year as it became too painful to wear most of them months before surgery.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

I won't give up

During the week my prethreaded bobbins, the thread rack and iron on stabilizer was delivered.  I had a busy weekend, but had scheduled an hour on Sunday afternoon to return to that learning curve.

the threads look great  on the rack, much tidier
Today I had another attempt with my embroidery machine.  I didn't make much progress, but any progress is acceptable.  I am now convinced that I need to start with a more co-operative material, t-shirt material has too much give in it.  Hopefully when I master the machine I can revisit the t-shirt.

I did use the iron on stabilizer and it adhered nicely to the t-shirt, however manipulating the hoop onto the shirt was not easy, getting it stretched tight was even more of a challenge and the putting it on the machine without all the excess t-shirt getting tangled up, or folder under the hoop deserved a medal, but I did it.

Cactus pattern
Next I followed the instructions carefully again, using the same cactus pattern as before - because I had already got the first color for that pattern threaded on the  machine.  I pressed the start button and it did start quietly enough, but almost immediately it repeated the behavior from last week and attempted to cram the entire t-shirt into the bobbin area.  It took me some time to remove it, clean out the thread and I rethreaded the bobbin to make sure that was not the issue.

Then I cut the section of t-shirt so that I no longer had to try to manipulate the entire wad of the garment and to give me a fighting chance to get it on the hoop correctly.  When I pressed start this time it looked like it was doing a neat outline of the first side of the cactus, then it did some weird movement inside the cactus outline, but was still moving smoothly, so I waiting.  Suddenly it appeared to get furious and started hammering up and down in the same spot.  I pressed the stop button again and the result was another hole in the fabric, with a tight ball of t-shirt and thread knotted together, there was no matting of thread this time however, so that was a good sign.

if you look very closely. on the left you can just about see the outline
of the left arm of the cactus.  On the right of the picture you can see the
wad of thread I had to remove from the bobbin after the first attempt.
My next excusion into the world of machine embroidery will be when I find a piece of stiff cotton fabric that perhaps won't give into the temptation to disappear down the bobbin hole until the pattern has been completed.  Clearly I am being too ambitious expecting to be able to embroider a t-shirt off the bat.  But I will get there, now it is a challenge, I have to do it!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

I love Texas - even today

They have a saying in Texas, 'If you don't like the weather wait a minute and it will change'.  We have the same saying in Ireland, and while the weather in Ireland does change much more rapidly than in Texas where it can be between 90 F and 106 F for weeks on end, day and night without change.  In Ireland the weather can go from warm and sunny to cold and rainy, then back to warm but cloudy, pouring rain, dry and windy, all in one day - however the temperatures will only vary slightly.

Last Sunday, here in Texas, it was 82 degrees F, that is almost 28 degrees C for my readers in Europe. Five days later, on Friday, it got down to 22 degrees F ( -5.5 degrees C).

We are expecting this weather to continue through the middle of the week, after that it will climb back up to 60 F for the weekend.

8 a.m. in the morning

During the night, it rained and needless to say, that rain froze - fortunately not before it hit the ground. The cars were covered in a thin layer of ice - something I was very used to in Ireland, but it is a much more rare occurrence here in Central Texas.

By 5 p.m., normally the warmest
part of the day here it was still frozen
Texans are not used to driving on icy roads, in fact in Central Texas they are not very used to driving on wet roads.  It has always appeared to me that they believe if you ignore it, it isn't there, and so they drive in their normal manner. 

To those of you who have not experienced this adrenalin rush - driving on the roads around Austin is similar to bumper cars at a fairground. Anyone driving the speed limit or, heaven forbid, below the speed limit, will be moved out of the way by the driver behind them approaching at high speed, then slowing down at the last minute, sometimes literally within a few feet of their rear bumper - very intimidating when you consider the majority of them drive large pickup trucks or SUVs.  

As a result, most intelligent people stay at home, in fact the authorities normally plead with people to stay off the roads if they possibly can.  One winter we experienced a 4 day ice storm and the entire city closed down, schools, businesses, everything ground to a halt until the weather improved.  I am fortunate that I can work from home when necessary and that is what I did this particular Friday.  My husband was able to take the day off work and we all stayed warm and safe.

Thankfully we have a fireplace in the house, though it isn't required that often, it is very comforting on a day like this. We don't normally have a screen in front of it, but we are preparing for a visit from our three year old grandson for Christmas.

So, we stayed home, ordered in delivery for dinner from Marco's Pizza (see my commentary here), pizza for Larry and Mildred and salad and chicken wings for me and spent the evening in front of the fire watching TV.  

The weather forecast led me to believe that the next day would be a repeat performance.  We may attempt a mid morning trip to the grocery store, but I suspect the rest of the day will be spent just staying warm.

One of the many things I do love about Texas is that on 6th December, we still have leaves on the trees, and we still have some fall color.  Don't believe people if they tell you we don't ever have autumn colors.  They may not be as virbrant and plentiful as in the North East, but we have them.

This oak tree in my front yard is looking beautiful, though you can see it has lost some of its leaves, it will be good through Christmas.  After that of course, we will be getting quite the workout raking and bagging the leaves from this, and the forest of trees in our back yard.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Getting to know my sewing machine

Yes, I finally found the time and the nerve to start learning how to use my embroidery sewing machine.  Look at the mess!  

Brother SE400 Combination Computerized Sewing and 4x4 Embroidery Machine With 67 Built-in Stitches, 70 Built-in Designs, 5 Lettering Fonts

I figured out how to thread the bobbin, and the needle - since the last sewing machine I bought, about 18 years ago, they have figured out an easier way to get the thread through the eye of the needle, very useful for aging eyes and clumsy fingers.

Next I spent some time getting the hang of the built in computer - with its touch screen.  I went though the settings and finally managed to turn off the annoying beep every time I touched the screen.  I already had some embroidery designs I had downloaded, in the correct format for my machine, so my next trick was to connect the machine to my computer via the USB cable supplied, the computer instantly recognized it as a 'removable disk' and I was able to copy a pattern from the computer to the sewing machine and, once on the machine, I scrolled through each section of the design, gathering the threads in the color each section displayed.

I spent some time reading through the manual, found an old t-shirt and some stabilizing material, following the instructions carefully, I loaded up the embroidery hoop and connected it to the machine.

Before going any further, I found a video on You Tube showing an embroidery sewing machine at work, quite amazing!  Then the moment of truth!  I pushed the start button and my machine started working away at a cactus - the first stage of my loaded design.  According to the instructions, I needed to stop after about 5 stitches and trim the end of thread at the start of the pattern - this I did and after that it all went awry.  The needle kept on its course as it was programmed to do, but it lost its thread, so it was totally wasting its time. Then the stabilizer, which was a paper like material split and was less than useful, meanwhile the soft t-shirt fabric, without the stabilizer between it and the bobbin, was being pummeled into the bobbin compartment.

I pushed the stop button, carefully extracted the hoop and examined the result, I had 5 beautiful green stitches in a small arc and two large holes on the t-shirt, a totally shredded sheet of stabilizer and a threadless needle.

Turning back to my computer I went directly to Amazon and ordered iron on stabilizer - hopefully that will not separate and shred, pre-threaded bobbins (what a great idea!) and a rack to neatly store my embroider threads on.

I had not expected to produce any embroidery, and don't expect I will for a while yet, but I was well satisfied with my first experience with the machine.  I had made a start, learnt the basics and I am looking forward to my next lesson.  I knew this was going to be a slow process but already I am enjoying it.

Watch for the next exciting episode!