Thursday, December 24, 2009

All Lit Up

Here's the tree with its tiny string of battery-operated lights.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Live, small holiday tree

I don't usually have a Christmas tree, I have a WREATH on my front door. But this year, I kept buying little tiny ornaments, and while I could have put them on a wreath, I realized I wanted a tree, and the scent of pine in the house. So I bought a dwarf Alberta Spruce. It's not gorgeous, but I'm hoping that as it grows, it will improve. Its full height is only six feet, so eventually I will plant it in my yard.

Last night, I had great fun making an extemporaneous garland from red wire and fake pearl beads. I even have lights on it, but until I buy 2 C-cell batteries, they won't light up.

Happy holidays!
--Rachel Holmen

Handsewn leather

Years ago, I made a split-cowhide vest for my brother Scott. He outgrew it, and gave it back to me, barely worn. (Around the same time, I hand-sewed -- ENTIRELY -- two jackets, one for my Dad and one for my boyfriend, out of shearling -- sheepskin with the fur still on it; but I later realized that nobody could wear them; the fur made the sleeves so bulky, nobody could get an arm into the jacket sleeve.) I ran into the vest recently in a closet, and I recalled how I created the design I put on the back of a thistle - I went out into my yard, sketched one, simplified it, stylized it, cut it out of colored suede, tacked it in place with rubber cement, and hand-sewed it on with a glover's needle.

Glover's needles look really odd -- instead of a sharp point and smooth, cylindrical sides, they have 3 sharp edges for a quarter inch or so back from the point. And you must sew with a sure hand. If you make too many attempts at one stitch, instead you have created a hole in the leather.

Here are a couple of photos; I'm still proud of the design, and the workmanship.
--Rachel Holmen

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Salvaging a Cooking Mistake

It was, oh, 1970 perhaps. I was poor. I was hungry. AND, I had friends visiting, including handsome auburn-haired Jimmie. I wanted something for all of us to eat. I boiled water and added the only package of noodles in the house, drained the noodles when they were done, and stirred in some melted butter. So far, excellent. Then I went to add a little garlic powder -- and the lid came off the jar. In dumped WAY too much garlic. I scooped out some, but a lot was still in the dish. There were no more noodles. What to DO????? I tasted the dish, and it had so much garlic in it, it was bitter.

I searched the kitchen, found a block of mozzarella cheese and a big can of whole tomatoes, maybe 24 ounces. I drained can of tomatoes, added them, stirred everything up, grated a whole lot of cheese on top, and put the dish briefly into the oven. Success!!!

"What do you call this dish?" Jimmie asked. I confessed the dish didn't have a name. "Glop!" Jimmie pronounced, and I still call it that.

(Now I make the dish on purpose. Often I include hamburger meat crumbled up in the frying pan, cooked, and drained before adding to the noodles.)

I'm cooking up some today, for my quilting group; the weather is grumpy-looking and grey, and this will be just the dish to sustain us on a cool evening.

-- Rachel Holmen

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Food for Colder Weather

I had an old family favorite meal today for lunch:  Campbell's tomato soup made with milk, with Cheerios in it.  (Plain, old fashioned Cheerios, not the sugar-coated ones.)  Good on a chilly day. -- Rachel

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bridge Open Again

They did manage to get the bridge open again -- and some idiot promptly earned himself a Darwin Award by taking the new curve too fast and driving over the rail. For a day or two afterwards, other drives actually slowed down for the curve, but by now, two whole weeks later, most drivers take the curves too fast.

SG Gate info on the fatality: link

-- Rachel Holmen

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bay Bridge Broken Again - Oct 27, 2009

I took the 108 bus from work to the TransBay Terminal, and there was my J bus. The driver opened the door for me, but a dispatcher waved me away. "The Bridge is closed," he said. Luckily, I had a BART ticket, so I took that home, but it was pretty crowded, and with one extremely quick stop at a grocery store for frozen veggies, I got home just before 10 pm. The word I'd heard in the bus terminal was: closed for 24 hours. What SFGate is now saying is, Closed Indefinitely.

I'm not a big fan of BART, either. TOOOOO noisy to hear my audio books; in fact, I'm surprised there hasn't been a class action lawsuit about deafness among the ridership.

-- Rachel Holmen

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Home-made cards

My talented friend Keli made me these cards, on what looks like hand-made paper. If you're interested, contact me (reh at sff dot net) and I'll put you in touch with her. She is a wizard at birthday cards, and could probably come up with designs appropriate for other occasions as well. (And if you know great sources for rubber stamps, I'll forward that information to her as well. My favorite store, in Petaluma, seems to have disappeared.) -- Rachel Holmen

Another cat lost to me

My gray cat, Pearl Too, died two weeks ago today, leaving me once again sad and angry because, as another cat-loving friend reminded me, Pearl forgot the part in her contract about living forever to be my companion. Some cats have a lot of personality, do silly things you can retell to your friends. Pearl wasn't much like that, although of course she did have her moments. But mostly, she just wanted to be wherever I was, watch whatever I was doing, and if possible sit in my lap and purr. So she leaves a big hole in my life, especially when I'm home in the evenings. (And those darn grocery stores. Do you know, they have PET FOOD aisles, just to taunt me?)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

This is What Real Baby Carrots Look Like

My friend Amy grows carrots, under something called Reemay; boy, they are tasty. Those things you buy as baby carrots? I hear they are actually broken chunks of big carrots, shaved round by machine, stored in bleach prior to sale. -- Rachel Holmen

Monday, August 24, 2009

Massively Ambitious: Bay Bridge renovations

Next weekend, the Bay Bridge across San Francisco Bay will be closed. For some info about what's being done, see You'll be able to see what's happening on Google Earth, even follow the action on Twitter.

-- Rachel Holmen

Monday, August 10, 2009

Phil Marsh and the Freight coffee house, and further ramblings

I ran into my old friend Earl Crabb on Saturday night at the Phil Marsh show at the "old" Freight, the very last Satuday night they'll be at that venue, now that they're moving into their new building downtown at the end of the month. I think about ten people in the audience were under 55, and they were probably children and grandchildren of the old regulars, and there were about a hundred of us. We sang a hymn (not "angel band" but another fine old bluegrassy song with good harmony possibilities) in memory of Mike Seeger, who died this weekend, and Phil sang a lot of great old George Jones songs, stuff from the Royal Calypso Orchestra, and a lovesong with clever, tightly-packed lyrics about a long distance call, Tokyo to Tulsa, between ichiban number one cowboy and Su Li Su. (Special thanks to Gary Salzman for the calypso, and to Laurie Cohen for sonorous cello backup which particularly pleased my cello-playing seatmate, Carla de Haas.)

Phil was part of the Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band, which was the first act at the Freight a zillion years ago. The band had a reunion I had to miss recently since I was out of town, so I was tickled to get a second chance this summer to see Phil.

And seeing Earl reminded me that when he and I had been dating (and he lived in Palo Alto), we used my house to host a HUGE party late one Saturday night, for the Cleanliness and Godliness band, the Mark Spoelstra band Jade Flute (now there was another man I had a crush on, Mark Spoelstra), and the visiting-from-Cambridge Jim Kweskin Jug Band. Geoff Muldaur and I compared notes and he claimed me as his "soul sister" since we get the same awful nervous rash on our hands sometimes. Tall fiddler Richard Greene was amused that I was both a singer and a seamstress. (I had started a small career, first with sunbonnets and then with men's shirts, sellling them in local boutiques.) I remember moving Maria Muldaur's fur coat into a closet since people were stepping on it, the party was so crowded; she'd taken it off and set it in a corner. The party didn't even start till about 1 am since all the bands had played gigs that night; and Country Joe and the Fish were invited but they were in Seattle, so they phoned in and said hello to everybody. But in the way of things, the bands remember Earl, and not me; and in justice, I have to say that Earl has made a serious avocation of taking photos at folk venues over the years, while I'm just a paying member of the audience. But I do pay, since I think it's important to support live music, not get by on the freebie guest list at the door even when I do know the singers.

The Freight got its name from its FIRST location, when they took over a bulding on San Pablo Avenue. Too broke to put up a new sign, they just added the words "coffee house" to the sign left there by the previous busines -- Freight and Salvage.

However, that venue held only about 78 people according to the fire marshall, and it's hard to make a go of a business that can't hold a lucrative capacity crowd when that crowd wants to show up. So they moved a few blocks away, just off San Pablo, and slowly fixed up the much-larger building they now had. (But the ladies' room still only held two stalls, leading to LONG lines during intermissions, and the green room was pretty small and there was no room for a kitchen, just a fridge and a counter for selling drinks and snacks.) The sound was okay as long as you didn't sit next to one of the walls, and the chairs were a ragtag collection, most of them not TOO uncomfortable, but that was about the best you could say about them. (Generously, you could bring in your own folding chair and use it, and people often did.)

The new venue promises to be so stunningly perfect and large, I wonder if all of us old folkies will be scared away! But opening night is sold out, a good sign. If I think I'll be in town, I'm gonna FINALLY see Rambling Jack Elliott in live performance. (He owes me; I bought a ticket to see him at the Jabberwock once, and he forgot the gig and, sometime after the show was scheduled to start, was located still in Los Angeles, 400 miles away.)

Oh, and there's a JABBERWOCK memory website now on the web, started by a friend of Earl's named Corry. Lemee see if I can post the link. I'm going to dig through old posters, scan them, and email 'em to the site. Here we go:, chicken on a unicycle dot com. Corry said that Bill Ellert has died (I did see Bill at some folk event at the big auditorium on the Berkeley High campus about five years ago, and turned down a chance to go with him to the after-party because, as I told him, I'd enjoyed the concert but was afraid that the party would be full of drunk and stoned musicians, whose behavior would probably just tarnish my memories of them), so I'm glad I did get to see him a few years back.

-- Rachel

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Braiding Trick from a Friend

I was showing my Kumihimo marudai to my old friend Kitty Crowe when I saw her on the bus. Well, she'd clearly done more with this craft than I have yet! When I mentioned that I had trouble keeping track of where I'd stopped and where I would need to begin again, she said:

If you are working a 2-step move, do the first step, then stop. You'll always know where to begin again.

-- Rachel

Monday, July 06, 2009


Seen at the Dublin BART Station yesterday. -- Rachel Holmen

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rainbow Braid

I stumbled onto a misplaced ball of string -- hemp, actually -- dyed in many colors, set down by mistake in the yarn section at a local craft store; I think I'll make a friendship bracelet. The hemp is surprisingly soft. The navy is crochet cotton, size 3, doubled.

-- Rachel Holmen

Monday, June 22, 2009

John Whitmarsh and the wall

John Whitmarsh has a studio near my office, so I often walk past it on my way to lunch, or as I come in around 8 am. I've long admired his old red pickup. Last year he shingled the wall next to his parking lot with painted cardboard; eventually it got soggy and he took it down. This week, he had something new up.

Here's his explanation, on a small card mounted on the same wall.

-- Rachel Holmen

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My first share-able Kumihimo (braiding) video tutorial

Feedback is solicited. Would you be able to figure out how to make this braid, from this video? (It is assumed that you have a slotted card -- called a marudai -- and some appropriate string/yarn/thread/fiber.) As an example, you could start with four 2-yard lengths of nylon cord. Take all four strands together, thread on a paperclip or splitring or fixed ring, move the ring to the center, and tie an overhand knot. Put the knot and ring at the center of the marudai, and spread out the strands as shown.

I have no idea why the last frame looks so odd, with yellow and aqua echoes of the main image -- that's not in my original file -- but the rest of it seems okay.

I'll be happy to email either the GIF or the MOV version on request. Email reh at sff dot net.

-- Rachel Holmen

Monday, June 15, 2009

See you at the Alameda County Fair

I had hoped to enter several items; only one got finished to my satisfaction, an owl toy based on a pattern designed by Dianna LaFerry. Here's the owl toy, not yet stuffed, pinned up to the design wall at the Cotton Patch in Lafayette.

The fair runs July 1 to 19 in Pleasanton -- take 680 to Bernal, turn right under the freeway at the bottom of the offramp (you will then be driving sorta east), and follow signs to the fair.
-- Rachel Holmen

Friday, June 05, 2009

Tosca at Giants Stadium (WIllie Mays Field)

Free wifi at AT&T ballpark!!!

I'm waiting for the opera to start, sitting next to my new friend Mary who has shared her French fries with me. The sun is still up, but we can clearly see the Diamondvision screen, and Hoyt and Diane (somewhere above my head, I believe) have come onscreen and said hello to the audience.

Here's a photo of the screen, and another of the crowd which is HUGE. I'm lucky I found an actual chair to sit in.

-- Rachel Holmen

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sue Fox Open House

Sue Fox, a member of three quilt guilds -- East Bay Heritage Quilters in Kensington, California (near Berkeley), the San Francisco Quilt Guild, and a guild in Maine -- decided to hold a series of open houses during May.  Here are three quilts I liked, photographed the first weekend.   -- Rachel Holmen
Posted via email.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Machine Quilting Lessons

After attending several of Sue Fox's open houses, I got interested in having her teach me how to use her long-arm quilting machine. This is the kind of machine which sits on a table approximately 12 feet long (no, that's not a typo), and is about as related to a home sewing machine as a semi-trailer-truck is to a VW Beetle.

I had a long lesson today; how to put my quilt onto the framework of rollers which enable to work to be done; how to clean, oil, and thread the machine; how to set and use the two sewing modes -- automatic or stitch-regulated, and manual or completely free-motion; how to evaluate the thread tension; how to complete a piece. Her instructions were patient and thorough, but this was no dull lesson -- her enthusiasm for quilting, and for teaching, shone through the day. I'm not sure I'm ready to exhibit what I did, but I'll be back soon for more practice, and in between she encouraged me to draw large unbroken-line doodles on a newsprint pad for practice.

She has a new blog, so check it out: Fox Dreams Quilts at Blogspot dot Com.

-- Rachel Holmen

Succulents (Gardening) and Quilt Design (Needlework)

Agave from the top
I recently attended a workshop on raising succulents at a local nursery I like,
, and wished that some of my quilting friends were also in attendance. The speaker, who said he'd come to gardening from a design background, talked a lot about color, texture, density, scale (size), and how these elements need to be balanced to create a wonderful garden, from small bowlful of plants to an entire wall. He generously passed around books from his personal library, and if you only check out one book after reading this post, locate a copy of The Jewelbox Garden by Thomas Hobbs, and drink in the photos. Amazon has a few copies of the trade paperback left, for around $17 plus shipping.

-- Rachel Holmen

(The photo I've posted with this entry is one I've shown before -- which I took myself, but it's indicative of the kinds of photos you'll see in the Hobbs book.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bike to Work Day is coming up!

May 14 is Bike To Work Day. I had hoped to *own* another bicycle by then, but it's not to be. And since I'll be heading directly to the airport from my office, I will be sticking to mass transit, not pedal power.

Here's my favorite past poster for Bike To Work Day, from 2005.

-- Rachel Holmen

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Charming quilts shown at Glendale show

Here's a closeup of one of my favorites, a small quilt (maybe 2 feet square). It was called What Color is Spring? by Doralee Dohnel, based on pattern from Bareroots of Sierra Cottons & Wools.

A similarly-designed quilt, based on open squares, was this scrappy beauty.

There were several old family quilts in the show, and this was a fine example of one similar to the pattern I know as Trip Around the World.

I like quilts with patterns made of hexagons -- often they are entirely handpieced. Here are two from the show.

Modern Quilts

This bird of paradise plant, slightly larger than life, used an interesting method of sewn tucks to give texture to the leaves.

And here's a small portion of a very bright quilt.

-- Rachel

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Plants (and Walls)

I was struck by the elegance of this bare wisteria trunk framing someone's front window.

A few days later, I drove past almost classic Southwestern view -- the Indian paintbrush against an adobe wall -- although the paintbrush in this case is actually, I think, a montbretia. The afternoon light made the image perfect, so I pulled over and took this photo.

Brightening my bedroom, and providing a lovely scent, is this lily of the valley. I guess if you live in some parts of the country, they're practically weeds, but here in California we must buy them in pots and cherish them for a few weeks as they bloom.

-- Rachel

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Winter Has Commented

Winter has commented on my blogpost from Monday.

(There was hard frost on my car windshield both Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. Here's the little icy crust at the left side of my windshield after I scraped a bit and ran my wipers.)

-- Rachel

Sunday, March 08, 2009


bare tree with bird's nestDaffodils

Two photos taken in the late afternoon sun: There's a bird's nest in that tree, a tree about to burst into bloom. And in Berkeley, daffodils everywhere.

While today was officially only the first day of Daylight Savings Time, it sure felt like the first day of spring. Glorious weather, probably 60 degrees -- warm enough so that for part of the afternoon, my quilting friends and I sat in the classroom with the door wide open.

-- Rachel

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Orchids, Quilts, More Quilts

This weekend is the big orchid show in San Francisco. I've missed it the last couple of years; sometimes I console myself with a new orchid from Trader Joe's, but it's not the same as seeing a zillion beautiful and sometimes weird plants all in one place. There's a special preview evening on Friday, but I can't really justify going. Fort Mason; usually there's parking for a small fee at a nearby school, with a shuttle to the show itself.

Saturday and Sunday is the San Francisco Quilt Guild's show, featuring Judy Mathiesen. She made the gorgeous Mariner's Compass quilt shown above.

Saturday afternoon, Gretchen Jennings is giving a presentation at the Cotton Patch in Lafayette, CA. And Sunday morning, I'm taking a class there with Sonya Lee Barrington.

Too many places to be at once! -- Rachel

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Potlatch, Stitches West

Freddie Baer made her best T-shirt ever (if it's possible to distinguish between numerous excellent works), Ursula LeGuin and Vonda McIntyre were there, the banquet had tasty food and pleasant company, the con suite was always hospitable, and my only complaint was not getting enough time to spend with people I liked. Potlatch 18 is over, and what a terrific con it was!

In between, I managed to attend Stitches West, the biggest yarn market in the state; I bought drop spindles, dyed and plain roving (semi-processed wool, to the rest of you), snips of qiviut (musk ox fiber) and mohair and plain cream "mystery sheep", silk-and-tencel yarn, cotton yarn from Jill Vosburg (Just One More Row), rayon from Swallow Hill Creations for knitting into jewelry, paper yarn from Habu Textiles that looks like it were made from finely-sliced newspapers, truly weird linen yarn with persimmon extract that looks like brown barbed wire, orange-and-purple variegated Koigu (fine wool yarn) from my friend Merilyn Jeniye's shop Foxy Knits (and renewed my acquaintance with her sister Sharon), fabulous blue and green yarn, two skeins of Waikiki which is a sock yarn without any wool -- in a beatiful seagreen shade; and several interesting patterns. And I should have picked up Lucy Neatby's tractor sock pattern; and I would have gotten the Shelby Shawl pattern and some Cascade silk from Yarn Barn of Kansas but their line was always too long. I shopped with Royale Hare, Carolina Homespun, and more -- I'll try to amend these links when I find all my receipts.

-- Rachel

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Phooey, missed the quilt lecture and exhibit

I used to think going to lectures in the evening must be the dullest thing in the world. But when you listen to somebody who is passionate about what they do, it can be a lot of fun, and sometimes quite moving.

Unfortunately, I was ill on Monday and had to miss the Raven Quilter's talk.

-- Rachel

Friday, February 20, 2009

February: month of Ravens

Raven Quilt

My friend Raven was baptised this past week, a joyful event. And Monday, my quilt guild will feature as its monthly speaker a woman named Rose Hughes, who made the quilt shown above. Her blog, full of interesting commentary about her creative life, is Raven Speak Quilts.

-- Rachel Holmen

Sunday, February 01, 2009

You've GOT to watch the video of the Difference Engine

Short video (under 2 minutes) of the Difference Engine in operation.

Neither Babbage nor Lovelace ever saw this amazine machine operate. You can.

-- Rachel Holmen

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Difference Engine

I saw a nice hour-long film tonight, about the development in the early 1800s of two interesting machines, both designed by Charles Babbage. The first was called the Difference Engine, and it was partly built when he developed another, more complex device (an Analysis Engine) which was never actually built, but whose plans were dusted off in the mid-20th century and used to create the first true computer. Ada Lovelace, daughter of the famous English poet Lord Byron (though she never knew him; her parents separated when she was an infant and her father left England) and an intelligent, educated mother, was trained in mathematics. She, far more than Charles Babbage, grasped the enormous possibilities of the more complex machine, and "got" the idea that the numbers that were calculated could represent non-numeric values (think ASCII code, for instance). She also considered the workings of electricity. But she died while still young (at age 36, I believe) of illness, knowing she was leaving behind notes and published articles that others would use to pursue her ideas.

The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, currently has a model of the Difference Engine on display, so here's a rather dark and dramatic photo of it. The machine stands about 7 feet tall and occupies a footprint approx 3 feet by 6 feet.

Link to better photos, more info:

-- Rachel

Boy, is this FUN!

Here are me (standing, in the white sweater) and some new friends from my table at the pre-conference "She's Geeky" dinner. I had a great time and I'll be there for the next two days.

-- Rachel

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fabric design - Lonni Rossi

My quilt guild had a lecture last night by Lonni Rossi, who does amazing stuff with textile paints. LonniRossi dot com.

She does a lot of it by painting fabric outdoors (she has a table that lets her mount fabric inside a huge frame, approx 42" wide and 5 yards long, so the fabric is open to the ground rather than being set on a table), then setting objects onto it. Her paint is pebeo setacolor, and as it dries, of course the UNcovered areas dry first, so she gets impressions of whatever objects were set onto the paint. She has used rice, every kind of leaf imaginable, radial saw blades, grass, letters cut out of sheet metal or cardboard. She also creates silkscreens and quasi-silkscreens that let her print text onto fabric (for this she sometimes uses white paint tinted with color, over black fabric). One of her signature "looks" is to end with a heavy metallic overlay on parts of the fabric.

I may have to try toothpicks, small rocks, buttons.

-- Rachel

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Discount code for SHE'S GEEKY

Probably too late now. Email me if you want one. Pre-reg ended Tues, at midnight.

Info: "She's Geeky the women's tech conference starts on Friday.

We have an amazing list of sessions proposed.
It is an unconference - so that means the women gathered create the agenda (in a facilitated process)

It is just a great event for women techies to connect and learn from each other. We provide breakfast, lunch, snacks and esspresso. **You are welcome to bring your daughters along.**

The Secretary of State of California who is very geeky signed up on her own to come on Saturday.

Friday Night we are showing the Ada Lovelace Movie at the Computer History Museum at 6pm.

Pre-Dinner on Thursday night is with Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner at Ming's in Palo Alto at 6:30
(registration at 5:30)"

--- I personally wouldn't want to miss this. ---

-- Rachel

Monday, January 26, 2009

White Violets appeared by magic

I had no idea that I had white violets in my yard -- and yet here they are, growing next to the driveway! I haven't bent down to sniff them, and with only three flowers I will not pick them.

-- Rachel