I See Your Strawberries, I Raise You My Cherries

At least here fruit seems to have a good year. We went to my parents to pick cherries. Within an hour, we had approximately 10kg in our buckets, and you didn’t notice when you looked at the tree. Sadly, the rest will be for the birds. Probably good news for the birds.

A bowl full of red cherries with stems

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Removing the pits was much more work, and I only did so with parts of them. I froze 1 kg for #1’s birthday cake (who the fuck allowed her to turn 15 next week?), weighed 1 kg for jam (with brown sugar, orange peel and a hint of lavender), and another kg for “Kerschepannekuche” (cherry pancakes)

a plate with cherry pancakes

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Cherry pancakes are a traditional treat here in summer, usually served with potato soup, same as apple pancakes in autumn. My gran used to make amazing ones (though she smartly left the pitting to the eaters). The problem with gran’s recipe is that it got never written down. It was one of the things she just knew how to make (her infamous cheesecake recipe started with “You take flour”). I think that by now I’m a decent enough cook to have recreated it. And yes, I wrote it down.

For 4-8 people, depending on whether you’re serving soup alongside or whether some of them are black holes disguised as teenagers:

250 g butter

100 g sugar

-> beat creamy

6 eggs

-> add 1 at a time

vanilla to taste

700g flour

2 tsp baking powder

a pinch of salt

approximately 300ml milk

-> add to batter, starting with flour. Your batter should be somewhat runny, but not thin as for thin pancakes. More like American pancakes.

1 kg cherries

-> add to batter, place 1 big tbsp of batter into a hot skillet and fry in a little oil or butter.

Just a quick Degupdate: More of the same

You know, back when Estelle was still alive and we had just the two of them, they had some very different characters: Candy being daring, curious, bold, Estelle being timid and careful, always hiding behind the running wheel. When we chose the new degus, we did so purely on looks on pictures: I want the brown one and one of the light ones. What we ended up with are Candy and Estelle reloaded. Sky is just like Candy, but even bolder since she’s got Candy as a teacher, with Lulu being so shy that for the first days we were concerned if she was eating at all ! (She is). But the two of them are growing and living tehir best degu life. Enjoy their cuteness.

Juvenile white degu poking her head out from a terracotta pot

©Giliell, all rights reserved Sky, being very cute

Juvenile white degu munching a treat

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Juvenile white degu sitting in a nest of hay

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Adult brown degu trying to open a jar with nuts.

©Giliell, all rights reserved Candy, Candy, Candy

Adult brown degu, side view

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Adult brown degu pulling a piece of wood with her teeth

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Adult brown degu in a running wheel (blurry), juvenile brown degu sitting next to it

©Giliell, all rights reserved Candy and Lulu

Adult brown degu on a green carpet

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Juvenile brown degu

©Giliell, all rights reserved Lulu. She’s so damn pretty, even though she lost the tip of her tail

 

A Day at the Zoo 3: Because the Night

Night zoos are one of my favourite things because they have the coolest animals. They’re also bad for taking pics. Even my most light sensitive lense isn’t much good, mostly because it’s too dark for the auto focus but also too dark for me to use the manual setting. But there are some acceptable pics.

Dark image of a tree porcupine

©Giliell, all rights reserved

The tree porcupine was kind enough to step into the little light and my focus. This is where digital cameras with their near limitless image storage play to their strength: I probably deleted 100 blurry images to walk away with about 6 decent ones.

Very dark and blurry picture of an echidna

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Nope, that’s not a worse pic of the same animal, that’s actually an echidna. No, I don’t care that the father next to us told his kid it was a porcupine. Zoos offer many learning opportunities, but obviously no learning obligations.

And now, are you ready for one of my absolute favourites? The aardvark!

Image of an aardvark, full body

©Giliell, all rights reserved

We were very lucky: on our second visit to the night zoo, the aardvarks (3 wonderful animals) had their enclosure cleaned and the caretaker had turned up the light there. They didn’t mind (they could have gone to their dark burrow) and posed for some nice pics.

Image of an aardvark, front view

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Aardvark in action!

Side view of an aardvark

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Look at that snout!

There is a story that goes with the aardvarks: The zoo in our state capital also has a night zoo with aardvarks, but while this here has the glass all up the enclosure, our zoo only has it about a metre high, just enough so the aardvarks cannot escape. Some years ago when we visited the zoo, Mr looked at the aardvarks, not realising that there was nothing between him and the animals at the level of his nose. Well, the aardvark obviously thought it was only fair game that if Mr got to look at it, it got to look at Mr, went on its hind legs, put the front legs on top of the glass and put its snout almost into Mr’s face. The look on my beloved one’s face was something I still treasure to this day.

Some pretty bling in ugly times: More beadwork

Yeah, I know, my apologies are getting old, but right now I find myself unable to engage in internet discussions much. While you all know me as “argumentative”, I find the current situation too dire to quibble about it on the net. Instead I’m trying to do my best offline, take care of the Ukrainian kids arriving at school, etc. And I craft. Because crafting is my #1 stress relief. Also, beading is something I can do on the couch while watching TV, unlike working with resin or sewing, so here’s the latest bling. It also helps with cutting down on snacks.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

These are made with peyote stitch and look much more complicated than they actually are. I’m currently working on a matching necklace.

The next two pieces look like I robbed some ancient treasury, despite being nothing more than wax and glass beads. All I need now is for an occasion to wear them.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Again, youtube is a well of inspiration and comprehensive tutorials. One thing that is absolutely not the fault of the people doing the tutorials is the fact that you rarely have the exact same beads as they have. With stuff like the earrings and the necklace, that’s not a problem. They turn out a bit bigger or smaller than the original, but all in all they’re just fine. Things like the bracelet and the pendant are tricky, though. With those, the proportion needs to match and I often end up undoing and redoing them several times, swapping out beads, until I get them right.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

I already have a rainbow necklace in resin, and i noticed something when wearing it at school: It’s important. Sometimes it acts as a discussion starter. We have a huge problem with homophobia at school. Many very religious kids (I recently shocked one kid by simply not believing in any deity) and also just plain secular toxic masculinity homophobia. they see my rainbow, they ask me if I “support LGBT people”. Since these are conversations that happen “off record”, kids are more willing to openly discuss matters. The other part is that of course having loudly homophobic pupils doesn’t make LGBT kids disappear, they just stay in the closet. I get a few shy “I like your rainbow jewellery” comments from kids and I thank them and they know I’m safe. Maybe they don’t dare to wear a rainbow openly, so I do it for them.

About the technicalities: The ends are glued into the caps, as simple as that, and the clasp is magnetic, so I can put it on and take it off myself, though it also means that I need to pay attention so I don’t lose it. The added semi precious beads act as a counterweight. the clasp is often the lightest part of a bracelet and will end up on top. This way it stays down.

 

 

An Ugly Tool That Does the Job

Yesterday was a tool-making day. I have been making punch and die set for making bolsters and end caps for a new knife design. It is similar to the one I have made previously. Here you can see them with the first batch of punched prefabricates.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

This time I have disposed of the shafts and I have made two other additions.

One addition is that I have made two punches for each die. The first is for thicker materials and for pre-punching thinner materials. The second one is then for better punching the final form on a thinner material (1 mm). I want to use this thin material as much as possible for several reasons – it is much cheaper than massive 5 mm sheets, it is easier to fit the hole to the tang, it is lighter, and a lot faster to work overall.

The second addition is an overlay from bakelite to hold the roughly cut sheet in place for the pre-form punch. And this is where the titular ugly tool comes into play. Cutting and filing that old bakelite was a huge PIA, it clogs up teeth like glue. But I did find a way to cut the holes quickly and easily, once I drilled out the corners.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

What you see here is probably the ugliest half-assed tool ever made to meet the demand on the spot. I have used an old broken bandsaw blade, wrapped one end of the piece with twine and duct tape to make a handle, and voila! I had a pull-saw that could be quickly inserted into the drilled holes and that cut the material without getting clogged up because it has reasonably big teef. It did not work perfectly, but it was still much quicker than fiddling around with a coping saw. I may make a better handle that allows me to quickly use broken saw blades, or perhaps even new ones, in this manner.

Please shove your biking advice where the sun doesn’t shine

Gas prices are exploding around the globe, and as far as I can see, the only reason for this is pure speculation, as nobody’s stopped buying Russian oil or drilling. The amount of oil on the market is the same as 4 weeks ago. This of course causes a lot of issues and once again, several things can be true at the same time:

  • People whose car price would pay off my mortgage complain about gas prices
  • Combustion engines are bad for the environment anyway
  • Our cities have been planned for cars over the last 50 years
  • Some people could bike to work or use public transport but don’t do so for stupid reasons
  • Not everybody can reduce the use of their cars
  • Small incomes are disproportionately affected
  • Gleeful “just use a bike” advice is classist, ableist and sexist

Huh? I hear you say. How is the advice classist and sexist?

People who advocate for biking and public transport (and there are many great and thoughtful people doing that, but also a bunch of loud and privileged people, usually male, who annoy the fuck out of me) will usually point to our fucked up city planning, lack of public transport and accessibility and then propose to solve this by simply making cars very expensive and inconvenient. They will point to a past where we all had streetcars and no individual cars, or to colleges as “walkable communities” and keep forgetting that neither the past nor college are adequate models for our current societies. Back in that glorious past, people worked close to home and by people I mean men. Even though many women still held jobs, their needs were never prominent in public discourse.

If I go back to my grandparents, my grandfathers brought home money, my grandmothers made it last. My maternal grandma’s mornings were spent running errands: walking from small shop A to small shop B, all present in the small village they lived in, taking in small sewing jobs from better off relatives, taking in orders and doing deliveries for a seed merchant, and so on, and so on. The afternoons were spend doing chores and gardening. My grandparents never needed a car because my grandma would do all these things while he was at work.

Times changed. The small shops vanished for the supermarkets, the local supermarkets vanished for the huge departments stores outside of town. But not only that, society changed as well. More women started to participate in the workforce, leading to a higher demand of childcare. And also people were required to be more flexible and take up jobs that are not within an easy distance. Whenever I bring up that argument, people tell me folks should just move closer to the job. When I ask them which job we should move closer to, mine or my husband’s, they often get angry, because they notice that they haven’t thought about this. Women’s job are often worse paid, they work shorter hours and they have to still juggle all the things grandma had to do. They have to take the kids to daycare/school, do their doctor’s appointments, get them to sports… Quite often, this is only possible with the convenience of a car. This also means that women are disproportionally affected by measures that make cars more expensive and less convenient. At some point, the cost is higher than the earning, the workload just gets too much, and once again women find themselves pushed out of the workforce. So yeah, insisting that commuters fix the problem individually punishes women for living ion a sexist society. It’s a great example of how something can be sexist without anybody ever having consciously thought a sexist thought, but by having failed to consider how something would affect women differently  than men.

On to the classism. This seems even less intuitive than the sexism. After all, a bike is cheaper than a car, right? That is true, and in the long run it may be a good alternative for people with short commutes. I’m all in favour of building good biking infrastructure, not just painting lines on the road. Bikes are amazing. I just bought one last year, after not having one for several years. And do you know what? It costs money. A decent city bike that can take small potholes, has working brakes, and is safe in traffic costs a couple of hundred Euros. If your commute is longer and reachable by an ebike, add a thousand Euros*. Telling people who are currently struggling with paying for heat, electricity, food and transport that they can just spend that amount of money in order to save some in the months to come is classist. People need help now. It’s all good and fine for you to decide that you’d rather freeze and put on two sweaters instead of buying Putin’s gas, but please, don’t tell the parents of a newborn that 15°C are enough.

Personally, I’m just annoyed. I have zero control over my workplace, 90-95% of my driving is for my job, and I’m currently taking a paycut of 100€  a month just for increased gas prices that others don’t have to spend. It doesn’t put us into trouble, and I probably wouldn’t mind if that money was going towards something good, like reshaping infrastructure, or helping refugees, but it’s going directly into the pockets of the oil industry who have zero interest in making any of that happen.

*Oh, and getting back to sexism: it’s a problem for women who work more often in customer facing jobs to arrive at work “presentable” when biking for 10 km

Have Some Gingerbread

I’m not an artist with these things like Charly’s mum, but I love making them. It’s the first time I made a gingerbread house that wasn’t just assembled from a box. I probably should have trimmed the still warm edges again with the cookie cutters, but the result was nice nevertheless.

I looked at the kids with my evil mum stare and forbid them to touch them for about 5 days, which is a perfect time for the gingerbread to get soft again, but not so long that it would go stale. There’s a few ruins left that I expect to disappear within the next days or so.

 

Tree made of stacked gingerbread stars, decorated with icing and sprinkles

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Gingerbread house on a glass plate with a marshmallow roof, front view

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Gingerbread house on a glass plate with a marshmallow roof. Side view.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Gingerbread house on a glass plate with a marshmallow roof, view of front and side

©Giliell, all rights reserved

The Myth of Self Defence

I wanted to write this for some time, but it was Marcus’s recent post that prompted me to finally do so. It will probably be a bit rambly, I am not Shakespeare after all.

As is not unexpected for someone who was really badly bullied in my childhood and even in high school, I have dabbled in martial arts a bit in an attempt to learn how to defend myself from bullies. It started with a bit of karate, then a bit of aikido, and then I gave it a pass because I have come to the conclusion that it is mostly useless and way too much effort for way too little gain. I still have some interest in them, purely theoretical, so I do occasionally watch youtube videos about martial arts and self-defense. And they have more or less confirmed this belief.

You see, in order for any martial art to be any practical use whatsoever against a dedicated – even untrained – attacker, one has to spend an inordinate amount training them and keep oneself in good physical shape. And even then, in an actual confrontation, there still would always be a huge luck factor that can completely do you in and that is a fuckt. Especially when weapons get involved. Any weapons.

I am glad to live in a civilized country that regulates weapons sensibly, not too little like the US, but also not to a ridiculous degree like UK or Japan, or AUS, so I have never encountered the level of threat that Marcus is describing. I have also successfully avoided the military draft, thus I have never had the dubious pleasure of encountering a loaded weapon of war by having to handle one, let alone to be in the presence of a maniac handling one. The closest I got to a firearm was when I was a kid and could shoot a varmint rifle for one day and that was it. I never needed a gun, never was threatened with one either. The only violence that I was threatened with was a physical altercation that would, at its worst, probably result in a black eye and perhaps a concussion. Not that those are pleasant, but this level of risk does actually allow one to employ the best self-defense there is – running away.

Occasionally when I mention this in comments on YouTube, someone answers that that is a great way to get shot or stabbed in the back, which always makes me LOL. Being shot is not a great risk around here. It is not zero, but it is not on anyone’s radar. Even a mugging is most likely to involve at worst knives. And getting stabbed in the back while one runs away is just ridiculous, try to sprint and stab a target that moves at the same speed away from you if you do not believe me.

One of the self-defense and martial arts YouTube channels that I occasionally have watched in the past, hard2hurt, has made a whole video criticizing the strategy “run away whenever you can” which I have considered completely ridiculous. AFAIR, his main argument was that it is not easy for an untrained person to outrun an assailant. Well, duh? However, the untrained person still has better chances to outrun him than to subdue him in a fight, since there are fewer variables involved. And if you train martial arts, you are most likely fit enough for running faster than Joe Schmo too.

If you find yourself in a dangerous situation, do your best to de-escalate and/or comply (hand over the valuables). If that fails, do your best to get away. If, and only if, that fails, is the time to fight – and at that point, you have probably lost anyway because you were caught unawares and were harmed before you could actually do any of the previous steps anyway.

That’s not to say martial arts are completely useless. They can be a great exercise if you have a body that benefits from one (I don’t). Visiting a martial arts club can also be a great opportunity to meet with people and make friends. Some people do enjoy competitions and that is fine too. Some people like all of those things and some more and that is just dandy. But any student of martial arts should not kid themselves that what they are doing is learning how to be invincible in a confrontation. And any responsible sensei should and would drill into their students that avoidance of confrontation is far superior to martial arts mastery.

All that said, I have used my minuscule martial arts skill a few times in my life, from that twice to get out of an assailants’ grasp and get away from the confrontation. If I were trying to “stand my ground and teach them a lesson” I might have won, but I also might lose. I would definitively suffer some damage. By running away I may not have “won” in the macho sense of the word, but I also suffered no damage, which is a win for me. But a bit of knowledge of martial arts did allow me to run away in the first place.

Last I would like to say that MMA is in this context just a useless as all the other “traditional” martial arts. In my opinion, in most cases, the useful parts of all martial arts are not the subjugation levers, armbars, chokeholds, kicks, and punches.  Outside of the controlled and rules-governed ring, those are useful to the assailant, not to the defendant. To the defendant are useful other things – the dodges, pressure points, evasions, safe falls, and, above all, being in good enough shape to run for it. And getting those is possible even in martial arts that are not well suited for competitive fighting.

Have a Rainbow

I hope you’re all having a great weekend. This was supposed to go up yesterday, but apparently my computer fucked up.We went to our friends yesterday for a traditional “St.Martin’s goose”, which was nice, especially as social events will go down again with Covid going through the roof in Germany. I’m anxiously waiting for my booster, because if we do one thing well, it is fucking shit up with bureaucracy. Doctors say “5 months after your second shot”, public vaccine clinics are allowed to give it to you after 5.5 months, doctors only after 6…

Thankfully my friends and family are all very sensible, so we’re meeting on an “as vaxxed as possible and tested” basis. That’s all I really want: meet a couple of people, but I guess that’s being jeopardized again by people who neeeeed to celebrate carnival with thousands of strangers in close proximity. Here I’m ranting again…

Finally, have a rainbow:

©Giliell, all rights reserved


Oy! Geroffmylawnyadamnkids!

My father’s knees are not what they used to be and he also has unstable blood pressure. So he needs a walking stick for support. He has a nice pair of aluminum sticks for nordic walking which he uses when he goes to town, but those are not entirely practical for when he goes into the garden and needs to, for example, carry a tool or a bucket in one free hand. Or hang the stick on the fence when he fills the bird feeder.

Thus I have decided to make him an old-fashioned walking cane to shake at clouds and kids stealing apples etcetera. It was a fun little project for a few days with me gathering walnuts in between its steps.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I have started with approx 25 mm thick and just under 150 cm long hazel branch fully dried offer the last few years in the attic. I have shaved off most of the bark with a drawknife and then I have straightened all those small bends it had using the same method that served me well when making my walnut collectors.

Then came some more work with a drawknife and a plane, until I had a straight-ish and round-ish stick approx 20 mm in thickness.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I have cobbled together a template for the bend and after boiling the end of the stick in water for circa 15 minutes, I have put it in and bend it about half the way.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Old trizact grinding belts are soft and pliable, whilst being very strong. so I have used one as a backing to prevent raising splinters. Unfortunately, I did do a mistake in subsequent bends so I have raised splinters eventually that has led to a loss of circa 2-3 mm of wood on the outer curve, but hey, I have never bent wood this much before, so I was still learning, despite having some prior knowledge and experience.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

With a succession of several heats where I have been bending the stick more and more, I have gotten to a stage when it was fully wrapped around the template. Then I have put it aside to dry for a few days.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

When the wood was completely dry, I took it off the template, sanded the whole thing to 320 grit (although definitively not as thoroughly as I would a knife handle) and I scorched the wood with a propane torch. Scorching serves several purposes – it makes the surface of the wood a bit harder, it gives the wood nice dark color and it makes the surface more resistant to rot.

I have also added a piece of steel pipe to the bottom of the stick to give it a better purchase on the soft garden ground, to prevent the wood from splitting, mushrooming, and abrasion.

After that, I have spent several weeks applying several layers of linseed oil by wiping it on-off every two to three days until the surface was sealed but not too shiny.

The last step, finished yesterday, was to add paracord wrap around the handle. It bulks the skinny handle a bit, compensating for the loss of material during incompetent bending. It has a lanyard loop so my father does not need to drop it whenever he needs both hands for short time. And the bright color makes it easy to spot when – not whether – he forgest it somewhere in the hedge or near the garden patch.

I have positioned the lanyard near the straight bend to force my father to use the stick with the hook end protruding between the thumb and index finger and the supporting stick being aligned with the ulna. There are many people who use these walking sticks the other way around, but in my opinion that puts more strain on the wrist and is actually less safe. I do not have scientific data on this, so I might be ronk. But this stick is ever so slightly bendy and when I test it, it seems to be more rigid this way than the other way around.

 

And what I have learned? First that I can do this. Second that I should make the template in such a way that the bend is drop-shaped, not semi-circle-shaped because the wood springs a bit back after taking it off the template. If I ever need to do this again, I shall do better. I can make snazzy walking sticks now is what I am trying to say.

 

 

Fry Day 13-th

I was born on Friday 13th, 45 years ago. This Friday, to be precise. When I learned that it is supposed to be a “bad luck” day, I thought to myself “that makes sense, considering…”.

I am not superstitious, but whenever I reflect on my life so far, I do think the same still, although in some respects I am among the lucky ones. But depression does not lend itself to dispassionate analysis.

Anyhoo, this year the world burns, again, and it keeps getting worse. Hooray.

Tornadoes in Czechia

Smaller whirlwinds do happen quite often even in Central Europe, although usually we just have ordinary high winds. Occasionally some roofs get torn off, but rarely anything more severe than that.

Yesterday was different. A once-in-1000-years tornado ripped through the south of Czechia and flattened seven towns and villages.

If you can spare some money for disaster relief, you can donate here. This is run by a non-religious charity foundation.

There might be some glitches, their servers have difficulty coping at the moment.