Thursday, March 13, 2008

First snake of the year, etc.

We saw the first snake of the year down by the pond, yesterday evening. I'm not sure what it was, or how long it was. It was a dusty grey color and looked dry and rough. It could have been a moccasin, but we took a detour and didn't get close enough to ID it.

Donald was the one to spot it, and when he froze, I knew at once what he'd seen (or at least that he thought he'd seen a snake), so I had one of those awful moments of dizziness I always seem to get in certain situations. It's something like the "slow-motion" feeling you sometimes experience (especially when you're falling). I hate it when that happens! I feel totally out of control-- for less than a second, probably, but it's still very unpleasant-- especially when I need to be getting away from something (the snake).

Anyway, snakes are apparently on the move around here, so be careful!

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I was just looking around for photos of different types of snakes. (It can't hurt to re-familiarize myself with some of the most common venomous snakes in our area.) I found some random guy's blog, where he described killing a snake that he thought was a moccasin and which his wife had found on their porch. He'd posted a few photos of the snake in question.

The entry received some rather venomous (pardon the pun) comments from people who were horrified that he had killed what turned out to be a yellow-bellied water snake-- not a moccasin. Some of them just corrected him, though they couldn't resist the opportunity to point out how valuable these beautiful creatures are, etc., etc. But a few perfect strangers berated the man for his callous action-- told him that cutting the head off a snake is a cruel way to kill it, as they don't die instantly (What's a kinder way to kill it, then? Shoot it in the head, maybe?)-- called him a "selfish fool" and asked him how he dared to kill the animal without researching its "breed" (which is mighty hard to do when you've got to to keep an eye on it and make the decision on the spot)-- and so on. These people seemed to be personally offended that he'd killed the snake. You'd almost think the snake was a friend of the family. At least one person seemed to think that even if it had been poisonous, he wouldn't have had a right to kill it. (He was supposed to call a "wildlife re-locator". Because we're running so short on venomous snakes in the U.S., I guess?)

After looking at the photos, I have to agree that it probably wasn't a moccasin. The pupils aren't slits (as far as I can tell), and there don't seem to be "pits" in the face-- but the body does look like a moccasin, so I can't blame the guy for being confused. If I were in the same situation, faced with a split-second decision (because the snake was fleeing into a wooded area, but could have come back at any time), trying to protect a small child (or even just me and my pets!), I'd probably err on the side of caution. I figure that even if I kill two "harmless" snakes on accident every year, the world probably won't come to a screeching halt. But maybe I'm just an insensitive brute. ;o)

I definitely don't advocate torturing any animal, nor do I think you should go around killing animals with no legitimate reason-- but good grief! Is a person not to be allowed to kill a potentially harmful animal when it turns up on his private property? What's next? Maybe we shouldn't set mouse traps or spray wasp nests! Actually, why not ban antibacterial cleansers-- or soap in general? I mean, bacteria are living things, too, and who ever said that we have the right to kill them?
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Thanks to the time change, there's just enough time for us to have a walk or spend a few minutes doing something else outside before it gets dark, when Donald comes home. No complaints about that-- but I'm still not completely adjusted to the new schedule.

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I finally got around to uploading a few photos I took of a pin cushion I made to put along with Mom's birthday gift this year. (She has it now, so no worries about spoiling the surprise. (g)) I made it using felt, a few glass beads, and a little "fiberfil"/stuffing.

(There are a few other photos of this on my Flickr account.)

I used a variety of websites for inspiration, but I ended up just making up my own pattern. It's pretty simple. (And I have very limited experience with needle and thread, so that's saying something!) All you really need to know is how to do a simple stitch-- the blanket stitch is a common choice.

To make it the way I did, you'll need the following:
  • felt in the desired colors
    • I just used the cheap sheets of felt you find in the craft store, but if you want to get fancy you can use wool felt. I've read that even if you're going to use polyester felt, you might get better quality stuff if you buy it off the bolt rather than in the pre-cut rectangles. Like I said, I used the cheapest stuff, and it still "worked".
  • embroidery floss and thread
    • I'm sure you could use regular thread, but the embroidery floss is nice, if you have it. I divided mine into two or three threads to prevent it from being too bulky, so it goes a pretty long way. You can choose floss/thread that matches your felt or colors that contrast-- whatever look you prefer.
  • needle (or two-- a very thin one, if you're going to be sewing on tiny beads)
  • card stock or thin cardboard
    • I just used what I had on hand-- thin "cardboard" from cereal boxes or other food packaging. Use this to make your templates, if you like, and to stiffen parts of the finished food shape.
  • pen
    • This is for tracing your pattern onto the felt, if you like. I found that the pens I used tended not to dry on the poly felt. (Or if it dried, it took a very long time to do so.) It was a little bit messy. You could use pencil, I guess, or experiment on a scrap until you found an ink that dried. Or just don't worry too much about it and try to dab the ink dry with a tissue.
  • scissors
    • Good, sharp ones are best for cutting the felt.
  • fiberfil-type stuffing
    • I think some people are a bit picky about this part. Evidently certain types are better than others for preserving needles and pins. You can even fill the pin cushion with emery to help keep them sharp. I just used what I had on hand-- polyfil.
  • small glass beads, sequins, ribbon, etc.
    • These are just for embellishment, so use whatever you have on hand.
  • weights / flattened marbles
    • This is optional. I added a few flattened glass marbles in the bottom of this pin cushion to give it a little extra weight. You could use anything that's small and relatively heavy for the same purpose.
Basic instructions:
  1. Decide what you want to make and break the shape down into simpler shapes. This may be harder for some people than others. If it helps, sketch it out on paper. Here's an example of what I mean: To make my slice of cake, I knew that I needed two shapes like triangles with a curved edge-- pizza slice shapes. One would be the top of the slice of cake and on would be the bottom. Then I'd need two identical rectangles for the long sides of the slice (the parts with the white stripes). Finally, I'd need one more rectangle just long enough to go around the curves of the "pizza slice" shapes. Those shapes would make the basic shape of the cake slice. Because I wanted to embellish the slice a little, I also needed two narrow strips of "icing"-colored felt (to give the illusion of a layer cake), some flower- and leaf-shaped pieces to go on top, and for the top and sides, so "piped icing". To make each section of the piped icing, cut three or four (or whatever looks best to you-- experiment!) ovals (or circles) of felt. Layer them and stitch together down the middle. When you sew them to the cake, you can pull the thread through the layers to make them come together and even "twist" a little.
  2. Cut your shapes from the felt. I made cardboard templates to help me get things right, but that may not be necessary for you. Be sure to think about what each shape will be in the finished "food" before you cut. This helps you make sure you're cutting the right color for each shape.
  3. Start stitching the shapes together. I'm not sure what's the best method to follow on this part. I just learned as I went, and I've forgotten most of what I thought I learned. ;o) I believe it's generally easier to save the bottom shape for last. Take your time. If it doesn't look like something's going to fit, you can still trim the shapes, at this point. Because felt doesn't unravel, you don't have to worry about protecting the cut edges. A simple blanket stitch works perfectly, but you can also use a whip stitch or whatever else you like. You'll want to hide your knots as much as possible, of course. I found it was easier to do as much as possible of the "embellishing" sewing before I sewed the whole thing together. What I mean is, I'd go ahead and sew the "icing" strips to the rectangles and the flowers to the top before sewing the larger shapes together. Ditto for the beads. It may be different for you, but this made it easier for me to keep my knots hidden. On the other hand, I think I did sew some of the piped icing on after putting together the basic shape of the cake.
  4. Put in the stuffing, cardboard, and weights. As I said before, I saved the bottom shape for last. You can go ahead and stitch most of that last piece on, but pause when you have one side or so still "open". Now is a good time to add cardboard rectangles to the straight sides of the cake slice (if you want them to be stiff and not bulge out a bit). Next, start stuffing the pin cushion. I'm not sure how firm the ideal pin cushion should be, but I think it's easy to under-stuff, so it may be best to add a little more than you think you'll need. (You could try holding it closed and "testing" it with a few pins to see what it feels like.) To give your cake slice a flat bottom, put a cardboard shape (trimmed to the right dimensions) between the stuffing and the felt. If you want to add some weights to your pin cushion, put them in just before the cardboard. (I tried hot gluing the flat marbles to my cardboard shape, but it was clear that they wouldn't stay in place for long. You could glue them with something more permanent, if you really wanted them to stay put, but I think that as long as you put them at the very bottom, they won't be a problem, even if they are loose.) Stitch the final side closed. Do any final bits of embellishment you like, and then you're done!
Here are some links you might find useful: