Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I never heard of Holidailies, have you?

I didn't sign up for NaBloPoMo, which was just as well, as even though I kinda aimed at posting daily during the month of November, I fell far from that goal early on. Today I learned about Holidailies, same concept but for December. I thought maybe this pseudo-event was created in response to the pseudo-demise of NaBloPoMo, but no - Holidailies has been around for 13 years. Huh.

So I did something stupid and actually signed up for Holidailies, even though, in the past, I railed about how it was stupid to have NaBloPoMo in November, given the holidays, that it made more sense to do it during the February doldrums where there is the added bonus of it being a short month. Hopefully, I will have lots of xmas knitting (and needle felting?) to show, maybe some winter solstice indoctrination to share, definitely some holiday baking.

Or maybe I will post a daily photo of Finn.

Ribbed Baby Jacket in lilac

This sweater for the granddaughter has been finished for a while. I was hoping to add a pic of her wearing it, but so far no luck.

Pattern: Ribbed Baby Jacket by Debbie Bliss
Yarn: Cashmerino Aran in 300050 (lilac)
Needles: US8
Modifications: See my notes on Ravelry.

And now that she has worn it a bit, it has become apparent that the button placement is too low. I can fix that by adding a second button a bit higher. The sweater has plenty of room for horizontal growth, so in the future I may need to figure out how to lengthen it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Another pair of xmas socks

Since knitting as work is no longer allowed, I'm a little behind on my xmas socks. This is the second pair knit without looking at the instructions, so I think I am done with that exercise.

Pattern: Good Old Plain Sock Recipe, by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
Yarn: Austermann Step, in 0024 colorway
Needles: US1
Modifications: None to speak of

These were knit top down. Usually I make the legs longer, but I must have had a brain fart. Which is why I am going to start knitting socks toe up for a while.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mother plant, and a name for the cat

A while back, Pamela J asked about growing coleus from cuttings. The Blonde Gardener has some advice, or you can read about my attempt below.

My plan was to grow a mother plant over the winter from one cutting. So I took my cutting and stuck it in a cup of water.

The aluminum foil is primarily for support and to keep the leaves out of the water, but I think the roots develop better in the dark. (Demonstrating whether this is so is an idea for a science fair project, kids.)

And I waited a while - a few weeks in this case - for roots to form.

Then I potted the plant and will now treat it like any other houseplant.

Coleus don't need a lot of sun, but even if it gets leggy, no problem. In late winter/early spring, I will take cuttings off the mother plant, enough to repopulate the planter on my front porch, and root those. Voila! Free plants!

And now the cat name. I wanted something that suits the big guy. He's not a Rufus (which rhymes with Doofus, which he is not either). Hunter felt close, but I tend to sweet talk my pets by rhyming their names (e.g. Betsy Wetsy, which initially was too appropriate), thus Hunter fell by the wayside. A single syllable seemed right, but what? Last night I actually lost sleep trying (unsuccessfully) to come up with the perfect name. Today I stumbled over it online: Finn, which is Irish for "fair-haired". It also sounds solid, like the cat. So Finn it is.

Monday, November 19, 2012

I've been adopted

After losing my last cat to tongue cancer, I decided to take a break from felines. I have to admit that the decrease in pet hair and the elimination of kitty litter were both welcome respites. I also decided that, when the time came, rather than look for a cat, I would wait for a cat to find me.

And that is what happened. A friend of a friend of my daughter had a cat that needed a home. And now he is in my home.

Still nameless, he matched almost all my criteria for a cat: male, neutered, short hair, adult. I was hoping for declawed, too, but while he has claws, he hasn't exercised them yet except for some reflexive kneading. He let me trim them (although that elicited some tail thrashing), so I'll let him keep them for now.

Kittens are cute, but adult cats usually have better manners. This big boy is no exception. He is calm, somewhat regal in his bearing, but loves attention. He showed no reaction to the dog (and once the initial butt-sniffing was over, Betsy lost interest as well), but you can tell by his window shopping, he would like nothing better than to decimate the local avian and rodent population.

But what to name him? I was thinking "Rufus" but that seems more appropriate for an orange cat; this one is buff, the color of butternut squash or garbanzo beans. "Butternut"? "Garbanzo" (which my son favors)? Those seem too cutesy for this fellow. My daughter suggested "Hawthorne" but it does not exactly roll off the tongue. Maybe "Hunter"? He looks just like my first cat, so I've been calling him "Pinky".

He answers to it, but I don't think he likes it. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Moving inside

Long before the night temps dropped below freezing, I moved my Meyer lemon tree inside for the winter. All I need to do is remember to keep it well watered, which unfortunately is a challenge for me. I also moved the geranium in, but it is so pathetic looking, I did not photograph it.

After reading Margaret Roach's post about overwintering rosemary (new vocabulary word: etiolated), I am trying to keep mine outside as long as possible. Night temps are now reliably below freezing, so I throw a pillowcase over the plant every evening. So far, so good. I'm not sure what I will do once daytime temps drop as well.

At least it doesn't need much water now.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Say cheese

Around my house, instead of a dinner bell, we rely on the smoke detector. Today I decided to try making a French Cheesecake with my homemade fromage blanc. I think the filling will turn out okay, it's the Pate Brisee crust that is failing. Instead of turning golden brown while "blind baking", the dough kind of melted and ran down the sides of the spring form pan. I decided to forge on and filled the crust with the cheesecake mixture and popped it into the oven. About ten minutes later the smoke alarm went off - something was leaking onto the floor of the oven. I slipped a baking sheet under the pan and continued to forge on (with the exhaust fan roaring and the windows wide open - good thing it is a mild day). Once the cheesecake is baked, I am supposed to turn the whole thing upside down on a cooling rack and pop it out of the pan. HA-HA! I think that is where the forging-on will come to a screeching halt.

I have been trying my hand at making cheese with some of the fresh milk I receive from my herd share. So far, I have stuck with soft cheeses because I have no place to age cheese, as this requires controlled temperature and humidity. And time, sometimes lots and lots of time. I'm a bit too impatient for that.

Some of these cheeses can be made by anyone with no fancy equipment or odd ingredients, so don't be afraid to try this at home. Just make sure your milk or cream is not ultra-pasteurized, as that process alters the milk protein which in turn interferes with the cheesemaking process.

While there are a lot of online resources, most of my information and recipes are from Home Cheesemaking by Ricki Carroll. She sells cheesemaking supplies at New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. I also patronize Hoegger Farmyard (LOVE their cheese vats!) and Cultures for Health. The next book on my cheesemaking wishlist is Artisan Cheesemaking at Home, by Mary Karlin
My cheese list (so far):

Yogurt cheese - Yogurt cheese is just yogurt with the liquid drained out. I make my own yogurt, but you can use any plain yogurt. Just dump it into a butter muslin or cheesecloth-lined colander and let it drain for 12-24 hours. Flavor to your liking.

Mascarpone - I favor this recipe and use lemon juice.

Fromange blanc - For this one, you will need a starter culture.

Whole-milk ricotta - This recipe requires citric acid.

Queso blanco - Just milk and apple cider vinegar.

30-minute mozzarella - This can be made in the microwave, but it requires rennet and citric acid.

(The cheesecake is out of the oven. It looks like it was butter from the crust that was smoking up the house. I sampled the filling - it tastes great! I'll let it set a bit before deciding whether to try to upside down thing.)

Friday, November 9, 2012

The reluctant traveler

I have friends who love to travel. When asked what they would do if they had six months left to live, they answer "Travel". To which I reply, "What would be the point?" The older I get, the more important comfort is, and traveling is frequently not comfortable.

I am old enough to remember when flying was fun. You could not even get into the terminal without a "skycap" checking your bags. There was no gauntlet of security to run. Friends and family could accompany you to the gate to wish you farewell and greet you at the gate upon your return. Meals, such as they were, were served on all but the shortest flights, and even those provided a whole can of soda instead of a token amount in a plastic cup.

Ticketing was much looser then, too. On one trip home from college, my flight was canceled. The crowd at the airline's ticket counter was large and getting ugly. I carried my ticket to an empty ticket counter of a rival airline and was able to exchange it for a new one routing me through a different city, no extra charge or fees. Another time, during the oil crisis of '73-'74, I returned from abroad to discover I had missed my connecting flight because the schedules had changed. This was in New York. Someone suggested I take a bus to the other airport and catch a commuter shuttle to Boston, which I did. The stewardess (and back then they were all stewardesses) collected tickets only after everyone was on board. My ticket for the canceled flight was accepted, no questions asked.

Ah, the good old days! If Romney/Ryan wanted to take us back to the '50s, they should have focused on making travel fun again. And think of the jobs that would be recreated: skycaps, ticket agents, baggage handlers!

The business trip I mentioned in my last post held the potential for becoming the trip from hell. When I booked it, the plan was to fly out a few days early so I could rent a car and go visit my dad. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but between Hurricane Sandy and Winter Storm Athena, the whole enterprise was in jeopardy. I imagined all the possible snafus that could occur: I would get to Detroit but no farther, I would get to Westchester but there would be a problem with the rental car, I would get the rental car but get stuck white knuckling it to Boston, upon returning the car I would not be able to get gas for it, I would return to New York to find out the training had been canceled, the hotel where I was supposed to stay in White Plains would have no power (they were not answering the phone Friday morning, so yes, this was a real possibility), hotel rooms would be in such short supply I would be asked to bunk with an out-of-state utility worker, the flight home would be canceled, etc. High anxiety.

Other than not visiting my dad, the cancellation of the trip has been a boon: I was taking today as a vacation day anyway, so now my sweetie and I are going on a ramble, I was able to reclaim the time slot for my Saturday massage (which I really need after all this stress), and my daughter and I can now attend "Fiddler on the Roof".

Me so happy!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Is nablopomo dead?

I was trying to post daily this month, but besides the big FAIL at that, I realized I have not seen anyone else trying to do the same. Everyone must be writing novels instead.

My excuses for not posting yesterday are:
  1. I was too stressed to blog before work 
  2. I work for a living 
  3. They have been blocking the Internet at work 
  4. It was yoga night 
  5. It was date night (we have been attending a yoga class on date night) 
  6. I had to return a NY Times crossword puzzle book to B&N because I already owned that particular one 
  7. I am trying to stick with "natural" time - during DST I went to bed around 10pm and rose at 6am, so now I try to go to bed at 9 and get up at 5 - so there was no time to blog in the evening
  8. I was tired
The stress came from being scheduled to fly to the NYC area tomorrow on a business trip, despite the fact the office building out east has had no power since Sandy came to town. The purpose of the trip was to attend a non-critical training session, so I could not understand why someone would not make an executive decision and just cancel the class. It was only after I heard unofficially that the building would have no power next week either that I managed to convince someone to officially cancel the training. Now I am so relieved that I feel like a noodle. A happy dancing noodle.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Glove me

Leather gloves are a MUST
Goat skin, I think.  They tore after a few uses.
My weed-pulling gloves - provide a better grip than human skin.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ribbon-Edged Cardigan...

... without the ribbon edging. I find seaming hard enough without making things more difficult for myself.


Pattern: Ribbon-Edged Cardigan, by Debbie Bliss
Yarn: Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino
Needles: US2 and US3
Modifications: no ribbon edging


I don't like sewing buttons on, either, and this sweater has SEVEN, causing another delay.

Finally done

Even though I measured the Granddaughter beforehand and knit to gauge, there is always a bit of worry over whether the garment will fit. This one is a bit large, which for a growing child is perfect. If I were to knit this one again, I would make it a bit longer, though.

Reluctant model

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Now you see it, now you don't

Yesterday the Saturday morning peace and quiet was shattered by a tree service crew. My neighbor finally had one of the trees damaged in last June's freak storm removed. It was quite the operation - lots of equipment, lots of workers - and they were done in less than an hour. Nothing left but a pile of dirt and saw dust.

The neighbor had them take out a nearby pine as well, which surprised me because now the entrance to their driveway is asymmetrical. I asked if they were going to replace either tree, but they said no. Now the southeast corner of my house will get more midsummer sun. Hopefully, the elm is next.

When the heavy equipment first arrived on the scene, from the backyard I wondered if someone had called the fire department on me for burning. We are not allowed to burn leaves here (and I wouldn't anyway - leaves are a valuable commodity in the garden), but I was burning a bunch of sticks in a fire bowl, which is allowed. Things may get a bit wild and woolly in my backyard, but I do try to play by the rules.

Other outdoor activities included rearranging the bird feeders to spread them around the yard, storing the flamingos for the season, etc. Oh, and planting garlic, the original task on my outdoor to-do list and which I almost forgot. I suffer from CRS - Can't Remember Shit.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Meadow

What do you do when you get nervous about passersby calling Neighborhood Code Enforcement? This was my solution:

Technically, the mess in the northwest corner of my yard is against the rules of civilization in these parts. I keep the front yard relatively neat and tidy, and my backyard is mostly hidden by shrubs along the perimeter. I also make a point of maintaining friendly relations with the neighbors, even the one with five barking dogs. (Five dogs, barking or otherwise, is the household limit here. We have all kinds of rules!) But occasionally, I get nervous about my outre ways.

But the "meadow" has gotten out of hand, even by my standards. I blame free mulch for some of my problems. The county maintains a site where yard trimmings may be dropped off; the trimmings are turned into compost and mulch, free for the taking. I LOVE the idea of recycling yard waste, but you don't know just what went into it. I think that is where the garlic mustard and brambles and grape vine came from. And then there is the thistle, the mint, the honeysuckle, the mulberry, etc. Not what I envisioned for the meadow at all.

(An aside on mulch: I have purchased mulch in bags, which I blame for the stinkhorn (fun) and the bagworms (NOT fun). I have trucked in free mulch from the county. I have taken delivery of dump truck loads of shredded bark from nearby nurseries. While mulch makes a yard look "finished" and discourages weeds and helps retain moisture, when I don't mulch, some plants, like columbine and brown eyed Susan, spread more readily. My goal is to eventually not need much "foreign" mulch.)

Anyway, it's time for a do-over. This past summer I mowed the meadow. Next summer I plan to move the brush pile into the corner, then tame the fence rows while keeping the rest mowed. After that, we'll see. My current vision is a few apple trees plus native plantings of the prairie persuasion. And a water feature. And a place to sit. Suggestions welcome!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Busy Birds

When I learned that birds cache seeds in the fall, I had assumed they deposited the seeds in bark crevices and such. Consequently, it took me a while to realize that this nuthatch was caching its seeds under the bark mulch.

Besides this nuthatch, I spotted a couple of juncos yesterday. I don't even notice the "snow birds" have been absent until they reappear.

I learned a new word the other day (but of course cannot remember it now, even after seeing it in two places) that is a term for an unusual shift of a bird population. For example, you might not see pine siskins at your feeders ordinarily, but a whole flock may appear one winter day because their home turf has become inhospitable.

I'm almost ready for whatever birds come my way.