Monday, December 31, 2012

Xmas knitting is DONE

The last pair of xmas socks are done and delivered. The color looks black but is actually a combination of black, dark green, brown, and blue, plus metallic, none of which my camera could capture.

Pattern: Dead Simple Lace socks, by Wendy Johnson
Yarn: Dream in Color Starry, colorway Black Parade
Needles: US1
Modifications: None to speak of

These were knit toe-up, per Socks from the Toe Up, using short rows for the toes and heels. The only thing I didn't like about using short rows is the gap that invariably appears between the heel and gusset. Otherwise, a success.

Now onto some sweaters I've been holding in reserve.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Alphabet soup

These meme, and variations thereof, is making the rounds.

  • Age: Hit the big 6-0 this year. Oddly, most of my trepidation about aging occurred during the approach. Now that it is past, I am okay with it.
  • Betsy Beagle: I became convinced at one point that my dog had Addison's or Cushing's because of her pot belly and lack of energy. Tests came back negative and, once I gave up on keeping rabbits out of the yard, she perked up. Apparently, she was just bored.
  • CT scan: The test that finally convinced my doctor that, yes, I really was sick.
  • Doctor: My GP relocated, so I picked a new one, someone I had seen once before and thought would be a good match. WRONG.
  • Elections: This year's elections were both entertaining and disconcerting. When did women become the enemy? I always vote in presidential elections because voting every four years keeps my registration active. Sometimes I am voting against someone which is perfectly okay, especially when that someone is a misogynist and/or an idiot.
  • Finn: When I lost my cat Fern a while back, I decided that I would let my next cat find me. A friend of a friend of my daughter found a stray, and now Finn is mine.
  • Gardening: Thanks to the weather, gardening was less than satisfying this past year. Gardeners and Cub fans have the same mantra: Next year.
  • Health insurance: Our health plan at work is changing, to one with a high deductible and an HSA. I'm a little grumpy about this, because I am being forced to care about health care costs. I should have cared before, but it was too easy to simply wave my insurance card and say, Heal me.
  • Internet: I am becoming more connected all the time, thanks to gadgets. Not only do I have a laptop and a Nook, I now have a smart phone. Not only do I email and blog, but I also FB and Twitter (@bittenbyknittin). Twitter is proving to be quite useful, to my surprise. I don't tweet much, but the local tweeters I follow have made me more informed of what is going on in my own community.
  • Jogging: For the first time in my life, I can jog for an extended period of time.
  • Knitting: Still knitting, signed up for a spinning class.
  • Liver enzymes: If my liver enzymes had not been elevated, I doubt my doctor would have ordered the CT scan (see above).
  • MRI: My new doctor ordered this when I complained about hip pain and seemed disappointed that it showed no nerve impingement which meant no surgery. (There would have been no surgery anyway.) The test did reveal the two vertebrae that occasionally cause a pinched nerve when I do something like sneeze.
  • Nora: My granddaughter, whose favorite word these days is "No".
  • Optometrist: New glasses this year. I have vision insurance through my employer, nyah, nyah, nyah. The job is a snoozefest, but the benefits are great.
  • Physical therapy: I have been to PT in the past, for my back and shoulders. This time it was my hip and shoulders. Different place, different shoulder exercises. The new exercises have been more helpful.
  • Queue: I am barely making a dent in my Netflix movie queue because I keep watching season after season of "The Good Wife", "Breaking Bad", and "Damages". Where is season 2 of "Downton Abby" anyway?
  • Retirement: I can't afford to retire yet, but I did reduce my work week to four days.
  • South Dakota: One of the destinations of our spring road trip, as my grandparents are buried there.
  • Tai chi: My SO and I enrolled in a class. The instructor is a former co-worker of mine I have not seen in about ten years. I am curious about what the demographic of the class will be and whether the instructor will look OLD.
  • Underwear: I hate bras except for sport bras. The problem with sport bras is the straps showing. Now they have sport bras with cami straps but their sizing is so ridiculous that I can't find any that fit. I wear a size L in regular sport bras, but cannot even get the XL cami sport bras over my head.
  • Vacation: Other than the trip to South Dakota, I took no other vacations this year, thanks to illness. No business trip, either, thanks to Hurricane Sandy.
  • Wisdom tooth: One of my wisdom teeth broke, and the dentist recommended having it pulled. I wish I had talked him into fixing the tooth instead.
  • Xray: I went to the doctor complaining of an intermittent fever and abdominal pain. The x-ray resulted in a diagnosis of constipation. When I protested, I was told I could be constipated and not know it. WTH?
  • Yoga: My SO and I signed up for a hatha yoga class and liked it so well we signed up for another.
  • Zzz: I had been using Ambien as a sleep aid, but no more. For one thing, after the diverticulitis, I took steps to destress my life. For another, the doctor would not renew my prescription without an office visit. If I had not already dropped a fair amount of money at her office this year, I might have gone.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Xmas is over, bring out the seed catalogs

Even though the seed catalogs started arriving before Thanksgiving, other than a casual perusing, I have kept them on a back burner while making preparations for xmas. I continue to try to show constraint, but it is difficult.

Last year was a rebuilding year for the garden, and I am finding it difficult to stop building. My SO helped me construct raised beds for square foot gardening, and my impulse is to make more, ever so more. In a complete reversal of character, though, I aim for moderation this year, improving what is already there instead of adding to it.

One improvement I want to make is the location of the raised beds. The book recommends placing the beds close to the house, the better to care for the plants. So I place three beds, two of them with perennials, near the patio. And yes, they get extra care, BUT. I would like to shade the patio with taller plants known as trees. So the asparagus and strawberry beds are going to join the vegetable beds out yonder in the lawn proper. The cement blocks used for the third bed are going to become part of a cold frame.

Another so-called improvement is geared toward making the yard more manageable: let some of the bark mulched areas return to grass. At one point, I thought mulching a good portion of the backyard would be easier than mowing, but au contraire. Grass, if kept out of the beds proper, is easier. This includes the paths between the vegetable beds. Most of the beds will need to shift north a bit, to make room for the mower. It is a good thing I have an able bodied assistant.

This strategy of improvement includes building two more vegetable beds, plus adding height to the existing beds. And I truly believe that that will be enough. For now.

Friday, December 28, 2012

I'm jogging!

Per usual, I have been thinking about New Year's resolutions lately. Per usual, they are the same ol' same ol': eat less, exercise more, keep the house cleaner, etc. This past year I actually made some progress.

Housework is something people don't notice unless you don't do it. I am still not a very enthusiastic housekeeper, but I know I have been doing a better job. Not stellar, but better. I considered hiring it done, but I would first have to deal with the clutter, and if I got rid of the clutter, it would be easier for me to do the cleaning. So this will be the year of decluttering.

I have lost some weight this past year, but that was from the diverticulitis, so I don't really count that. I have an app on my phone that helps me track calories consumed and calories burned, and I have come to the conclusion that I cannot just diet.

This past year I addressed some of my mechanical ailments by going through a round of physical therapy, regularly visiting a chiropractor, and resuming monthly deep tissue massages. My SO and I signed up for yoga classes this past fall, to step up that aspect of our activity program (and we are signed up for both tai chi and yoga starting next month).

My new supervisor wants me to work at work more, so even though I work on the first floor, I climb stairs a couple of times a day to counteract being chained to my cubbie all day. Our desks and monitors are adjustable, so sometimes I raise them and work standing (sitting is the new smoking). When the weather is amenable, I circle the pond a couple of times at lunch, and when it is not, I take a yoga mat into one of the privacy rooms for stretches.

Usually I get a lot of walking done during the summer, albeit behind a mower, but the dry weather eliminated the need for lawn control. I also am able to find a lot of excuses for not walking: it's too hot/too cold/too wet/too windy/too dark/too buggy (and fitness centers are too germy). So I purchased a used treadmill. Using the Couch-to-5K program, but walking instead of jogging, I made good use of it.

Then one day, while playing with Finn and a piece of string, I started jogging back and forth through the house while he chased. By the time he quit the game, I had jogged for five minutes without stopping. Huh. So the next day, as an experiment, I tried jogging for 20 minutes, still in the house, barefoot. No problem.

Quite frankly, I am shocked. I have never had much lung power, even as an athletic child; once, inspired by the Olympics, I decided I was going to become a miler, but could not even make it around the block. In my 20's, when jogging was hot, I diligently worked toward being able to jog one mile around a track. It took a month, but I finally did it - then promptly quit jogging for the next 35 years.

So what is different now? I credit all the PT exercises, particularly the ones the chiropractor provided, like the "marching bridge". In general, I feel stronger all over, and I think that translates into being able to jog without dying. I won't break any speed records, not even for my age group, but I like my new capabilities. And while my weight stubbornly refuses to budge, I have lost inches.

The cold air makes my lungs hurt, so don't look for me to be jogging around the neighborhood anytime soon. However, once the weather warms up in the spring, I hope to take this show on the road. Also, our fair city has a Fort4Fitness event in the fall that includes a 4-mile run/walk. I bet I could do that.

We are all perfect just the way we are... AND we could all use a few improvements. How about you?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Toes up

I did not quite get all my xmas knitting done this year. One pair of socks remain. These were delivered, though.

Pattern: Short-row toe and heel basic sock, by Wendy Johnson
Yarn: Austermann Step in colorway 0023 (self-striping)
Needles: US2
Modifications: none worth mentioning

Usually I knit socks on US1 needles, but decided to try US2's in order to make larger socks without knitting more stitches around. Also, I usually use metal needles, but these were bamboo. I'm not convinced using these needles was a good idea - the resulting stockinette fabric feels insubstantial. I asked the wearer to provide feedback, although I am guessing I will not repeat this experiment.

I also don't usually knit toe-up socks, but everyone seems to like their socks taller which sometimes results in running out of yarn at the toe when knitting from top down patterns. And as a knitter, I think it is important to try new techniques. Elizabeth Zimmermann has a pattern for knitting socks sideways that I hope to try next, after the final pair of xmas socks is complete.

Are you a toes-up or top-down sock knitter?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Despite my best efforts

The trick to not gaining weight over xmas is to eat sweets in place of a meal instead of along with a meal.


Mexican wedding cakes


Linzer cookies

Bedtime snack:

French cheese cake

And now I am thoroughly tired of sweets.

Snow is in our weather forecast, so I am hoping for enough to go cross country skiing this week. Unfortunately, we are also getting high winds. I'm not one of those people affected much by the weather, but howling winds get on my nerves after a while.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

Ideas not acted upon

Over my lifetime, I have occasionally had a good idea that I didn't follow through on. The wireless doorbell? That was my idea. Software for generating counted cross stitch patterns? I thought of that first. Publishing a book of methods for casting on and binding off? That was in the queue. While I created the phrase "I can't believe it's not Buddha" I didn't quite envision this:

At one point (maybe fifteen years ago?) I considered opening an online yarn store, but not wanting to be just another online yarn store, I tried to define my niche. After purchasing four sweaters at Goodwill for the purpose of recycling the yarn, it occurred to me that selling recycled yarn could be my niche. But I never even got around to unraveling those four sweaters, and someone on Etsy beat me to it. One reason I never followed through was the amount of manual work recycling yarn would require. But if I had had one of these:

Hope all your ideas are fruitful!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Boob toob

I'm not much of a TV watcher, don't even have cable. The only show I watch in real time is "Grey's Anatomy", but half the time I forget and have to catch up on Hulu. My daughter had been watching it for years - she and some friends made a girls night out of it - so I had to see what the big deal was. Thanks to streaming Netflix, I was up to speed - and hooked - in no time. (At the end of last season, I thought they had "jumped the shark" with that plane crash, but this season is better than ever.)

Then my son recommended "Damages" and I fell down the rabbit hole of non-network programming. Next came "Breaking Bad", then "Downton Abbey". Back on network TV, I learned that "Desperate Housewives" was in its final season (meaning it was finite), so I ran through that as well. "The Good Wife" is not streamable, so I watch that on disk. Last night I started watching "Weeds", which is like a cross between "Desperate Housewives" and "Breaking Bad". "Mad Men" is also in the queue. Should I add "Dexter"?

Those involved in the development of weekly shows claim that watching episode after episode, all in a row, is NOT what they intended, NOT what you are supposed to do. I think that is like saying one should read only one chapter a week from a dozen books at a time. My favorite authors produce books at the rate of about one per year (except you, Margaret Atwood - we're still waiting for the end of the trilogy). Watching an entire season of a show in one go is like reading a whole book, then waiting a year for the next release.

What about you? Any recommendations?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gotta have a plan

I like to cook and I like to read about cooking, but I don't consider myself a foodie per se. I'm more of a farm-to-fork kind of person in the sense that I am interested in cooking from scratch-scratch. I garden, and what I can't raise in my backyard I try to buy locally, including meat, eggs, and milk.

As frequent readers of this blog (and its predecessors) know, I own a share of a dairy herd. I pay a monthly boarding fee and in exchange am entitled to receive fresh (unpasteurized, unhomogenized) milk, usually two gallons every two weeks. This is a bit much for one person to drink, but I've been experimenting with other uses.

Ice cream: As a gift for my fifteenth anniversary at work, I selected an ice cream maker (because the KitchenAid stand mixer was not available). So far, I have made vanilla ice cream, chocolate ice cream, and (last night) (burnt) butter pecan. The device comes with a recipe book, which has been a starting point for developing my own recipes.

Yogurt: I eat yogurt almost everyday, and in a previous life kept our family of four well supplied. I wish they still made that particular Salton yogurt maker, but I am making do with a non-electric one.

Frozen yogurt: Homemade ice cream is great, but there is only so much cream on top of each gallon. So now I have started making frozen yogurt. Most commercial fro yo tastes like ice cream, but it's not supposed to - it is supposed to retain that yogurt tang. Mine has that tang, which goes really well with fruit.

Butter: And if I am not using the cream for ice cream, I can use it for butter. So far I have made butter only once, using the old fashioned method of shaking a jar of cream until the butter magically separates. And then you also have buttermilk. If I had that stand mixer, this would be a much easier process.

Cheese: I've already listed the cheeses I have made. Making cheese and consuming cheese are two different things, though. It helps to have a plan for fresh cheese, as it won't keep as long as store-bought. Last night I started a batch of fromage blanc, which is now draining. It is going to become cheesecake, one of our xmas traditional foods. Next up is mozzarella and, from the whey, ricotta, for lasagna.

Sometimes I can't use up the milk before it turns. Soured milk can still be used in a variety of ways. If all else fails, it can be poured on the garden as a fertilizer or on the compost pile as a booster. And acid-loving plants appreciate a dose of whey left over from cheesemaking.

Good thing I am not lactose intolerant.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The world did not end... again

If the world were to end, how would you spend your final day on earth? Apparently I wanted to have lunch with some co-workers, overeat to the point of illness, then wake up in the middle of the night with one of the following:

  • A gall bladder attack. Even though I have gall stones, I rarely suffer for it. My home remedy is some apple juice with a couple tablespoons of cider vinegar. This usually provides instant relief, but not this time. 
  • A heart attack. They say the symptoms of a heart attack in women are frequently confused with heartburn or a sore shoulder. My left shoulder hurts intermittently on a daily basis, so I can't go by that, but I wondered about the pain under my sternum. It was a dark and stormy night, lots of wind blowing slush from the sky, and the idea of getting dressed and driving to the emergency room did not sound very appealing, though.
  • Heartburn. Once yesterday's lunch finally moved past my stomach, I ate a couple of Cuties (mandarins) plus a bit of homemade frozen yogurt with dried cranberries and nuts, all of which was chased by a handful of vitamins and supplements. It would not be the first time calcium upset my stomach, but usually that occurs soon after ingesting it rather than hours later. 
  • Shellfish cooties. The older I get, the less my allergies bother me, with the exception of shellfish. I don't even need to eat shellfish itself - if I consume fish that is fried in the same fryer or if utensils on a salad bar get mixed up, the symptoms can strike. Fortunately, I don't go into anaphylactic shock. Instead, my abdomen bloats like roadkill on a summer day, producing much misery. Bingo.

This all started shortly after midnight, finally abated close to 5AM, my alarm went off at 7 (why oh why did I not turn it off at 5?!? I'm on VACATION), and the world did not end. I guess I better finish knitting those xmas socks.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Coldwater to Coldwater

Do you have a road in your town that is the name of another town? Do you wonder if that road leads to the other town? Here in the Fort we have Coldwater Road and decided to drive north on it, to Coldwater, MI.

For the record, Coldwater Road does not lead to Coldwater, MI, and the name of the road disappears at some point, where it becomes known as 327. We left town around 9:00 AM yesterday, so needed to stop for breakfast on the way.

Garrett seemed to be as good a place an any.

In the spirit of Roadfood, we stopped at this local diner.

I confessed to our waitress Cindy that this was our first visit to Mino. She recommended the Garbage Plate, which has everything but the kitchen sink. She says she usually orders one, eats half and takes the rest home for later. We decided to split one between us, and that was perfect.

Another item on the menu was Spaghetti Ice Cream, so we had to ask. It is ice cream that is put through a sieve so it looks like spaghetti, served on top of a mound of whipped cream, topped with raspberry sauce. They also have a Breakfast Pizza with homemade dough. Maybe next time.

At some point, we lost 327 but just kept heading north. In the Midwest, most roads run east-west or north-south, so it is hard to get lost. We found ourselves on Cemetery Road which we abandoned after a mile or so because it was sandy gravel. It does not lead to Cemetery Lake but to Bronson, MI.

Cemetery Lake was not our destination, but the cemetery next to Cemetery Lake was. My SO specializes in cemetery photographs. I don't, but in many cities, cemeteries are the only green space around (although not so in Coldwater). I occupied myself with observing the local gnarly trees.

And squirrels. My SO has an affinity for crows - almost everywhere we go, several show up. I'm beginning to think my animal spirit is this bushy tailed rodent.

Michigan is known as a state of outdoorsmen, and some of the grave stones reflected that. The largest was not only a tree trunk carved in stone, but was surrounded by smaller grave stones that resembled firewood.

Several other grave stones were of the same tree trunk motif.

And then someone wondered why carve anything at all.

In some ways, Coldwater resembles most Midwest towns. These towns used to offer a variety of stores - department stores, shoe stores, candy shoppes, locally owned restaurants, pharmacies, etc. Most of these business have given way to Third World shops, gift stores, and crystal palaces.

Coldwater does have an opera house, though, that is undergoing a face lift. Tucked under the stairway is this spot to set a spell.

My first impression of this tableau was that someone stores their garden detritus here, but now I'm wondering if this isn't the garden itself.

One person's lawn waste is another person's hell strip art.

We wandered a bit on the way home, stopped at the outlet mall near Pokagon State Park, then headed south on 69, still full from breakfast, to home and a nap. If this day was an example of what retirement is like, I'm ready.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Sorry, no time, another lame post.

Finn under the Meyer lemon tree.

Betsy soaking up a few rays.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

More pole dancing and a piercing

Besides having to work hard for peanuts, this fellow appears to have a piercing of some kind.

Is that a tooth? Has anyone seen anything like this?

Not that it stops him from raiding the peanut feeder.

See ya! Wouldn't want to be ya!

Monday, December 17, 2012


Thanks to gardeninacity, I am now reading Home Ground by Allen Lacy. The first two essays are about daffodils, which I love but not to the same extent that Lacy does. Years ago (ten?) I planted "naturalizing" daffodils in the corner of my yard euphemistically referred to as "the meadow". I think "naturalizing" is also a euphemism, for "these bulbs will multiply like crazy" as each bulb now manifests itself as a giant clump of daffs. "Naturalizing" is also a euphemism for "you will never know exactly what kind of daffodils these are." There are about half dozen varieties that bloom in succession, all of them interesting, so I'm not really complaining.

Last spring the idea of digging and dividing those clumps occurred to me, so I went around assigning numbers to the different varieties and marking them with wooden tongue depressors, markers that quickly disappeared and rotted away. I didn't know what I was going to do with what would probably amount to hundreds of bulbs anyway. I assume I am prevented by law from selling them. Planting the extras in my hard clay soil is not very appealing. I could try giving them away, but it seems most of my neighbors like their flower beds neat and tidy (when there are flower beds at all). If all else fails, there is the compost pile.

The only reason I feel compelled to dig and divide my daffs is they seem to be producing fewer blooms, and we can't have that. Maybe this spring (and every spring hereafter?) I will label just one variety, dig and divide those clumps, share what I can, save a few for forcing, and just not worry about the rest. Unless you have other ideas?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunrise, sunset

I'm still stunned by the events in Newtown and elsewhere in the world. And yet the sun rises, the sun sets, and sometimes the natural beauty of the universe distracts us for a while.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A moment of silence

Let's take some time to hold the victims of violence in our thoughts while considering how we may prevent such tragedies in the future.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The birds must eat

When my granddaughter comes to visit, we invariably spend some time watching the backyard birds.

I've been accused of living too far beneath my means, so this year I splurged a bit on the bird feeding setup. Well, my SO splurged on this new platform feeder...

... then I later bought this baffle to keep the squirrels out.

And then I added the picket fence to keep the dog from eating the spilled seed. Don't worry, the squirrels can still get inside the barricade to help with the clean up.

Then I had to protect the peanut feeder and the area beneath the peanut feeder in a similar manner. The fences are temporary solutions - hopefully I will come up with a better idea next summer - but the baffles are well worth the money as they save in seed costs.

Another splurge was a wire wreath for unshelled peanuts. This feeder is reachable by the squirrels, but just barely. It requires acrobatics on their part, and yet they still can't empty it.

Not pictured is the finch feeder, and I have not hung out suet yet, as the daytime temperatures are just too warm. No sense torturing the dog by dripping fat under the feeders.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Knitting progress and a sick day

This head cold is kicking my butt, so much so that I decided to actually take a sick day. Since I can work from home, I usually take no sick days when ill, choosing to struggle along from my couch, tethered to my company laptop, which is what I did the past two days. But cold meds have fuzzied my concentration to the point where I am making mistakes. I think an official sick day is in order. Also, I don't want this to drag on and on over xmas. Being sick on a work day is one thing, but being sick over holidays and vacation is not allowed.

Anyway, I have not been too sick to knit. I finished a scarf for my granddaughter, and since the temps are more "normal" - i.e. cold - she is already wearing it.

It is just a simple 2x2 rib, alternating colors, using leftover Baby Cashmerino. I cast on 34 stitches and worked it for about 40".

My daughter requested some socks for work, dark but warm. You can't really see the lace pattern in this pic, nor the metallic threads, but these are turning out fine - so far. Since she also wanted them longer than usual, I am knitting them from the toe up.

The socks below are for my son and are also knit toe up. He is the Big Foot of the family, so his socks take more yarn and more stitches. I am trying something new, though: instead of increasing the number of stitches, I went up a needle size. The interesting thing is the fabric feels more cushy, I suppose because each stitch has more air in it?

Besides the above, I have been redoing the ribbing on the Ribbed Jacket for my granddaughter. An extra button was requested, which meant an extra button hole, but once I started unraveling the ribbing, I just kept going. And then I decided to add ribbing all around the bottom, to increase its length. I'm not quite satisfied with the results, though, so I may have to rip it out again. I'm not a perfectionist - I just want to make sure it fits well enough that it is well used.