Thursday, March 27, 2008

There is no cure for Dufus

You know, you run into someone you kinda know (but can never remember the name of) at the supermarket and they’re all, “Oh, hey! How are you?!”

It’s fine if things are fine, right? But as I think I’ve confessed in the past, I am possibly the World’s Worst Liar©.

I am also a Dufus.

I mean, seriously. You’d think that answering, “Fine thanks, how are you?” would be something that, you know, well. It hardly counts as lying, right? It’s just a social nicety. Hello, how are you, fine thanks and you, couldn’t be better, we kiss we dance we schmooze we go home happy, deal?

But oooooooooh no. Not me. I can’t manage to just say “fine” and onward we go. No.

“Oh, hey! How are you, how are the kids?!” she says. I open my mouth to spit out fine thanks and how have YOU been, and what happens?!

My brain goes, Actually, I’m kind of craptastic and the kids are definitely Satan Spawn, thanks for asking.

And then it splits into two and begins arguing with itself.

Light Me: Oh, come now. It’s not that bad! The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, the kids are happy and healthy, come on, now! It’s all good!! Tell the lady ‘fine’ and let’s hear about how her children are out there learning to make solar panels out of Pepsi bottles, maybe we could pick up some neat tips! Oooooh! You could tell her how well the children behaved when you took them for haircuts yesterday!!

Dark Me: I hate her and her children with all the perky little crafts. My back feels like someone parked an RV on it last night. My head is pounding. The children are going feral on me and if I have to pry Captain Adventure off something even one more time, I think my spine is going to peel itself out of my body and take off for Florida. It is not all good, it is craptastic. Why can’t I just say ‘craptastic’? She’ll probably just laugh. She’s a mom. She’s been craptastic, I’d bet cash money she has!

Light Me: Now, I think we just need to turn that frown upside down, missy-miss! {Dark Me sticks her fingers into her mouth and feigns retching right about now.} There are forty-two bazillion people in the world who have it SIX MILLION times worse! Why, didn’t we just read the other day about that poor, poor woman who had that surgery? And then had to lift her shirt in the airport to show her scars to God and everybody when the metal tubes in her chest beeped during her security screening? SEE HOW GOOD YOU HAVE IT?

Dark Me: I hate you. I really, really hate you. Have you seen our house? Have you? What did I do, for eight straight hours yesterday? Clean. And what does the house look like? Complete. Ass. Those children go right behind me and rip apart anything I do, and then Captain Adventure got hold of the one (1) marker in the WHOLE HOUSE that wasn’t washable and decorated the entire hallway AND his sister’s room, the one we just painted!!! with it, and I’m suppose to figure out how to get it off and you know what? I’d like to take a Vicodin now. Get me a martini, so I can take a Vicodin right now, at 10:00 in the morning…because this whole week, IN FACT, I’m thinking this whole DECADE, is crappity-crap-crap-CRAPTASTIC! {Begins singing ‘crap, crap, crappity-crap, crap, crap, crappity-crap’ to self, giggling somewhat insanely.}

Light Me then goes into a euphoric song about hills being alive and mountains being climbed, and then just as the violins are really swelling in the background Dark Me produces a handgun and shoots her dead, the end.

Meanwhile back in the Real World…the other mom is looking at me. The silence has officially passed the ‘I just had to swallow some spit, be right with you’ pause and into the “awk-WARD” phase.

Coolly, I issue forth the Socially Correct Response in my usual calm, deadpan way, the way I always do when I am lying through my many teeth : “OH! Fine, yes, fine, yessir, just abso-frickin’-lootly peachy-keen, Ima Dean! Heh heh, yeah, GREAT. Spring break, hooooooowhee, yeah! It’s just GREAT. Great. Heh heh. WE GOT HAIRCUTS!”

New awkward pause. Now she’s staring at me with eyes like saucers. I can feel my face blossoming red. Red like beets, red like sunset, red like the blood pounding through my head. The heat of my embarrassment is causing my scalp to itch. Oh, Jay-sus, Mary and Joseph, I am SUCH A DUFUS! Quick! Maybe you can still save this whole encounter…

“SO! How have you been?!” Smooth.

She’s been fine, thanks for asking. Over these last four days of spring break, her children have solved global warming through cunning use of recycled truck tires, and are currently working on a cure for cancer using aspirin, bicycle hoses and bottle caps.

I refrain from asking if they couldn’t work on a cure for Dufus, instead. It would sound too much like begging, and I am above that.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sticks and string

Well, I bought a new battery charger for the camera (sigh), and hey! It worked!

So, without further adieu ado…(does anybody but me find it funny that I would Freudian ‘adieu’ instead of ‘ado’?):

The Sweater

Lillehammer

This is the Dale of Norway Lillehammer. I finished the one sleeve and cast on the next one; I just finished the ribbing for the cuff on that one and am about to start the color splash at the bottom. I have forgiven the sweater for not speaking up sooner when I was doing the increases wrong, and it has forgiven me for being so childish.

The Socks

I always have a pair of socks in my purse, to whip out whenever I have to sit around waiting for something. These just got finished last week:

Claudia Circus Socks

They are your basic stockinette sock in Claudia superwash, ‘Circus’ colorway. They are very bright and happy, and I like them a lot.

I’m tearing out the Girlie Girl socks in the Schaefer Anne. I’m just not feeling the love for the look – that yarn wants to be knit on smaller needles. Instead, I think I’m going to try (warning! This will open a PDF of the pattern!!) Dublin Bay Socks, which pattern was pointed out by Bells Knits. Not only do I like the look, but the lace pattern is extremely simple. This is important for those of us who are highly distracted most of the time.

The Shawl

I joined a (somewhat) local Prayer Shawl group, and have dutifully cast on a shawl.

Stora Dimun shawl

Eventually, it will be the Stora Dimun shawl from Cheryl Oberle’s Folk Shawls. At the moment, however, it is just a big purple squiggle. This is one of those shawls that hits you hard at first (“cast on 449 stitches, loosely”), but gets faster and faster as you go due to decreasing eight stitches every right-side row.

This is Good Old Red Heart, in a really vibrant purple. Machine wash and dry, no special care required.

So, there you go. Pictorial proof that knitting is still happening in the Den. Although not at the rate I'd like, frankly - life has gotten waaaaaay too busy lately. I hate these 'busy' cycles. In the car! Out of the car! Back in the car! Drive here! Drive there! Pick up this! Drop off that! Lessons! Field trips! Doctor's appointments! ARGH!!!

Oh well. Eventually, it will settle down and we'll be complaining about how boooooored we are...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Apparently it is a trend

Stop copying/nagging me, Daily OM!

But we can make certain that our homes truly feel like our sanctuaries by taking the time to tend to them like gardens, which need care in order to offer us the beauty of their blooms. When we take the time to treat our homes like beloved treasures, we can shift their energy from being merely places to being wellsprings for the replenishment of our energy…Organizing and cleaning is a no-cost way to remove chaos from our homes and introduce more calm.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m on it, I’m on it…geesh…

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I don’t care what happens tomorrow…

…I am not leaving this Den!

A tornado has spun through this house. There can be no other explanation for the accumulation of crap on every surface, in every drawer, the crud on the bathroom counters, the laundry (dear God, the laundry), the bills that have not been paid, the invoices that have not been mailed out, the marks on the walls and the solid-crumb flooring we have apparently permanently installed in the kitchen.

I am two seconds from hiring a cleaning service.

Yesterday, I was going to deal with Things, but it was that early release day thing and I ended up ‘out’ puttering around dealing with Stupid Crap instead of the house. Meanwhile, the Den was cheerfully piling up crap upon crap on every surface.

Today, though, was going to be Different. I had no errands that needed running, nothing needing to be bought, sold, traded, or otherwise dealt with…

...oh…except for dropping off cupcakes at school for Eldest’s tenth birthday, which OH YEAH was today.

And getting the sutures removed from the Space Formerly Known As Tooth #3.

Also, having an impromptu meeting with a teacher about a child who is driving us both crazy.

Then, it was remembered that I hadn’t yet picked up a birthday present for Eldest.

And the sutures reminded me that I had wanted to open a token account at a local credit union because they have a member benefit providing discounted dental and vision – two things the current employer does not offer. Also two things which are killing us dead. Have I mentioned that Tooth #3 has thus far cost me almost $3,000, and I still have a $700 crown to go? Or that one uninsured trip to the dentist simply for x-rays and cleanings for the three female Denizens costs us $750?

@*&^@.

Sooooooo, I went to open the token account and then they had a 7% offer on a one year CD, and an 8% offer for minors, and then there were transfers made and savings accounts earning 3.25% were moved to the 8% deal and I’ve deferred my own wild-eyed spending for a year to get 7% and HOLY CRAP, it’s WHAT TIME?!?!

THEN I had to come home and put together the Birthday Dinner of steak, mashed potatoes and birthday cake which, by the way, still had to be baked

Meanwhile, the Den had called a dump truck and invited it, and a few of its buddies, to come on over and off-load an entire landfill worth of trash-trash-trash all over itself.

I am officially not going anywhere tomorrow. I am doing nothing else, NOTHING I TELL YOU, but finding the conflabbed floor in this wretched excuse for a house. Also I am getting those invoices mailed out (the bills, however, can wait).

I am also going to spend some amount of time calling up cleaning services and getting quotes. I know what they are going to tell me: Something around $150 a week, or $280 every two weeks, or $450 for monthly. I already know this. And that I will recoil in horror and, for a few weeks, have tremendous house-cleaning energy.

It would probably save time to just skip right to the chase, recoil in horror and get the energy.

But where would be the fun in that?!

Seriously, though. I don’t care what the problem is. I don’t care if we’re out of oxygen, I am NOT! going to any store, ANY STORE, tomorrow. I am staying home, and taking care of home-centric business.

Hallelujah, amen.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Weird Knitting Space

Well, I’m slugging away on the husband’s Dale of Norway sweater. I finished the first sleeve and started the second, and all is going well. But this morning I was overwhelmed by a sense of semi-desperation, because I’m starting the second sleeve which means the whole sweater is “almost done” except that I then have to do the steeks and place the sleeve and then pick up and knit around the collar AND ALSO there is the small matter of approximately sixty thousand ends that will need to be run in.

So I am overwhelmed with the desire – nay, the need – to work on a pair of socks instead.

Except that I want to do the Girly-Girl socks from that Spin-Off sock book, and I want to use the Schaeffer Anne to do them? But they don’t want to make gauge.

Argh. A more rational knitter would move on, perhaps choose a different yarn or (dare I suggest it?) another pattern.

Oh no. Size 2 needles are too small, and Size 3s are too big, but UNDAUNTED, I’m trying to decide which is better: socks that are a quarter inch too big, or a quarter inch too small. Hmmmmm…

OH. And, in other news, there is a prayer shawl knit-together Wednesday. This is the first time I’m attending this group.

I can’t decide what to bring.

I have some acrylic I bought a while ago to make a shawl with, acrylic being what the hospitals and nursing homes request. But, pattern? I don’t want to walk in and say, “Yes, hello, I’m going to be doing this Incredible Complex Thing out of Lace That Will Kill You Dead, Volume XIV”, and then find out that nobody in the group has even learned the purl stitch yet (oh, don’t laugh, I’ve had it happen – the entire crowd just sat around me breathing in silent awe as I carried two! whole! colors!, at the same time, OH MY GAWD IT’S LIKE A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE!).

Awk-ward. Like when a teacher ran up and asked me if I would do a spinning demonstration for her class because she had heard that I DID THAT (in related news, kids talk too damned much). My spinning is beyond pathetic, and the idea of trying to show a group of fifth graders how to…wait, OK, well, not like that, obviously, you put the, DAMN! Why is that…oh, OK, right. OK! So, you put the thing in this other thing? And then you spin the…@*^&@, that stupid drive belt! Right, so, first you have to get the…@*^&@ing drive belt, ARGH! over the UGH! WHEEL! There! Lie there and be damned, you…heh heh. Nevermind, kids, moving on…

But I also don’t want to take on a(nother) project that is going to make me all itchy because it is so.darned.boring.

It is just a weird knitting head space around here right now.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pretend I’m actually getting 13 stitches to 2 inches on the Schaeffer yarn…

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Good to know I’m not crazy

Some time ago, I had a bit of a sticker shock at Costco. I had calculated out the cost of a dozen eggs to be around $1.30; suddenly, I looked at the price and said, “Waitasecond, WHAT?”

The same five dozen eggs I used to buy for $6.49 had shot up to $9.49. What the hey?!

Well, time passed and I got used to paying $1.90 per dozen for my eggs. Then a lady started bringing her farm-fresh eggs to the farmer’s market, and I got used to paying $1.50 per dozen.

Then her hens needed a month off to molt, and I ran out of eggs, and I thought, “Supermarket here I come!”

And then I had a heart attack and died because eggs were $3.50 a dozen, the end.

Just kidding. I didn’t actually die. But I was absolutely floored.

THREE DOLLARS AND FIFTY CENTS. For a dozen eggs.

Guess what? The government announced Friday that the cost of food had gone up yet again. (Source article here: Costs Surge for Stocking the Pantry , with thanks to Boston Gal’s Open Wallet for pointing it out)

With a few exceptions, nearly every grocery category measured by the Labor Department, which compiles the official inflation numbers, has increased in the last year. Milk is up 17 percent, as are dried beans, peas and lentils. Cheese is up 15 percent, rice and pasta 13 percent, and bread 12 percent.

No food product has gone up as much as eggs, jumping 25 percent since February 2007 and 62 percent in the last two years.


AH-HA! So, I’m not crazy! (hush!) I had started to wonder if maybe I had simply been wrong about how much a dozen eggs cost ‘back in the day’.

But I wasn’t.

They really have gone up that much.

Dang.

I was kind of hoping it was a pre-Easter scam, you know? And that after Easter, they’d be all, “Just kidding!” and bring the prices back down?

Guess not.

Hold onto your wallets, kids, 2008 is going to be a bumpy ride…

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Coin of the Realm

I thought long and hard about the whole “allowance” thing. So many Expert Opinions™. So many ways of thinking about the whole issue (which I didn’t even know was An Issue until I started wondering how much the average nine year old gets these days)!

Finally, I settled on a commission basis for the Denizens. I structured it so that, with almost no effort at all, they can earn $1.25 a week; if they really apply themselves, they can actually make upwards of $20! (Thank $DEITY they don’t often apply themselves…)

I went to a local school supply store and got somewhat realistic play money – it is the wrong weight paper and the colors are ever-so-slightly wrong, but otherwise quite faithful to the real deal; the coins are plastic, but exactly the right size and color. Then I made up a little grid: Six rows (categories) with seven columns (one for each day), one section for each Denizen.

Make Bed / Tidy Room: Every morning after I’ve dropped them off at school, I walk down and peek in their rooms. If I see a reasonable attempt at making the bed and a space that doesn’t strike terror into my heart, I’ll give them a check in the ‘make bed / tidy room’ category. That’s worth a quarter.

Homework: When they show me that they’ve done their homework for the night, I give them a check. Have you ever heard a child whine because they didn’t have any homework to do? It is a truly religious experience…

Perfect scores on tests / classwork: When they bring me their graded papers, I give them a quarter for each perfect score. It is astonishing the difference this has made in at least a couple little minds. One little mind, however, really needs to quit daydreaming about fairy unicorn princess dragons and stay on task a little better. Ahem. Moving on…

Citizenship Bonus: The Citizenship bonus is my way of rewarding Model Behavior. Children who show respect to themselves and each other, children who go out of their way to make my life easier, say, clean up after their brother when he’s been on a tear, who win awards for being good citizens at school, or who finally get an actual cartwheel at gymnastics, get a check or two.

Other: We often strike deals with the kids. “I’ll give you a buck if you’ll keep your brother out of my hair for the next hour!” or “Two bucks to weed the backyard, and that’s my final offer!”

Deductions: Yes, there is a category for ‘deductions’. Deductions can be for things like…wanting a candy bar before we cash out on Friday (you have to pay an extra $0.50 if you insist on doing that). It can also be for extraordinarily bad behavior, and I have to wonder what people around me have thought when I’ve been stalking through a store with a whining Denizen in tow snarling, “If you ask me for a cookie one more time, I’m putting a check in your deduction row!”

The kids usually make about two bucks with their efforts; sometimes they really put forth the effort and have windfall weeks, other times, well, they put forth negative effort and get nada. There was even one week when Eldest had to pay me money. Not her best week ever…

So, what do they do with their earnings?

I have a Rewards Book. It is quite lengthy and changes frequently.

They can buy things like…candy bars ($1.25), or a trip to the ice cream store ($3.00). They can buy an extra hour of video game time for $5.00 (they usually get one (1) hour each, weekends only, timed - with this, they can buy an hour ‘after homework’ during the week, or, get a two hour turn on a non-school day). They can pick what’s for dinner, right down to the side dishes and dessert, for $5.00. (Hey, if you’ve been revolted for three weeks straight by the glop Mom’s been serving up? $5.00 to choose spaghetti NO MEATBALLS and buttered toast NO GARLIC and NO GREEN STUFF and then ice cream for dessert is a small price to pay.)

You want Chuck E. Cheese’s? $25.00, please. Build-a-Bear? Groovy! $30.00! You want to go to the mall and pick out a Brand!New!Outfit!? Who doesn’t?! Forty bucks, kid, and you’ll be stylin’!

There’s other stuff, too. Trips to the Lawrence Hall of Science, or the Monterey Aquarium, trips on a train, trips to local “fun zones” – and of course, the Holy Grail: Disneyland. Two Hundred Smackers, and I will pack you up and drive you down for a weekend with the Mouse.

They can also make a case for other things. For example, Eldest is going to Disneyland for her birthday soon, and she asked me if she could “cash out” her savings for a Disneyland gift card of equal value from the Scrip table at school. At first I balked, because she was talking about cashing out $100 and, well, uh, I’m on a budget and some junk? But, she made a good case for why it was fair and pointed out that her classroom will get $8 from the Scrip program for the card, sooooooo…OK. She’s getting a $100 Disney gift card to use on whatever she wants while we’re at the park.

I’ve tried to keep the prices more or less in line with reality. My hope is that my children will begin to understand that if you want something !AWESOME!, you may have to save for it. You may have to say ‘no’ to smaller things. You may have to work harder. Also, I’m hoping that the idea of consistently putting out a good effort, both with the small stuff (making your bed) and the biggest stuff (acing the test), has its rewards.

So far, it seems to be working really well. Their work in school has, overall, improved (with a few notable continuing issues); their beds are almost never made, but! Danger Mouse has been making a concerted effort this week, so I’m sure there will be demands for a beach trip coming up soon.

Also, I have to say that on a note of pure, unadulterated selfishness, it is wonderful how much more help I get from the children. Boo Bug will clean every mirror in the house for $0.50, and Eldest will empty all the trash cans for $0.25. She’ll keep Captain Adventure amused and occupied and out of my hair for a buck an hour. It is a small price to pay, people.

However, I got a clear warning that one day soon, I’m going to be busted on that $1.25 for the candy bars – Eldest went with me to WalMart recently, and pointed out that a HUGE box of Nerds cost $0.88. She said musingly, “Huh, mommy, check it out, that’s a good deal…‘cause, we pay $1.25 for a regular box, right? So…are those…on sale?”

“Uhhhhh, yes! YES THEY ARE! See the sign? ‘Rollback prices’, yup-yup-yup, hey! WHAT A SALE!”

“So, can I give you $0.88 when we get home, and get the Nerds now?”

**sigh**

Not a stupid kid in the whole bouquet…

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I think perhaps she didn’t grasp the concept

I went to the 99 Cents Only store today. I love that store. I picked up two huge cheap vinyl tablecloths to drape over my equally huge kitchen table whenever the Denizens are doing things I’d rather not have to scrub off the wood (finger painting comes to mind) – I get about ten uses or so out of them before they disintegrate, which I feel is a darned good deal for ninety-nine cents (plus tax).

I also found plastic sandwich boxes. Now, I was using these Ultra!Cool!Wrappers! (Wrap-n-Mats, and they ARE awesome) for the Denizen lunches, but! The Denizens kept losing the durned things. At $6.50 a pop, that gets hurtful in a hurry.

Sooooo, I picked up eight of those cute little sandwich boxes for 99 cents each. Also I restocked the Den candy bin, which is very popular around here on Friday when the girls cash out their commissions (they get quarters for chores, homework, perfect classwork and like that).

I buy the stuff 3/99 cents. I charge them $1.25 for it.

They do not need to know this, people. Someday, I will use it as a business-learning experience, an example of how the middle-person makes their living. Meanwhile, I will be grateful that they have a limited grasp of ‘deferred gratification’ and blow their $1.25 on a 33-cent Fun Dip instead of saving it up for Disneyland, which! If they saved $200, they could choose as their reward.

ANYWAY.

So I went up to the front clutching my basket of items and unloaded it onto the conveyer belt. The twelve year old obviously old enough to be working without a permit lady began ringing it up, and I began digging in my bag for my wonderful, ecologically responsible canvas bag, which miraculously naturally I had thought to bring with me into the store instead of leaving it in the van like I normally do as I’ve heard people say they often do.

As I triumphantly whipped it out of my backpack, I realized that she had already tossed all my items into two plastic bags. Straight from the scanner into plastic, in one smooth motion.

“Oh, actually? I brought my canvas bag,” I blurted out, and handed it over.

Without missing a beat, she took ten cents off my total bill (five cents for each plastic bag).

And then?

She put the two plastic bags full of junk food and recyclable #1 plastic sandwich boxes into my canvas bag and handed it back to me.

I.
@*^&@.
You.
NOT.

“Uh,” I said cautiously.

“OK, thanks, have a nice day” she replied briskly, giving my bag an extra nudge to make it absolutely clear that it was time for me to get going now. “Hi! How are you today? Find everything OK?” she continued, already scanning and thrusting the next order into plastic.

I may be a tad on the ‘socially awkward’ side of the scale, but even I know when I’ve been dismissed. I was tempted for a moment to unload all my things out of the plastic and leave it behind, but I could feel the hysteria building (curse my overactive sense of humor! CURSE IT I SAY!!) and beat a hasty retreat to my van.

There, I dissolved so thoroughly into laughter that I was crying. And also invoking the name of the Almighty over and over and over again.

Methinks she may be missing the point, just a tad.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Owies

OK, now I really need to curl up with my yarn. Remember Tooth #3? Of course you don’t. Please. Ancient history and all. Anyway, that was the tooth that was all infected and cracked-of-root and I had it yanked out and then we had to wait for the bone to heal up enough so I could get me one of them-thar fancy implant deals?

Yeah, well.

I just got back from having the implant shaft screwed into place. And yes, it was about as fun as it sounds.

Owies. Hot holy carp on buttered rye toast, the throbbing started within half an hour. Yeah, I left that office all, “Yo, I’m tough, I can take it, I ain’t using that stinkin’ Vicodin, I’m gonna be back in my minivan pickin’ up my kids by 2:00…”

I may have actually made body-building poses while I said it, too.

Fast forward 45 minutes and I’m diving on that bottle with trembling hands whimpering, “Open, open dammit c’mon I’m dying {sob sob sob}…hoooonneeeeeeeee, I neeeeed you to pick up the kiiiiiiids today….{whimper, sigh, sob}”

Dental surgery, I hates it.

But, it went super-well and the good doctor is very pleased by the bone mass and the way it went in, so! He’s happy, I’m happy, we’re all just so @*^&@ing happy around here!!

I’m one step closer to having a full set of teeth again. Once the bone heals up around this shaft, I can get the crown put on it and that’s it. No bridges to maintain, no having to mess with the perfectly healthy teeth on either side, no sitting up excitedly in my chair whenever a commercial for New!Improved!Fixadent comes on…it’ll be a good thing.

Eventually.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go cuddle with my stash. I’ve got a couple skeins of Atacama hand-dyed alpaca that promise they can make things all better.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Resist…resist…resist…

I am lusting after new yarn.

I don’t care what yarn.

I’m just in the mood to buy the stuff.

People. I think I need some kind of 12-step program.

Let.
Us.
Review.

I have way more than enough yarn. I have boxes of it. Baskets of it. Shelves stuffed with it. Drawers packed with it. I have a major project on the needles right immediately now. I have a beautiful sock in my purse. I have cotton, wool, acrylic, alpaca, just about everything except cashmere. (Hmm, that is a serious hole…perhaps I should…no! no! resisting…resisting…)

I even have some mohair.

I have lace-weight. I have worsted. I have bulky! I have my very own homespun, which looks like complete ass has the most striking and also unique characteristics!

SABLE? People, I am beyond SABLE. Stash Acquisition Beyond Great-Grand-Children’s Life Expectancy, that’s what I have over here.

Please. Please.

Somebody must tell me: How can I put up a firewall between me and Webs, KnitPicks, Rabbitch’s place (I even have a skein of deliciousness sitting beside my knitting chair, where I can fondle it and promise great things once I have finished the Claudia Circus socks), AND WORST OF ALL, eBay!?

eBay…with its tempty auctions of HUGE LOTS MIXED YARN…

I am so low sunk that…oh Lord, the shame…well. It was like this. I was cleaning out my minivan? And I found a receipt? From the D&D store? Where my Husband went this weekend, to pick up some miniatures?

And he had spent $120 of his own allowance money on miniatures to paint?

And…I immediately thought…

Wow…that’s, like, a whole sweater’s worth…

And then I started thinking it would only be right that I head over to the LYS to see what I might be able to get with my $100 allowance (which has actually built up to almost $1,000 on account of because I have been that holy for that long).

Because, you know.

HE spent $120 on HIS hobby.

Ergo, ipso-facto…well.

I think I need professional help, is what I’m saying.

I have no room for more yarn.

I have no need for more yarn.

What I need to do is quit @*^&@ing blogging about yarn-lust and go make something with yarn, thus opening up more room for yarn in my bedroom.

Yes.

That seems like a sound plan.

And I will do that.

Right after I check out just one more LARGE MIXED LOT ASSORTED YARN NICE!!! auction…

(GodHaveMercyOnMeASinner, I just remembered I have forty skeins of light and dark blue and gray Red Heart under my bed…) (I remembered this because I was looking at a lot of forty skeins of assorted Red Heart and thought, Oooooh, I could make a cool afghan out of that!)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Finished!

Oh, I am pleased. I am so very pleased. This afternoon when I should have been doing other things (like tending my pathetic excuse for a garden), I charged through the i-cord on the top of the Pacific Northwest shawl. I’d finished the last of the Endless Edge Scallops over coffee this morning (they actually started going pretty quickly by the end, there), and thought I had hours and hours left because of the i-cord.

Oh, the whining! You would not believe how much whining I did over that i-cord…it looks awesome, though, makes for a very nice, finished look at the top.

Once I got started on it, it went by in a flash. Seriously faster than I expected – in about an hour, I’d finished the whole thing and it was taking a quick ride on the ‘silk’ setting of my front load washer.

And then, the blob became this:

knitting

The magic of blocking strikes again.

The only thing I’m not 100% delighted with is that the patterns don’t show as nicely in “real life” as they do here. The variegated yarn kind of makes them vanish – I don’t think the ‘seagulls, pine trees, silver dollars, waves, bubbles and fish’ thing is going to be that obvious when it’s being worn around town. If I do this again, I’ll try a solid color.

But frankly, the colors are not being done justice here, either. They are rich purples, surprises of orange and red, flashes of yellow, some rich royal blues…gorgeous, gorgeous colors.

I’m in such a happy knitting-head space that I took Lillehammer out of the penalty box and got back to work on it. Pulled out the sleeve back to where I messed things up and started fresh.

I think we’ve forgiven each other. Or at the very least, when I took the main sweater out of my knitting basket and looked at it, I found myself saying, “This really is a stunning pattern, and how lovely that dusky green is at the hems…”

And then the wool obligingly frogged and gave me two inches of quick sleeve-growth while we watched the new Spongebob episode (sadly, I was not forced by the children) and the news.

This is the knitting equivalent of kissing and making up.

Hopefully, I’ll have some progress pictures to post on that project soon…

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Current Favorite Bread Recipe

I have a new favorite bread recipe. This produces a bread with a dense crumb, which means that it stales slowly (not that this is usually a problem around here) and slices evenly – excellent for sandwiches and toast.

The second rise makes all the difference – it does add an hour to the total time, but I think it’s worth it!

3 teaspoons (~ two packages) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water, in a small bowl
Pinch sugar
6-7 cups flour
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
2-4 tablespoons butter / margarine
1 tablespoon salt

Sprinkle the yeast into the warm water, add a pinch of sugar and stir gently. Leave it alone for about ten minutes, until the yeast is nice and frothy.

Meanwhile, warm the milk, water and butter to just above body temperature. It should be warm, not hot – the butter should barely melt in it. Add the sugar and salt and stir to dissolve completely.

Put two cups of the flour into the mixing bowl of your stand mixer (if you have one) or a large bowl (if you don’t). Add the milk mixture and stir thoroughly, then add the foamy yeast. (Thanks for catching that, Hilary! You know what's funny? I have actually forgotten this step IN PRACTICE, more than once!!!)

The recipe splits here. If you’ve got a stand mixer with a dough hook, add four cups of flour to the bowl and turn the mixer on ‘low’. Watch the dough – you want that ‘elastic ball’, one that begins to pull cleanly away from the bowl. Not “and then I could use it to make a soufflĂ©” cleanly, by the way – cleanly as in, “there is more dough staying with the ball than clinging to the sides of the bowl”. Add flour in quarter-cup increments until you see this. The amount of dough you need is going to change from season to season. On rainy days, you might need more than on dry days – I have as much as a full cup difference in the dead of winter compared to the height of summer.

Once you’ve got that elastic ball thing going, tidy up the kitchen for five to ten minutes while the stand mixer does all the work. Try to look exhausted as you then turn it out into a greased bowl, flip the dough over to coat the top (it keeps it moist as it rises and prevents that nasty, cracky not-really-a-crust-but-pretends-to-be-one crust from forming on the top).

Put a clean towel over it and let it rise for about an hour in a warm place. I often use my oven – I turn it on briefly, then set the dough in there to rise. It rises evenly regardless of season, and more importantly, no Unauthorized Personnel are able to stick their fingers in it and then yell, “Uh-oh, Mommy! Is YUCKY!!”

If you do not have a stand mixer, you will add as much flour as you can mixing with your wooden spoon. When it becomes too much to bear, turn the dough out on a well-floured surface and knead it by hand. Continue adding flour until you’ve got that same elastic ball thing going. Once you’ve got it, keep on kneading for about ten minutes. What you’re doing is breaking down the gluten in the bread so that it gets “stretchy” – it’ll start capturing the bubbles from the yeast and make it rise.

I tell you this so that you have a goal, because kneading bread can either be tremendously therapeutic or thumping annoying, depending on what kind of day you’re having. If it is annoying you today, remember that you are making a difference with all this kneading!

Same deal with the greased bowl – flip it over – cover with towel – ignore for an hour thing. It should rise to about double the original mass over this time.

After an hour, turn it out of the bowl, knead it a couple two-three-five times, then put it back in the bowl, cover it with a towel and leave it alone for thirty minutes to an hour – until it has doubled again.

Turn your oven on to 425 while you shape your loaves. Punch down the dough and cut it in half. Make a rectangle out of each half, then roll it up like a jelly roll, pinch the ends and tuck them under. Roll the log back and forth, smoothing it down and making it lovely.

Then put it into a greased loaf pan, cover with the towel and let rise for between 20 and 30 minutes, depending. Sometimes my loaves are perfect in 20 minutes, sometimes it’s been 35 and I’m getting impatient. When they’ve risen up over the edges of your pans – but before they are ‘blossoming’ up over the top – slip them into the 425 degree oven and set the timer for ten minutes.

In ten minutes, turn the oven temperature down to 350 and set the timer for another 20 minutes. They should be getting nice and dark on top, and sound hollow when you tap the tops of them.

Let them cool in their pans for about five minutes, then pull them out of the pans and set them on wire racks to cool the rest of the way.

You can skip that ‘knead and let rise again’ step if you’re short on time – but I find that the ‘sandwich’ qualities are greatly enhanced by it.

You can make this without the milk (substitute equal volume water) and butter (olive or vegetable oil). It makes a very light airy bread with a flavor I call “Italian” because it reminds me of pizza dough. (Add some dried oregano to it and shape in sticks rather than loaves and you’ve got yourself a real party.)

Confession: I used to burn water

OK, roll up your sleeves, kids. Let’s talk about cooking.

I am not a natural-born cook. I know that when I start casually tossing off that I baked bread the other day, and fed forty-eleven people on nine minutes notice and oh yeah, I spent sixteen minutes in my kitchen and made 3,527 meals for $0.80 and then went to yoga class before drafting a new peace treaty for the warring nations in Kahplutiburg, you might think that I’m one of those people who was born with a copy of the Joy of Cooking in my wee, oven-mitted hands.

I was not.

When I was first married, I couldn’t make tea without burning the water. A large driving force behind our $65,000 in credit card debt was incessant eating out – in a stroke of coincidence, there is an article about Stop Eating Your Way into Debt! on the Dollar Stretcher today. Actually, it makes me feel better, because I always thought the fact that we had racked up a ton of debt eating out was an example of my personal, private stupidity.

Nice to know I have company.

ANYWAY. I’m going to quote Jill, because she says it quite succinctly. Among the list of excuses:

“I don't know how to cook." So learn. Start simple. Even my 9-year-old grandson could boil himself a hot dog. You don't have to produce a gourmet meal to make your family happy, and in most cases, they would prefer you didn't.

I understand that man can't live on hot dogs alone, but after a week or two of simple dishes, you can move on to more complicated things like frozen French fries and frying hamburgers.


You know what? It really is that simple.

I had a few…uh…well, let’s call them “less than wonderful” meals along the way. The meals I produced in my early days in the kitchen were way less than spectacular.

But they got better. Slowly. The hardest part was getting over…myself. Mankind has been cooking meals for centuries – am I retarded? Am I, like, some kind of monkey-throwback? I can’t figure out how to make rice, for Pete’s sake?

People in the freakin’ Stone Age knew how to make stew and flat breads. C’mon. You can, too, cook.

Here’s one. Meatloaf. Do you know how to make a basic meatloaf, that staple of the red-blooded American family?

2 pounds ground beef
1 large egg
1/3 cup milk
1 cup bread crumbs
1-2 teaspoons onion salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper (more or less as you like it)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

FANCY ALTERNATIVES: put in 1/2 cup of diced onions and two or three cloves of fresh minced garlic. Add a chopped bell pepper. I like to use a dollop of Pepperplant hot sauce (it isn’t “HOT” sauce, it’s actually fairly mild with a nice bell pepper flavor).

Smoosh it all together, put it into a loaf pan and bake it at 350 for about an hour.

Hard? Naw. Buy yourself some potato buds and make instant mashed potatoes, open a can of green beans and viola. You’re eating a decent meal for a fraction of the cost at Applebee’s.

Start with the easy stuff. Yes, the frugal community yelps and screams and carries on about the “high cost of convenience foods” – but if you are comparing eating at Outback with grilling a store-bought steak, whipping up some potato buds and following the microwave directions on the package of Birds-Eye ‘steamers’?

You’re saving money even with convenience foods.

OK, you’re really at a loss? Look for places like My Girlfriend’s Kitchen. Per serving, they are still cheaper than eating out, healthier, AND! MOREOVER!! They can get you started. Pretty soon, you’ll start figuring out how these things go together. You’ll get bold! DARING, EVEN! And before you know it, you’ll find yourself saying, “I could do this at home. I don’t know why I’m paying them to cut up an onion…”

Taken one step at a time, getting into the kitchen really isn’t that hard. Sometimes I wonder if Food Network isn’t doing us some harm, frankly – we watch these shows where Rachel pops out some forty course thing in thirty minutes and it’s all fabulous!, and we feel like if we don’t do the same thing, well, it just isn’t worth doing.

So we don’t do it.

And then we never do get to the level we’d like to be.

I think cooking is a lot like learning to play the piano. You don’t just sit down and do it, no matter how good the instruction book may be. You sit down and fumble a bit. You start simple. You practice, practice, practice. You get good at the simple stuff, and start pecking away at the harder pieces.

Just get in there. Just do it. Don’t be afraid of your kitchen. Keep it simple, and honestly if your choices are ‘eating out’ or ‘Eggo’s’?

Take the Eggo’s. They are still cheaper than McDonalds.

You can work your way up to homemade waffles. Which, by the way, you can make on a lazy Saturday, freeze, and then pop into the toaster just like the frozen version…

Monday, March 03, 2008

One Small Change

Welcome to March! Well, I was looking at last month’s spending compared to February 2007, and holy smokes, what a difference! Even without really getting seriously serious, just by moving to cash rather than the credit card for the day to day purchases, we’ve sliced our spending on things like groceries, clothes and the infamous ‘household’ bucket by almost two-thirds!

It made me stop and think about how small changes add up. You think you’re going to eliminate your debt or get your early retirement together by doing some Big Huge Enormous Thing. You’re going to find a way to save $15,000 a year, or get that huge promotion, or whatever.

While keeping your eyes open for those big things is never a bad thing…there really is a great deal of truth to the old adage, Watch the pennies, and the pounds take care of themselves.

Small changes add up. They aren’t nearly as hard as we tend to make them. Yes, we’re all tired. We’re overworked. We don’t want to futz around “endlessly” to save a stupid $3.

But the truth is, it’s seldom as hard as we want to make it.

I made it “impossible” to cook breakfast on a weekday for years and years. Even when I was staying at home, I was just waaaaay too busy. Baking muffins was a Saturday kind of thing. Sometimes. Except not this weekend, because we slept in. It’s really more of a brunch, well, lunch…thing. {pause} So! Warmed up leftover pizza, anyone?!

Anyway, I bought pre-made waffles and boxes of cereal and NutriGrain bars and called it breakfast for a long, long time – I paid the ‘convenience food’ premium for it at the register, and yet oddly, my mornings were no less hectic.

You’d think being able to shove a cold ‘breakfast cookie’ (a.k.a., NutriGrain bar) into the kids’ hands on the way to the van would buy some extra time, you know?

Now, a box of 8 NutriGrain bars runs around $4.65, right? And when you’ve got six people showing down on them, it’s a box a morning. Convenient, and a lot cheaper than pulling through McDonalds, right?

OK, but. I can make toast, eggs and bacon for six people for $2.07, and it takes me about ten minutes from the time I come downstairs from rousting the kids out of bed. Granted this is homemade bread at about a nickel a slice, but even if I bought your basic Homepride bread it’s still under $2.50. For the six of us.

And instead of a cold breakfast (or “nothing”, which seems to be pretty common with their schoolmates), they get that oft-eulogized “hot breakfast” Denny’s is making an entire advertising campaign around. For just $5.99, you too can have a couple eggs, a couple slices of bacon, some toast and coffee.

Or come to my place, and have it for $0.40. Fall in love with breakfast again!

The point is not to brag about my Kitchen Diva status. Because that would be silly. You are not going to see me on Food Network any time soon, folks. I’m more determined than slick in the kitchen.

The point is, this was not hard. It was inconvenient at first, and I didn’t wanna…but it was a small change that saves us around $670 a year. A couple weeks in, it was no longer any kind of bother – it had become the new normal.

Switching from buying a lunch for $8 a day to bringing one for between $1.50 and $2.50 saved me over $1,000 a year. Was it so hard to add lunch meat to my shopping list? Naw. No more than it was “impossible” to spend five, ten minutes putting together a lunch bag for myself. And I had more time at my lunch break, having been freed from the need to stand around for twenty minutes in line at the burrito stand waiting for my Guacamole Special. It was nice to skip that step and get straight to the part where I was sitting down with a book to eat my lunch.

Not allowing myself to buy something that wasn’t already on my list. Not letting things go on the actual shopping list until I had slept on it. Never permitting myself to buy something I could not pay for with cash-money. Shopping at the thrift stores first, and saving retailers for a last resort.

Small things. Little steps. All I had to do was overcome my emotional resistance to the idea, and I was able to save thousands – with minimal extra work.

So as we head into March, I’m looking for small things I can do to further refine our spending. I’ve got a few things in mind that would be relatively easy and painless…but which I’m not doing because, well, I don’t wanna.

I could, for example, start walking at least one of the three daily trips to and from school. Eliminating just one would save $0.30 in gas and get me that 30-45 minutes of cardio my doctor keeps harping about. (And who knows, maybe if I actually did it I could eliminate $8.75 a week in pain pills!) (not, uh, that I’ve sat around calculating how much my prescriptions cost me per pill or per day or anything…) (because that would be compulsive, which I am not).

On a related note, if I could manage to bend over and reach my toenails long enough to keep them tidy myself, I could save $20 a month on pedicures. See? The walking thing just keeps getting better and better…maybe…

(Y’all laugh, but my ‘condition’ has gotten to the point where reaching my own toes, while possible, is torture, not only during the action but for hours afterward. It does not match my Inner Vision of Self, which is a bit more robust and also bench presses Volkswagons, ya know?!)

Plus there is always recycling to be picked up along the way. It’s a good back exercise, keeps the neighborhood tidier, and scores me a nickel each time. GOOD LORD, IS THERE NO END TO THE BENEFITS?!?!

But seriously – look around. Take a deep breath. Pick one thing you don’t wanna do because it’s {insert excuse you know is kinda lame but that’s all you got so you’re going with it}. If you need suggestions, may I recommend The Dollar Stretcher? Or try Get Frugal. Or shoot, just type “frugal tips” into your favorite search engine.

Buckle up first, though. You’re going to get hit with a tidal wave.

Give it a try this month. Give it the whole month. It will undoubtedly be annoying at first. You will growl that it is stupid and also dumb and that you can’t believe you let that idiot blogger talk you into this.

But you may well find it isn’t so bad after all. Many of these things actually are ways you can express your love – for yourself, for your family, even your community. When I send my kids to school with bellies full of good, wholesome meals I made with my own hands that very morning and set before them, salted and peppered to their precise liking, I tell them how much I love them.

When I make myself a sandwich at home to take to work, I’m giving myself a lunch that is healthy for my body and my financial future. I’m saying that I’m worth the effort. I’m worth the trouble. I value me, thank you very much. And also, I prefer a little less mayo and little more mustard, ‘kay…?

When I shop at thrift stores, the money I’m saving is going toward our retirement and our children’s college funds. The money I’m spending is going into our community, to the hospice or the family shelter or the programs of Goodwill or the Salvation Army. The clothing I’m buying is given one more life before it hits the rag bin or the landfill.

It makes me feel good. It feels worth doing.

Give it a try. You might be surprised, both at how much you actually do save, and how good you feel while you’re doing it.