Monday, May 28, 2007

Still Too Short

The weekend, that is. Although come to think about it, I'm a bit on the short side myself, just barely 5'2" (5'1.75", to be exact). For the most part, I'm pretty happy being short, except when it comes to retrieving items from the top shelves of the kitchen cabinets. Fortunately, I have a tall husband who comes in handy (a chair also works well).

Here I am, with a three-day weekend, and not all that much to show for it. I got half the house cleaned on Saturday (and spun), and did menu planning and grocery shopping yesterday. Today is going to be spent cooking an Indian dinner.

I love Indian cuisine and I love cooking it. It's very, very time consuming and I don't do it often. I tend to being a stickler for authenticity, and that leads me to make everything myself. That includes the panir cheese and the various breads. Making cheese sounds difficult, but it isn't. You simply bring a large quantity of milk to boil, add a bit of acid (usually lemon juice), and stir until the milk curdles. You then scoop out the curds, wrap them in cheesecloth, give them a brief rinse, and drain under a weight. Et voila! You've got cheese!

Anyway, tonight's menu is:

Meetha Kesari Bhat (Sweet Saffron Rice with Currents and Pistachios)
Khara Moong Dal (Golden Mung Dal Soup)
Masala Barbatti Sabji (Spiced Green Beans)
Baigan Panir Tarkari (Eggplant and Bell Pepper Stew with Fried Panir Cheese)
Seb Kachamber (Apple Salad)
Palak Raita (Chopped Spinach in Smooth Yogurt)
Chapati (Griddle Baked Bread)
Bengali Bhat Payasa (Rich Rice Pudding)

The pudding is done and is chilling. I'll start the soup next, since that can be reheated. I'm not going to make the panir or chapati; the Indian grocery had pre-made and I'm going to try those products. Then I'll do the prep work for the other dishes. The house is going to be redolent with spices. Yum, YUM!

More About Emma
Emma is getting more and more comfortable being on the deck. Her favorite pastime is to leap onto the deck railing (which is quite far off the ground) and walk back and forth. This is also a potential escape route for her and we've set up various blockades to prevent her from getting off the deck.

For some reason, Emma actually petitioned to go outside yesterday evening. Tom set up the barricades and let her on the deck. The deck is partially covered, which means that we can go outside in inclement weather and have a chance of remaining relatively dry. Well, it just happened to be raining when Emma went out. She wandered around the covered part and all was good. Then she spied a bird in the tree. She leapt onto the railing (still under shelter) and ran towards the tree. The look on her face when she realized it was raining was priceless! She beat a hasty retreat back under the roof, nearly falling off the deck in the process. It was her first experience with rain and she did not like it one little bit!

In Memory of Our Fallen Soldiers
Since this is Memorial Day, it would be remiss of me to not mention the thousands of men and women who have died serving our country. I was watching the Memorial Day concert at the Mall on PBS last night and the stories of the soldiers, both living and dead, moved me to tears.

This war in which we are currently entangled is difficult and troubling. I'm afraid that no matter what our will or our military strength is, we are fighting a losing battle. And that makes the deaths and injuries of our servicemen and women that much more poignant. I had to leave the room to sob when they read the letters of a mother to her dead son. The young man was exactly the same age as my nephew.

Our President has said that we can expect much more violence in the months to come, as they ramp up the "surge." More deaths, of Iraqis, Americans, and other coalition members, both civilian and military, are totally unacceptable to me. War is heinous under any circumstances and a preemptive war is particularly heinous. Our involvement in Iraq has created a situation that is much more precarious than when Saddam Hussein was in power. Despite the hard work and good intentions of our servicemen and women, the situation continues to deteriorate. We need to bring our soldiers home.

Take the time today to hold the war dead and their families in your heart and pray for lasting peace.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Saturdays Are For...

Spinning! Believe it or not, after all my Saturday chores were complete, and Tom was comfortably installed in front of the TV to watch Babel, I repaired to my fiber room to start spinning up the Rambouillet from the Wooly Wonka Exotic Fibers Club. Fortunately, I had an empty bobbin although you'd think with all the spinning I haven't been doing, that empty bobbins would abound. I spin like knit. I have a lot of stuff going on and making progress on none of it.

I approached the wheel with excitement, mixed with trepidation. Would the seat adjustment work? Could I spin to "spec?" I've always just spun, never really paying attention to wraps per inch (wpi). In this case, in order to make the project, I needed to spin a yarn that would end up being about 13 wpi, two-ply. I figured out the singles needed to be spun at about 26 wpi in order to create a 13 wpi two-ply yarn. Most of you are saying "No duh!" All that I can say is that I've got a math block and I just tend to wing it. I'm getting much better though. By the time I'm 100, I should have this math thing licked!

Anyway, I commenced spinning and found that treadling was easy and smooth. I could treadle slowly and not have the wheel stop at the top of the revolution. The seat adjustment worked! I periodically checked the wpi and was getting close to what I needed. The Rambouillet is nice to work with. I found that I needed to split the roving in half and in half again in order to create and maintain a nice drafting triangle. I think the first bobbin is turning out rather well:

I can't wait to get back to the wheel to spin some more!

Knitting Progress
I made a little progress this week on the stockinette sock, although most of the progress was made during the Weekend of the Car Woes. In a previous post, I mentioned that I turned the heel with very little drama. However, the heel is looking decidedly cockeyed and my fear is that the sock will twist on my foot. But I'm ignoring that little fact and plowing ahead anyway. If I have to frog it after it's done, I will. If I don't, it's a bonus. Like Buddha, I'm trying to not be attached to the outcome:

The sock just is.

I wish I had the same attitude towards the Sweaters of Frustration, which I should rename to the Sweaters of Despair. I've lost my love for them. The going is slow. Making bobbles and cabling in the same row is agonizing. I've got about three inches to go on the back of the Jenna sweater and just can't bring myself to knit on it. As for the Christine sweater, I'm afraid that I've done the neck front decreases wrong. The pattern calls for decreasing every third row. So does that mean I decrease on rows 3, 6, 9, 12 or do I decrease on rows 3, 5, 7, 9? Should the decreases be done on right side rows or can they be done on right and wrong side rows? Just the thought of it makes me want to whimper and curl up into a tight little ball. Clearly, I've bitten off more that I can chew with these sweaters.

For the last several months, I've driven past a new grocery, East West Grocery, advertising Asian and Middle Eastern items. I've never stopped to go in. So yesterday, after running some errands, Tom and I decided to stop by. I'm glad we did because it's an Indian grocery. Yippee! Now I don't have to go way out of my way to stock up on Indian spices, dals, rice, and other yummy things. The owner is very nice and we bought quite a few things. I'm inspired to cook an Indian meal and will probably do that tomorrow. Yum!

Emma is unlike any other cat I've had. She is a furry alarm clock, waking up promptly between 4:30 and 5:00 every morning. She jumps on the bed and strokes my face with her paw. She has very soft, velvety paws. It's endearing and would be even more so if she waited later in the morning. But she wants to be fed and she doesn't like to wait. I've been trying to not react to her and it seems to help. She still tries to get me out of bed, but is much less insistent.

We've started letting her go out on the deck, but haven't allowed her to go into the yard. We're still afraid that her mother's feral instincts will take over and she'll wander off. She loves being outside, catching flies and watching the birds and squirrels.

Emma also loves being inside, watching the birds and squirrels from her perch in the window. It's also her favorite place to sleep:

She can keep an eye on things and it's amazing how quickly she goes from sleeping to attack mode if a fly buzzes past her. She's somewhat of a watch cat as well. She growls when visitors come into the driveway!

Two more days off. Most of the chores are done...there will be grocery shopping and cooking and maybe a little bit of cleaning and laundry. And there will most certainly be spinning and perhaps a little knitting as well.

Enjoy the day!

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Relaxing Weekend (Hopefully)

Last weekend was definitely not relaxing. We arranged for a tow truck to meet us at Union Station on Sunday morning and tow Daniel's car back to our house.

Cost of a tow from Union Station to Leesburg? $207.00
Not having to worry about Daniel breaking down? Priceless

I drove Daniel and his girlfriend back to Poquoson Sunday afternoon and spent the night with my parents. It was good to see them again, even though it was a really quick trip. We had dinner at Captain Chuck-a-Muck's and Mom and I both got the crab cake. It was a pretty good crab cake; a little on the gummy side, but a nice taste. Dad got the fried oysters. There was a lot of food for the price; we all walked away stuffed! I did not however, drink the Jamaican Jet Fuel. I'll save that for another day.

I drove back Monday (and picked up the most delicious strawberries on the way) and the rest of the week was spent at work. I managed to get a little knitting in while watching the Food Network with Tom. The first simple stockinette sock is growing and should soon be done. That's about all I feel like knitting--simple stockinette socks. Unfortunately, the nieces are not going to stop growing and if I don't get my act together real soon, the Sweaters of Frustration will fit only their baby dolls. Or their baby brother. Given that these sweaters are a bit on the girly side, I don't think my brother would appreciate the gift.

Weekend Plans
We gave up traveling on Memorial Day weekend a while ago. There are just too many people on the road. So this long weekend will be spent working around the house. That includes a trip to the local farmers market, housecleaning, and with any luck, knitting and (gasp!) spinning.

My recent attempts at spinning have been frustrating and somewhat physically painful. For the life of me I could not treadle slowly without the wheel stopping at the top of each revolution. A couple of weeks ago, I solved the problem by using a lower seat. Standard chair seats are 18 inches high. Spinning stools are about 17 inches high. My new seat (my old adjustable harp bench) is 16 inches high. Given that I'm short, that should be just about perfect! I'm anxious to try it out. Since Tom is running 19 hilly miles tomorrow, I'll spin while he's in recovery mode.

What's that you say? What do I mean by harp bench? I used to play the Celtic harp and for a brief period, was learning to play the pedal harp. Unfortunately, I couldn't take my harps with me when I moved to Paris (France) and my musical career (such that it was) came to a screeching halt. Maybe one day I'll pick it up again. I still have my small harp; I sold my pedal harp to a promising young student. I hope it still has a good home. It was such a beautiful, sweet harp.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Crisis Management

(Warning! Long post ahead!)

Back in my college days, I drove cars that could be called somewhat unreliable. There was the Opel I loved, but it had a nasty habit of shearing points, causing the car to stop going (I got pretty good at diagnosing the problem and changing the points). There was the car whose u-joint decided to give out on the beltway during rush hour. I did not react well to car problems, especially car problems (or weather problems) that stranded me where I did not want to be.

Apparently, that aspect of me hasn't changed much in 25 years.

My cell phone rang late Thursday morning (it never rings). It was my nephew, saying that his car was broken down in DC (he was on his way to a Nationals game). With a little help from a coworker and Google maps, we found out where he was and he managed to get the car to the stadium without it blowing up (or so we thought).

While he was enjoying the baseball game, I searched the internet for auto repair shops in the vicinity. RKF Stadium is in Northeast DC and it's not exactly a great neighborhood, although it's improved over the last several years. I found one shop, about a mile from the stadium and gave them a call. They couldn't look at the car immediately, but they could look at it on Friday. I said we'd try something else.

Daniel called after the game to let me know that it seemed like the car was fine and that he was leaving the stadium. Five minutes later, he called again. The car was overheating and losing coolant again. This time he was close to Union Station and was going to park it. It was clear to me that there was no way the car was going to make it 43 miles in rush hour traffic. I called the mechanic back and said I'd take him up on his offer to fix the car on Friday and by the way, could he recommend a towing company?

I called the towing company, arranged for them to meet Daniel at Union Station, and made sure that Daniel had enough cash to pay for the tow and that R. (the mechanic) was going to be there when W. (the tow truck operator) would arrive with the car. Daniel and Madeline would take the Metro from Union Station to Vienna, and I would whisk them away to Leesburg. We finally arrived home sometime after 8:00 PM. I also alerted my boss that I might not be at work on Friday, since I would have to help Daniel deal with the car.

So, Friday dawns. After a suitable length of time passes and I don't hear from R., I called him. I was very relieved to find out that it was a bad thermostat and coolant sensor. That's an easy fix and relatively inexpensive. He estimated the car would be finished around 2:00 at the latest. Excellent! Daniel and Madeline decided they wanted to go into DC and visit the museums, and I alerted work that I'd be in around 1:00 (might as well go in since I had to drive past the office to get to the Metro). We were well on the way to having this crisis resolved.

I was way too optimistic.

I didn't hear from R. and finally called him to get a status check. He estimated the car would be finished between 3:30 and 4:30; he had to order a thermostat. Fine, no problem. That's a common occurrence.

I had a 4:00 meeting which ran until about 5:30. I called R. again to get a status check. He couldn't install the thermostat because the thermostat housing was damaged. He would wire the fan so that it would come on when the car was started and run continuously to help keep the engine cool. He also said that he thought the head gasket was damaged. The car would now be ready around 6:00 (at the height of rush hour).

The uneasy feeling that had been growing since my first call with R. exploded into full anxiety. If I were a nail-biter, I'd have chewed my fingers to the bone. I called Daniel and told him how to get to the shop and I continued fretting.

After Daniel arrives at the shop, I settle the bill with R. and Daniel and Madeline are on the road. Less than 10 minutes after Daniel leaves the shop, he calls and says his car is overheating again. As soon as I hang up with Daniel, his father calls and says that Daniel is broken down and in a very bad area. I told him not to worry, that I'd handle it.

I said some very bad words after we hung up.

I called Daniel and got their position, looking it up on Mapquest (at the same time IMing with Tom, who said he'd get them to a police or fire station). We decided to get the car back to Union Station and park it in the garage. I called his father back and assured him Daniel was okay and that the neighborhoods in that area often look way worse than they were. Then Daniel calls; he's safe at Union Station and was getting on the Metro.

We arrive in Leesburg at 9:00 PM. Fortunately, Tom had margaritas and pizza and salad waiting for us. I was so knotted up inside and still fretting. How are we going to get the car back to Leesburg? How are Daniel and Madeline going to get home? What do I do about the repair bill, since R. didn't fix the car at all?

I'm still knotted up inside. We're going to have the car towed from Union Station on Sunday. Tom was going to do his usual long run and let me drive to DC and deal with the almost final chapter by myself. No way! I hate driving in DC and at this point, I never want to set foot inside that city again. Tom relented rather quickly, sensing that I was rather vehement about not doing it by myself. We'll have the car towed back to Leesburg and my brother will come pick it up at some point. I'll take Daniel and Madeline back home Sunday afternoon, taking the opportunity to visit my parents at the same time.

And all will be well.

Comfort Knitting
During this drama, there was knitting. There had to be. I knit on my simple stockinette sock. I turned the heel without too much drama. I'm thinking the leg will be a bit boring and am tempted by feather and fan. But it's too hard. I just want to knit around and around and around; a mantra of knit, knit, knit, knit...

May the remainder of your weekend be free of car troubles, fretting, and drama.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Weekends Are Too Short

I wish weekends were longer and the workweek shorter. Our weekend was quite nice. My friend Val came out on Saturday and we went to the farmers market and bought some yummy fresh local dairy products, baked goods, salsa, and asparagus, then wandered around the downtown area, ostensibly to check out Mrs. Tate's Bake Shop and Tea Room. What we actually were trying to do was create a calorie deficit so we didn't feel quite so guilty eating coconut cupcakes for before lunch.

Later in the afternoon, Tom and I went up to his sister's place to celebrate Mother's Day a little early. His brother was up from North Carolina, too. Linda and Nikki fixed a delicious dinner: Chicken Oscar, Caesar salad, tomato and fresh mozzarella, bruschetta with olive oil and Parmesan, and cake for dessert. It was good to see Steve and my mother-in-law again and it was really good to see Linda's family. Even though we don't live all that far away from them, it seems like we rarely see them, given school and sports schedules and such.

On Sunday, I got up and (are you ready for this?) ran six miles! And I lived to tell the tale. It wasn't too bad; my knee behaved and didn't hurt. I had done a couple of two-mile runs during the week, just to make sure that I remembered how to run. Seriously, it's been a long time since I last ran.

After the usual post-run snack at a local coffee shop, Tom and I visited some nurseries to buy some ferns for the deck and to see what else was available. Our yard is in serious need of some major landscape work. We got some ideas. The trick is going to be remembering what we decided, since we didn't write anything down.

Of course, I called my mother to wish her a happy Mother's Day. My brothers feted her with dinners and cards. All she got from me was a phone call. I'm terrible about sending cards on holidays and such. I start out with good intentions, even buying cards in advance and putting reminders in my calendar. But I never send them. So I've stopped trying. I'll call instead.

The rest of Sunday was spent trying to eradicate the plaster dust from part of the house. This effort involved vacuuming and washing the floors and took up most of the afternoon. I swear the absolute best way to wash floors is not with any of these new-fangled gadgets but the old-fashioned way, down on your hands and knees, with rags for washing, rinsing, and drying. The problem is that it also takes a long time. And that's why I rarely wash my floors.

Knitting News
I have a confession to make. I started a new sock, using the Sockotta that my secret pal sent me. I know, I know. I haven't finished the Sweaters of Despair (although I did knit a couple of agonizingly slow rows on the Jenna sweater) and I still have to knit the other Spirit Trail sock. But I've been feeling that I need something plain and simple to knit and what better project than a stockinette stitch sock?

This turned out to be a good move. I was feeling a bit queasy most of yesterday and didn't want to do much of anything last night besides watch cooking shows (nothing appealed, imagine that) and knit. But I didn't feel well enough to tackle the Sweaters of Despair. There's a lot of comfort in simply knitting around and around and around and around...

Today brought more of the same...queasiness most of the day. I decided not to go to work and managed to knit a couple of rounds. In the afternoon, I started to feel somewhat better and organized my fiber room again. It had accumulated all the stuff from the back bedroom and was a bit quite a disaster area. It's now much neater and feels less claustrophobic. Of course, some of the stuff went back into the back bedroom; my nephew and his girlfriend are visiting later in the week and I didn't want them tripping over bed frames and closet doors.

Yesterday's surprise was the first delivery of the Wooly Wonka Exotic Fibers Club. Anne sent about four ounces of beautiful grey Rambouillet. She included notes about the breed and fleece, as well as spinning tips and a pattern for a neck gaiter. I was beginning to feel a bit intimidated about this club, but Anne recommends using a short draw worsted spinning technique. This is good, because that's about all I know how to do!

Whew! This post turned out to be much longer than I expected. And it's getting close to dinner, although I still don't have much of an appetite. Hopefully, all the queasiness will be gone by tomorrow and I can get back to my regularly scheduled activities.

Have a great week!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Yes, Virginia, There is Knitting

This last month or so has produced precious little in the way of knitting. The girl's sweaters are progressing oh so slowly, and it will be a miracle if I finish them before my nieces start producing grand-nieces and nephews (for the record, my nieces are four and five). This gives you some idea of just how slow I'm moving on the sweaters.

Tom's Divine scarf is finished, just in time for nice, warm weather.

I'm mostly pleased with the way it turned out, but I incorporated an extra stitch that sort of bothers me. However, I'm not going to rip it out. The ends need to woven in and the scarf blocked, but I'm considering it finished (for the most part).

I also finished one Spirit Trail sock.

Again, I'm mostly pleased with the way it turned out, but it has a couple of issues. The pattern is not centered on the instep and the sock doesn't fit as snugly as I would like it to. I was thinkingif I removed the "extra" stitches if the pattern would magically center on the instep and improve the fit. I think there's going to be some additional swatching in my future.

I've come to the conclusion that I'm not really a knitter. If I were a real knitter, I'd have many more finished objects. I'm a wannabe knitter (and spinner). I buy yarn, patterns, and have all these grandiose schemes for designing my own sweaters and socks, but when it comes right down to it, I just can't seem to execute. I start projects, then cast them aside for the thrill of starting something new, which then is cast aside to start something else. Perhaps I suffer from a knitterly form of ADD.

And then there's this: I waste time (that's a big surprise, eh, Mom?). And I'm lazy. I can always find ways to stretch out a task, not because I want to prolong it, but because I get distracted. If I'm straightening a room, I'll pick up a book and and hour later, find myself still flipping through the pages. It's enough to drive a professional organizer crazy!

What I ought to do is set aside a little time every day to knit and spin. When the time is up, the time is up, and I move to the next task. I don't have a lot of hope for that actually happening, but I'll report back on my progress.

Room Renovations
Remember I mentioned that we decided to finally renovate the back bedroom? The plasterer finished up yesterday. Here are some before pictures:

Now you see them:

Now you don't!

The round copper plate covers a hole in the wall (which is actually a chimney). The two back rooms were most likely heated by coal stoves. plaster!

There's still a ton work left to do in this room. While the plaster cures over the next several weeks, Tom will scrape all the baseboards, replace the baseboard on the back wall, and refinish the floor. Then it's time to paint, install a new ceiling fan, and find someone to put in nice shelves in the chimney nook. We'll also need to purchase wardrobes. Ikea has some nice options. And then we can move everything back into that room. That will be good, because it's currently residing in my fiber room and it's almost impossible to move in there.

Happy knitting!

Sunday, May 06, 2007


Well, it's been quite busy chez nous. Three weeks ago, we were in Charlottesville for the Charlottesville Half Marathon where Tom set yet another PR. We ate at some fabulous restaurants (particularly the The Shebeen; if you are in Charlottesville, you simply must give it a try!). I made the annual pilgrimage to The Needle Lady and bought one of Maggie Jackson's books, purely on whim because I just had to have one of the models knit up in Maggi's Linen. Sadly, I needed one more ball than the shop had in stock, so no yarn was purchased. Well, I take that back. Yarn was purchased, but you can't see it because it's for my secret pal.

Last weekend I was up at Kirkridge, cooking for a knitting retreat given by Y2Knit and sponsored by the fine ladies of Modern Yarn (be sure to check out their cool t-shirt designs). Despite being the kitchen pretty much from sunup to sundown, I managed to find some time to knit with the group. Of course, I was so tired from cooking that I had to rip out and start the sock about 80 billion times (it's the process). But the work was fun and I might get some additional catering gigs out of it.

The best part about last weekend? When I returned, Tom had delicious dinner prepared for me. Grilled shrimp escabeche, red cabbage and beet slaw, and a grilled fish with homemade caponata. I've got the best husband!

This weekend is the weekend of the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. I spent the day there yesterday and met up with Mia in the morning. It was great to finally meet her in person, after trading blog comments and emails. She's local and there's really no excuse for not having met her sooner. I also met up with Chris, Nanc, P-la (and the Squid), Jen, and Lillian, all from Texas. Well, sort of. Lillian came down from New Jersey, but she used to be in Texas. The Texas contingent graciously allowed me to trail along in their wake. Chris is now a spinner and I was being an enabler, especially when she said that she came to buy fiber (not just yarn). She showed amazing restraint, despite the fact that I kept shoving various bits of fluff in her hands and demanding "Feel this!"

So Chris, did you go back to Shadeyside Farm and get any of the yummy stuff they were selling?

What did I buy? Nothing, at least not for me. I did pick up a thing or two for my secret pal and some non-fiber items for Christmas and other gifts. Am I sick? Am I losing my passion for all things fiber? No, I was just so overwhelmed by the selection (never give a Libran too many choices unless you want to see her paralyzed by indecision) and the crush of the crowds that nothing really appealed. Plus the lighting in the main building was so poor that it was hard to see colors. All yarn vendors should have at least one Ott light so their customers can get a better idea of what the yarn looks like.

There was some confusion as to where the knit bloggers would meet. Once again, we were supposed to meet behind the pavilion, but there's music going on and that's where the muggles set up base camp. The grassy hill behind the main building is still the best spot and that seems to be where everyone migrated.

Pictures? You want pictures? As I was making my way north up Route 15, I realized that I left my camera behind. So no pics for you! Sorry!

As for the rest of the weekend, my time will be spend cleaning. The house is a bit on the filthy side as we're in the middle of some plaster work. Combine plaster dust with the pollen that's been blowing in, and the house is looking quite dusty. Tom is off running a trail marathon this morning, so there's some cooking in my future as well. He's going to be quite hungry this evening and a tasty dinner will be just what the doctor ordered.

Happy knitting!