Saturday, January 30, 2010

Building Bookcases: A Primer, Part 1

We aren’t short of books in this household, but we sure as heck are short on bookcases.

We had built quite a few bookcases into the eaves of the half story on our previous home, in addition to a few freestanding bookcases. Still, we had more books than storage, so books were crammed into corners and stuffed into boxes. Our new house had zero built-in storage, so we were really at a deficit. Even after my mother passed along an antique glass-fronted bookcase, which she had decided was too fragile to remain in her home.

My hope/goal for 2010 is to feel officially moved in, and this “living out of boxes” lifestyle will come to an end. (I’m still missing some essential kitchen items, which I suspect are hiding in vaguely-labeled boxes in the basement, but I digress.)

Bookcases are the next front in this war. So what do I want in a bookcase?

  • I want it to be sturdy. That instantly throws out bookcases from Pier 1 or World Market.
  • It doesn’t need to be furniture grade finished. Because they are going in the basement.
  • It needs to be modular, and easy to add more.

Enter Bookcases & Shelves from the editors of Woodsmith, published by August Home Publishing. This booklet contains a nice set of projects from low-cost and crude, to fine carpentry. The cover pronounces that they are “Easy-to-Build”, “Back by Popular Demand,” and “Success Guaranteed.” How could I pass this up?

I decided on the modular storage system on page 45. There are a few necessary tools that the average homeowner probably doesn’t have laying around. But then this isn’t the average home. We already owned a miter saw, drill press, and—since last fall—a table saw.

I needed a router for this. And yes I already owned a router, but A: it was misbehaving on the window project, and B: it would work best if it were mounted on a router table, which I don’t own. Since the cost of buying a table is 2/3rds the cost of a combination table/router, we decided to buy an entirely new router in a table/router combo.

I also needed to buy a new belt sander, since my 20-year-old+ belt sander burned out toward the end of the window project. So it goes.

This type of book (a conglomeration of articles published in past issues of a magazine) has several pitfalls. Chief among them is that the supplies they say are easy to acquire at any local lumber yard, may have been true twenty years ago, but not today. And I found this to be the case.

The specified lumber is “Ponderosa Pine,” but it’s just “Pine” or “Whiteboard” at the store. It could be Ponderosa, or Fir, or any number of wood types.

And one of the boards it specified was a 1 x 10, but this was not a dimension my local lumber yard carried. Fortunately, they asked me to rip a 1 x 10 down to two narrower boards, which I could get if I bought and ripped a 1 x 6, and a 1 x 4. Before I made this adjustment I stopped at a different lumber chain in a neighboring town while there on other business, and they did carry 1 x 10s.

We started working on this the first Sunday it began to warm up following the Great Blizzard of '09-'10. And when I say “warm up,” I mean that it was sunny, the wind was minimal, and the temps were in the 20s. Yes, it was still cold. But at least it wasn’t brutal cold.

As to why I was working on this in January, it’s actually easier to slot this task in now, than later in the year when yard work will become a priority.

We don’t own a truck, and we can’t fit many boards in our car at a time, so we made two trips to Home Depot on Sunday, with a pause in between trips to route that set of boards. Needless to say, I was covered in saw dust during trip #2.

We ripped away on those boards, then crammed everything back into that garage bay so we could pull our car in for the night. And then it required not one but two steaming mugs of Bailey’s to warm up.

On Monday we bought the 1 x 10s, and then went back to the original lumber yard to get the rest of the required 1 x 6s. These would eventually become the shelf slats. It was a no ripping Monday. But I did put down salt to try to diminish the treacherous ice sheet just outside that garage bay that the “ripping receiver” (aka Michael) had to traverse. So that’s something. By the end of the day Tuesday, our original pile of dimensional lumber had been transformed into this:

That doesn’t look like that many boards, does it? Here’s the same stack at a different angle:

This was actually the wood for not one but three bookcases. I know we will need at least three, and it’s actually a lot faster cutting the three at once because I didn’t have to retool the equipment as often. Retooling means that I am adjusting the equipment to cut the boards to a certain length, depth, or shape.

Wednesday was miter saw day. Many of these long boards needed to be cut down into approximately 15" segments. The exact dimension varied according to the purpose of the board, but you get the idea.

I started this around 11 a.m., and with taking two breaks—one for lunch, and another a warm-up (because it was in the 30s)—I finished a little after 4 p.m. That’s a significant amount of time standing in front of the miter saw making cut after cut after cut. And by the end of the day I had these two piles:

There are smaller boards stacked between the stacks of large boards, too. Like I said, it took all day.

The next step involved using my dado blade to make half lap joints so I can begin assembly. How exciting!

To be continued...

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Very Special Early Valentine’s Message, Made by Nacho

Eclair has been acting up lately. Secluding herself under the bed for days at a stretch. Fearful of using the litter pan after Nacho attacked her mid-use several weeks ago.

So I guess it didn’t come as a total shock when we brought her to the vet this afternoon—after she began exhibiting non-acceptable litter pan behavior followed by obvious signs of physical discomfort—that the vet found this on her ass.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all my readers. May the days ahead be filled with romance, and your brand of love nibbles be less painful.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

This is a dining table.

That was my Christmas tableau.

And yes, that is my novel-in-progress that had been hiding for the past month+ in the towering mound of craft room/dining room “stuff.”

The reacquisition of my home continues at a rapid pace.

Thank you for saying those words, Dr. Dudley, “he can now resume full activity.” Caper certainly made the most of this sunny spot that he’s missed out on for two months.

Not that there’s been much sun to be had.

Monday, January 25, 2010

“Breaking” News

After new X-rays, a consultation, and settlement of our bill...

Caper is officially in the HOUSE!

The bone still has some healing to do, but it’s shown major improvement since his last films on December 28. As such, the surgeon has cleared him for all activities: running, jumping, general mayhem... you name it.

So far I have used the time since his release to begin moving my craft room furniture back to its original and preferred craft room home.

So far he has used a small portion of his time to sniff around a bit, and a large portion sleeping in our bedroom closet. Health and freedom are exhausting, apparently.
Finished Object(let), Disappointment, Rumination

Yesterday I finally cast off the body part of Radha, leaving me eagerly ready to begin gauge swatches and plans for the sleeve. To make the body, I am basically constructed a humongous knit cone, and this thing was starting to get a life of its own.

Here I am modeling it prior to seaming. I had to stand on a chair to keep it off the ground.

Yeah. I see that, too. Nacho is very concerned as well.

I hadn’t been able to buy the entire amount of fiber I needed in one go because the store was temporarily out, so I had to buy additional skeins at two later times. This was complicated by the fact that when the yarn store got a new shipment in, the yarn maker (Nobel) had modified its put-up.

And apparently their manufacturing process, because the skein difference is not as noticeable to the naked eye as it is in this photo.

As you know, I’m already making the sleeves out of a different fiber, so I’m not concerned about what to do with them. But what to do about this?

Option 1: Leave it, and don’t let anyone take photos of me from that side. And yes, I know the folks at Project Runway think there is no sin greater than an asymmetrical-looking butt.

Option 2: Fix it. But how?
  • I have one more small intact skein left, but it came from the same shipment as the light one depicted here. I also have a bit of the large skein left that I’d been working when I cast off. A simple comparison of weight between the intact skein and the partial will tell me if I have enough of the darker fiber to replace the bad bit. If so, I can put in a lifeline at the bad join, cut out the bad, and knit a better in-fill section.
  • If I have most but not all of what I need, I could still reduce the area of lighter fabric by knitting as much of the dark as I can.
  • Or I can do something I haven’t thought of yet.

Radha has gone into the “naughty box” until my desire to finish no longer overwhelms logic and old-fashioned good sense.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Birthday Experience Day

Okay. The weather’s still crap, but at least the rain bands have done some good toward clearing the air of fog. Not perfect, but better. So today became birthday experience day.

The day started out with a bang when FedEx arrived with my new router table. Joy! Then I headed out, because I promised to pick up my mother around mid-morning. She lives in a different town, and I had a few stops to make on the way. Then I drove her back to my town to get Michael, and off to the fabric store. I set my cell phone to vibrate, because I didn’t want her day to be effed up with family drama calls. Call me a bastard, or the best daughter ever. Maybe both.

She browsed only a tiny bit because she was on a mission to buy a small amount of fabric to make an apron for her daughter-in-law. She found some immediately, and hardly seemed to glance at the other bolts. I wasn’t crazy about her choices given the bounty that lay before us, but whatever. Then we were off to Kansas City.

We arrived at Andre’s just before the lunch rush, so we were seated immediately. Andre’s is a Swiss chocolate maker, and has been in the Kansas City region for several generations. In addition to chocolate, they also serve lunches with an extremely limited menu. I had given my mother the January menu calendar along with her birthday card, and she narrowed down her day options to those that included some authentically Swiss dishes that she had never heard of, nor was able to find in any of her cookbooks. Today’s Swiss option was Croute Appenzell, which turned out to be a hard slice of toast with a thin slice of pear, walnuts—all covered in melted cheese. We all opted for that, though their lasagna is amazing, as is their quiche lorraine and cheese pie. The croute was wonderful, but she no longer has steady hands, so she readily accepted my offer to cut up her toast. Sigh. She’s 72. Time marches on, doesn’t it? But I really can’t say enough good things about Andre’s.

Dessert was out of this world, too.

There were other options, and it was nearly impossible for me to decide. Of course, we left with a wee bit of chocolate, too.

From there we went to the Oriental Supermarket where I loaded up on ingredients to make bulgogi later this week. We also got some teas. I offered to buy my mother some tea, or anything else that interested her. She was curious about a tea that included red dates and longan, but didn’t know what longans were (neither did I) so I looked it up on wikipedia and began reading the description. All she needed to hear was that longans are also known as dragons eyes because the fruit resembles a pupil. No tea for her, thankyouverymuch. I think she’s still a little shell shocked from her bubble tea experience during the “Grocery Store Tour” over Labor Day Weekend.

And then home, with a bit of purposeful sightseeing in the town that *she* lives in, but parts that she never visits. Like downtown, which has several major construction projects going simultaneously that require cranes and entire blocks closed to traffic. Projects she had heard nothing about. She was shocked and amazed, needless to say.

All in all a good birthday for her, and a great day for us.
When “What Defines a Conveyor Belt” Becomes a Philosophical Question

My bent for the odd can get us into trouble from time to time. I can look at something ordinary, and visualize it in a new context that instantly elevates it from utilitarian to art.

This was the case back in August, 2009 when we spotted two sections of conveyor belt at the local ReStore. (More accurately, it is a length of steel skatewheel conveyor used for material handling, but you know what I mean.) Who is responsible for what followed varies depending on the progress—or lack thereof—of where and how to display it.

We chose the living room, (I’ll go with “we” for the sake of simplicity.) vertically on a narrow swath of wall between the two arched pass-throughs to the 2nd floor hallway, and above the stereo. Scale-wise, it was perfect. Perfect! The “only” issue was the weight. Steel conveyors are unbelievably heavy. I’m guesstimating that one section of conveyor weighs between 100 and 150 pounds. Probably closer to 150. Could even be 200... or 300... No. Really. It’s freaking heavy. So we knew that we needed to mount it to one or more studs. No question. And we used not one, not two, but four hooks that are intended to mount ladders, bicycles, and other large equipment to a wall.

So far so good.

Then came the afternoon that we tried to lift the conveyor onto its set of hooks. A scientist will insist that this is impossible, but I swear it must be true: The process of orienting the conveyor in a vertical position trebled its weight. As in, we were not going to be able to lift this in position with just the two of us. As in, we had serious doubts as to whether those hooks could hold the weight even if we could lift it in place. If the hooks failed, loss of property (and possibly loss of life) would follow.

This realization struck last month while we were dealing with the Caper leg situation, on top of the failed water heater. That pretty much was the last straw. We were defeated. Everything was abandoned in-situ.

My beloved 12' step ladder remained straddled around the stereo cabinet, pulled 4' from its home against the wall, the area rug peeled back out of the way. The conveyor lay on the floor, nestled on stacks of towels and blankets to protect the wood floor from scratches. Various tools were strewn about.

It has remained there, mocking me, for the past month and a half. My living room a construction site, while my dining room is an overflowing storage unit from the craft room/Caper/water heater disaster.

Side note:
With the temperatures in the deep freeze, I had been concerned about some of our pipes freezing. Particularly the kitchen sink, which is on an outside wall under a window in the coldest room in the house. I mentioned to my mother that I was going to leave the lower cabinet doors open overnight to allow the heat from the house to better warm the pipes and hopefully prevent yet-another disaster. She responded, “it won’t bother you having your kitchen messy?” Good Gawd! If she only knew!

Back to the main story:
We went back to the lumber yard and bought materials to make a shelf that would support some of the conveyor’s weight. But as cold as it has been, doing work in the garage had been out of the question. So I sat in my recliner one recent morning, sipping coffee, and pondering the conveyor.

The following are my answers to a series of questions. Your answers may vary.

Question: Is the conveyor cool?
Answer: Yes.
Question: Is it worth the risk of being crushed to death in order to hang it from the wall?
Answer: No.
Question: Is what makes the conveyor cool heavy?
Answer: No. The coolness is in its system of interior spokes with metal skatewheels. The majority of the weight is in the steel framework.
Question: Can the heavy non-cool part be removed?

And the answer turned out to be “yes”!

All those skatewheels are threaded onto a long bolt, that goes first through one side of the frame, then has a set of metals tubes, washers, and skatewheels arranged in a specific varying pattern. Then the bolt goes through a hole on the other frame piece, and is secured with a nut.

Once we determined that the entire thing came apart, I spent a few hours carefully studying and documenting how it was originally assembled.

That’s a print out of the assembly spreadsheet I made in Excel...

I don’t think this properly conveys the obnoxiousness and projectile vomit-inducing complexity of the spreadsheet. Perhaps this will help:

Then we spent a few evenings carefully unbolting and removing all the rods from the steel frame.

Here’s where Michael took over. I’m glad for this. I would have been happy to take lead, but I’m in the midst of a much larger project that I’ll blog about in a series of posts, probably beginning sometime in February. Mark your calendars.

Anyway, Michael took 1 x 4s, and stained and finished them. Then he marked the boards with drill holes using an original steel frame as a template. Turns out that one of my white fabric pencils worked great for this. (Don’t get all huffy. This was my suggestion. I hate using fabric pencils on actual fabric.) Afterward, he used a drill press to drill all the holes. We had to do a few adjustments to the original system because a 1 x 4 is much thicker than the original steel frame, but we weren’t too concerned about it because it doesn’t have to support anything but its own weight from this point on. The conveyor’s packaging handling days are over.

Then it was assembly time:

We even managed to attach the original metal manufacturing label to the modified item:

We were both working in the garage—he on the conveyor, me on the other project—when it was foggy and the temps hovered in the freezing range. We were both frozen to the core by the end of the day. When I finished my day’s work on the other project, I made us two stronger-than-usual mugs of Bailey’s, then I took the assistant job on the conveyor project. We were finished and inside just as it was getting dark.

Now, this didn’t bring an end to the conveyor build project. We tested its weight the next day when we couldn’t blame apparent weight on tired backs. It still felt a bit heavy to rely solely on the bicycle hooks, so we returned to one of our original weight solutions: a small shelf. We had already bought all the materials for this before I realized that the side frames could be swapped out, and most of the materials would have just lain around for years and probably gone to waste anyway. Back to the garage.

A week later, the main structural part of the support shelf was built, and stain and varnish applied. This morning we carefully hoisted it into place.

Cool, huh? One segment of discarded modular material flow conveyor manufactured by Rapistan in Michigan (now the global Dematic company), has been transformed into a piece of industrial art.

The shelf support needs a little more work in the way of quarter round trim and paint, but it’s mostly there.

But what’s not there? The 12' step ladder, which we moved back to its hooks in garage.

Another project well done.
More Better

An end-of-season clearance sale at the local lumber yard, plus a couple of hours of old-fashioned outdoor labor, turned this:

Into this:

Not crazy about the tarp, but definitely better.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

It’s About Human Lives: The Soapbox Edition

Last year, just a few days before the presidential election, a business associate stopped by the house. She was visibly upset about the political climate, and began muttering things about becoming a socialist country, and Canada... then she burst into tears. Her angst was powered by listening to the talking heads that pass as journalism programs on certain network. Balanced? No. Just personal opinions based on incomplete facts and a strong financial motive to drive up ratings.

In between tears, we asked her if she’d ever talked to a Canadian about their health care system. The answer was no.

In our careers, we often work side by side with people from different countries, and I can tell you this: everyone we have talked to from countries that have a nationwide health care system in place, wouldn’t trade their health care for ours. Not for a minute. Not for a million dollars.

We are one of the richest countries in the world, yet millions go without basic health services for lack of insurance and/or lack of money. Even a short-term battle with cancer in a family can leave the surviving family mourning and in bankruptcy.

Months after I graduated from college, and before I landed a real job with real insurance, I began showing pronounced symptoms of being ill. The diagnosis depended on a simple test using modern medical equipment. But A) without insurance, I couldn’t afford the test, B) if the test came back positive, I couldn’t have afforded the procedure that would have been necessary to save my life, and C) if I’d taken the test but waited to get a job that had insurance, it would have been considered a pre-existing condition, so insurance wouldn’t have paid for the procedure either.

In short, I was forced to gamble with my life.

Spoiler alert: I’m still alive, so the gamble probably paid off. But families are faced with similar situations every year. In my case, I waited, and six months later after I acquired health insurance, I took the test. It was positive. I wasn’t supposed to hear the results for a week afterward, but my doctor called me that afternoon, and I was in surgery only days later.

If I had not been treated, I probably would have been dead within the year—and it definitely would have been a slow painful death. Bottom line, no exaggeration.

But I had insurance, and I received the surgery. Good news, right? Except that the next year my employer changed insurance companies and kicked me out of the group. Yes, they do pull that kind of crap. And for ten years after the surgery I was considered at-risk, so even my $750/month insurance policy wouldn’t cover follow-up tests or a second surgery.

Even today I am wary of discussing possible symptoms with my doctor for fear that it will mean loss of insurance. Have a slip and fall, get t-boned by an uninsured driver, and without insurance those medical bills will rack up at an astounding rate.

Having said that, I don’t think the health care bills that are currently being debated are the answer. There has been too much compromise and self-serving politics on both sides of the aisle for these bills to be perfect. But at least it’s a start. I’m certainly not going to burst into tears in someone’s driveway over it.

Don’t like the Canadian model? Try the Japanese, or Swiss, or French...

To put it bluntly, I think both the Democrats and Republicans have their heads too far up their asses to see the bottom line: it’s about human lives.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Where’s the Blog?

I am painfully cognizant of the fact that my blog has been quiet. But it’s been quiet only on the publishing end, and not the writing end.

I’ve got multiple large projects that are in the works—projects I’ve decided to blog about after they are completed. In the meantime, I’ve got drafts of several posts going. You’ll be inundated soon enough, I fear.

With luck (fingers crossed) one of these projects could even be completed mid-week.

Also—and this is so terribly exciting—I have opened what I believe is the last skein of Nobel needed to make the Radha shrug. Given my other obligations in the near future, this means another two weeks on the outside, before I can cast on for the sleeve. There-is-light-at-the-end-of-the-Radha tunnel!!!

Tomorrow will be crazy busy. I think it’s common, as people age, to prefer receiving experiences or services as gifts rather than objects. So that’s what I gave my mother for her birthday. We’ve had to postpone it a bit because of the weather situation.

(Yep, that’s still snow—a whopping four weeks later. Today it’s snow and fog.)

But it appears tomorrow will be the day. A dense fog advisory has been issued until noon tomorrow. Visibility will be at or near zero. Birthday experience postponed, yet again! Her birthday experience will include a visit to the best fabric store for miles around, a Swiss lunch at Andre’s rounded out with chocolate dessert (duh), and a visit to the largest Asian grocery store in a five state region. That last stop is really a me stop. I think she’ll enjoy wandering the aisles, too, but the main purpose is to buy ingredients to make bulgogi and a few accompaniments for a meal later in the week.

I’ve also enrolled in a genealogy class that provides an overview of the online sources that are now available to researchers, because I’ve been planning to integrate that research into my weekly schedule. Opportunity knocked, and I answered.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Be Still my Heart

I made a new purchase today that I hope will be on a truck headed my direction very soon.

Because I have a lot of work ahead of me—as does it.

Yes, I am the new kind of geek!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

An Ode to Leftovers

“We don’t eat leftovers.” I was thirteen the first time I was exposed to this pronouncement, visiting my older sister, her growing family, and her then-best friend. It was the best friend who spoke.

“Wha? You don’t like leftovers?” I puzzled over this. I mean, I assumed that they liked the dish the first night they ate it.

“No. Pete (her husband) doesn’t like them.”

So what changed on night two? And how does one ever not eat leftovers without eating out all the time, or throwing lots of stuff away?

Okay. Granted she was talking about some Kraft Macaroni & Cheese that she whipped up for me for lunch, but still. The statement held a much larger truth in her life than my one little meal at her house.

Now that I’m a busy adult, self-employed, and with more hobbies than a mere mortal should be allowed, my love affair with leftovers has blossomed into something that would get me stoned in some parts of the world.

Yesterday I put together a menu for the week. Leftovers play a starring role.

Hamburger Stroganoff (leftovers. A family dish that I’ve made so many times that I doubt I even have the recipe written down.)

Salmon and Potato Chowder (A new-to-me recipe from the new Gourmet cookbook. I have high hopes.)

Steamed Chicken with Black Mushrooms and Bok Choy (leftovers. Also from Gourmet. Made it for the first time on Sunday, and it was DEE-licious!!)

Mushroom Risotto (leftovers. Another new-to-me recipe, this time off Simply Recipes. I accidentally grabbed the wrong unlabeled bag of dried mushrooms, therefore inadvertently altering the recipe from the 2 cups of dried chanterelles that I had bought for this dish, to 1 cup porcini. Oh well. Turned out to be excellent none-the-less.)

Enchilada pie (leftovers. Another favorite recipe from my favorite fundraiser book from an Ohio hospital in the 1980s. The flavors really bloom in the freezer.)

Pork chops with pickled watermelon rind (leftovers. The chops are from the bulk pork I bought a month ago to make souvlaki. The pickled watermelon was a Christmas gift from a neighbor. I’ve never had pickled watermelon before, but it was so good that canning will have to be in my summer plans.)

Homemade mac & cheese (new batch, but made with items already in my pantry. The recipe is from a Land O Lakes package. My only alteration is the addition of cubed ham.)

What I’ve laid out is a varied meal plan, with easy-to-heat dishes on days when I’m either busy during the day, or busy at night. More intensive meals are scheduled on calmer days when I have the time.

And there are so many leftovers in this meal plan, that my dinner grocery list consisted of a salmon fillet, fresh dill, celery and bacon. Just the items I needed for the salmon potato chowder. I bought a few other things, of course. Coffee, Kleenex, breakfast items, etc. But for dinners? I had almost all of it already in my pantry and freezer. That puts the cost of dinners for the entire week about about $15. (And that’s being generous. Salmon fillets are on sale at my favorite local grocery store for $2.99 a pound this week.)

I know that it actually cost more than that if you include the cost of the ingredients in the leftovers. But if a household doesn‘t eat leftovers, then all that would have gone to waste. So I’m putting the value on those at $0.

In other words, making leftovers a regular part of a meal plans saves a significant amount of money.

There are some drawbacks:
  • You need a good supply and assortment of freezer containers.
  • You need freezer space.
  • You need to know what’s in your freezer.
  • You need to recognize what stores and re-heats well.
  • And you need to be organized enough to create a meal plan.
Once a month I pull everything out of my freezer, re-organize, and write an inventory. This takes 30 minutes. Add another 30 minutes to create a meal plan and grocery list. But that’s it. It takes a bit of time, but I bet it’s a lot less than running to the grocery store every third day, or sitting in the drive-through lane of the local fast food.

I wonder how many meals I’ll get out of the salmon and potato chowder?

My love affair with leftovers continues...

Thursday, January 07, 2010

I Wouldn’t Have it Any Other Way

Here’s what my sunken garden looks like this morning after receiving a fresh 4" + or snow. The current temperature is 5° with a windchill of -13°. Shoveling is done in 5 minute relay shifts to lesson the risk of frost bite. It’s miserable out, right? Don’t you wish you lived in Southern California where they never experience Weather with a capital “W”? Surprisingly, I don’t.

Oh sure, I’ll complain bitterly about these conditions, and how challenging/dangerous it can be to run a simple errand. But the truth is, it is weather like this that lets me know I’m alive. I’m marching through time. To prepare for these conditions I adjust my life, spending more time in front of a fire, more time reading or knitting, and cook hearty stick-to-your-ribs meals that will see me through shoveling. Winter is for indoor activities.

A cold winter elevates the importance of spring, stirring me to look for signs of budding, and the emergence of crocuses through the snow. (I have never been so glad to have planted lots of bulbs as I am this year.)

Then comes the glorious Saturday mornings spent buying fresh vegetables at the farmer’s market, and knees and hands dirty from digging new planting beds. When summer thunderstorms roll across the sky, there’s a tingle of electricity in the air. And after weeks of intolerably hot weather in the summer we welcome a cooler autumn and the ring of leaf blowers throughout the land.

And then we are in winter again.

This cycle becomes the background music to family gatherings, careers, joy, and drudgery. It’s a metronome marking the passage of my time here on Earth. “Weather” shouldn’t be avoided. It should be embraced.

So no. I’ll keep this “W”eather, for a few days anyway. I’ll make a steaming pot of fresh coffee that will be waiting for me as soon as I finish shoveling my way to the bird feeders, and look eagerly to the extended forecast for hints of a thaw.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

It’s Official: I’m Adopted!

Not really. But haven’t most of us at one point in our lives (usually adolescence) been 100% sure that we were switched at birth?

For me, this adoption theory has continued well into adulthood, and came up again recently when discussing winter storm preparedness with my mother. We all knew a few days before Christmas that a bad storm was on its way, right?

Well it wasn’t until 5 p.m. Christmas Eve (day of sleet that transitioned to snow) that she realized that she was out of bird seed. So she had my father drive her to the store to buy seed. The stores were closed on Christmas, then the day after Christmas she had my father drive her to the store to buy ice melt, because they were 100% out. Yesterday she complained that they were down to 1 tablespoon of coffee grounds, yet she had had my father drive her to the store the day before.

I really don’t get this. Not any part of me. This waiting until the 11th hour to buy staples, especially in a season when travel is ill-advised. And don’t get me started about how much gas she is wasting in her gas guzzler car every time she makes a grocery run. Sure, it’s 2 miles and not 30, but it still is a waste.

And how hard is it to keep a grocery list going, and noting when the coffee supply is getting low? I admit that I might be a bit extreme in my preparedness, but it just seems like commonsense. I always have an un-opened package on hand of regularly used items with a long shelf life. That includes items like coffee, Kleenex, shampoo, and toilet paper. I know that at some point in a winter I’ll need ice melt, so I lay in a supply in the fall. I don’t think this makes me hysterical as much as level-headed.

Another storm will sweep through tomorrow, so today will be errand day. I’ve made a menu that will carry me seven days. My shopping list includes bird seed (because I noticed I was getting low the last time I filled the feeders), green cardamon pods (for home-brewed chai), Baileys and whipped cream (because with actual lows of negative double digits and actual highs of single digits, I know Baileys will be on the menu each and every day. And did I mention that winds could reach 40 mph?).

I’m sort of at a loss about this major difference between me and my maternal unit. How is it that her trunk is leaning south, yet my branch is straight north? But I don’t have time to dwell. It’s still. It’s sunny. And it’s 29°. Tomorrow at 6 a.m. we enter a winter storm warning. No time. I have to shop.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Never Leavin’ the Den

We are in the middle of one of the brutalist winters I can recall. It is highly unusual for snow to stick around for more than 48 hours. And it is highly unusual to receive measurable snowfall at Christmas. Yet both of these have occurred. Snow began falling on Christmas Eve. That is, it began falling as soon as the freezing rain stopped. That was over a week ago, and we still have that original snow plus more. We received another couple inches last night and today, and the high temps for the next week are not expected to get above the teens. Lows will be in the subzero range.

The streets are fairly clear, but parking lots are brutal. Those babies have ice sheets that measure in the inches, and are so rutted and bumpy that a trip to the grocery store rivals an off-roading vacation in New Mexico. Factor in the bone-chilling/nose-hair-freezing air, and there is really no good reason to step outside the house.

Nacho thinks birdwatching is like spending the day in a cat spa.

Fortunately for us, I have a well-stocked freezer, and spent an afternoon last week inventorying its contents which easily turned into a week’s worth of meals. And I have a new bottle of Bailey’s. Really, except for shoveling, refilling the bird feeders, and bringing in more wood for the fire, I have zero plans to go anywhere.

So how does a person fill the hours when stuck inside for days at a time? Knitting, of course!

With the completion of Baby Bedazzled Bunting, I have been able to turn my attention back to Radha. There is a significant amount of mindless 2x2 ribbing on this puppy, along with short row wedges that are shaping the fabric into circle. The original Nobel I purchased at Busy Hands in Ann Arbor was put up in large 280 meter balls. When I went back to the store in fall, 2008, Nobel was sold in 140 meter balls. I bought one more ball at that time, then did a phone order a few months ago to buy the last two balls they had in inventory. Since that is all I have and all I will ever have, getting to the end of the last ball will officially end the circular part of the shrug. A rough estimate therefore is that I’m a third of the way on the circular portion.

What to do about the sleeves?

For this I went to my LYS pre-inventory sale and bought Berroco Lustra at 20% off. I had several colors to choose from, but the two best were this copper,

and a blue that is identical to the blue in the Nobel. But it occurred to me that if I went with copper sleeves, it would allow the blue in the variegated portion to stand out. But if I bought the blue sleeves, then it would diminish the variegated blue. There’s some serious color theory stuff going on here. One of these days, when it’s not FRIGGING FREEZING and the sun is out, I’ll go back to my LYS and do a comparison shot of the blue and the copper to better illustrate the effect of using one color vs. the other.

I’m not 100% sure this will be enough fiber to finish the sleeves, but since the yarn was on sale, I can’t return unused skeins. A single skein overage would eat up any cost savings. I’ll just knit really fast and hope for the best dye-lot-wise.

Last summer I had purchased two beer-making kits that were both to be made before October. We made one (a honey wheat), but life got in the way on the Irish Red. It’s been on my mind for months, so we’re finally making the time to start fermentation today.

Two things are wonderful about making beer during the middle of winter. First, the partial grain kit requires a significant amount of stove-top wort boiling (pronounced WERT). We’re talking lots and lots of steam. Second, before we can pitch the yeast (add the yeast), we need to cool that wort down to a temperature that won’t kill the yeast. In the middle of summer that meant using an ice bath, and ultimately running the garden hose through the kitchen window to hook up to the wort chiller, which is a coiled tube of copper pipe through which water is run. The wort chiller is submerged in the hot wort. As cool water runs through the copper pipe, it exchanges heat with the hot wort, significantly speeding up the cooling process. Trust me, this worked wonders last summer. But at 9° we won’t be opening a window or using our garden hose. But the great outdoors itself makes a terrific cooler.

If the beer turns out (the yeast is over 6 months old and is sluggish in activating, so there’s a chance it may not), we’re calling it Peg Leg Red in honor of Caper.

Beer making is both a lengthy and slow process, that requires regular monitoring of temperature to ensure it doesn’t boil over, and short flurry of activity when ingredients are added. With this kind of cooking, one is essentially tethered to the kitchen in a state of boredom. So I guess it’s a good thing that my craft room is now in the dining room, because it gave me the opportunity to sew more strips for my winter quilt.

As welcome as it is to make progress on the winter quilt again, there’s only one thing I really want to do in weather like this: take a nap.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Apparently Because it’s Really, Really Hard

A few weeks ago, I stopped at a local Dillon’s store to pick up some basic cooking items like sugar. This is a newly renovated location, and not my usual stop, so it took some back and forth within the store to find the baking aisle.

I finally found it, though I’d characterize it as not an “aisle” so much, as an “aislet,” because it was significantly shorter than the other aisles in the store. So short in fact that the reason I didn’t see it from the front of the store is because it didn’t extend to the front. Another aisle (Christmas decorations I think) cut across the front at an angle. Clearly Dillon’s management analyzed their sales figures and determined that the baking aisle either is one of the least used sections of the store, or the least profitable or both.

But that’s a side issue, because this post is really about what I found on the 5 lb bag of C&H sugar. It was a cookie recipe. No surprise, right? But get this: this recipe called for a base of refrigerated cookie dough. Like even people who produce baking supplies don’t believe people are capable of or willing to bake anymore.


I stopped at Hancock’s last week to make use of a fabric coupon. I had already purchased a Simplicity pattern for a basic nightgown a few months ago during one of their sales. Forty percent off seemed like a good opportunity to get the fabric.

I did not go to my LFS, which I adore and prefer, because I needed a basic knit fabric. The LFS is for cool, funky, dressy, classy stuff. Unfortunately my Hancock’s knowledge base is primarily built around their upholstery fabric, curtain-making notions, quilt fabric (such as it is), and fleece. And the fleece knowledge exists only because the tables of fleece are so large and bright that they can’t be missed. So I did what any red blooded American would do. I asked an employee where the racks of knits were located that would be suitable for being made into a nightgown.

She was a young girl, and someone new enough that I didn’t recognize her. She leaned across the cutting table and looked into my eyes. “Do you want to sew something easier?”

This puzzled me, because I hadn’t shown her the pattern that I was working with. “Why?” I asked.

“You should make it out of a cotton fabric because knits are really hard to work with.”

I was instantly transported me back to 7th grade home-ec class where I spent weeks sewing a simply constructed top out of knit. I cursed it at the time because knits are really hard to work with, and I had never sewn before. At that time, there was still an assumption that young girls had already sewn simple projects at home.

I took a breath. “Do you see this coat?” I asked, gesturing to my Perfect Knitter’s Coat. “I made this coat. This is a Vogue pattern, and you know that Vogue patterns are not easy. I can handle a little knit.” I smiled. “I just need to know where the racks are located.”

I left with the pieces I need for another sewing project that I have neither the time, nor the workspace, to create. And when I do have the time and the workspace to create it, I will likely be cursing it from cutting to the final stitch.

Victory will be mine!