Tuesday, June 28, 2016

About Those Resolutions ...

Can I have a mulligan for recent resolutions such as those I made a year ago or six months ago? A do-over? I don't even want to look back and see what they were. I just know I didn't meet the ones I remember making. I came close on the "run the Charlottesville Ten Miler" one, and I did get a very special medal for running the Jean Ten Miler, but that's only one of several. Oh well (said with appropriate inflection).

Back in March, I reflected on how this has been far from the year I expected. It has since occurred to me that expecting that what I want to happen or do will happen or will get done is perhaps more than a bit conceited. Who am I to tell the deity(ies) that my will be done, not theirs? So let's just say that the year from last year's birthday and the six months from New Year's Day were not what I wanted. I certainly did not want a do-over on rotator cuff repair, especially when it appears that this one was a total tear. In terms of a positive side to the surgery, being unable to do some things I never really got back to after the first shoulder respite is making me realize how much I do want to get back to them, that I miss them more than I had thought. As before, shoulder rehab is making me slow down, but I'm not sure I want to put that forward as a good thing. Slowing down because one has to is far different from slowing down because one wants to. The biggest positive has probably been the reminder of how strong some of my friendships are. I just hope those friends know that if they ever need anything from me, to ask as freely as I may have asked them. That's what friends are for, right?

I go back and forth about whether I should do any sort of resolutions this year. Sixty is something of a milestone birthday after all. I'll potentially have to check one box down on a survey-type question of how old I am. I should be eligible for a wider range of discounts should I remember to ask about them. (I had to show my ID once to prove to the clerk I was over 55.) I don't expect I shall feel any wiser. What besides wisdom is supposed to come with growing old? Nothing immediately comes to mind. Wait! Isn't forgetfulness age-related at least stereotypically? Perhaps that's why I can't recall any other accompaniments of aging.

So, if you're waiting for some resolutions about which you can nag me throughout the coming year, they aren't coming today. I'll still be 59 tomorrow and the next day and even the day after that. Three whole days! That seems plenty of time to go back and forth a bit more.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

I do love the opening line of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book even if  it isn't exactly descriptive of tomorrow. It will be a scalpel, not a knife, and there won't be darkness except, I hope, for me. I woke up very, very briefly during my 1982 IT band release surgery and heard the doctor talk about drawing a line on my leg. As it turned out, that was when he was showing someone how to do the actual incision. I am very glad I did not know that at the time.

The husband and I went out for a belated anniversary dinner last night. I suggested we go out while I could still cut my meat on my own. Tomorrow, I revert to the childlike passing of the plate to a parent who slices the meat both ways into neat little squares. On the way home, I mentioned that perhaps the best thing about the surgery is that after, painful and slow though  it may be, I can feel as if I am doing something even if it's just letting my arm dangle and move like a pendulum. There's a long-range goal of getting a left shoulder back. Up to now, the goal has been pretty much don't screw anything up before the surgery, and I've been doing that long enough (I stopped my regular physical training workouts in either late January or the very start of February) that it's gotten pretty old..

Even though I'm looking forward to the surgery, I do have some nervousness. I'd be worried if I didn't. I signed all the waivers with the lists of all the things that could go wrong. I have an advance directive on file even if older son is worried he might have to make the call if the husband croaks in the waiting room while I'm still technically alive. I trust the surgeon. He did my right shoulder in 2014, and I waited for him to be able to do the left, now.

And I do have two special friends in my corner, Bella and Xandra. Bella
is the rabbit, and Xandra is the guardian mermaid pictured on the card. Xandra came to me from a dearest friend before my last shoulder surgery. Xandra normally faces me as I'm using my personal laptop. She reminds me of my friend and that I have a guardian mermaid. Everyone should, really. Bella came to me from younger son's significant other, who had her own shoulder surgery in January. I commented how much I liked the stuffed rabbit she brought with her when she came for the surgery. She ordered a gray one to her brown and gave it to me. Bella is going with me tomorrow. They say that children can bring a favorite stuffed animal, and I certainly can act like a child.

I had a somewhat long list of things I wanted to get done before the surgery. I did this before the last one, too. Nesting, I suppose, since I know I'll be somewhat restricted to the house for the six weeks in which I will be unable to drive. I got the important ones done, though, which is better than I did last time when the big thing left undone was cleaning a somewhat sloven master bath. Until I no longer draw breath, I will owe a debt of gratitude to the person who came over and did that for me. She came over yesterday as well, and helped me with the biggest thing I wanted to accomplish. I moved my entire yarn stash from boxes in the basement and baskets on the main floor to the now-empty bookshelves in the room older son vacated when he bought his own home. The books are still a bit at loose ends, and I have two baskets of patterns to sort. The big thing was getting all the yarn consolidated. I think the husband was so happy to have all the baskets gone from the main floor that he didn't comment on the amount of yarn I have. Or perhaps he was in shock.

So, it's time to enjoy dinner and dessert. There is no way I'm going for more than the 12 hours between midnight and surgery without dessert. Ice cream with toppings for the win! The husband is on tap to email or Facebook friends post-surgery should I not feel like doing it. See everyone on the flip side!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Unexpected Expectations

The title of this post has been bouncing around in my head for some time now, perhaps because a lot has happened recently that I did not expect. I'm trying to think if there's any one thing on that list that I would accept as something positive on the surface, but I'm not having much luck. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

I did not expect to be looking at more shoulder surgery, but it's scheduled for April 18, for the left shoulder this time. I didn't wait as long to go to Sports Medicine as I did with the right shoulder, and they did the MRI up front rather than trying physical therapy or cortisone first. And you'd think I might be in Canada; when I called to set up a consult with the same surgeon who did my right shoulder in 2014, it was five weeks before I could get in to see him. I had been wondering how the "80 percent tear" on the right side compared with the "near full-thickness tear" on the left. The doctor said the two tears were remarkably alike. He said he had to let me know that cortisone, physical therapy, and rest were alternatives to surgery, I replied that while it did feel better since I stopped doing shoulder training after I got the MRI results, I also didn't want to rest it forever. I already have physical therapy set up with the therapist I saw last time, and I know what to expect. At least this time I will be able to sleep in the recliner should I want to do so. The handle to make it go back and forth is on the right side, and I couldn't use it with the right arm being the one in a sling.

I did expect to have run the Charlottesville Ten Miler by now. It's something I've always though I should try, and my 60th year seemed a good time to do that. While I was running on the day before the MRI, it occurred to me that if there was a tear in the shoulder, I would be told to stop running.  So I ran ten miles that day. As someone told me, I ran the Jean Ten Miler. I did pick up the t-shirt, though, just as I will for the 8k race I was supposed to run this coming weekend with a former kendo buddy who started running and lost a bunch of weight. I said I'd run with her, at her pace, and cheer her on for the five miles. Fortunately, she's found some other people with whom to run.

While I knew that it was only a matter of time until older son moved into the house he bought, I did not expect to be turning to say something to him and he's not there. Lots ore readjusting going on for the husband and me, not to mention for the family dog. I suggested older son that he could send me motivating seriously or not things via email, and he has been doing that. He comes home on weekends to have some time with the dog, but it's not the same as it was. It was time for him to make the move out into the world; I just didn't expect to be missing him so much. Except for the shoulder, I would be seeing him at workout every weekday morning, but I stopped going to those even before I went to sports med for the first time.

When the title was knocking around in my head, I thought there would be so many things to be profound about. The difference between theory and practice can be a wide one, and this is as much as I feel like writing right now. I guess I didn't expect that either.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Hello, Blogger, My Old Friend ...

I've come to talk to you again. I'm failing abjectly at my various resolutions to blog more or at least on a more regular basis. It wasn't the fall I thought it would be, and the winter is shaping up about the same. Extra projects at work (though one is so much fun that I have to make sure I get other projects underway or done before I start this one), projects taking much, much longer than they usually do, and so on. One of the prices I pay for being able to work part-time, flexible hours, from home is that I pretty much do as I'm told. Anyway...

Back in August, I saw a Travelzoo blurb about a bargain winter three-night trip to Iceland. Iceland. Been there, loved that. The husband was up for it, so I booked us for January 11-14, before the husband has to start teaching. Our flights left from Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which is a three-hour drive with no stoppages around the Washington, D.C. beltway. We booked a hotel for the night before we flew out and for the night we got back. This let us leave the car somewhere for free and reduced the stress of driving up too quickly or driving back too tired. It was a good call.

I said the trip was a bargain. At least I would call $649 per person for round-trip air fare and three nights in a hotel in downtown Reykjavik a bargain. Why was it that cheap? A big reason is that the air part was not on Icelandair but on WOW, one of the new, cut-rate carriers on which you pay for almost everything separately. For example, the base fare allows you to carry on one (1) bag that weighs less that 5 kilos (11 pounds). If you want a heavier carry-on, but still only one, you pay more. To check a bag, you pay. You pay for a seat assignment, too, and for any food or drink items. The trip price included one checked bag weighing no more than 20 kilos (44 pounds) for each of us. Until we learned that, we were actually planning on going with one heavier carry-on each. Instead, we ended up each checking one bag, the two of which together weighed less than the 20 kilos each. We kept our carry-ons less than 5 kilos and willingly paid the $30 ($15 for each of us) each way to be able to sit together.

I must admit that there were people who looked at us askance when they heard we were flying WOW. Some even told us various reasons why we shouldn't. To all those folks, WOW was wonderful, and we'd fly it again in a minute. For one, while they don't enforce size limits on your carry-on, they do enforce the weight and number. After your checked luggage, if any, is weighed at check-in, the clerk weighs your carry-on. Ones that meet their appropriate weight limit are marked with a tag. Our first smile with WOW was noticing that this tag read "You shall pass." Let's hear it for channeling Monty Python. If you present your boarding pass to get on the plane and have two bags, you are turned away and told to consolidate everything into one bag. If you can't, you have to check one of them. No carry-on with a personal item on WOW. One carry-on, one only.

As you might imagine, everyone's having only one carry-on makes boarding so much smoother. More people put carry-ons underneath the seat in front of them. Passengers aren't shuffling back and forth around their seats looking for places to put their bags. They're more likely to be laughing at what is on the drape at the top of each seat, "Hi. I am your seat" or "Be my guest." If you happen to be looking in the seat-back pocket for the safety card, you might even like the air-sickness bag printed with a "Vomit-Meter." Once in the air, the flight attendants take a cart down the aisle giving passengers the chance to purchase food and/or beverages. Until garbage collection at the end of the flight, there are no more cart runs. This makes it much easier to relax and possibly get some sleep.

With so much going for it, something had to go wrong on the flight over, right? The plane was almost at capacity, meaning that there were no two seats together to which I could request for us to move to when the woman sitting to my right, in the window seat, spent most of the flight, coughing and vomiting in her sleep--I kid you not--into a large plastic shopping bag she had with her. Needless to say, I got very little sleep on that flight and was quite happy to land.

Keflavik Airport is about 45 minutes outside Reykjavik; one catches the Fly-Bus to get into the city. There really wasn't much to see on the ride it given the hour of 8:45 a.m. local time. I did a few quick photos of nothing just to capture how dark it was, Here's one of those.
Something of a non sequitur in terms of my photos. I thought long and hard about carrying my Canon DSLR with a long, zoom lens, which I used in Vietnam and on our 2010 trip here. It's big and heavy, and I worry about hitting it on something. I then thought long and hard about taking the smaller Canon with the most amazing zoom lens, which I used in Australia. Then I thought just how many times have I looked at the photos taken on those trips or how many times I'd used them for anything other than Facebook or one of my blogs. I decided to take a pocket-size Pentax point-and-shoot and not take as many photos. I didn't want to feel as though I didn't experience something because I was too busy trying to photograph it. The husband also took a pocket point-and-shoot, a Nikon.

 On our first trip to Iceland (in 2010), we didn't see snow in Reykjavik until halfway through our time there. This time, we landed in the snow and watched it snow for the first full day we were there. I was glad I'd worn my water-resistant hiking boots rather than the running shoes I often wear.
When you arrive at a hotel at 9:00 or 9:30 a.m., you can't expect your room to be ready. The very nice desk clerk instructed us to go to the breakfast buffet before it ended at 10:00. It wasn't included with what we'd paid for, so I figured the charge would be on the bill at check-out. But no, there may be not such thing as a free lunch, but we got a free breakfast.

We actually were able to get into a room right after breakfast. We stashed our bags and decided to go to a place we had not visited on our last trip, Hallgrimskirkja. This is sometimes referred to as a cathedral, but it is in fact a Lutheran church.
(photo by the husband)
You can see some unsnowy photos, including one taken from the front, here. This site also includes information about what can only be described as an unbelievable pipe organ.
This, coupled with the basic huge interior is likely why people refer to it as a cathedral. It has much in common with the cathedrals I've toured elsewhere in Europe.
(photo by the husband)

For a small price, you can go to the top of the amazing spire. It's an elevator for most of the way followed by some steps to the highest level. The view would be more colorful but no less dramatic on a sunny or at least non-snowing day.
At the very bottom center is a statue of Leif Erikkson that was there before the church was built. It was a gift from the United States in 1930, honoring the 1000th anniversary of the first meeting of Iceland's parliament.  

When the husband and I visit a city, we like to walk and use mass transit or a cab only when absolutely necessary. Despite the snow and cold, it was not necessary here. We spent a good bit of the rest of the afternoon walking, stopping for a lunch of carrot-coconut soup and fresh bread. I am going to have to look for a recipe, because that soup was quite tasty.

There were a few things I could not keep from photographing.

I've always wondered if famous people or fictional characters from the U.S. know that they are often used as marketing tools abroad. Supposedly, the Lebowski Bar has a bowling lane in it.

What I don't know is if any of the movie cast or crew has ever been there on a promotional or personal visit.

And if The Big Lebowski rates its own establishment, can Chuck Norris be left out?

And if Chuck Norris were to walk in, would the theme music from Walker, Texas Ranger play in the background?

Included in the cost of the trip was a bus tour outside the city in search of the Northern Lights. That tour was supposed to be on our first night there, but was cancelled due to the heavy cloud cover. We rebooked for the next night, in hope that the forecasts of clear skies and high auroral activity were both correct. To get ready, we spent that next day, what else, walking around Reykjavik, We left the hotel just before 11:00 a.m.
Our plan was to walk to the National Maritime Museum. Along the way, we encountered a lesson in satellite telecommunications. If you go far enough north, the dishes actually must point down in order to receive the signal.
We also encountered some graffiti I did not expect to see there.
The Maritime Museum was quite good. We arrived there just in time to take the extra tour of the Icelandic Coast Guard vessel the Odinn (the d should be curved with a line through it, but I have no idea how to get that to print here.) The Odinn was active in all three of the Cod Wars between Iceland and Britain. While I took some photos on the tour, they are mostly of engines and engine parts that I know nothing about. I do, though, know that if you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a ball. I just don't know if I could actually throw this wrench.
There was a special exhibit of Icelandic seawomen that I found very interesting. I especially liked the two poems that were printed at the start. 

The second one, especially, appeals to me, especially the line about laughing in the face of all danger. If I were to say that often enough, might I be able really to do it?

We got on the bus for the Northern Lights Tour between 8:30 and 9:00, The sky was clear, and the guide said the aurora forecast was still good. The plan was to go to Pingvellir, about 50 minutes out of Reykjavik. Anglicized as Thingvellir, this was the place the first Icelandic parliament met in 930. As we traveled, the guide explained a bit about the Northern Lights and why they happen. The physicist husband said she only got one detail wrong, and she got at least one right that he did not think would be mentioned. When we arrived at Pingvellir, there was another bus there. We got off the bus carefully as the ground was quite icy. Several people had brought tripods and a large array of photographic equipment. Having photographed the aurora in 2010, I this time wanted to just watch it.

Besides the icy ground, there was a brisk breeze making the wind chill quite noticeable. There was an aurora visible, stretching from one horizon to the other and passing directly overhead. It was not an obvious one; you really needed to know what to look for, After spending quite a long time, more than an hour, looking up, most of us got back on the bus to try to warm up. After 15 or 20 minutes, someone stuck their head in the door and said we might want to all come back out. It was readily apparent why we should. What had been a very faint band resembling thin clouds as much as anything was now a bright yellowish-green band with sides that pulsed in and out and with swirls of green to the outside like the bottom of the letter j. The green band resembled a broad brush stroke on which someone had taken a fine-tipped red pen and highlighted small areas along the two sides and again where the stroke hit the horizons.

If I knew what to list, I would give the link to the photo album on the Facebook page of Reykjavik Excursions, the group who ran the tour. Instead, I will put up one photo that I "borrowed" from their Facebook album. It's pretty representative of what we saw as midnight approached.
(photo from Reykjavik Excursions Facebook album)
This was the most active aurora we've seen on our various aurora-hunting trips. I know that I saw the Northern Lights as a child growing up in Montana, but I don't really recall how they looked then. The Canadian husband has seen many more auroras than I have, and he said this was right up there with the best. It was definitely worth the cost of the trip. If we had done nothing else on the trip, this alone would have been worth the journey.

It was also worth staying up until almost 2:00 a.m. after getting back to the hotel, emailing a couple of people, and generally winding down from the rush. We started a bit slowly the next day. The plan was to look for a knitting pattern for an Icelandic hat, followed by the National Museum and the Phallological Museum. Yes, that last one is basically the Penis Museum. I did find two pattern books to buy; these turned out to be the most expensive things we bought. I did not look for a pattern for this sweater
since I know that Biscuit would refuse to wear it or, if she were to wear it, she would not move until the sweater had been removed.

The National Museum was the furthest away from the hotel of all the places we visited. We didn't mind since walking was all the exercise we were getting. The day was quite sunny, offering the chance to show where the sun is at noon in mid-January.
The museum offered an almost-overwhelming look at the history of Iceland from 800 to the present. The exhibits were excellent, though, and well worth the long walk. By the time we were walking back, it was around 4:00 in the afternoon, offering another look at the sun's angle, this time from behind us.
(photo by the husband)
We did visit the Phallological Museum, more to be able to say we did than anything else. I will spare readers of this blog post the photographs I posted to my Facebook page. One of my Facebook friends guessed that the museum must have been started by a male. She was correct. I would recommend a visit only if, as with us, you want to be able to say you went there.

And so ended our quickie, two full days and three nights visit to Iceland. We saw interesting things, ate some good food, and drank some good beer. The flight home was even better than the flight over given that the person sitting next to me spent the time watching Battlestar Galactic on his laptop rather than vomiting into a shopping bag. We were glad to have made plans to spend the night at a hotel near BWI and drive home the next morning after rush hour.  I'd do it all again in a heartbeat if the timing were right.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Another Nutrition Challenge Recipe

I already posted a recipe for whole-wheat pie crust. If I make another pie (if? bah! when!), I will use white whole wheat flour rather than "plain" whole wheat flour. The crust then would not look quite as strange as this one does.

As for the filling, this is a modification of the Land O' Lakes butter company's Blue Ribbon Apple Pie. The husband (who is not doing the Nutrition Challenge) gave it rave reviews and said he actually preferred this non-refined-sugar version because the taste of the apples was not overwhelmed by the sweetness. There are obviously a number of ways this could be tweaked; feel free to experiment. Here's the pie filling recipe:

1/2 cup honey (this replaces the 1/2 cup granulated sugar)
1/4 cup coconut sugar (this replaces the 1/4 cup brown sugar)
1/4 cup white whole wheat flower (this replaces the 1/4 cup all-purpose flour)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 cups tart cooking apples, peeled, sliced 1/4-inch (I used half Granny Smith and half golden delicious)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine all filling ingredients; toss lightly to coat. Spoon apple mixture into prepared crust. Add a top crust over the filling. Trim, seal, or flute edge. Cut 5 or 6 large slits in crust. Cover edge of crust with 2-inch strip of aluminum foil or a pie shield. Bake 35 minutes. Remove aluminum foil or pie shield. Continue baking 10 to 20 minutes or until crust is lightly browned and juice begins to bubble through the slits in the crust. Cool pie 30 minutes; serve warm. Store refrigerated.

And it's also darn good served cool or cold.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Sweater from Hell

I've been calling it the Sweater from Hell because that's certainly what it felt like more than a few times over the past 33 months or so. That frustration is fading with time, though, and I expect to end up liking this sweater as much as any other I've made for myself. I first saw the book, Knit Swirl, at the 2011 Fall Fiber Festival. A woman was looking for mink yarn (yes, this really exists, though no minks are killed in the making of it) with which to make one of the sweaters in the book. Intrigued, by the sweaters not the minks, I put it on my Christmas list. The husband came through with it and I read through it with excitement followed by sadness. The instructions might have made sense if I was a more expert knitter, but I shelved the book thinking there was no way I would ever make what has come to be called "a swirl."

The book has a companion website that might help you understand why these seem so complicated. The sweaters are essentially cardigans in that they have an open front. They are knit in one piece ending with one seam to sew to produce the sweater. They can be made as circles or ovals, with the neck opening either centered or off-centered.

Fast forward 11 months or so from Christmas 2011, and the Needle Lady, one of our local yarn shops announced a Knit Swirl class to be held one weekend in January 2013. We would pick out yarn and check our knitting gauges on Friday night, then knit all day Saturday and Sunday. The Sunday class was held at a local country club and included their Sunday buffet. Once I learned that I knew why the class was a bit more pricey than I thought it should be. One of the instructors has a yarn-dyeing business, and we were somewhat steered toward her yarns as the best for our swirls (many of the sample ones had been made from her yarns), making the cost a bit more pricey. Nonetheless, I was all in because I was finally going to get the help I needed to understand the instructions.

The sweater I picked to make was called Depth of Field, a centered circle. I chose to make it using two different yarns held together for a nice mix of colors. People who knit will understand what it means when I say the the first step was to cast on over 500 stitches onto a very long circular needle. After knitting three or so rows, I connected the oh-so-long strip into a circle. I was very careful to make sure that I did not twist it (knitters will understand). I counted the stitches several times, each time orienting the stitches to all face in the same direction. There were a couple of women in the class who weren't as compulsive as I; they discovered after knitting about six inches that there was a turn in their work. I felt for them as they realized they would be un-knitting and re-knitting many thousands of stitches.

The sweater is knitted in welts--five rows of stockinette stitch, four rows of reverse stockinette stitch, repeat. The sweater from hell ended up having fifty welts. I think I may have finished about ten welts by the end of the class on Sunday, and that didn't even begin any of the "fun" part separating the circle to work in sleeves of the correct length. I can't remember if we were told in class to check the tutorials on the website or if I discovered that myself. There were various formulas for figuring out the number of stitches to add or drop to shape the sleeves, get the torso a certain length, etc. I extend my thanks to all my math teachers, even the one who kicked me out of his class.

But first, the rest of the story. I made good progress on knitting the giant circle, regularly decreasing the right number of stitches in the right places and possibly even starting the sleeves until February 17, 2013, the start of an adventure I can't believe I did not blog about at the time. The quick and dirty, highlight version is that younger son was driving back from Seattle to start a new job in Northern Virginia. On February 17, he got stopped for speeding just outside Rawlins, Wyoming. Running younger son's license showed that it had been suspended by Virginia in December, a paperwork glitch that did eventually get resolved a month or two later. In the meantime, I had to quickly fly to Denver, where younger son's college roommate picked me up at the airport and drove me the four hours it took to get to Rawlins, Wyoming. Roommate got his gas tank filled courtesy of younger son and headed back to Denver. I got into what was once my dad's car, a Pontiac Firebird with various markings removed and new ones added so that it looked like a Ferrari. This was also a car that my dad never let a woman drive. Drive, I did, to Denver, and then eastward right into what the Weather Channel named Winter Storm Q. Along the way I managed to spin out on the interstate, ending up facing the proper direction but in the shallow ditch along the side of the road. Fortunately, I was able to drive back up onto the road. We made it just into Kansas the first day before playing it safe and stopping at the last town for 100 miles. The next day, we made it those 100 miles in four or five hours only to encounter "Interstate Closed" signs. We did finally make it back, but by that time I was behind on work and other things, and the sweater from Hell got pushed aside.

I eventually did pick it up again, but it took some reacquainting myself with the specifics of sleeves, increases, decreases, special knitting on the arm cuffs, and so on. Life intervened in not too short a time, and I put it away yet again. I picked it up again maybe about a year ago; I've repressed even the approximate when. I made progress until ... I should know better than to knit at night without several Ott lights (one was not enough) ... I dropped some stitches. I took a deep breath and tried to pick them up. I dropped more stitches. To make this all the more difficult, I was at that point knitting two separate sides of the sweater, each using two strands of yarn. I dislike both of those types of knitting, which may be why the dropping of additional stitches resulted in my sobbing hysterically, carefully putting the sweater and all the accessories and pattern book into a cardboard box that I shut and put out of sight.

Not too many days later, I emailed a friend who at one point had working in a knitting store. She said she would rescue me. Several attempts at setting up a time fell through; she was working through some family difficulties. At one point, I got an email newsletter from the Needle Lady owner. What the heck! I replied explaining about the sweater and could someone at the shop help me. She replied immediately saying to bring it in right then and there. I replied truthfully that that day was not a good one and could she suggest another time in the coming week. Never heard from her.

While working the polls last November, the sweater came up in conversation with the other assistant precinct chief who, it turns out, is an expert knitter. She said to give her a call, she'd be glad to help me. After the election, one thing and then another got in the way and I never called her. By then, I was feeling more than a little sheepish. I kept thinking that I should start another knitting project but every attempt to pick something out fell flat. I finally decided that I had a mental block against starting another project before I had finished this one.

As it turned out, my friend picked up the extra stitches and got me back on track in less than thirty minutes. When I came home and gathered my wits, I was embarrassed to realize that I only had about ten or twelve rows to knit to finish the knitting. After working all the loose yarn ends in, I had to tackle blocking the sweater. More experienced knitters will shake their heads when they hear me say that I had only ever blocked one sweater before, and that was a special case of needing to put a zipper in where I had cut a steek. The shape of the sweater from Hell was going to make blocking a bitch, so I sought more help from my friend the expert knitter. She loaned me something called blocking wires and explained how to use them.

To show you some of the frustration of the knitting, blocking, and seam-sewing to come, here is what the sweater looked like after knitting and right before I blocked it.

The two parts folded over in the center are the sleeves. I had to pin each side if the shape to be the same length and line up various points. All that was easy compared with the next step, figuring out where to put the seam. I read what the book said. I read the tutorial from the website. After much profanity and some tears, I said, "Screw this I am just going to start pinning and be done with it!" And pin I did which was okay until I realized the next day--as I was about to start on the sewing-- that what I had pinned was not one continuous seam. It was two short ones off each end of a long one. Fortunately, it was easy to see what I had done wrong, so re-pin I did and commenced sewing. I normally hate sewing knitted things together (one reason I absolutely love Icelandic knitting), but I really wanted to see the end of the sweater from Hell. And here it is...

It came out a bit smaller than I thought it would, possibly due to a gauge issue I shall discuss with my friend the expert knitter. I still like it, though, and will wear it when the weather turns cold. I just need to find a nice shawl pin to hold the two sides of the front together.

I was adamant while finishing this that I would never make another. Now that it's done, and I can see what it looks like, I think I may make another one. That one would be done with one strand of yarn only, and I might try an oval to get a longer back. That will be in a while, though. I'm meeting with my friend the expert knitter next week about a multiple cable sweater I've been wanting to make for longer than the sweater from Hell took me. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

STPT Nutrition Challenge Recipes!

In the recipes below, I've replaced white flour with whole wheat and sugar with honey. Once I figure out the best substitute for white flour in my apple pie filling (whole wheat flour? cornstarch? something else?), I'll add that recipe here.

Pie Crust 
(adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook)

The following makes one (1) crust. Double or otherwise multiply as needed.

Cut together 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1/3 cup cold butter. Use a pastry cutter, two forks, or two knives. If the butter is unsalted, add 1/4 teaspoon salt. (The original recipe noted that 4/5 white flour plus 1/5 whole wheat flour was a nice mix.)

When the mixture is uniformly blended, add about 3 tablespoons cold buttermilk (the recipe says one can use cold water instead, but I've always made it with liquid or even powdered buttermilk plus cold water)  or enough so the mixture holds together enough to form a ball.

The recipe says to chill the dough for at least one hour. When I do this, it is incredibly hard to roll out, and the second crust always rolls much more easily than the first. Chilling it for a while is good, but a half hour suits me better than a full one.

Hearth Bread 
(adapted from a King Arthur flour recipe)

This makes two loaves. I make this in a Cuisinart mixer using the dough hook. It can be made by hand, but kneading it will be a real workout. Put 1 tablespoon yeast, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 tablespoon honey in a bowl. Add 2 cups hot water (I use the hottest water that comes out of my tap) and let it proof. Add 6 cups of whole wheat flour, 2 cups at a time, beating a bunch after each addition. 

When it's all beaten together and reasonably smooth, give it a couple of kneads by hand. Put it in a buttered bowl, flipping over so that there's butter on the top as well as the bottom. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel. Put the bowl in a warm place. I let my dough rise on my stove, beside (not on) the burner that vents from the oven, with the oven temperature set at 500 degrees F. Let the dough rise an hour or until doubled in bulk. 

Punch the dough down, split it and give each half a knead or two to get it into a loaf shape and put it into loaf pans sprayed with cooking spray. (Aside: I have trouble getting the whole wheat version into a "pretty" loaf. Taking taste over appearance, I don't mind.) Let the loaves rise for 30 minutes.

Fill a 13 x 9 inch cake pan halfway with water, and put this on the bottom shelf of the oven. After 15 minutes, put the loaves in on the middle rack. After 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees F. After 10 more minutes, they're done.