Thursday, April 29, 2010

Self Care Deficits

Lately, I seem tormented by making a big decision, and then once I do, I find it hard to admit I've made a mistake and fix the problem. Take the rug for instance. I still don't like it, but now that it's here, I lack the energy and drive to make things right. In the first place, it's too late to return it and start fresh (there are Leo hairs all over the damn thing), and in the second place, I just don't care.

I am apathetic.

In my dining room, there are no curtains. Anyone walking down my drive is free to peek into the room and see what's going on. Oh gee...look at that! She has her purse sitting right out on the counter for all of the snooping world to see. My problem is I don't know what I want. Do I want woven blinds? Do I want curtains? I can't commit, so there is nothing.

This problem is deep seated and overflows into all aspects of my life, but seems to point right back to that night in December when I made the worst possible decision I could, and got out of my car. My inner voice was screaming at me to get the hell out of there, while the devil on my shoulder was simultaneously calling me a coward. I let my psyche down by failing to pay attention to the right signals.

Though I'm sleeping better, it's not a normal sleep. At least twice a week, I take something to help slumber along. The rest of the days are spent waiting for the medications to wear off. Apparently, I'm sensitive to some drugs. While I've had no recent incidents at work, I spend the majority of my working time willing the hospice hot line to be silent. Now that's a trick.

Like every Wednesday, I saw the therapist yesterday. She asked me, besides knitting and reading, what I do to take care of myself. The question took me aback and I've been thinking about it ever since. Frankly, besides those stated interests, I don't take great care of myself and I could do better, if I could only muster enough energy to care.

Today, hoping to make a real change in my life, I saw a new psychiatrist. I refused to see the last one I saw, Dr. Charlatan. He sucked. This one really seemed to care and we've started a new plan of attack. Well, OK. Started is a strong word, but the new prescriptions are filled and I'm willing to keep an open mind about it all. I'm trying...really, I am.

I want my life back.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Those Immigrants

What would hockey be without them?

Pretty damn boring.

Bring on San Jose!

A word to the Phoenix Coyotes--be careful traipsing around Arizona without your papers handy.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Officially Crazy

I have begun my Christmas knitting. Not only that, I finished the first item.

The yarn is the sugar cane (very sweet) and the pattern is the Easy Drop Stitch Scarf. I do beg to differ with the title though, because sure, while it's simple and easy, after 20 pattern repeats, all I wanted to do was poke myself in the eye with a needle. This is the main reason I don't knit a lot of scarves. Those days are long gone. I much prefer the three hour neck warmer. It appeals to the hamster who apparently runs on that little wheel in my brain.

Anyways, one item in the Christmas basket, too many to go.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a half completed poncho to finish knitting by Saturday.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Burning Questions

Every Saturday morning, I drag my worn out behind from my comfy bed, swiftly drink a cup of coffee, torture my hair to lie flat, throw quarters for parking into my pocket, pack up my wheel and wool and head down to the yarn store to spin.

As tired as I am after working a full week, I force myself into this activity, because really, therapy doesn't get better than this. I get more out of three hours with this diverse group of women than I get out of the Candy Man or weekly therapy. I live for Saturdays. The spinners have the store to themselves for the first hour and then the knitting circle joins the room. The spinners, close to ten of us each week, are by far the most boisterous and daring; willing to tackle any subject.

This week's three hour session covered a vast array of topics from how hula hoops can bruise you, to how we think a dance pole would be a nice addition to the store. For exercise, of course. This then led to the discussion of a Detroit mother who found her naked 14 year old dancing in a Detroit strip club this week.

After awhile, things got quiet with just the gentle click of needles and the distinct sounds of treadles filling the room. All were busy with the industry of making yarn or fabric when Emily, very serious, turns to Sarah and asks, "how many bumps can you fit in your turkey roaster?

Instantly, all is well in the crazy world with questions like this. A simple question, a variable answer and a whole new discussion on non food prep uses for electric cooking appliances and plastic wrap. They're serious fiber artists, of course, and Sarah's turkey roaster has likely never met a turkey. She uses it to dye some of the most glorious wool I've ever spun.

Here's hoping the week ahead holds only simple and pleasant questions to ponder or answer.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Love, Hate and Other Matters of the Heart

I'm trying to decide if I love or hate the rug that shipped last Saturday and was received last night. It warms up the room and has a mix of colors that match the furniture, so what's not to like? Meh. That's about the strongest emotion I can summon. It's OK. It isn't what I wanted, but it was $400 less. It's also darker to hide the shedding beast's fur. It's not like I didn't know he was a shedder. We discussed it and decided this is the breed of dog we want to share our home.

Who? Me? It's not's sharing.

This off centered light fixture that sits at the end of the living room has been marked for the scrap heap. I think I hate it. Yep. I do. The only saving grace is that the halogen bulbs within really light my way when I'm knitting. We'll see how long I can ignore this eyesore.

Besides the fact that my room is too small, and the walls are the same color as every other room in the house, what's not to like about this picture? Nothing really, except that I can't snuggle beneath that gorgeous quilt I won from The Women's Colony giveaway until sometime later tonight. The maker of this quilt said it needs to be used. No problem. I'm sending out a big thank you to The Women's Colony and Mrs. G for this beautiful work of art. I'm also going to use this as a color palette while paint shopping.

Camera shy Brian and the belly rub hog-dog, Leo (or as my husband has dubbed him, Leotus).

The long awaited appointment with the Obi-Wan of electrophysiology cardiology at the University of Michigan was today. The good news is that my son, long maintained on a beta blocker, is free to go about his life with barely a nod to his heart. It'll keep on beating normally with or without the medication. Obi-Wan thinks the young man has outgrown his disorder. The bad news is that my young son is free to pursue his dreams and that includes a four year stint in the military.

Since he can stop taking his heart meds, maybe I'll be able to use them for the worry my heart will surely feel as he takes his next steps.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Old Familiar Places

Today would have been my mother, Henri's, 84th birthday. It's hard to imagine that she's been gone for nearly 4 years, and my father has been gone for nearly 8 years.

It must be my work that causes this, but I'm much more sensitive to birthdays and anniversaries of loved ones I've lost. On my father's birthday, April 6th, I was doing a start of care and couldn't think of anyone else except my own father. It was hard to be or stay in the moment. I was busy that day and had little time for reflection.

I've been thinking about my mom a lot this past week. She wasn't the easiest person to get along with, but that's often a two way street. Though we had weighty political discussions, she on the far right and me swinging to the left, we often glossed over saying the important things. It wasn't that I couldn't handle them. She couldn't. We never went where we should have with our times together (minefields can be dangerous). I never really thanked her, or forgave her for her motherly mistakes and I never asked her for forgiveness for the things I may have done to hurt her. I'm sorry for avoiding these discussions now because I can't change this.

Henrietta was a handful after my father passed away. What my newly hospice educated eyes now see is that she was grieving and at a complete loss without my dad around. She outlived him by four lonely years. When she died, my sister and I found a journal she had started and a few letters she'd written to my dad. It broke my heart to read her entries and to think that she could not discuss her feelings with us, though at times I think she tried. Certainly, she was someone who would have benefitted from professional bereavement support. Hindsight.

I've reflected quite a bit this week on forgiveness and letting go of feelings and hurts that go back 50 years, but to honor her, this is exactly what I'm working on. I'm thankful for the things she did give me: a work ethic, a moral compass, a love of music, ballroom dance, sports in general and hockey.

I've made a conscious effort to replace how she looked as she lay dying in her hospital bed with more positive memories. I much prefer the snapshot in my mind of her sitting around the piano bar of the St. Clair Inn and singing songs of old with my dad and their friends. This time of the year, she'd have been glued to the television watching playoff hockey and her beloved Detroit Red Wings.

Happy Birthday, Henri. You are missed.

This one's for you:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Monday was for Christmas company. Two friends I used to work with came by to see my new digs, and since we've not been together since before the holidays, we exchanged Christmas gifts. They got hand spun and knitted items and I got yarn specific goodies. It was wonderful to see them, but I wonder how we let things go so long without hanging out. We laughed ourselves stupid, ate good food, gossiped about the old days, shopped at a fabulous fabric store and had a great afternoon. Too bad for me that work got in the way and cut the day short.

I love knitting for these women. Even my early attempts at knitting were met with gushing praise from them. Last summer, after they'd worked a 12 hour midnight shift, they met me early in the morning to go see my shawl on display at the Michigan State Fair.

One of the gifts I got from my friend, Judi, was a skein of Araucania Ruca. It's multi-colored, soft as a baby's ass and made entirely from sugar cane.


So sweet, I searched and searched for the perfect single skein project and cast on this afternoon. While I've had to intersperse a little work (it is how I pay the bills around here), I've completed two repeats of the pattern and I'm liking it. A lot. But I like it for the softness of the yarn, drape, sheen and overall beauty. It gets a charge more score for its pain in the ass factor (PITAF). The yarn is slippery, hence the clover needles and because the twist seems loose, it tends to be a bit splitty.

I first read about the PITAF (my own term) when searching for how much to value the shawl I knit and donated to my own hospice agency for auction. Utilizing a formula that includes the cost of the yarn and a reasonable rate of 35 cents a yard (it would be 25 cents without PITAF), that shawl was worth about $540. It raised about half that at auction. Sad, I know.

I get several requests for items I make and ordinarily avoid committing. I'm in the business of nursing the dying, not knitting for the living. I knit for sanity...not profit. People will occasionally ask though, and go into sticker shock when I tell them how much I'd charge for an item. For instance, one woman I worked with asked me to make socks for her husband who has MS. She wanted to know what I'd charge for a pair, and I told her that she could just pay for the yarn...about $25. She about fainted at the cost for a single pair of hand knit socks, but I didn't charge her for anything else. Like time. Lots of time. And the PITA factor of the yarn. Or the fact he had big and unusual feet. Typically, if the yarn is a superwash sock yarn, there isn't much to go wrong with it. It doesn't split or fray, dropped stitches are easy to fix, and the sock wears well. His had mohair in the mix and mohair sticks. Hence, PITA factor means one should charge more. There can also be a PITA factor with a pattern. Is it lace, cables or intricate color work? Charge more. This woman's husband loved the socks so much, she asked me to make a second pair. I did not do it, because the work that went into it went unappreciated. She thought nothing of what it takes to make something of such delicate yarn and very tiny needles.

How do you put a price on what you make? I've read some sites that advise charging triple the value of the notions used. For instance, take my recent Icelandic sweater. If I were to make one for resale, I should charge around $300 for one. Nobody wants to pay that for a sweater, and I'm no TJ Maxx. There is another resource out there that recommends charging by the yard and adding the PITA factor. After all, it's about putting a value on your work, your art and your time. If you take an ordinary pair of nothing-special socks, depending on the intricacy of the pattern and the cost of the yarn, the actual value of hand knitting a pair is north of $75 And don't ask me what to charge if the item is made of hand spun yarn. I haven't a clue. Do you?

Therefore, I have a pretty steadfast policy on what I'll do with requests to make somebody something special just for them. I ordinarily don't. Never say never though, because once in a blue moon, I do.

What I prefer is to make something for someone because I want to and because they appreciate my work, time, talent and the costs involved. My best friend, Fannie, will get an Icelandic sweater. Not because I love her, which I do, but because she is so enthusiastic when she gets something from my needles or my wheel. Sara is a frequent recipient of my goods because she adores them--even the flops. And Judi...well she will get a scarf made of sugar. Mainly because she's sweet, but primarily because she thought of me when she picked out yarn, but somehow, the color of the skein and texture of the fibers spoke to her. It'll be my needles that turn it into something for her to treasure.

Do you make knitted items for sale?

If you sell your hand knits, how do you put a price on them?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Rabbit Died

Last night I ventured into the yarn room, where, over the past few days, I've made limited progress organizing everything. Thursday, I went up to find my copy of, Mother Daughter Knits, for the neck warmer pattern. One thing led to another and all of the books, magazines and patterns got unpacked. That felt good. I found what I'd been looking for in the first place, and abandoned the rest (being led astray could be the main reason I can't get organized up there).

Yesterday was spent spinning and accumulating more sale yarn for the makings of the feather and fan shawl. I need a total of 1,000 yards of different yarns that have a little something in common. Lucky for me, both local yarn stores had sales and my inspiration yarn, the creamsicle colored silk and merino blend I spun last year, was located in the first bin I opened last night.

I was on a roll and a full two weeks before the class starts.

As you can see, the shawl will be all about color and texture. It's likely the shawl's delicate lace pattern will be lost as the eye gazes upon everything else. Throughout my house and nearby shops, I've collected silk, ribbon, angora and plenty of both thick and thin yarns. Wanting to spin something completely different, I over spun a little BFL to use as a base (core) yarn and then core spun a funky batt of wool that seemed to have every color under the sun in the family I need, with just the right amount of glitz thrown in for sparkle. Four ounces of wool yielded a mere 65 yards of eye candy, but for a first attempt at core spun yarn, without a bulky flyer, I think I did a pretty good job.

Seen together in a group photo, I'm not so certain the core spun yarn goes well with the rest of the gang, but I'm still willing to think about it for awhile. I have two weeks.

Feeling fairly smug about it all, especially the fact that for more than 40% of the project needs, I made the yarn myself and then bought the rest at sale prices, I put it all away.

Or so I thought.

While this yarn appears a tangled mess, it's actually been shredded.

This morning, I awakened to find that my dog has finally sprouted devil horns. He also has a hankering for angora. That would be angora rabbit.

Note to self: get a lock for the yarn room.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Working Black Cloud

Leo watching Cesar train an overly aggressive Lab. The growling intrigued Leo.

It's been a rough week with work and I'm grateful it's finally Saturday. I've pronounced a lot of deaths this week, and that's really unusual for me. In fact, I've pronounced one death every single night and tonight, two. Doing this is so rare for me, that I often go a month at a time without having to do this task. I never really thought this would take such an emotional toll, but that was before I got clobbered with the likes of a week like this. I feel drained.

Enough already! I'm crying uncle to the cosmos.

To help alleviate the stress of the week, I knit one neck warmer and then went up to the yarn store this morning to buy buttons. I should have gone to the fabric store since while I find fabric pretty to look at, I'm not tempted to buy. Of course there was a sale which was the underlying reason I went shopping for buttons in the first place.

The idea for what I plan to make started with the neck warmer made of my creamsicle hand spun, and grew from there. I chose only yarns in that color family, but these are yarns outside of what I usually play with. The project, a feather and fan shawl of many different yarns should be interesting and with luck, it will take my mind off my work.

Now I need only find all that yarn I spun last year. I know half of it is waiting to be frogged, but I have no clue where the rest of it's hiding. Maybe I should get to unpacking that yarn room.

Here's hoping the yarn turns up soon, and that death takes a little holiday for me next week.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Case for Giant Kibble

Day 4 for us with Leo, and I'm still waiting for him to sprout horns and become the dog from hell. It just isn't happening. He's a good dog and seems to fit right in with us.

Today we went to the vet for a well doggie check and he was. Healthy. I bought a bag of kibble made by Hill's to see if the enormous size of the food would slow him down. It doesn't and he swallows the giant kibble whole. He's just a pig, but he hasn't upchucked in 2 days. I'm going to try one of those fancy contraptions you all were so kind to link me to.

Since this isn't just a blog about a dog, I thought I'd touch on the gorgeous Fair Isle sock I've been knitting.

It is beautiful.

It doesn't fit.

Before I rip it out, I'm going to wait for Stinkerbell to come over and try it on. It might fit her bony little feet. That's the problem with knitting Fair Isle in the round. One minute it fits, and the first set of decreases later, it doesn't. The yarns, even carried loosely in the back, can make such an object too snug. It's kind of frustrating, but I won't throw in the towel yet. I'm going to try the same pattern again with a heavier weight yarn like Alpaca With a Twist.

Since I'm at an impasse with the knitting, I think I'll go spin something pretty.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Eyes Wide Open?

I'll never forget the maternal-child health nursing instructor I had in nursing school. Her core belief for preventing an STD was that all folks participating should turn on the lights in the room to see what they're getting in the bargain. Lights off, you're making a deal with the devil, warts or herpes, take your pick.

She had a point.

Even though it was broad daylight when we met our dog, it's turning out that he has a few flaws. Nothing major, because overall, he's a pretty spectacular dog. Is it too soon to talk about the problems I see in Leo? I hope not, because I need advice. The reasons the owner added for surrender of the dog were that:
  • He was aggressive toward the female dog. Well, duh. She hadn't neutered him. Yesterday I saw him running in the yard with 2 females and I have to say, it looked like normal pack behavior and play. I think his problem was fixed when he lost his bits after the shelter got ahold of him.
  • He was marking every place he went with pee. Double duh. See above. He hasn't peed on anything here except the driveway and the grass. Good dog, Leo. Good dog.
  • He had digestive problems. This I plainly see and I think I know the cause.
Leo is snarfing his food as though it's the last bit of chow he'll ever see.

I put his kibble in the dish, and he inhales the food without chewing. I'm at a loss to get him to stop and today had to clean up some huge piles of barf. Sillliyak was prophetic with his word verification warnings. Damn.

So this afternoon, I had to feed him again because the kibble he puked up was still whole. When I fed him, I gave him two cups of kibble and did it at the rate of 1/4 cup at a time. It didn't slow him down, but he didn't puke. Tonight, I gave him another two cups of kibble, but this time, I smeared the bottom of his dish with a glue--peanut butter--and packed his kibble on top of this. It took him about 4 minutes to eat up all the kibble and I actually heard him chewing.

This behavior for racing to eat his food is not one I think I can change right away, and I've never had a dog that did this. I'll bet the original owner's other dog gobbled up the pup's food. He learned to eat fast or go without. I'm sure 2 months at the rescue did nothing to improve this.

Do you have other tricks I can use to slow this beast down? I tried to video him this morning, but I didn't have the heart to watch him eat so fast and then get sick. I think this is a main reason he's underweight. He's not keeping nourishment down. Although I haven't put my hand in his dish when he's snarfing, he hasn't growled at me at all, even when I try to pull him away from the dish. I don't think he's resource guarding in the traditional sense. He's just eating fast.


I'm all ears.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Second Chances

Meet the newest member of our family, Leo. He has a very sweet nature and is smart, athletic, listens to basic commands and while he's been home for a few hours, the worst thing he's done is jump on the sofa. I'll have to keep an eye on him because a couple of times now, I've had to shoo him away from my spinning wheel. Note to self: put the wheel away. When nature has called, he's gone outside to do his business, so all in all, I consider this a most excellent beginning.

He's a bit of a cookie thief, though. While shopping for pet supplies, he about wiped the store out of cookies they keep in bulk bins. Is it stealing when they keep those bins close to the floor and entice the visiting beasties? I had to laugh as he went from bin to bin swiping cookies and inhaling the evidence. He also likes coffee and has been twice busted lapping up mine. It's OK, I can share.

Apparently, one of the neighbors likes him, too. In welcome, someone threw a tennis ball in our yard. One minute it wasn't there, and the next time we went out, there was the ball just waiting for a new owner. He seems to like to play catch.

I keep waiting for Leo to have a little lie down, but apparently, he's not big on naps. I think the first thing I need to teach him is the fine art of snoozing on a Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Better and Better

This weekend has been full of nothing but good news. For the life of me, I don't know what I've done with my black cloud. Perhaps it's finally moved on.

We learned this afternoon that our Dobie adoption has been approved. Tomorrow, I'm going to go take a look at what this rescue has to offer, but I've already got a hankering to meet Leo.

Damn...he's handsome! No?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Pinch Me! This can't be real.

The adoption process is well on its way. So far, all of my references have been called, and so has the vet. This group has a large selection of Dobermans for adoption, and the process should take about a week.

In other news, look what I won today. I'm off to buy a lottery ticket now because I can't believe my luck. Wow! Thank you, Mrs. G!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Adoption Crap Shoot

Well we went to the shelter where we watched another family adopt Bruno right out from under us. They beat us there by 15 minutes and we never stood a chance...we didn't even get to meet him.

It was interesting though, because I got a chance to talk to the workers at the Humane Society, and it turns out that constant destruction of the previous owners belongings was the reason she surrendered the dog. While waiting for the adopting family to get their fill of Bruno, which they never did, I sat outside the glass enclosure and observed this dog's behavior. Not once did this dog sit during the 45 minutes that I watched him and he never had a moment where he had nothing in his mouth. At his feet was a bunch of fluff from a toy he destroyed while visiting with his new family.

So blinded by this dog's beauty, and he was gorgeous, I don't think these people saw this destructive behavior for what it is. I have a feeling that Bruno is a one dog wrecking crew. Worse, he's full of anxiety and his constant chewing is a reflection what's going on in his head.

Undeterred, we went home and I filled out an application to a Dobie rescue organization. Have you recently filled out adoption forms for a dog? They're pretty detailed in the information they want. I had to give three references, my vet's telephone number, detailed history of pets gone by, a description of my home, my yard, my discipline plan and a $10 processing fee to even look at my application. Now I know that placements have gone bad for some dogs, but this app was so lengthy, it took me an hour to it out. I've still not heard a peep--even an auto reply would be nice--telling me that they've received the application for review.

Understanding the rescue process is expensive and these not for profit agencies need to recoup costs, their dogs are not free. To rescue a Dobie, we're going to have to pay about $400. Tell me, what's the difference between rescuing a dog and buying one that still has puppy breath? They cost only a little more.

In the meantime, these rescue organizations give almost no information to me for considering adopting through them. Don't think this isn't important; it is. Awhile ago I went into a home to see a patient. Supposedly, there was rescue kennel on the premises, but the kennel wasn't outside. It was indoors where twenty dogs, Lord knows how many cats and scads of flies shared a home. The smell was atrocious and there was animal urine and feces everywhere. Who do you suppose oversees a situation like that?

Last year, there was another fellow fostering Chihuahuas in his home in the Detroit area. He had over 100 of them in a 1000 square foot home. Some of them were alive and some were dead. The home was in such bad condition that it was condemned. Who vetted these particular people to rescue and foster animals? I'm sure that initially, their hearts were in the right place, but in no time flat, everything literally went to the dogs.

So, we'll keep looking for that perfect match and weigh our options. I've waited 13 months, I think I can wait a little longer to meet my perfect dog.

The Thing About Dobies


In the movies, Dobermans are always portrayed as ferocious guard dogs. While they're good at guarding their pack and surroundings, this breed of dog can be, if raised properly, the sweetest of beasties. Their movie roles don't tell the real story of the character of this dog breed.

This morning, we're traveling across town to meet one. He's two and in a local Humane Society shelter. He has the dopiest looking grin on his face and those floppy ears? Adorable. If he's had his ears cropped, I can't tell from the photo.

We don't know much about this guy, but I'm willing to take a look--expected warts and all. This dog has everything going against him for adoption. He is a male. He's an adult. He'll shed. He's big. He can be prone to hip dysplasia. So needy emotionally, a Dobie will follow you into the bathroom in an effort not to be alone. In return for walking, feeding, watering and loving this dog, he'll be the most loyal creature in the house.

I can't wait to meet him.

Everyone who reads my site knows I don't believe in accidents. Is it a mistake that the only non pitbull dog posted on the local rescue pages was posted the same day our gate was finished and we began our search for a pet in earnest? I think not.

Here's hoping for a good fit with Bruno.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The is in!

To shelter, to shelter to get a sweet dog,
Home again, home again, jiggety jog.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010


For 23 of the past 25 years, I've managed to work a lot of weekends and holidays. A schedule like this is the bane of any nurse's existence. It's just the way it is as the sick don't keep to a normal 9-5 schedule like the rest of the world. My husband had every single weekend and holiday off. Now the tables have turned and I work only one holiday a year (one of my choosing), and no weekends, and he works most weekends and almost every holiday. It would seem that airline travelers don't take breaks on those special days, either.

This leaves me in the position of flying solo when having to care for both my daughter, and worse, MLTL, on these days. It really does take a village, but it would seem the village has a tendency to disappear at these times.

At noon on Easter, my son picked up his sister and brought the ham over at the same time. He promised to stay and help out while I cooked and promptly fell asleep on the sofa. Since he's carrying 18 credits and working part time, I took pity and didn't terrorize him while he slept. Rachel immediately saw the advantage in this relative lack of supervision. Three times, I had to sweep the floor of crumbs and spit wads of paper. Don't worry, she didn't chew any books or DVDs. Instead, it was a few brochures she found tucked inside the DVD cases, bits of tortilla chips and Syrian bread crumbs.

At around 4 PM, my son went to fetch Mr. Larger Than Life. After much fuss over the small amount of artichoke salad he brought as a "house warming gift" and the beauty of the ham he had purchased for himself (everyone else ate grape leaves), he shuffled into the living room and sat with a bored look on his face. He wasn't into watching Winnie the Pooh with Rachel on the only babysitter television in the house, so my son gave him my husband's laptop. A Dell. Windows. This isn't what the man is accustomed to using. He's used to my son's laptop. A Macbook. After a bit of fuss, my son gave him my laptop to use. One he's familiar with.

Or so I thought.

Sunday night, when everyone left and I'd mopped Rachel's paths around the house by following the crumbs and bits of paper for the fourth time that day, and sterilized my tooth brush I caught her using, I sat down to upload the photos and write the grape leaf tutorial, watch The Pacific and surf my favorite sites. It was late when I noticed that someone had managed to delete all of my bookmarks.

All of them.

Perhaps it's time to go back to working the holidays for a break. It's certainly less work.

Monday, April 5, 2010

No Arab Mama in the Kitchen?

Then you'll have to make the grape leaves yourself.

Stuffed grape leaves are an acquired taste. Having eaten many bad renditions, I can understand why people may say they don't care for the dish. Made properly, it's a little bite of heaven. There are as many versions of this recipe as there are grape varietals. You won't come across a better recipe than mine. If you think you have, send it along and I'll try to keep an open mind when I try it. Since you aren't here to eat the leftovers, meager as they are, I'm giving you my recipe along with a picture tutorial. While they sound difficult at first, to make 100, it only takes about an hour in prep and an hour to cook.

First, you'll have to start with the leaves themselves. The name implies where the leaves can be found: anywhere you find a grape vine. If you happen past an area where ethnic women appear to be cleaning a fence of vines, don't worry. It's not some new type of chain gang. You've likely stumbled across pilferers of wild grape leaves. If you're not as adventurous as women like these, you can get your grape leaves from the grocer. That's where I pick mine. You can also order them from an online grocer. Living in a city that houses the most Arabs outside of the Middle East, even the local grocers carry grape leaves in metro Detroit. The California Orlando brand is one of my favorites. There are approximately 60 fairly perfect grape leaves in every jar.

Here are the rest of the ingredients:

1. 2 pounds ground chuck. I like lamb, but not everyone does, so I go with the beef. I use chuck because of the fat content. Fat = flavor. Don't change things here and think you're doing your waistline (or pocketbook) a favor by using sirloin. They won't be tasty.
2. 1.5 cups of rice. I use Uncle Ben's original. No instant rice here.
3. Two to three lemons--how many used depends on how juicy they are. Fresh lemons only!
4. Salt and pepper to taste.
5. Water
6. An ancient, but trusty pot along with tools to weight the rolls down--more about that later.
7. Good Greek yogurt, plain of course.

Before you get to the good part, soak the rice in water. Really there is just enough to cover the grains. The purpose is twofold as it helps rinse any impurities out--they float to the top--and it softens the raw rice.

Gently remove the leaves from the jar. They're vacuum packed in there and can be hard to remove from the jar. Think finesse here, not force. Rinse the leaves in cold water and save the torn and ratty looking ones (shouldn't be many) to line the bottom of the pot.

Lined and ready for loading.

With a small paring knife, or your fingers, trim the piece of stem that's connected to the leaf. These vines are tough and you don't want them in your rolls.

Season the meat. I use a healthy teaspoon of kosher salt for the two pounds of meat and another healthy teaspoon for the two cups of rice. The pepper? Oh, about 20 grinds of fresh pepper (not too coarse). Scoop up the rice in your hands and squeeze the water out. Put the rice in with the meat and quickly working with your hands, mix the rice into the meat.

Heat up a pan and fry a small sample to test your seasoning. Since the leaves are stored in a brine-like solution, don't go crazy with salt. Additionally, they'll cook in a lemon bath, so the tartness and acidity will add flavor. If the cooked sample tastes great, you're ready to roll.

Lay the leaf private side up. The veins of the leaf are visible and more palpable and this side is duller than the public side of things. We're not making cigars here, so less is more with the meat. For a regular sized leaf, pick up and gently place about 1.5 tablespoons of meat at the base of the leaf (where the stems were detached). Without overworking the meat (this is important, or they will be tough), lay the meat out width wise like above.

Fold the bottom of the leaf up over the meat, and then the sides. Starting at the bottom, roll toward the tips of the leaf with the palm of your hand.

A perfectly rolled grape leaf.

Line the leaves up like little soldiers in your pot. When the first layer is in, give the pot a quarter turn and lay the next layer in perpendicular to the preceding layer. Turn the pot for every layer.

Next, you need three cups of water mixed with the juice of about 2 lemons and don't forget to strain the seeds out. Add about a half to one teaspoon of kosher salt to the mixture. If you run out of lemon juice and it still isn't lemony enough, grate half of one lemon peel (no pith) into the mixture.

Place an oven proof plate upside down over your leaves and while pressing gently on the plate, pour the water into the pot. It should just come to the top of the leaves. I usually add a heavy, oven proof bowl half filled with water on top of the plate. Cover with a lid, bring to a boil, then turn to low and simmer, covered, for about an hour. Smack anyone's hand who lifts the lid, but be sure you're not boiling away in there. You don't want your little bit of water to evaporate before the rice is cooked. If it seems like it is, add a bit of boiling water to the pot to keep it going.

Place on a platter, give the leaves another squeeze of fresh lemon juice. We like ours with a big dollop of plain yogurt on top. If you've not tried it, give it a try. It's delicious like that.

The above recipe will make about 100 rolls, so you need 2 jars of grape leaves to make them. If you're lucky enough to have leftovers, you can eat them cold, or try sauteing them in a little butter with a pinch of dried spearmint sprinkled on top.

Bon app├ętit!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Self Preservation and the Ham

Happy Easter!

Today we'll celebrate our first family dinner in our new home. Everyone will be there except the one who has to work this day.

And it's come down to this: there will be ham on the table this Easter. It's not what I wanted, but with such late delivery of the appliances this week and water issues in the basement, I've capitulated. I did it because it was the easier thing to do. I'm sure MLTL is thrilled. I even let him buy the ham, which is as important to him as me serving the ham. I must remember to thank him 30 times (at a minimum).

Not to be completely done in by circumstance, I made hummus last night (from scratch and super easy) and the ingredients for the grape leaves are sitting on the counter. A little fatoush to seal the deal, and we'll have a feast. Since my honey has to work today, I'm going to finish my coffee and go in to tackle the best thing on the menu. This way, he can take some to work for his own dinner. He didn't get home from work until four this morning, so I'm taking pity on him. Not too much though...the overtime will pay for the unexpected visit from the plumber and the long overdue snaking of the drain in the laundry room. Besides, it's his father I'll be having for dinner and when you get down to it, he's getting the better end of the deal.

Yesterday, in the midst of dust swirling from Jason's ceramic drill (he moved the gas line for the range), and plumbers with snakes, I went to spin yarn. I haven't sat down at my wheel since January. I spun 4 ounces of BFL dyed by my friend, Sarah. First, it was the only wool I could find at hand, and second, it reminded me of spring. This is the color she calls, Woodsy. I think it's beautiful. It's hard for me to spin thicker wool than I usually do. I have a hard time letting more wool into my drafting zone and an even harder time letting it go. It took forever to learn to spin thin wool and now I'm trying to shake it up. Not half bad, but it's really inconsistent. I may ply it with a commercial yarn. Still thinking on that.

In between making hummus, a strawberry and peach trifle, spinning and grocery shopping, I cast on for the dancer and snowflake socks. Truth be told, I cast on Friday night in the electric blue yarn, but I hated it. Not the blue, but the yarn. It was full of knots and the yarn was splitty. I don't think that's conducive to knitting fair isle, so I abandoned that yarn in favor of the aqua and cream colored Spud and Chloe sock yarn. So far, I have a cuff and the dancers done. Perhaps after the grape leaves are finished cooking, I'll knit the first round of snowflakes.

Friday, April 2, 2010

One Thing Leads to Another

If you had told me a year ago, that I'd be smitten with knitting patterns with color, I'd have told you, no way. It all started with that hat class I took last fall and has resulted, so far, in two hats, one pair of impossible mittens and a sweater I busted my butt to knit in a month, but can't wear until next fall because it's so warm. My previous forays into colorwork have all been with self-striping yarn. Oh sure, it's entertaining, but it's the yarn that does the real work there...not the knitter. There's no glory in that, unless you can get the patterning to line up when you're knitting a pair of something. In my mind, if you can get the striping to look like they match, then you're a genius. I don't bother. It's OK for self striping socks to be kissing cousins.

I am completely amazed by the allure of knitting with color these days, and now that I'm finally done with Skippy's socks, and the sweater, I've moved on. After hitting the local Home Goods store last weekend for a garbage can, ironing board and bath mat, I ducked into Barnes and Noble for a coffee. Four books, too much money and one latte later, I went home.

With this.

I was completely taken by the book, but especially the two sock patterns within. In particular, this one.

Let me just say, finding solid color sock yarns is no easy task for someone who wants to create their own patterns with color. I know it's easy online, but I try hard to give my money to my local yarn stores before I resort to that (after all, I don't want them to go away). I'd have preferred a lighter shade of blue, but I do like this Mini Solid in the electric blue, too. I'm fairly sure I have enough yellow and red scraps of yarn to do the duplicate stitching for the dancers. If not, well that's easily remedied.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Two Words

At Last

Life's good...

Really good.

And getting better with the four main food groups solidly represented: bread, coffee, cream and beer. I can take on anything in life with a diet like this.

If you want to hide, do so in plain site. I swear that camera usb cord hid itself here. There's no way I would have stored this cord right next to the television. Right there under my nose.