Chitchat and the occasional in-depth analysis about fiber, knitting, spinning, crochet, cooking, feminism, self-image, and a modicum of personal blathering.

Monday, December 31, 2012

So long, 2012.

2012 was a better year in a lot of ways than 2011. For me anyway. Some of the high and low points...

I got to go to two major fiber festivals, and not just day trips, weekends away with my daughter. We had fun, got closer, and met some terrific people. She's a top notch traveling companion.

Bob lost his job then got a better one. We are still waiting to see how the whole Postal Carrier thing will work out as he is still awaiting his 90 day review, but I feel optimistic. The downside is, it's an incredibly demanding job physically and he is gone six days a week at it. That led to a lot of stress and frustration for me when I didn't have transportation and there were big question marks about getting home some nights. It's also taking a physical toll on him. He's no spring chicken and this much walking is very taxing.

My health has been awful. The neuropathy is getting worse all the time and I have more frequent episodes of tinnitus, as well as increased hearing loss. I feel like things started to improve somewhat towards the end of the year, though, so maybe that trend will continue.

Spent some quality time with my elder daughter. She's very busy with school and work so getting time with her is rare and special. The same is becoming true of my younger daughter. She has moved out and is very busy with school and student teaching so I'm not seeing as much of her.

I did a lot of good spinning and some good knitting, too. I also got a loom and learned to weave.

Not sure if this was a positive or not but I got into some different alcoholic libations. Visited the best beer store I've ever been to (in Poughkeepsie). Also started trying to learn more about wine, French wine in particular. I shouldn't drink but there are a lot of things I shouldn't do that I actually don't do, so it probably evens out. Plus, I don't drink to excess. A couple of nights a week Bob and I will have a beer or a bottle of wine with dinner. Thats's about it.

Here's a few photos from the year in review.


My first knit of 2012. Also my closest brush with internet fame as this has been shared all over and pinned quite a bit on pinterest.


In February, my mother, my daughter, Bob, and I all went to see drag queens. Three generations. I wish I'd gotten someone to take our picture. We had a blast though. The tall blonde queen in purple is Alaska, the significant other of Ru Paul's Drag Race season 4 winner, and a contestant on season 5 herself. Can't wait to see how she does!


In March, I spun this gorgeous gradient yarn for a specific project.


In April, we went to see Lena in a murder mystery dinner theater thing. It was a hoot.


In May, we went to Maryland Sheep and Wool, where we had a great time and Anna and I both got sunburned. And we saw these four hour old lambs.


in June, I finished the project I spun that yarn for.


July was the Tour de Fleece.


In August, we added a new family member. He has had us enthralled ever since.


In September, I chaired my last Western PA Mensa Regional gathering, a mostly thankless task that sucked the joy out of my summer several years running. I'm happy to see the back of it.


October was Rhinebeck, mostly good except the part where someone I thought was my friend was cold and distant and cut me twice. I'm over it, though, and I had a good time for the majority of the weekend. I hope to take Bob someday.

Photo Nov 12, 6 47 19 PM

November was our epic dinner at Paris 66. I reviewed it here. November is also the month I challenged myself to post a blog entry every day that month, and I succeeded, much to my surprise.


December is when this happened, and also when I bought myself a car. But it's not over yet, so who knows.


Hope you all have a terrific new year's eve, enjoy the day tomorrow, and have a wonderful year in 2013. I'm not normally one for resolutions but I'm going to try as hard as I can to keep this house in better order.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Stracciatella alla Fritz

Lunchtime leftovers on Christmas eve at work.

I love making soup in the wintertime, but I don’t always have time to make it all from scratch. This recipe yields a delicious hearty egg drop soup in about a half an hour.

Low sodium or salt free vegetable soup broth, 8 cups. (you can also use chicken or beef. I use veg because I always have some on hand.)
1 small square package frozen spinach
Two eggs
2-4 oz grated cheese. I use a blend of pecorino romano and parmesan.
¼ cup orzo, acine di pepe, pastine, or other small pasta if desired.
Fresh ground black pepper
Tablespoon dehydrated onions
Pinch of oregano

Bring the soup base and spinach to a low boil. If you’re using pasta, add it here and stir well. Beat eggs and add grated cheese. Slowly drip the combined eggs and cheese into the soup, stirring all the while. When all has been added, cover and simmer until broth begins to clear. (it will probably still remain somewhat cloudy-don’t worry about it, it’s still good.) Add onions, pepper, and oregano to taste. You can add salt if you need to but you probably won’t, as the cheese will add salt flavor to the soup. Cover and keep on a low heat until ready to eat.

That’s it! It’s delicious and so easy.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Eve of Destruction

Finally Christmas eve is here. I've come to terms with the fact that I'm not going to finish Bob's socks. He will get them for his birthday. Everything else is wrapped and divided and ready to distribute. I've even started feeling despondent to get that out of the way.


I did some more weaving projects.

This scarf was made from a warp of handspun sparkly green stuff and a weft of some neat Noro ribbon yarn.


Two more sets of tea towels.


And a scarf for a former supervisor. (knitted, not woven)


So that pretty much wraps up my holiday gifting. I also took better pictures of the rainbowy scarf.


All in all I think things are ok.

Oh, I also got myself a present. Just a little one.

2006 Cadillac DTS. It's a grampa car. I needed a car I could drive, and this is a good, reliable, safe car. I hate having car payments again but what are you going to do.

Hope everyone who reads this has a great day tomorrow, whether you celebrate it or not. I plan to relax and enjoy as much as possible.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Shortest day, longest night

I am not a religious person. I'm not particularly spiritual either, not any more. Pain and practicality and life experience have made me extremely skeptical and pragmatic. But I still like winter solstice.

Science makes this the shortest day of the year. The days start to get longer, but not warmer yet, we continue angling away from the sun though our distance changes to allow more light. Or some combination of the above. I'm no scientist. But it's the beginning of the official winter season, and importantly for me, the end of deepening dark.

alien life?

We also got snow today. Not much. (certainly not as much as in the above picture.)

It's a stark, gloomy time of year. It makes me gloomy. Almost as gloomy as national events the past week or so have made me.


I make no effort to disguise how I feel about the unfettered acquisition of firearms. I don't like guns. I don't like gun nuts. People who go on and on about their second amendment rights make me profoundly uneasy and I prefer not to be around those with that mindset. It was disheartening how many people I saw on facebook and in the real world both worried about how the tragic deaths of 28 people in Newtown would jeopardize their unfettered access to firearms. I do not need such people in my life.

Today their spokesperson, the lovely Mr LaPierre, proposed a registry of mentally ill people and armed guards in schools. I don't want to share a planet with people who think this way. I really don't. Mental illness is already so stigmatized and access to care is so hard for those even able and willing to seek it. Mentally ill people are far, far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

But no, we mustn't limit unfettered access to whatever firearms these people require for their elaborate "freedom" fantasies. The dead children? just collateral damage.

Sorry I'm so rambly. I guess I'm waiting for the light.


Thursday, December 06, 2012

Santa week

This is santa week at our house, the week when all the stuff I ordered for gifts begins to arrive on our doorstep. As usual, I fear I haven't bought enough, or that I've forgotten someone. And always, I have to struggle to find room in everyone's stockings, and usually leave an auxiliary stocking pile beside it.

Week after next weekend is baking at my mom's. My cousin Jessica and I have been doing the big baking, the italian nut rolls and cookies and honey balls. My mom makes a few dozen other cookies. It's a lot of work but totally worth it.

Even though I'm an atheist, I love this time of year and get excited about giving out presents. This year will be nicer than last year because I've been able to get gifts for both of my kids. Last year I was trying to figure out if I was ever going to see my older daughter again.

We had lunch today, it was nice. She needs a camera to take pictures of her paintings so I gave her my DSLR. I haven't been using it as much as I want due to lack of opportunity. For the meantime I'll use my phone. I had this fantasy of someday making a living or a name for myself through photography. I love taking pictures and trying to show other people how I see the world. But while I do have talent, I don't have knowledge or craftsmanship to become a "real" photographer. I'm trying to let go of things that aren't serving me mentally and that's one of them. I get stuck between making myself miserable lamenting the things I wanted to do with my life and trying to move forward and enjoy what is real and doable here and now. I will admit though that handing over that camera hurt. I'll get it back someday though and I am happy it will be getting use helping someone I love do what they want and need to do.

A lifelong problem for me is a lack of sticktuitiveness. I have talents. Photography, music, writing. What I don't have, in any of those things, is education, but more importantly I also don't have dedication, the ability to apply myself, the drive to practice and practice and practice and just get up every damn day and do it. Maybe I've had ADD or something all my life, I don't know. Maybe I'm just lazy and unmotivated. At my age, it doesn't much matter. I need to find peace with who I am and where my life is now, not lament what it could have been.

I had a nice glass of beaujolais with dinner, a ham sandwich, chips, and some leftover cole slaw. Bob is at a Beatles thing at a local radio station. I really liked the wine. It was mercifully uncomplicated. I will be drinking more of this in the future.

Higgs has his operation tomorrow, so keep a happy thought for my good boy that he comes through it safe and sound.

Oh, I finished the rainbow scarf.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Learning, Leaning, yearning.

It's always a challenge for someone my age to learn a new craft. I've been weaving some and it's a humbling experience. So many small factors can lead to disaster.

Case in point. I've made quite a few dishcloths and noticed this tendency towards leaning at the end of the weave, but it was slight enough that when the finished piece was removed from the loom, tied off, and washed, no problems. When you get into something longer, though, like a scarf, it becomes a problem.

I did a black warp with a black and sparkly gold weft that ended up a disaster because of this. I thought I had the warp on a bit unevenly and started this rainbow gradient scarf being careful to have everything evenly tensioned and in the middle of the loom, not more threads on one side than the other. It started off fine, but when I got closer to the end, I had this.


That's a mess. I asked around on Facebook and Ravelry, got some good advice, and spent part of the weekend unweaving a big portion of the piece so I could start over, concentrating on correcting my technique. The basic problem was I was pulling the weft yarn too flat across the bottom, and also leaning the heddle a little every time I brought it down to beat. After a long piece, it built up to a pronounced lean. It's way better now.


I hope when I take it off the loom, there's not a huge obvious place where I restarted it. I hope washing it will even things out. I love this yarn and the idea of the piece and I'd hate to waste it. But if it ends up wasted, it will have been a valuable learning experience. Lesson learned. You don't actually know how to weave yet, slow down and take your time, pay attention to what you're doing, and get it right.

I took the cutest cat picture this weekend. What do you think?

I swear that cat is so damn photogenic.

Friday, November 30, 2012

No on Nine

"Nine" arrived from Netflix today.

I should start off by declaring my love for Fellini. 8 1/2 is one of my all time favorite movies. I heard of Nine and felt immediate dread. I had no idea that it was actually a broadway musical for quite some time before. The movie is dreadful.

It's been on for fifteen minutes and I'm already wondering if it could be the worst movie I've ever seen. Nine is the number of times Fellini rolled in his grave.. during the opening number.

Daniel Day-Lewis has an utterly embarrassing Italian accent. Penelope Cruz has a better Italian accent than he does, and her Rs are still 100% latina.

I don't care how much money he poured into this piece of trash, Rob Marshall is no Fellini. He's not even Fellini's pinky.

So. 8 1/2 was a movie about a director who is out of ideas. (but is really about a lot more than just that) Nine is a remake of what 8 1/2 is about on the surface and it just piles musical numbers and blockbuster talent and ridiculous costumes on top of that without really getting into the heart and soul of Fellini's movie.

It's been on for a half hour and Judi Dench is singing. She'd doing her best, but the music is utterly insipid.

This movie started with a giant masturbatory scene with 100 women writhing around an unbathed DD-L, then had Penelope in a scene from low Rent Chicago meets Sweet Charity, so I can scarcely imagine what they'll do with Guido's dream later. I don't know if I'll actually make it that long.

The background music is so bad. Its like they asked Andrew Lloyd Weber to write something that sounded like Nina Rota outtakes.

I'm going to go weave, I can't do this without something else to keep me occupied. I'm actively ashamed of this "be italian" song and Saraghina is like my favorite character in the original movie.

Hey, but I did something!

I had a blog entry every day in November! Woo!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The more things change.

Since, as I talked about yesterday, most of my life has been involved in trying to lose weight in one way or another. I have tried pretty much everything. Never tried a meal delivery plan or bought in to weight watchers, but that’s because of economic realities. I’m pretty smart and have been able to do research, learn about nutrition, biology, etc and interpret studies with a skeptical eye. This practice has come in handy as I have leaned more towards health and away from weight loss. Examining actual facts and figures on the results of weight loss surgery is what sent me away from considering it for myself.

This article from the NY Times starts off well, debunking the “WLS cures diabetes” thing. It turns out the results are not as good as previously reported. Longer term studies (10 years as opposed to 2) show a high rate of remission after five years, leaving the victims of the surgery with ravaged digestive systems and returned diabetes on top of it. All the horrible side effects of WLS, nutritional issues, digestive issues, inability to eat, hair loss, skin problems, psychological problems, acid problems, dumping syndrome, ulcers, hernias, and on and on, with a reduced ability to heal due to the return of the reason you had the damn surgery in the first place. And then guess what? Most of the weight you lost comes back.
This makes me sick.

That’s not good enough for this sorry assed excuse for a fat-hating world we live in. The article goes on to recommend EARLIER surgical intervention for type 2 diabetics because they have slightly better rates of remission. Over a ten year study. What about 15 years? 20 years? What about thin diabetics? What about slightly fat diabetics who don’t meet the guidelines for WLS? Where does it end?

But fat people have to keep on trying. We are expected to go to any lengths necessary to make our fat bodies not fat any more. Never mind that 95% of people who lose weight go on to regain every single pound and then some. We should keep trying! Never mind that there is a far larger rate of complications from WLS than has been made generally known, maybe we’ll be one of the lucky ones who ends up healthy afterwards. Never mind that to successfully lose a large amount of weight and keep most of it off is a full time job in and of itself. Never mind that eating disorders are at an all time high in CHILDREN because of the neverending FAT IS BAD drumbeat.

It just never ends. The hate never ends. The disdain never ends. The pressure never ends. No matter how sick we make ourselves, we just have to keep trying.

Here’s another interesting thing. The so-called OBESITY EPIDEMIC. It’s not. It hasn’t been for a long time. What small weight gains across the population there are can easily be accounted for by increases in height, smoking cessation, and increased antidepressant use.

It’s enough to make me want to bang my head on the wall forever and ever, thus ridding the world of another disgusting fatass. Sheesh.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Finding what I didn't know I was missing

I've always been fat. No, strike that. When I was a little kid, I was plump. Chubby. And for one brief period I was actually very thin. Staying in that place was incompatible with living, though, so I got fat again.

Cute, huh? I think I was about 7.

This was on a vacation when I was 9. We were in Spain. I was definitely sure I was fat then.

6th grade confirmation. I'm the one in the long dress with the poofy sleeves. I was pretty much convinced I was the size of a house at this point.

Here I am thin. I was 18, almost 19, and on a lot of amphetamines and not much food. I wore a size 8 and weighed 148 pounds. I had visible ribs, vertebrae, and hipbones that jutted out so far you could put a coathanger on them.

Needless to say I had issues. I fought back and forth with my weight, all the time feeling disgusting and worthless and every time gaining back more than I'd lost. This happened from probably 8, 9 years old until I was about 40. When I graduated high school, I wore a size 16. I got back into that 16 once, but not for long, and it was all part of a journey to where I landed at 40, in a size 24 to 28 depending on the cut. There was actually a period of time when I had a pair of "fat jeans" hanging on the wall in my bedroom to keep me motivated. Yes, eventually I got to where those same fat jeans were too small.

I gave up trying to lose weight and just did the best I could living day to day in a fat body, but I still hated myself and had very little self-esteem. Eventually, I decided that if people didn't like the way I looked, they didn't have to look at me, and I decided to be as fabulous as I could. Deep insecurities and hatred remained, but I pretty much hushed them up.

When I met Bob in 2002, my weight had been stable for a few years. I was relatively happy and confident. Still in the back of my mind sat the nagging thought that I should DO SOMETHING ABOUT MY WEIGHT. Despite 32 years of trying to DO SOMETHING. Despite ruining my health and metabolism and relationship with food.

I think it was around 2005 when I first found I Blame The Patriarchy, (linked on the sidebar), the blog of one Twisty Faster, a radical feminist and now one of my favorite writers and a HUGE influence on me. Her blog had a standalone forum at that time and it was there someone posted a link to Kate Harding's Shapely Prose, also on the sidebar. That link changed my life.

The post I was linked to was this one. Or maybe it was this one. Whichever it was, it led me down the road to the Fatosphere, to fat acceptance, body positivity, and Health at Every Size. Too late, but better late than never,

If you want to know more about fat acceptance, Kate's archives are a great place to start. So is this.

From there, it's easy to explore links, read, research (studies NOT funded by the six billion dollar a year diet industry) and learn.

I am a happier person. I like myself more now. I am more patient and tolerant with my body. I advocate for myself in medical, professional, and social settings. I wish I had found this when I was 25. I might not have wasted all those years hurting myself instead of embracing the potential for who I truly am. Now, since my injury back in 2008, I have mobility issues, diabetes, and peripheral neuropathy. (along with other fun stuff) If I'd started taking care of myself independent of weight back then, my health would likely be much better now.

But being where I am, I do the best I can.

For more on Fat Acceptance, here are some of my favorite fats on the internet.





And Melissa's excellent series on fat.

Mostly, i would encourage those new to this idea to question what you think you know. Question the conventional wisdom. Question "everybody knows". Read "the diet myth" by Paul Campos and "rethinking thin" by Gina Kolata. Open your mind and open your heart. What have you got to lose?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Beef Short Ribs

Beef Short Ribs are a new thing for me. I never had any idea how to prepare them or how delicious they were until a few months ago, when I ventured into Tonic downtown, and got the poutine, made with homemade cheese sauce and braised short ribs.
Short ribs are a regular on the Penn’s Corner Farmstand meat menu so I decided to try making some. I looked at a few dozen recipes on the internet and then winged it. This is the result of my second try.

Three large pieces of short rib (about three pounds)
One large onion, rough chop
Hot pickled garlic to taste
A couple of bay leaves.
1 ½ cup low salt vegetable broth
1 ½ cup red wine (chianti or burgundy)
Bag frozen mixed vegetables “for soup” (or not-regular old mixed veg works too)
Half a pound whole wheat pasta or egg noodles. (can also be served over potatoes.)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a dutch oven or other large, heavy saucepan, brown the short ribs on both sides. When you turn them over for the first time, add your onion and garlic, and cover.
Once you get a good sear on both sides, add the bay leaves, broth and wine. Add more water if needed to just cover the meat. Cook on medium-low heat until the meat is falling off the bones, at least three hours. (More cooking time gets more flavor out. Really, you probably can’t overcook these.)
Once it's all cooked, pull the meat out of the broth with tongs and set aside to cool. Pour the broth into a bowl or other large container and put it in the refrigerator. There is a lot of fat in short ribs and if you don’t do some kind of separation, it’ll be gross. I tried ladling it off the first time I made this and it was good but too greasy. I don’t have one of those nifty magic pour thingys that separates the grease, so chilling it works well. Make sure you don’t have any bones in the broth, but they’re hard to miss and it’s unlikely anyone would choke on one.
Once the meat is cool enough to handle, remove the bones and as much of the fat and cartilage and connective things as you can get off. Err on the side of leaving a little fat in, though, because the meat is scattered all through the fat. Put it in a container big enough to hold the meat and the broth together and put it in the refrigerator.
Now, go out for pizza.
When you get home, there will be a thick yellow layer of fat on the broth. Take it off and discard it, or save it for science experiments, or for adding to something that needs fat later. Whatever you want to do with it. Pour the remaining broth over the meat and return it to the fridge, using a larger container if necessary. Watch your favorite Drag Queen reality show if it’s on, then go to bed.
Get up in the morning and go to work. When you come home, put the meat and broth into your favorite saucier. Add the bag of frozen vegetables. Heat it up. Salt and pepper to taste.


Cook the pasta or potatoes separately, and when everything is hot, combine and eat. Take out the bay leaves, or give a door prize to the person who finds them. Congratulate yourself for being able to come home and make an incredible dinner in less than a half hour.


Feeds 3-6 people, depending on how hungry they are.

When I came out of work tonight, this song was playing on my google music player. It made me feel like I was in a movie or something.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pizza with Brains

Tonight was the Mensa Pizza Night at Mineo's, the best pizza in Pittsburgh.

I spent most of the day cooking short ribs and pork roast, doing laundry, and weaving. So in lieu of actual content, I will share pizza night photos and the best cannoli ever.

Bob and Dave catch up


Phenomenal pizza. And Sally.


Sally and Louise


Vince, Linda, and some guy I don't know.


Mineo's portrait with Michele in profile.


Dave full of pizza, Barb and Sally.


Michele and Tom.


The remains, with Mariann getting a shot of the corpse simultaneously.


The cannoli needs no introduction.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Unexpected viewpoints

Thanksgiving was, as I mentioned, mostly uneventful. One conversation did happen that made me a little sad, though.

I have this uncle who is pretty awesome. He's married to my difficult aunt, married her late when all their respective children were grown. He's been very good for her and a great addition to the family. He was a longtime family friend and I actually used to babysit for him and his ex wife back when I was a young teenager, so I've known this guy most of my life. He helped me out a lot when I was hurt, took me for doctor visits, called to check in on me etc. Generally a great guy and we all love him to bits.

As my daughter was leaving to go to work after thanksgiving dinner, someone said it was sad she had to work and I mentioned she volunteered because she needed money. I said we help her out as much as we can, but I can't really give her much in the way of pocket money and stuff. My uncle said he didn't believe in helping grown kids at all. Said it would make her overly dependent and she'd never learn to live on her own. I said she was student teaching and going to class full time and then some, and that without our help in what little ways we can help, she'd never make it. Has to put gas in the car, feed the bunnies, and so on. He said she'd figure out a way if we refused to help her. I told him I was glad my mother had never felt that way as we'd have been out on the street more than once. (to which my mother nodded assent) He said, "no you wouldn't have. You'd have figured something out. I did." referring to his single parenthood and how he struggled but managed to make it and raise his three or four kids (I always forget how many) on his own.

I thought of the homeless families I see downtown all the time. I thought of the women in shelters, in abusive situations, the trafficked women and children who had no choices and did what they had to so they could survive. I thought of all the women and children and men too who don't make it, who don't find a way. People who have been turned away from their families and ended up dead.

I was pretty stunned and muttered something about how this was probably not a good conversation to have at that particular point in time. He'd been a little combative all day for some reason, I noticed. He has a prickly, sarcastic edge at times and it's sometimes difficult to tell when he's kidding or not so I just let it go.

It was shocking, though. This person who I admire and respect and love and who has been so helpful to me and to my family over the years, it was rather blindsiding.

Have you ever been surprised and shocked by an unexpected viewpoint?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Learning to weave

One of the things I got myself at Rhinebeck this year was an Ashford Knitter's Loom. Looms come in a mind-boggling variety of types, sizes, shapes, and costs, anywhere from a $5 potholder loom to a $10K floor loom and up. The number and variety of associated products is similarly mind boggling, as this video can attest.

It cracks me up how the warping boards get bigger and bigger.

Anyway, the Knitters Loom is small and folds up. It makes a reasonable width of fabric (24 inches) without taking up a lot of space. It's quite reasonably priced as well, and I thought it was a good place to get into more traditional weaving.

Part of my learning process is the scheme of making tea towels as holiday gifts. I have a bag of crochet cotton to use in various combinations and if I mess up, I can keep it for myself and try again.

This was the first and still is the best one.

This was second and is too big, as well as too ambitious. The stripes are not even, either.

The third one was mostly Anna's making, and is narrower. I think this one might be more bathroom towel.

There was no type of pattern in the weave, but it almost looks like one in the finished fabric. A sorta-herringbone thing. We didn't do anything to it but put it through the wash.

The last one (so far) has not been washed yet. It should be a little wider, I think, and a wee bit longer, but I'm still experimenting with finding the right place to put the warping peg and where to have the loom and etc.

They're pretty forgiving though, because hey, it's a tea towel and who cares if it's an odd size or the stripes are a little weird.

I also made a six foot long black and gold scarf that is a garbage disaster. I think I wove it too tight and the warp was uneven so it ended up all puckered on one side.

All in all I'm pretty satisfied with my progress so far. I have a few more projects in mind leading up to the holidays and we will just have to see how it goes. I'll say this much, weaving is a great stash buster.