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January 31, 2008

Super-simple fast and easy chunky hand-knit beret!

Hello, hand-knit beret!

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My muy adorable sister-in-law Kelli models this chunky hand-knit beret.

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This hand-knit beret used two skeins of Lion Brand Landscapes yarn in the "Rose Garden" color #540-271.

I have been beret-crazy for weeks now, I even knitted so much I had a knit-related injury and got what appears to be a blister. (!!!) But I am loving my hand-knit berets, they're fast and super-simple to make and this pattern seems to work with a wide variety of yarns, which is my favorite kind of pattern. I even took my bag o' berets with me on my trip to Florida so my cute family could model them.

Berets seem sultry and dark and full of espionage. Now, I am realistic. I am a round-faced blonde from Texas, so I am pretty sure a simple hand-knit beret won't make me sultry, glamorous or intense. I am kind of resigned to being "cute" and "perky." (Cute, perky people generally detest both words, just FYI. We are all about the dark, intense and sultry.) But I decided that I could make a beret, too, and wear it and pretend to be intense.

For the record, this might have been one of those projects I should have just searched for a pattern to use (because I'm sure there is one somewhere in my desired level of easiness) and it would have spared me this:

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Ah, the love of the prototype.

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One of the reasons I love knitting with 100% wool is because even though my prototype beret turned out as a big fat mushroom pope's hat, I can just felt it and make it into a lovely little bowl. Not that I need a felted wool bowl, but felting is fun and I'm sure I'll find a use for it. This is perhaps the main reason I prefer knitting to cooking -- when you spend hours working on a hand-knit hat and it turns into a mushroom, you can make a nice bowl or handbag out of it. If you spend hours cooking a meal and you end up with compost, you end up with a hungry, hateful mean cook.

Making a prototype taught me a few things -- for one thing, I needed to make the ribbing using a smaller needle than the body of the hat. The body needed to be much longer to get it to drape like I wanted. Also, the poufy and freakish quality of the decreases could probably be eliminated by adding a simple plain knit row in between each decrease row. And you know what, I was right!

Here is Kelli in Beret #2, A Perfect Hat:

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I used my stash of Paton's Up Country, a discontinued yarn, in silver-grey for both the prototype and the first finished grey beret.

I am sharing this hat recipe because it's so fun, easy and addictive to make. I cannot stop making berets! I have, in fact, gone beret-crazy. It's taking me about two hours for each hat and ya'll, I am a tragically slow knitter. Although I am making great effort to be a less SupaTight Knitter, I am still apparently working out my issues on the yarn so my gauge is probably slightly more cramped than yours. You may want to adjust your needle size to accommodate your own style of knitting (specifically, you may want to use a size 10 or 10.5 needle on the ribbing). Here is my pattern though, exactly as I knit it:

Super Easy & Fast Hand-Knit Chunky Beret Recipe

Yarn: Any bulky yarn -- I have used this same pattern with good results on one skein of Patons Up Country, two skeins Lion Brand Landscapes, one and a half skeins of the JoAnn's store brand yarn "Sensations Licorice," and Lion Brand Wool Ease Thick 'n Quick (it would work better with one skein of Lion Brand Wool-Ease chunky, though. Thick 'n Quick is made a really thick hat that was a little too big. Doh.) Each hat takes about 110 yards of yarn depending on how long you make the body of the beret.

Needles -- Part of the reason this hat knits up so fast is that you make it on big needles! You will need:
16" size 11 circular needle
16" size 13 circular needle
Double-pointed needles in size 13

**** GAUGE *** I am getting three stitches to the inch in the knitted stockinette portion of the hat. I really strongly suggest you use a size 10 needle for the ribbing and a size 11 for the body if you're a more relaxed knitter. Clearly I am not a professional. This would explain the "free" portion of my patterns.

Other Stuff: Stitch markers, and a large-eye yarn needle (or crochet hook) for weaving in the ends when you're done.

Things you may want to read before making this hat:

• The easy roll-brim hat pattern, the basis of all my hat recipes
Working with circular needles
• Learn about increasing stitches by knitting into the front and back of a stitch (with a video demonstration!)
• A little diatribe on decreasing stitches
• My regular ribbed-brim hat recipe

To begin: Cast on 52 stitches using the size 11 needle. Place a marker and join your stitches into a round.

Note: To get a nicer-looking join, I have been casting on 53 stitches and then when I am ready to join stitches, I slip the 53rd stitch over to the left-hand needle and join by knitting the first two stitches on the left needle together. I'm not explaining it well, but sometimes in knitting I think you have to try something yourself before it makes any sense. Try it and see if it improves the look of your join as well.

Make the ribbed brim: Knit 1, Purl 1 all the way around for about five rows. I am knitting about an inch or an inch and a half of ribbing on my hats.

Increase for beret-like poufiness: When you have a wide enough ribbed brim for your liking, begin making the increase row. Still using the size 11 needle, increase in the following way all the way around the hat:

Knit one, make one all the way across the row. This means you knit one stitch, then "make one" by knitting into the front and back of the next stitch. Knitting into the front (and don't drop the yarn off the left needle yet!) then knitting into the back of the stitch (then drop the yarn off the left needle) makes two stitches out of one single stitch. [Learn more about increasing stitches by knitting into the front and back of a stitch here.] I like this increase because it's easy and on this hat the increases line up just right with the purl stitches in your ribbed brim and it all looks good.

You will have 78 stitches at the end of the row.


*** Update*** I guess I didn't explain this very well. Here is an update:

Begin the increase row.

Stitch #1: You knit the stitch. Just knit it like normal.

Stitch #2: You knit into the front of it. Then instead of dropping it off the left needle, you leave it on the left needle and now knit it again through the back loop. Yes, the back loop of the exact same stitch you just knit into. Now you finally drop it off the left needle. In this way you have made two stitches where before there was only one.

Next stitch: You simply knit it.

The stitch after that: You do the increasing thing again, making an extra stitch where before there was only one.

Therefore, you increase on every OTHER stitch. That creates 26 brand-new stitches. 52 + 26 = 78 total stitches.

Make the body of the beret: Now, switch to your size 13 circular needle. It's easy to switch -- just start knitting with your size-13 (16" inch long) circular needle. The rest of the hat is done in plain ol' stockinette, so in the round that means you knit every stitch. Knit until the stockinette body of the hat measures about 4 1/2 inches tall. When the body of the hat is about 4 1/2 to 5 inches tall....

Begin decreases as follows:

• Knit 11, knit two stitches together. Do this all the way across the row.

Note: I always place a marker right after my "K2tog" because after that I never even have to count to know I am decreasing in the right place. With a marker you just always know to knit the two stitches together right before each stitch marker. I also use different markers from the one which designates the end of the row (where you initially joined up the stitches.) That way I know what is marking decreases is different from what is designating the end of the row.

• Knit one row with no decreasing.

• Knit ten, knit 2 together. Repeat all the way across the row.

• Knit one row with no decreasing.

• Knit nine, knit two together. Repeat all the way across the row.

• Knit one row with no decreasing.

• Knit eight, knit 2 together. Repeat all the way across the row.

• Knit one row with no decreasing.

• Knit seven, knit two together...

And so on. Switch to your double-pointed needles when the circular needle gets awkward. Knit until you only have a few stitches on your needles (I am a dork and I usually knit down to the bitter end, but with this hat it's best to end the hat when you're down to about 12 stitches so you don't get a weird pointy bit.) Cut the yarn and leave a long yarn tail.

Finishing touches: Using your large-eye yarn needle, thread the yarn tail through it and then bring the yarn all the way through the stitches to close the beret. I usually do this twice because I am paranoid. Then finish it with a knot (ha! Yes there are knots in knitting!) and weave in the ends.


- - - - -

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That's Rebecca in the same beret knit with one and a half skeins of the JoAnn's "Sensations" brand yarn called "Licorice" in the color #2347. I LOVE this yarn!! It's 100% wool and it's a thick-thin nubby twisted yarn in funky color combinations. I liked the way the inside-out reverse stockinette side of this hat looked, so I just made sure to weave in my ends carefully so that you could wear it inside-out and it looks great:

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Rebecca even liked this beret enough to keep it! That made me SO HAPPY! I love it when I can give away my hand-knits to happy homes.

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I like using fancy schmancy expensive yarn like anyone, but sometimes I am not looking to make a $300 hat, you know? So this little beret I've been making looks just great in inexpensive yarn and I'm sure that it will look great in a big Noro, too. But before I get to a Noro version, I had to finish the all-black beret in plain ol' Lion Brand Wool Ease Thick 'n Quick yarn. I think it's actually too thick and bulky but it sure made a warm beret, which I need in ...uh, sunny Los Angeles. Because the yarn is so fat, the beret is a little too big. I should have cast on less stitches, for sure.

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Rebecca models the big black beret.

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Guy thinks he can make it work Rasta-style.

Then the whole family got into it... as you can see they enjoyed modeling girlyman hats:

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Aw, aren't they rasta-cute?

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Brett takes the beret to new heights.

- - -

Hope ya'll like the pattern.
And long live the sultry intense beret!

Posted by laurie at 8:34 AM

January 30, 2008

Now it can be 2008

Is there anyone else who just felt like January was a big fat extension of 2007, dragging along with unfinished business and untidy ends? I finally gave up on the new year somewhere around mid-last-month when I realized my Christmas tree was still up and I liked it dammit.

Finally I removed the ornaments off the tree right before my quick visit to see my family, but only because the cat sitter was coming and I didn't want her thinking I had finally crossed the line to Real Crazy. I left the tree up, though. Because you know, that says... sanity.

Anyway. The tree is now out in the garage ready to rest for another year. Or ten months, whatever.

So finally I am starting 2008, and I am so happy to be in the new year! I made my list of New Year's Resolutions, I put my holiday wreath away, I even changed the placemat under that cat food from the snowman back to the regular default placemat, which by the way is the farthest reaches of my domesticity. I did my laundry and paid some bills and sent my rent on time and now I am officially 100% in the new year.

Hi! Nice meeting you, New Year!

One of the things that was bugging me was how much of my real life fell by the wayside while I worked on my work-life. So with January's rent I included a list of broken stuff around the house (for example, the oven hasn't worked since Dinosaurs roamed the earth) and to my great surprise the landlord sent folks out to fix all the leaky broken bits and now I even have a working oven, amazing! (Yet ... have I cooked anything in said oven?) (Um, what do you think?)

Getting things fixed around the house was a big improvement in my general funky shui. I also got my passport renewed, and already got the new tags for my Jeep and had a quick checkup at the doctor's office (granted that was brought on by flaming lungs, but I'm still counting it on the to-do list.)

And it's a good step forward into 2008, which began just this past Friday. I hope this is a good year, full of progress and happy events and adventures.

Posted by laurie at 3:47 PM

The official and likely incomplete rules to my family's version of "Thirty-One"

First of all, the website Wikipedia has an entire entry on the card game Thirty-One if you desire to become the world's premiere authority on this card game. But we just play for fun and quarters.

This is how my family plays the card game Thirty-One:

Each person starts with three quarters (and once you lose all three quarters, which happened to me multiple times this weekend, you play on your "honor" and if you lose that... well. You are probably me.)

Dealer shuffles, using a standard 52-card deck with jokers removed. In my family we have enough jokers already!

Deal three cards to each player, place the deck in the middle of the table and turn one card up. (Here is a tip: If you are playing this game while wine is involved, be sure to have a little item -- we use a toy monkey -- to hand to the dealer along with the card deck. This way you always know who's turn it is to deal, even when Cabernet comes to town.)

So, dealer gives each player three cards, sets the deck on the table, turns one card face up in what will become the discard pile. The first player to go can choose the card that was turned up or draw from the deck. At all times you have three cards (you must discard one card after each draw.)

The object of the game is to get to 31, or to have a high enough hand that you knock on the table and hope the other players have less in card value than you do.

Winning Strategy Numero Uno: Getting 31
Each ACE card counts as 11 points. All face cards (king, queen and jack) count as 10 points. All other cards are their numerical value (a two is two points, a five is five points.) ALL CARDS IN YOUR HAND MUST BE THE SAME SUIT TO COUNT. You want to get an ace and two face cards or an ace, a ten and a face card to make 31. If you draw 31 at any time during the game, you automatically show your cards and win on the spot.

*** When a hand of cards is won by drawing 31, each of the other players puts one of their quarters in the pot.

Winning Strategy Numero Dos: Getting more points than the other folks and knocking
To win in this way, you hope to collect enough high cards in the same suit faster than anyone else and knock when you think you have more in your hand than at least one of your opponents.

For example, let's say I have an ace of hearts, a ten of hearts and a two of spades. Then the next card I draw is an eight of hearts (discard the loathsome two of spades.) That leaves me with 29 points in my hand, so the next time it's my turn... instead of picking up a card from the draw pile, I knock. Each of the other players gets one last chance to draw before we show our cards (you see why this is risky -- what if one of the other players has two great cards and draws an ace or something? Risky! Fun!)

Then you all show your hands. If you get beaten numerically by the other players, you have to put in two quarters! But if at least one player is a bigger loser than you are, that person puts in their quarter.

I once had a five of spades, a four of spades and a six of hearts. Therefore, when my dad knocked (THANKS A LOT DAD) I had a rockin' nine points. It was so so sad ... for me.

- - -

Each hand of cards goes really fast, which I like because the games don't drag out. I LOVE this game! It is so much fun, and winner takes all the quarters! You keep playing hands until it's down to just two players, and whoever wins gets the moolah and all the HONOR!


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Posted by laurie at 8:51 AM

January 29, 2008

No, no, NO!

This was the cute little gymnasium where the Pinewood Derby was held this year:

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Inside that cute little gym and outside in the parking lot, I found all these ...uh... gems:

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DAMN!

That's a lot of "no" in a little place! heh.

Posted by laurie at 8:20 AM

January 28, 2008

I went all the way to Florida to hug my family and apparently spread capitalism

So last week as soon as I got the all-clear "You are no longer Typhoid Mary of Contagion" from my doctor, I went back to work... for a day. Then I got on a plane on Friday to fly to Florida to see my family and win all their quarters playing cards. (On their last visit to California, they taught me to play a card game called Thirty-One, and a gambling addiction was born.) (Thanks, parents!)

Last Tuesday as I was leaving the doctor's office, I called my folks to give them the heads up in case they wanted me to reschedule.

"The doctor says I'll be un-contagious by the time I get on the plane," I said, "but to be on the safe side I can always re-schedule my flight..."

"No, no way," said my mom. "Besides, I hear people with bronchial issues are really bad at cards."

"Hey!! Don't I get a HANDICAP or something?"

"No way Jose!" and so the trip was on, and I was prepared with my bag of quarters, appropriately labeled:

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This was the first time I have lost every hand of Thirty-One the whole night, I blame it entirely on cough syrup. This was also the first time I have ever gone anywhere with just a carry-on bag and no checked luggage. Yes, that's right. I decided I was traveling LIGHT! Of course, I was only going to Florida for two days but anyway, traveling LIGHT! Me! Exciting! For my two-day trip to Houston I packed a giant suitcase and a full-size carry on bag plus my giant handbag so this was a unique and exhilarating experience for me. I am just saying is all.

Anyway, all was well as soon as I arrived and saw the fam and hugged and we spent a great weekend hanging out, playing cards, eating amazing food and wishing Happy Birthday to my brother, who will always be older than I am:

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Love you, Guy! Happy Birthday!

On Saturday morning we woke up early and drove to Daytona Beach to see my nephew Andrew race his car in the Cub Scouts' Pinewood Derby. I took video with my new camera, but since it's a fancy more-megapixel camera, it appears to be too large for youtube which is sad because I am sure my race footage would have proved ONCE AND FOR ALL that Andrew was robbed of the first-place trophy, but apparently this is supposed to be for "fun" and I was not allowed to demand a recount or beat up the Cub Scout Dad in charge. Whatevs.

Here is cutie Andrew with his car and participant trophy:

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The cars at the derby were awesome:

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The pencil car was my favorite. Now that is some crafty car making. I would so drive a pencil car. I am just saying is all....

My other nephew, the also cute but way taller Brett was there as well, looking good and I was so happy to see him:

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And my favorite little brother Eric was there, too, with his girlfriend Rebecca and I am certain they win the prize for World's Most Adorable Couple or something....

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Brangelina, you better watch out. The hotter couple Erbecca is here.

Since the Big Time RV was parked in Orlando and we drove up to Daytona in a regular vehicle without beds and marble floors (ahem), my brother Guy and sister-in-law Kelli found us this hotel on the beach for the night and there is nothing finer in the whole world than a beach-balcony view:

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My mom on her balcony enjoying the view while some of us still haven't learned about the miracle known as "flash" on the camera:

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Florida has some of the prettiest beaches I have ever seen. I love the wintertime especially, something about the deserted beach reminds me of one of my favorite movies, "Ruby In Paradise." And there's nothing like the sound of the waves coming in all night, it's nature's perfect sleep machine.

The trip was so much fun, but some of it was torture for poor Andrew who was being cajoled every minute of every day to let Grandpa pull his loose front tooth. Now I do not have kids and I am sort of thinking this was a good move on my part because I am very squeamish, and also I sort of thought that teeth fell out on their own or whatever, but in general have actually never thought about such things. Things which are apparently really important when you are six years old.

So Andrew was not loving all the peer pressure to get his tooth pulled. There was cajoling and subtle hints of "I'll watch you skate outside/bring you a treat/etc. if you let Grandpa pull your tooth..." and Andrew was having none of it. Now Andrew is a smart kid, he's a combination of logical and emotional that makes sense to me, Crazy Aunt Laurie From California Who Tells Six Year Olds Vaguely Off-Color Jokes.

So on our last day everyone (except me) was telling him he had to get his tooth out or else it was a trip to the dentist on Monday (by the way, I am sure there was a reason for all this but when body parts get mentioned in such a manner I usually stick my fingers in my ears and go "la la la" until it's over...) and Andrew was not budging on the issue. I was secretly happy for him that he was holding out for a better deal.

Andrew, with his lone loose front tooth:

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And here is a picture of Andrew after Crazy Aunt Laurie From California Who Has No Moral Scruples helped the issue along a bit:

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Cute AND smart AND rich. A winning combination!


Posted by laurie at 8:06 AM

January 25, 2008

Thanks! (and then apparently I ramble on for a while.)

Thank you so much for the rockstar list of crockpot recipes you all shared in the comments earlier this week! I even went home and made one of the suggested dishes the next night -- I used the other half of the turkey breast (the butcher at the store had cut the big turkey breast in half for me, and I used one half for the dinner featured on this column and froze the other half) and to it I added half a jar of fire-roasted tomatillo salsa and half a jar of chili verde salsa and a little water. While I may not be much of a cook, I am fully stocked on condiments. You know the saying... party hard and use a condiment... yes?

Anyway, I put the lid on my turkey-salsa crockpot dish and cooked it on low all night long. Even though the turkey was frozen when it went it, the next morning it was cooked through (used my meat thermometer again to check!)

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And then thanks to all your book recommendations, I went online and purchased two books of slow-cooker recipes, Fix It and Forget It (lightly) and 200 Low-Carb Slow Cooker Recipes: Healthy Dinners That Are Ready When You Are!

It's funny -- when I first clicked on the "lightly" version of that Fix It & Forget It cookbook, I didn't panic and feel like I was about to slide down Diet Hill again. I like looking for healthier ways to eat and prepare foods, pretty simple. But when I clicked on the low-carb cookbook, it was a different story. I initially thought it looked good because I like cooking meat in the crockpot and making a side dish separately so the flavors are different. But then I almost had a moment of panic. My brain was like, "Uh-oh. Are we going on a diet again?" All I could think about was Atkins and the time (ok, multiple times) I woke up in a cold sweat, wondering if I had really eaten a bagel ... or was it just a nightmare?

But my dieting days are over, I know that. This is only my second New Year's Day in MY ENTIRE LIFE SINCE AGE EIGHT that I have not woken up full of resolve to go on a diet and lose weight, and it's a hard habit to break. I know I'm not all the way "there" yet -- I'm not as thin or healthy or strong as I want to be.

But I am much, much closer. And saner.

When I was thinking of 2008 New Year's Resolutions, I decided to take a look back over my first full year of not dieting and evaluate it. I estimated what percentage of the past twelve months I ate healthfully, ate so-so, or ate poorly. In the end, I was about 80% very healthy and 20% really, really crappy. There's still not a lot of middle ground with me, but I am very happy overall with my progress. It was an incredibly stressful year, full of more high-anxiety events than probably any year ever before. And I eat when I'm anxious. I also eat when I'm sad or bored or mad or happy or, well. You get the idea.

Lately I've been having a really hard time eating healthy stuff and so cooking my first ever single-girl crock pot dish was a good step in the right direction. When I eat healthy food, food that is real and has no unpronounceable ingredients and is missing the eleventy-nine preservatives and additives of fast food, I feel better. It's a pretty simple thing. Eat whole, real, nutritious food = feel good. Eat crappy fast food and frozen meals = feel bad.

But sometimes I pick the bad food -- really bad food that has no positive nutritional value at all. Maybe it's habit, or comforting, or laziness. I wish I'd been born a naturally skinny person who could eat any old thing and never gain a pound, but I'm not. I often have to remind myself that this is not a dieting-based life anymore, that there are other goals for the body besides "skinny" and that even when I'm mostly-okay with my body size I still need to eat real food ("vegetable, not battered and deep-fried") to have energy and healthy digestion and minerals and vitamins in my system.

Sometimes I'm embarrassed and ashamed of how screwed up I've been about food. I dieted for so long that I actually forgot food was necessary and good for you, after a while all food was the enemy and was Bad. There was a time in my dieting history where I tried to go without food altogether, and I would starve myself and drink Diet Coke and think that was a way to live ... like I could really exist and function and be sane on diet drinks or coffee and cigarettes.

Even just thinking of that makes me sad. Food is good for you, and necessary and awesome! But I became so convinced that my weight determined what kind of person I was in society that I actually thought drinking caffeine and chain-smoking would be a better alternative to a baked potato. I was afraid of food, purely terrified of its power over me. I was scared that without a diet I'd just be an eating monster, and you know what? After a while I was. I was so out of whack that I had no idea how to feed my own body unless someone was telling me how to count grams or carbs or points or calories, measure it and weight it just so. If I wasn't on a plan and following it to the letter, I was out of control.

Deciding to never diet again has been an un-doing process for me. I've had to work toward un-doing over thirty years of training and beliefs, like understanding that my pants size does not determine if I am a good person or a bad person, and that happiness will not arrive once I am a size whatever, and that my quality of life and my health (both physical and mental!) are more important than an ideal someone else picked out for me. It's slow, it takes time. Rome was not built in a day, and neither were my mixed up files of Mrs. Basil E. Foodenweiler.

Doing any kind of public appearance makes me crazy about my weight. I get nervous, I panic having all those eyes staring at me, sizing me up, judging (even if it's kind judgment). It's my own insecurity and it happens and you keep breathing -- since I'm contractually obligated I can't hide or blow it off. This has been excellent for me, because I have to face my fears and do the event anyway. So I go and feel self-conscious and then it's usually fine and really, in the end it's the anticipation of the scrutiny that does me in. After a while, I'm even able to make jokes about the things people say -- because like it or not, people do look at you, your body, weight, hair all of it and they sometimes make comments. (Once, in a town I will not name, someone walked up to me at a book signing and instead of saying "Hi!" or "Hello!" or anything, she just said, "You're not THAT fat." I had no idea what to say. I didn't even know what she meant -- was I fatter than she expected? Not fat enough? Hard to say. And how to answer? Do you say "Thank you?" It was REALLY AWKWARD.) But of course most folks are kind and say nice things. The unexpected anxiety I encountered along the way was that even nice things seemed hard to hear in the beginning because I just wasn't used to so much scrutiny. I wasn't accustomed to 180 people in a row commenting on my hair or body or outfit and it made me want to run to the hotel and eat a whole deep-fried horse. It made me panic.

(They do not serve whole deep-fried horse at most hotels, by the way.)

Which is why I feel pretty pleased with achieving 80% healthy, 20% shitty last year. In 2007, I tried very hard to focus completely on eating normal nutritious food and never ever dieting again. Even in an ideal, stress-free, scrutiny-free, pet-loss-free world that would be tough to achieve. But the goal worked for me in two big ways -- first, I managed to achieve a sort of balance in my eating. I've made mostly healthy choices about food most of the past year, with a few small blips of horror and sloth. I ate pretty healthy food, and sometimes I slipped into old habits and started eating drive-through crap. But on those occasions, I managed to turn it around. That's the key. Sometimes it took weeks, but at least it wasn't months of shitty eating, or years again, and I could see over time that I function better as a human when I'm just eating good, natural, wholesome food.

The other way my year of undieting helped me is that I actually got healthier. I lost a few pounds over the whole year and I became a little less crazy and critical of my body. I experimented with all kinds of healthy foods (parsnips! who knew!) and even finally rediscovered that ol' crockpot.

Of course there's a stuff I still need to work on. I want to exercise more (read: "at all.") I don't want to enter the last half of my life fat and out of shape and always saying, "I'll try that when I lose some weight..."

I don't want to be that person anymore. I know I may not be able to change the fear or nervousness or naturally introverted stuff about my personality, but I can push through it and still live my life and try new things and just deal with my scared parts. Two years ago I would have only thought that sort of life were possible if I went on a diet. I would have started A Plan, and made a shopping list, counted grams of something, or calories, or ounces. I would have eaten frozen meals from a box and never touched a banana because it was Bad! Too Many Carbs! Just prior to my Big New Plan, I would have eaten huge amounts of crappy fast food in preparation of Going On A Diet. For a while I would've been really good at dieting. Then I would have failed spectacularly, falling off the wagon, and eating everything I'd denied myself because I'd really screwed up anyway. Might as well hit up McDonald's before Jack In The Box. Then I'd gain back the weight, feel even worse, eat a lot and eventually start the whole process all over again.

I never admitted any of that stuff to anyone before last year. I thought it was weak and horrible and made me a worthless person.

If I have done one thing right it's to get off that insane circle of self-destruction. BECAUSE IT WAS INSANE. Slowly I started to see that life gets lived even when you are not perfectly at goal weight ... so I finally had to stop "waiting until I got skinny" to take chances and do new things. Going on that book tour was life-altering because I was sure I couldn't do it until I was thin. But I did do it, and I was not skinny, and we all lived and the earth did not stop spinning on its axis. Now that the tour is finally, officially over I feel like I can exhale, let go, and feel kind of proud of myself for doing something I assumed only Skinny Me could ever do.

Makes you think, "I wonder what else I can do that I always thought I had to be skinny to do? I wonder where I can go, see, visit that I just assumed I'd get to once I was skinny?"

It's exciting. It's kind of liberating to know you can just live your life and do okay, learn as you go, do the best you can, and you get it right at least eighty percent of the time -- without a single gram of anything being counted, weighed or measured. The truth is I gave up dieting and I lived. I did not eat all of California. I did not spin wildly out of control without A Plan. I learned more about nutrition and experimented more with good food than I ever have in the past. I survived scary, anxious things without skinny thighs and lived to tell the tale. I had many times where I chose to eat fast food or overeat or eat out of anxiety and I didn't give up, I kept reaching for healthy. I did not hide (all the time) behind my weight, hoping to live one day in the future when I was thin. I even learned to love my crock pot again.

Life is good. Pass the condiments.

Posted by laurie at 4:00 PM

January 23, 2008

Just the fax, ma'am

1) There were winners!

jan19-winners.jpg

That's Jim on the left and Suzanne there on the right, lucky winners of the sweepstakes who flew out to California and met me for brunch and then attended the book reading and a good time was had by all!

I also have a picture of me rubbing Suzanne's head so I might get some of her lucky winner vibes, but it looked like I was molesting her hair. So anyway.

And later that night I got to hang with Grandma, who does everything in her power to thwart me taking a cute picture of us:

jan19-me-grandma.jpg

But she's cute all the same.

2) No More Pictures ... except x-rays

I would post more pictures and maybe even write something witty and coherent about all that day's events except I found myself at Dr. Feelgood's office yesterday not feeling good at all, thankyouverymuch, and suffering the indignity of the dreaded paper gown as I walked the green mile to the tomb of X-Rays where it was discovered that I do not have tuberculosis or bird flu or SARS or pneumonia. I have bronchitis. Which was weird because yesterday I felt bad, you know, but to be honest I have had hangovers worse than that (ah, the ol' smoking days of yore when I actually got smoke hangovers... those of you who like a smoke with your tipple know of what I speak.) Anyway, I had not been smoking in my sleep or otherwise, and I feel very mad that my bronchial area would betray me when I have babied it by not smoking for well over a year. Stupid betraying body. This morning I woke up feeling like an 11-ton gorilla was lying on my chest, and I looked up expecting to see Bob and it was... nothing! Just phantom air!

But I have drugs and the miracle mixture of thera-flu and Jack Daniels. All should be well soon.

3) Heath Ledger
I have to say I was a huge Heath fan, it started with that movie "10 Things I hate About You" and carried on from "The Patriot" to everything else he's been in. It's so awful, he wasn't even 30 years old.

It's strange because I always think to myself, "Oh, I'll do that tomorrow..." or "I'll go on vacation next year..." or "I really will try to see my family more often..." or whatever it is, you always think you have all the time in the world. And you don't.

That's it for the news. I'm going back to bed. Bob is really happy about this turn of events ... he loves naptime all day long!

Posted by laurie at 10:54 AM

January 18, 2008

See you tomorrow in Mission Viejo!

Saturday, January 19th, 2008
BORDERS -- 1:00 PM (Reading & signing)
25222 El Paseo
Mission Viejo, CA 92691
Phone: 949.367.0005
Click here for a map -->

I feel a little out of practice and nervous but hopefully it will go well and I won't embarrass Grandma (more than usual). See you there!

Posted by laurie at 8:40 AM

January 17, 2008

Mistake Rib: What a difference a gauge makes!

Although I have seen lots of folks online making pretty little "Mistake Rib" scarves, for some reason I thought this stitch was a much harder combination and would require me to count, which is not something I can do once 1) wine and 2) TV come into the equation.

However, this stitch is easy-peasy! I was poking through one of my books that has stitch patterns featured in blocks (I like finding patterns that work well in blanket squares and using them as scarves) and when I read the stitch repeat it sounded too good to be true. You just cast on stitches and do the simplest ever knit/purl rib repeat, like so:

"Mistake" Rib Stitch Scarf

• Cast on stitches in multiples of four, plus three extra stitches

For example, I cast on 27 stitches -- that's 24 stitches (24 is a multiple of four) plus three extra stitches. You could cast on 15 stitches, or 23 stitches, or 31 stitches. It just has to be some number which is a multiple of 4, plus 3 extra stitches.

• Knit two, purl two all the way across the row. You'll have one leftover stitch at the end of each row -- just purl it!

Seriously, that is the whole stitch pattern. I am not even lying to you.

mistake-rib-pattern.jpg

It's so easy I can even do this when I am on the bus, half-asleep, pre-caffeine and listening to an audiobook (I have found that if it isn't a freakishly simple stitch I'm knitting, I'll lose my place when an audiobook really sucks me in!) (Later for kicks, I may try to walk and chew gum at the same time. Film footage at eleven.)

But for knitting that is so easy, it sure makes a pretty and complex-looking pattern:

mistakerib-big-closeup.jpg
Notice the quality difference of this image as opposed to the other two where I am just starting the knitting. Those were taken with my old camera which died soon afterwards. Death of camera was totally not connected to scarf in any way. This shot was a close-up taken with new camera.

I started out knitting it on a size 10 1/2 needle, I have no idea why. I think it was the first set of needles I grabbed one morning as I was running out the door and by the time I got on the bus and realized they were too small, I was already... you know. On the bus. So I cast on anyway and started knitting. By the time I got a few rows in I knew I needed to go WAY up on my needle size or else this scarf would be so dense it could stand on its own. That night after work I knitted the same amount of stitches on a larger size 15 needle. It's the exact same yarn, exact same stitch count and pattern, just a different gauge:

mistake-rib-gauge.jpg

Much nicer on a bigger needle. The pattern is airier and the scarf actually drapes (as opposed to being an impenetrable wall of yarn.)

This yarn I am using is Moda Dea "Tweedle Dee" in the color "Blue Heather." I love the color, which sort of shades in and out from light to dark. It's a soft, lofty blend of acrylic, mohair and wool and I used two full skeins for a nice, full scarf that loops once around and still has good length. The best thing about this yarn is that it's not scratchy at all (sometimes pure 100% wool scarves, which I LOVE, make me itch) and it's pretty affordable yarn, about $7 USD per skein. Two skeins of it gave me a scarf this long:

mistakerib-finished.jpg

mistakerib-top-secret.jpg


Loving the mistake rib!

Posted by laurie at 6:52 AM

January 16, 2008

Ding ding ding! We have a winner!

Congratulations to Suzanne R. from Hillsboro, Oregon who won the Big Huge Sweepstakes! She and her hubby James will be coming to Los Angeles this weekend and enduring painful chitchat with one crazy cat lady and then going to the signing in Mission Viejo! My Grandma will be there and my Aunt Pam, too, so it's like saying hey to the family.

If you would also like to meet a crazy cat lady and relations and ask me your burning questions such as "Why was La Soba not featured on the cover of the book?" feel free to stop by ...

Saturday, January 19th, 2008 BORDERS -- 1:00 PM (Reading & signing) at 25222 El Paseo in Mission Viejo, CA 92691 (Phone: 949.367.0005) and click here for a map -->

Also, I hope the weather improves for our winner because this morning the express bus was navigating through fog soup all the way to downtown:

foggyangeles2.jpg

foggyangeles1.jpg

We're also supposed to have sixty-mile-per-hour winds this afternoon. I hope my bangs get that windblown sexy look and not the "Oh wow, she's like the twin of that Little Rascals dude..." look. It could go either way.

Thank you to everyone who entered the sweepstakes. As you may recall, this sweepstakes was run by an outside company who was kind enough to sponsor it all, do the fulfillment and alert the winners! If you won a prize it should be arriving to you soon. Luckily this time around it is not me responsible for getting anything in the mail, because we know how well that usually turns out. Ahem. I do know at least two of the people who were notified for other prizes have not responded back yet so if you entered to win, check your email! Hey, maybe I should take my own advice... I am only 62 weeks behind on email. This will be the year I get it together, I promise I promise all over again. Sigh.

And thank you to my awesome contest winner of Oregon for agreeing to meet with me, a potentially sweaty nervous wreck who is not great at meeting strangers but excited to say hey with you all the same! I plan to rub your head in hopes that some of your winner's luck mojo will be contagious... just FYI ....

Posted by laurie at 9:04 AM

January 15, 2008

Ode to the Crock Pot

I don't cook.

Sure, there is the microwaved baked potato, the salad from a bag, the occasional spaghetti. But there isn't real cooking going on in my house on a regular (or even semi-annual) basis. My father is a natural gourmet, he can take a can of beans and turn it into a Michelin-rated five star meal. I do not know he he does this. My brothers also got the cooking DNA, they can whip up delightful meals without setting off the fire alarm and having to call out for pizza on Thanksgiving like some people we know.

I have gotten even sloppier about cooking since living alone. One of the best parts about living single is that I don't have to pretend that I am going to cook dinner and be a good wifey. I can just burn a bag of microwave popcorn, pour a glass of wine and call it a night. I've sunk to new lows with my dating skills, too: I once bought a Ralph's grocery store rotisserie chicken and brought that sucker home, put it in a pan, dumped some baby carrots around it and stuck it in the oven AS IF I HAD COOKED IT MYSELF and served it to my date. Like I was Betty Flippin' Crocker.

He said it was the best chicken he'd ever had. I agreed. But the carrots were a tad underdone.

And while my baked-potato-salad routine works for me most of the time, sometimes I find myself in need of more serious nutrition and not really desiring to spend twelve hours in the kitchen preparing it. This is where I begin today's "Ode To A CrockPot."

I actually forgot I had a crock pot! I bought it back when I was married and used to make a mean pot roast. One of the best features of the slow cooker is that it is really quite hard to burn food in it, which seems to be my primary downfall with cooking (I do, however, rock the grill -- mmmm, cook meat on open fire!) but since I moved to my little house in Encino-adjacent, my crock pot has been resting peacefully in a back cabinet. While my friend Drew was here, I was determined to cook at least one meal of decent taste and quality and since he's a really good cook, I figured he could help me with a one-pot dish in the slow cooker.

Well, that one meal was so good that I went out this weekend and bought the same stuff to make the dish all over again just for me! I've been a little under the weather and I need some serious nutrition in my body with about as little effort as possible. This crockpot thing is the BEST invention -- one pot and enough food to feed me for every meal for days. In fact, when I set it to cook overnight it smelled so good in the morning that I had my crockpot meal for breakfast. A little weird maybe, but filling and good and healthy.

You'll need:

crockpot-roots.jpg

Some root veggies -- I bought whatever they had that was organic. Parsnips, carrots in multicolored bunches, celery, leeks, golden beets, onions, garlic and celery. The bananas in the back left of the picture are not for the crockpot. Heh.

And you can't have a meal in my life without some potatoes -- here I'm using red organic baby potatoes and some turnips:

potatoes and turnips

Chop everything roughly and add a layer to the bottom of the crock pot:
crockpot1.jpg

To that I added half a turkey breast:

crockpot2.jpg

I chose the free-range turkey with the bone in and skin on. The skin and bone and marrow provides natural fat and flavor. (My dad would be so proud of me. I said "marrow.") Since I am just feeding me and this whole crockpot of stuff will last me a good five or six or eight meals, I decided to buy the highest quality groceries like organic vegetables and meat that has no hormones or anti-biotics and stuff. Even at Whole Foods prices, my bill came to $26.35, which averages out to about three bucks a meal. NOT BAD!

For flavor, I have garlic and onion and some spices for the turkey, as well as some vegetable broth to add to the crockpot to get everything steaming. You need about a cup of liquid. I added no oil, butter or fat to the dish and trust me it was just fine... and this is coming from a girl who thinks butter is a food group.

crockpot-ingredients.jpg

Then add some more chopped veggies to the top (I keep the leaves on the celery to add even more flavor, I love the way celery tastes!)

crockpot3.jpg


Turn it on high and let it cook for 3-5 hours, depending on the size of the turkey. Drew told me that poultry needs to be heated to an internal temperature of 180 degrees, so I used my meat thermometer to check for doneness. The whole house smelled so good while this was cooking and I didn't even set the smoke alarm off!

I've been eating some crappy food lately and I can tell even just eating junk a few days in a row how my energy level goes way down and my skin starts to look bad and I'm grumpy. I guess I never noticed before how much my body needs real food with decent vitamins and minerals in it. I'm glad I remembered my crockpot! After just a few meals I already feel better and I swear even my skin looks better. I think I could get better with cooking if it were all this easy. So if you have any (easy) crockpot recipes, please share! I like my turkey meal but I don't think I can live on one meal my whole life. I mean really now.

But doesn't this smell YUMMY:

crockpot-cooking.jpg

mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm! I didn't take an after picture... I was too busy eating!

Posted by laurie at 6:25 AM

January 14, 2008

Hello! It is January, it is sinking in now....

Three or four times recently I've caught myself saying, "Oh, I'll catch up with that after the New Year..." or "I'll have to get right on that after the New Year..." and then I realize all over again that OH MY GOD the new year is not just here, it's been here and it's practically old already and I still have my Christmas Tree up!

I am five weeks behind on life and it is already January 14. Help me.

Anyway, weekend before last (yes, that's right, I am just now catching up on something that happened TWO WEEKENDS AGO) Drew came to visit and we had a grand old time, and Faith came to rescue us from my driving and we did a little shopping at H.D. Buttercup, which I had never been to before but immediately I tried to move in. It perhaps freaked the staff out that I was picking out which living room I wanted to live in each day.

Drew relaxed while I tried to figure out how to use my new camera, having broken the old one in a freak battery-replacing accident and now trying to understand why I cannot seem to "point" and "shoot" without blurring:

drewvisit-drewsofa.jpg


Faith looking adorable in the pottery section:

drewvisit-faith.jpg

Then we went to Chinatown:

drewvisit-chinatown.jpg

Look, you too can start the new year off right by hanging with "Confusions" as your guide:

drewvisit-confusions.jpg

Later Drew and I drove up the coast and found this awesome seaside town whose name I do not know and there was a very good restaurant:

drewvisit-pier-lunch.jpg

And we walked out along the pier while I droned on and on about how much I want to live near the ocean:

drewvisit-pier.jpg

We happened to be there at low tide so the critters living on the pier pilings were exposed, like these amazing looking starfish:

drewvisit-starfish.jpg

Later we got home and Soba was mad we didn't bring her one to eat. Whatevs, cat! I'm pretty sure the starfish are protected by the guv'ment against cats.

drewvisit-sobakowa.jpg

We also got our hair did by the awesomeness that is Aharon (Umberto, (310) 274-6395) and his gorgeous assistant Jasmine:

drewvisit-hair1.jpg

Beauty is hard, and also apparently made Drew into crazy eyes:

drewvisit-hair2.jpg

And you'll never believe it, but guess who now has BANGS!!!!!

drewvisit-hair3.jpg

Yes, that's right people. I have BANGS. Wispy-ish ones that kind of go to the side but still, they are BANGS nonetheless! And you, too, can witness the dorkyness that is my exciting life change, a.k.a. "a haircut with bangs" when I see you this Saturday in Mission Viejo!

Saturday, January 19th, 2008
BORDERS -- 1:00 PM (Reading & signing)
25222 El Paseo
Mission Viejo, CA 92691
Phone: 949.367.0005
Click here for a map -->

I promise not to be late. Well, I promise not to be two weeks late, like I have been with everything else. My bangs and I will see you there! Confusions say so!

Posted by laurie at 9:50 AM

January 10, 2008

The Portrait of a Sobakowa as a Young Dictator

portrait-of-a-soba1.jpg

portrait-of-a-soba2.jpg

portrait-of-a-soba3.jpg


portrait-of-a-soba4.jpg

Posted by laurie at 9:49 AM

January 4, 2008

StormWatch!!!! (with updates)

This past week has been crazy-busy, trying to cover all the bases at work with so many folks still on vacation and prepare for some tiny time off of my own. I don't think I have had real time off work (for non-working reasons) for something like two years, yikes. But Drew is coming to town! And so part of next week I'll be off shopping and eating In-n-Out cheeseburgers and oh yeah, trying furtively to build an ark so we can get around what with THE DEADLIEST STORM OF ALL TIME!!!! coming our way.

Last night I called Drew to tell him that on the local news I heard our government officials were cautioning people to stock up on provisions and stay indoors. Because of rain. So I needed to know if he had any provisions he especially needed me to stock up on.

"Um, wine, I guess?" he said.

"Yeah, have you met me?" I replied. "That's the only thing I'm stocked up on. Well, that and cats."

So his plane arrives tomorrow and I hope his flight isn't delayed from all the SPRINKLING. The news has been on StormWatch 2008 since yesterday morning but we still have yet to see a drop of water:

jan0408-tv-stormwatch.jpg

The only thing that can get the local news off the Big Rain Story is something really important, nationally breaking news:

jan0408-tv-britney.jpg

Yeah. Not the results in Iowa or what's happening with the war or even if the el stupidos who taunted the tiger really had slingshots or not. No. It's Britney Spears news!

I kind of think if I were running for office and no one were paying attention to me, I'd just stop bothering with making TV ads and stuff and use all my money to pay Britney Spears to travel with me for one month. You would have more media coverage than any other story on the planet!

But the thing that really caught my eye about the Britney story was this:

jan0408-tv-britney2.jpg

Who is that lady? And why is she so... LIVE? hee.

Anyway, have a good weekend and if you see news of a little red jeep in Southern California being swept away on a torrential puddle ... well, wave and say hey because it's probably me.

- - - - - BREAKING NEWS !!!! - - - - -

Faith just called, she's at Pico and Roxbury and she is seeing evidence of what appears to be some sort of precipitation, mainly backed up by the factual HONKING which always precedes a storm.

Here in downtown, we have moved from partly cloudy to real cloudy:

jan0407cloudy.jpg


This is Laurie, signing out from Los Angeles at 11 a.m. Pray for us.


- - - - - NOON UPDATE !!!! - - - - -

I did not see the actual sprinkling since I was working and had my back to the window, but it appears some actual water fell on the people of Los Angeles downtown. I also hear a lot of sirens, so it must already be affecting traffic. Awesome! I do see evidence in the form of slightly damp streets and people carrying umbrellas:

jan04sprinkles.jpg


P.S. Faith thinks we should pick Drew up from the airport tomorrow and go directly to Cedars where Britney is being held and watch the vigil of crazy people, fans, and paparazzi in the rain thereby combining all forms of Los Angelesness into one outing....


- - - - - DEVELOPING STORY !!!! - - - - -

Mysterious drops of water have appeared on the windowsill of the building as the mist increases in both intensity and frequency:

jan04water.jpg

And just in case it isn't abundantly clear, yes I am making jokes and yes, I understand the potential severity of the storm. I do live here, after all. In fact, I live practically on top of the flood basin. I'm not looking forward to the commute home or standing out in the rain waiting for the bus that will be an hour late because of traffic. Or trying to navigate the 405 to LAX - which always floods - but I can't control the weather. YET. So I make my jokes. It is what I do.

Posted by laurie at 9:01 AM