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October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween! Happy Clouds! Happy (free) crochet books!

Finally we have weather:

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Look, it's a cloud!

It's very exciting. Clouds! Plus the temperature has dropped to at least 76 degrees and everyone is saying how fall-like and crisp and autumny it is. We are crazy. I love this city.

So guess what I have! Three copies of Drew's awesome new book, The Crochet Dude's Designs for Guys: 30 Projects Men Will Love.

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You can visit him in person TOMORROW and get a copy of his book at the awesome yarn shop Yarntopia in Katy, Texas. Or you can click right here and put your name in the hat for a free copy of his book! Winners announced Monday.

I hope everyone has a safe and scary-good Halloween. Now go forth and eat candy!

Posted by laurie at 10:08 AM

October 30, 2008

Back to the scene of the narrowly averted awkwardness

Early this morning like usual I typed out my little soliloquy and then pressed "publish" and there was no innernet connection at my house all the suddenlike and poof. POOF! There is nothing more distasteful, unless you have this happen right before going to the dentist's office, AGAIN, this time to be drilled upon with great fervor.

Somewhere in my mid-twenties I developed an aversion to the dentist which eventually evolved into a full-blown phobia. Going to the dentist felt scary, just like going to get a checkup at the regular doctor when you already KNOW you're overweight and you already KNOW you shouldn't eat cold pizza for breakfast. But I avoided the dentist for a good while last year and this year I made it my New Year's resolution to go and not wimp out of any scheduled appointments, and there have been many. Many scheduled appointments of pain!! Now I have shiny happy teeth and all my old hippie-era metal fillings have been replaced with some kind of moonman white polymer and I even learned that this alleged flossing thing is all the rage with the kids these days. Who knew.

Finally I am learning that avoiding some things -- like doctors and checkups -- actually causes more anxiety for me in the long run than just getting stuff done. And afterward I feel so proud of myself for just manning up and getting the damn thing over with. Now I'm here and part of my head is numbed up and I had to take half a Xanax to be able to sit it the scary chair like a big girl but mission accomplished, pass the wine! With a straw of course.

Also the nice ladies who run the front office of Dr. Dentist's practice made sure to note on my chart and youknow's chart not to ever schedule us in the same month, so there is now 100% less chance of running into anyone who divorced me! I also took receptionist Mindy some chocolate because, hey, she deserves it for getting me out of the office before said paths collided. (Can you imagine if we had bumped into each other? "Hi, read any good books lately? Um, I mean, hi! Remember me? The one you said you'd love 'til death do us part? Still kicking!!! But talk about a gift in disguise, right? I mean for me at least. I had no idea how awesome it would be to be single again! It was just that whole year of feeling failed and dumped and abandoned really sucked hard. Like when I cried to the pizza guy. Twice. Ah, good times, good times. But book deal, yay me! I totally used a fake name for you, too. Although anyone who knows you probably totally figured it out. OH GOD THIS IS AWKWARD.")

The way I handle social situations with such grace and ease one can only imagine the level of complete verbal puking that could have taken place, none of it attractive. I prefer to look graceful and aloof from afar ... and by "afar" I mean "never in the same time zone." (And I have no idea what I mean by "graceful" and "aloof," I am assuming those are characteristics I will one day develop along with math skills and tallness.)

The irony of delivering a big box of chocolate truffles to a woman who works for a dentist is also totally not lost on me. Hee.

- - -

Also! I cannot wait six more days to have the final election results. I want to know RIGHT NOW. It seems like this election has dragged on for One Hundred Years of Politude and I need it to be over nownownow so I can know once and for all how it's shaking out. I am someone who reads the end of the book when I start getting stressed out about the outcome of a fictional person ... imagine how hard it is for me to not be able to read the last page of this one!

- - -

FINALLY, this week after years and I do mean YEARS of living with potholes that swallow compact cars, some nice men in orange vests showed up in my neighborhood to make work of the road leading to my house. They scraped off the top layers of the street, removing the superficial layer of potholes and leaving the deep, dangerous subcutaneous potholes along with a dusty pebbly surface.

Then they all packed up and left.

I am trying to figure out who to blame this one on. Blame is truly the eagle of the soul, soaring high out of your cloud of fuming anger and landing squarely on someone else's shoulder, then pooping. A lot. The road leading to my house is now like those pictures of poor little villages in Chechnya, only without the widespread rubble and destruction and burning. And without the tanks and terrified masses. Just the really bad roads. OK, it is nothing like Chechnya (thank God the comments are off, please send hatemail to SomeoneElse@someplaceElse.com) but I am leaning toward blaming this squarely on leftist rebels, encroaching anarchists or those nutty people who have moved to California just to say mean things about Californians and push their icky Prop 8 on us. I MEAN REALLY NOW.

I believe in equal rights for all people. Even though I make jokes about marriage and tell stories about divorce (because that is my way!) I had the legal right to have my betrothed experience and I wouldn't change that decision for anything, it made me who I am today. And I can't imagine eliminating that right for any other consenting adult.

Everyone should have the legal right to fall in love and get married and spend twenty grand on a divorce which has to be stipulated three years later to include custody of the dentist! EVERYONE.

Posted by laurie at 11:06 AM

October 28, 2008

It's still a billion degrees, just in case you were wondering...

Congratulations to the six winners from my Misti Alpaca/Harmony wood knitting needles sweepstakes! Laina in Massachusetts won the yarn, and the winners of the five sets of needles were: Michelle in Illinois, Dahlia in California, Whitney in Virginia, M. in Arkansas and Emily in Michigan. I've sent emails to all the winners so if your name is here -- check your inbox! Thanks to everyone for entering so far and big BIG thanks to Allison at SuperCrafty.com for providing the yummy Misti Alpaca for the giveaway and to all the folks at KnitPicks.com for providing the gorgeous Harmony Wood knitting needles.

I meant to announce all this earlier today but forgot I would be at the dentist this morning. Not that the dentist itself as a morning isn't bad enough but let me tell you about AWKWARD ... because if there is a way to take something to the next level of Awkward, I am your girl. I am the one who got her eyebrows waxed the day BEFORE a job interview once. I looked like my eyebrows had a social disease. I am all about the awkward.

ANYWAY. Mr. X and I used to go to the same dentist, who I still go to. I just assumed that after spending an arm and a leg and someone else's arm and leg on credit to get once-and-for-all dissolutioned in a court of law, it would be OBVIOUS that he would have to change dentists. DUH! It would be the only right thing to do especially what with the "one of us got remarried one month after the divorce was final and I will let you decide which one of us it was."

So there I am after getting my teeth cleaned at the dentist's office this morning waiting for the dentist to come in and poke around and scold me because I need a filling. And imagine my surprise when my friend Mindy -- the receptionist at the dentist's office -- walks in instead of Dr. Dentist and says, "Um, Hi! I rebooked you for Thursday for your filling and you can talk to the dentist then and you might want to leave RIGHTNOW, REALLY." And that is when I discovered le ex-hubby was on his way in for a cleaning at MY dentist! MINE!! I am not sure if he read between the lines of the fine print on the divorce papers but I am pretty sure it said he got a new wife, I got the cats and the DENTIST.

So I fled the scene of the fluoride. It has been quite a morning I tell you what.

Posted by laurie at 12:00 PM

October 27, 2008

Sweepstakes, complaining and TV

Since it's Monday and that seems like a harmonious day to keep things open, not closed, I decided to keep the giveaway alive for one more day. You can still enter to win right here >

Thanks to everyone for entering so far and thanks to Allison at SuperCrafty.com for providing the yarn for the giveaway and to all the folks at KnitPicks.com for providing the knitting needles.

- - -

Because I am a total Her Nerdsalot, I have my homepage set to weather.com and not just any weather.com but the personalized version where I have my city set plus my weather watch list so I can see not just the weather in the Valley but downtown, too! And keep an eye on the weather of Paris and Madrid and a few other places because.. I need to know. I am a little obsessed with weather (Fun fact! I was the weathergirl at my college's TV station. Yup. I wore a lot of hairspray and talked about ridges of high pressure like I knew. Like I KNEW.) So with all my nerdiness I am well aware that other parts of this great nation are getting SNOWED UPON and it is cold somewhere but here in Sunny Hell we're experiencing mild to scorching temperatures, all in a few hours' time span. It's cold in the morning, pleasant at 9:42 a.m. and then the rest of the day it's 95 degrees.

I understand that October is usually warm, but it is now October 27th, and that is practically November. Dear Mother Nature, please get the memo! I have hand-knit scarves to wear! Also, my admission of college-TV-weathergirl guilt should explain my fascination with the weather. No?

- - -

The best invention for the innernet besides pictures of cats in sweaters and Google maps is that you can now watch TV online! Free! I have mentioned hulu.com before, which is great except I got lots of complaints from people who said they couldn't see it outside the U.S., I don't know why they were complaining to ME since I can't fix the innernet or the weather because if I could you know it would be 72 degrees in Los Angeles today, but anyway. I recently discovered you can also watch full-length episodes of ABC shows on abc.com.

Instead of taking on new TV I've had to declutter my life of shows ... it was either that or stop sleeping. I have super limited TV viewing time so I've had to cut out more and more TV until my little Tivo Season Pass list looked just lonely. I think it was down to Oprah and The Closer. But even though I had to cut out Survivor and every CSI (that alone was four hours of TV a week) I did decide last year to Tivo two new shows -- New Amsterdam and Women's Murder Club, both of which were almost immediately canceled.

I am kind of the death knell for new TV, it seems. Whoops.

This year I was mad at TV and decided not to watch anything new, at all, the end, and then I saw promos for a show called "Life on Mars" which looked just funky enough to be intriguing. So I watched the first episode but forgot to Tivo the second one. That is how I ended up watching it online at abc.com. Cool! Now I added it to my season passes which I am sure means the show will be canceled in about a week if it isn't being canceled as I write this very sentence.

- - -

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The Dictator atop her throne.
Throne is looking a little rough around the edges...

Posted by laurie at 8:44 AM

October 24, 2008

You've got questions, I have a lot of words which seem like answers but might be chocolate

I've been looking at the knit picks interchangeable Harmony wood circular needle set, and I was wondering if you have used it or if you've heard anything about it. It would be way cool to have an entire set of circulars and just change out the needles - but is it really that easy? Is the transition needle to cable actually smooth, or would they just be frustrating, and I'm better off buying individual circular needles as I need them? I guess need is relative - but as I want them?

Thanks!
Kristine

Hi Kristine,
I have heard nothing but great reviews for the Harmony Wood interchangeable circular needles from KnitPicks.com. I haven't used them myself but I have used the straight needles and they're smooth as butter. After the first of the year I plan to buy myself the circular set as a little port-Christmas, Happy New Year's gift to myself, so I'll let you know how they work!

- - -

Hi Laurie,

Here's my problem. I'm a mostly new knitter and can knit a scarf like nobody's business. If is a long rectangle, I can knit it. I am afraid to try anything else! Plus, I live in South Florida and can only wear so many scarves or other knit items and I'm sick of mailing my creations to friends in the Midwest. I'm afraid my beautiful handiwork is being stuffed in a closet someplace.

Any suggestions for branching out and getting to enjoy my own finery?

Best,
Brook

Hi Brook!
I truly deeply understand this dilemma, as I too can knit scarf after scarf ad scarf infinitum. Most people don't know that the Valley is really a big ol' desert and we get hundred-degree days regularly at least half the year. The one thing we do get -- which is a rarity in South Florida -- is cold night temperatures. Evenings in the summer even get chilly, down into the low 60-degree range, and in the winter months it hovers around 35 degrees most nights in the Valley, so those scarves and hats do get used after dark.

This is probably the only reason I like living here, if it were hot year-round all the time I would just melt. I'm a polar bear, I love cold weather.

But you did not ask about my predilictions with the temperature, you asked about knitting. There are a lot of things you can branch out with -- hats, socks, you could even take your love of squares and rectangles one step further and make a blanket for your bed. But if I were you I'd start exploring the world of hand-knit purses! There are tons of great books out there with purse and beach-bag and tote and backpack designs all meant for knitters. You can also felt your knitting and make a beautiful felted handbag.

I know that breaking out of the rectangle is a radical step, it took me a looong time to do it myself, but little accessories (hats, socks, mittens) aren't terribly time consuming and even more detailes accesories like purses and bags can be fast, easy and they make great gifts!

Then again, you could just keep knitting scarves. I do. Three of my last four projects have been scarves. I give them to friends in colder climates, give them to readers, give them to other knitters. What they do with it afterwards is up to them! I think just the activity of knitting is what I enjoy so I'm not that attached to the final outcome.

Posted by laurie at 9:26 AM

Hotober

October is always the hottest month in Los Angeles, made even hotter by the fact that it is OCTOBER and one feels a deep primal need to be bundling up in a sweater, smelling crisp autumn air and drinking something warm laced with Calvados.

But every year it's just plain HOT in October and stuff catches on fire and people complain, which burns calories.

Here's a guy who I saw interviewed on the news last night. I believe his title says it all:

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That's right. He's TIRED of it!

I looked around my house to see who I could interview. Here's what I found:

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Also, totally disregard the mountain of cat toys behind him there in the background. Obviously we are single-handedly keeping the cat toy sector of the economy afloat here at Chez Catsalot.

- - -

Don't forget there's still time to put your name in the hat to win your own super soft Misti Alpaca yarn from SuperCrafty.com or some gorgeous Harmony Wood knitting needles from KnitPicks.com! You can enter to win right here >>

Posted by laurie at 9:14 AM

October 23, 2008

My Misti Alpaca scarf, rescued. Plus: Win this yarn or these needles!

Finally I sat down in a quiet place to fix my Misti Alpaca scarf, and I tried weaving in a piece of yarn or loading the stitches on a smaller needle -- really, I did -- but in the end I gave up. This morning on the bus I slowly ripped out the part that I didn't like and it ended up being the perfect thing to do because the yarn is kind of grabby and what with my SupaTight™ knitting, my stitches keep their definition so it all worked out just perfect. I put my stitches back on a needle and away I knitted.

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The middle portion used to be cables, now it's Magic Scarf plus a border of seed stitch which I like much much better:

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I didn't want an entirely seed stitch scarf because I am easily distracted and seed stitch everywhere might make me reach for some self-striping yarn or some other diversionary project. This compromise is perfect -- I got my big wide seed stitch border and in the center pretty blocks of stockinette and reverse stockinette in 6-stitch blocks. For a full explanation of how to make this "magic" pattern, read here.

Do you think this yarn is just the smooshiest prettiest most luxurious yarn ever? IT IS. How about my needles? Are they the loveliest? THEY ARE. And you can enter to win this yarn or these knitting needles right here!

First... From SuperCrafty.com: In these days of cutting back and deprivation, why not treat yourself to the softest yarn, Misti Alpaca chunky? It's like butter! Win 3 skeins of cream colored yarn, enough to make a hat and scarf set. It goes with everything!

One winner will receive three skeins of Misti Alpaca chunky yarn from SuperCrafty.com in the lovely winter white cream color. If you can't wait, click here to see the whole selection of colors. Enter to win right here.

PLUS!!!

Five lucky duck winners will get a set of Knit Picks Harmony Wood straight knitting needles! These are the same needles I'm using for my Misti Alpaca scarf and they are smooth and glossy, warm to the touch and look beautiful. You can see the entire line of Harmony Wood needles here on the Knit Picks website.

Enter to win the drawing here (it's all the same drawing -- there will be six winners, one getting the yarn and five getting knitting needles.) I will pick a winner on Monday night so you have all weekend to enter. One entry per email address. Good luck to all!!

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Posted by laurie at 9:36 AM

October 21, 2008

A Normal Day

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Posted by laurie at 10:08 AM

October 20, 2008

It's getting spookier and spidier!

The extent of my outdoor Halloween decor are my two pumpkins. My neighbors have entire crypts emerging from their bougainvilleas, but me ... I'm more of a Halloween minimalist. Not my friend Faith. My friend Faith is the Martha Stewart of death and decay. She isn't satisfied with buying a couple of pre-made Halloween decorations. Nosiree bob! She is instead wrapping her house in a giant spiderweb, hand-making a wreath out of green ghouly fun fur and googly eyes and building headstones out of some kind of foam material, primer and fleckstone paint.

First we put up some fencing in the front to map out the boundaries of the spookiness...

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(Those few headstones are just what was left over from last year, she is no where even close to done. NOT EVEN.)

On Saturday I got the job of priming the "headstones" with grey latex paint ...

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Then the VERY best part was picking out sayings to put on headstones while we were waiting for the paint to dry. Faith found these puffy stick-on letters at some craft store and after we picked out sayings she was going to paint the letters all black and stick them on the headstones. (I -- awesome friend that I am -- totally left before more painting could commence.)

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WE ARE SO CLEVER!!!! WE CRACKED OURSELVES UP!!

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Here was my favorite, I BELIEVED I HAD BEEN HIT BY A BOLT OF FUNNY:

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Can you tell that one of us works in the financial industry????

I had to leave and run some errands before I got to see the finished results. While I was out I caved and bought something totally non-essential and yet, SO SO essential for the Halloweenie cats, a big hairy bendy spider!!! I got it into the house and within ten seconds it was suddenly better than a pile of catnip-laced bacon:

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Soba immediately went underneath the spider. One can only assume she thought the scary spider was her mothership and she was ready to be teleported away from all of the cats in this crazy house. The other two sniffed until they determined the spider was not edible and then they attacked. Frankie pulled out her ninja "sit on it until the threat is neutralized" move:

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And a good time was had by all!

Posted by laurie at 9:02 AM

October 17, 2008

Help for the hatless, and other Q & As

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I love you. I mean you -- the people who emailed me to tell me that my main man Dallas Raines was a Jeopardy question!

Reader Misty writes:

Your beloved Mr. Raines was a Jeopardy clue recently! Just click on this link and scroll down to Double Jeopardy round, under "Nominative Determinism" ...

I feel that my mission here on earth is complete, as people across the country were able to shout "Dallas Raines!!" at their TV set during Jeopardy thanks to me and my love of The Tan One. The Universe may want other people to solve world peace or eliminate visible panty lines or restore confidence in our government, but apparently all I had to do was be slightly enamored of the weather guy. Mission accomplished, Universe!


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Also, Dear Fall ... it's me Margaret. I mean me, Laurie. Hi! Are you planning to come to Los Angeles this year? Just checking. Thanks.

- - - -

So I did manage to get Frankie off the treadmill yesterday and into the kitchen with the lure of canned food. She loves me but she loves smelly food from a can a whole lot more. Thanks for all the nice notes about personal safety and wow, there sure are a lot of you out there who have had similar experiences like my Thursday creepies! Guess I am not the only woman out there who has had to tune into her instincts. I thought reader Cathryn said it so well:

There have been times my instincts have pinged at me, and I listened. Good thing. It feels like a fingernail pinging a Waterford goblet.

Indeed!

- - -

A few folks have asked how I am coming on my Misti Alpaca scarf -- I will have you know that I have made exactly 0.0000% progress on ripping out the offensive portion. I need some quiet time alone with the yarn and I haven't had that yet. So for my commute-time project this week I switched to another half-completed scarf I've been meaning to finish up for approximately 1,000 years and I should be done with that messy stripey thing by my bus ride home tonight. It's also got alpaca in it and wow, it sheds. But it's so soft!

Anyway, I plan to revisit my Misti Alpaca scarf over the weekend, and next week I will not only be giving away a few sets of those beautiful Knit Picks Harmony wood needles but Allison at SuperCrafty.com will be gifting one lucky reader three fluffy skeins of Misti Alpaca for their very own winter yummy project! Stay tuned. Freebies are good.

- - -

Reader Hailey wrote:

Please, Ms. CrazyAuntPurl, help me! I'm knitting my first hat, and have run into a bit of a pickle. I'm not using a pattern, you see, and I can't find one that matches my yarn. I'm using some Blue Sky Alpaca Dyed Cotton, and my gauge is around 4 stitches per inch. I don't know what to use for the decreasing! Your Roll Brim Hat recipe is quite helpful, but I don't know what to do. Can you help me?

I'm going to have to make some assumptions here, since you didn't mention how big your head is! Let's say you are knitting this for an adult with an average-sized head. I like to guesstimate about 20 or 21 inches in circumference for a regular noggin, let's use 20 inches for this example.

If you gauge is 4 stitches per inch, then you multiply 4 (stitches per inch) by 20 inches (circumference of hat) to get a cast on amount of 80 stitches.

That's:
(stitches per inch) X (size of head in inches) = (number of cast-on-stitches.)

If you had a different gauge or circumference measurement and ended up with an odd number for your cast-on amount, just round down to the nearest even number of stitches and cast on that amount. Decreasing works much better on an even number of stitches.

OK, so let's knit.

Cast on your 80 stitches. Knit in the round for about six or maybe seven inches, depending on how long you like your hats to be. Then you would begin decreasing. I wrote a very lengthy soliloquy on decreasing and you can read that here. It explains the reasoning (weird and strange as it may be) behind selecting your decrease number. But the simple answer is you have two options for decreasing on this hat.

Decrease Option 1:
On the first decrease row, decrease every 14 stitches on the first row.

Knit 14, knit two together. Continue for the entire first round.
On the next round, knit 13, knit 2 together. Repeat to end of round.
On the next round, knit 12, knit 2 together. Repeat to end of round.

And on and on.

OR!! Decrease Option 2:
You could decrease every eight stitches, if you want a faster decrease. I do this when I realize, whoopsy, I just knit seven inches of hat and need to decrease rightnow.

So you would knit 8, knit 2 together. Repeat to end of row.
Then knit 7, knit 2 together, repeat to end of row, and on and on.

But how the heck do you know what number to pick?
The math behind all of this decreasing stuff is very simple. Even a mathaphobe like myself can do it.

You need to find ONE number that divides into your cast on amount evenly with no wonky percentages left over. Because how can you decrease 6.7845673635809 stitches per row?

The formula is:
CastOnNumber ÷ SomeNumber(SN) = an even amount
THEN
SomeNumber(SN) - 2 = Your Decrease Amount

In the first example for your hat, here is my math:
80 ÷ 16 = 5 (5 is a solid number, that's good.)
Then 16 - 2 = 14. The number 14 is your decrease amount.

Knit 14, knit 2 together, knit 14, knit 2 together for the whole round.

In the second decrease example here is the math:
80 ÷ 10 = 8 (good, 8 is also a solid number).
Then 10 - 2 = 8.
So 8 becomes your first decrease amount.

Knit 8, knit 2 together, knit 8, knit 2 together for the whole round.

That's the math, yo. Now my brain hurts. Good luck and enjoy your roll-brim hat!

- - -

And finally, a photo of my little brother. You KNOW he is up to no good! Somewhere out there a shoe has just been chewed upon with great vigor...

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What are YOU looking at?

Posted by laurie at 9:57 AM

October 16, 2008

Thursday, not my walkday

Usually I go for a walk (walk/pathetic-jog, but more on that another day) at the unseemly hour of FIVE A.M.!!! and it's mostly quiet on the little streets of my neighborhood. There's still a surprising volume of traffic on the main road but whatevs. It's Los Angeles.

Thursday is also trash day. Each house gets three bins from the city, these big plastic containers with hinged lids and two wheels that you fill up dutifully and roll to the street each Wednesday night in anticipation for trash day. There's a black can for trashy trash, a green can for yard clippings and a blue can for recycling.

Every Thursday (and sometimes late Wednesday night) a few people come into the neighborhood with shopping cats and roam from blue can to blue can taking out all the recycling before the trash trucks come. I guess they take the aluminum cans and maybe glass bottles and take them to recycling centers for cash. I know they leave behind the cat food cans (heh) and the cardboard. By the way, this activity is illegal but I've never once seen anybody do anything about it in the 14 years I have lived here in crazytown. My neighbor next door won't put his cans out until right before the truck arrives but he's retired and stays home all day and some of us are already long gone when the truck comes, so there are lots of cans out just waiting.

Usually I walk so early in the morning that the wandering trash pillagers aren't out yet. The sun isn't out yet. It's pitch dark at 5 a.m. and most of the world is asleep, aside from a few commuters and the faithful handful of morning exercisers. But since the economy has taken a turn for the dramatic, I've noticed Thursday mornings have gotten crowded real quicklike. Last Thursday I was out walking my normal route and there must have been ten times the amount of strange men roaming from can to can. But this time they weren't just going through the recycling blue containers, they were opening up trash bags, rooting around, upending the contents and sifting through even closed bags in the black cans.

I'm my own worst critic and don't need people telling me to be more compassionate, I'm usually banging myself upside my own head whenever I have a twinge of something not sweet and kind like the Nice Southern Girl™ I was raised to be. But truth be told it was dark and kind of cold and there were strange men digging through trash cans in my neighborhood. Lots of them. And instead of empathy I felt the slightest twinge of fear.

There were also a few trucks driving up and down the streets, not trucks that live in my neighborhood (walk every single day in your neighborhood for a few years and you get a sense of what belongs and what doesn't) and these trucks were collecting loads from the scavengers. One truck stopped outside a construction dumpster and someone got out, started picking through it. And there was this one car, a melange of car parts of different colors put together to make a single vehicle with a loud muffler. It was driving slowly up and down the streets, and inside were two young men maybe 19 or 20 years old.

Now we have our share of hooligans in my neck of the woods, but they aren't usually out driving up and down with their hazard lights on at five a.m. I usually see the same faces each day -- fellow walkers and joggers and dog-walkers -- and nod or wave or say good morning. It's really comforting, seeing the same couple jog past me each day with their border collie, the friendly older guy with his three golden retrievers, the two women who always pass me right at the corner crosswalk each day.

But these two guys in the car, I had never seen them before. I guessed they were waiting for one of the fellows digging through the cans since they had a few bulging trash bags in the back seat. Then they passed me and saw me, one turned his head, and before long they made a U-turn and came back and pulled up slowly alongside me and stared. Apparently they are from a land were women never walk so the sight of me, a woman walking, must have ENTHRALLED them so much that they menacingly drove alongside me until I turned and said in my loud outside voice, DO YOU HAVE A MUTHAEFFING PROMBLEMMO WEIRDOS and waved my pepper spray. Then they sped off.

I was shaking. Then I sped off myself, cutting past two streets to go home and lock myself safely indoors. I decided that perhaps Thursdays are best spent indoors on the treadmill from now on.

- - -

Security expert Gavin De Becker wrote a book called The Gift of Fear. I haven't read the book but I heard him speak once, and he told this story about a woman standing waiting for an elevator and when the elevator doors open she sees a man inside the elevator who gives her the heebie jeebies (I am paraphrasing of course.) Mr. De Becker said the woman will get on that elevator nine times out of ten because she tells herself, "Oh, I'm just being silly, I don't want to be rude." In an instant she'll begin to make excuses, justifications in her mind and so she smiles and then she gets on the elevator.

He says that we are the only ones in the animal kingdom who will get into a steel enclosed soundproof box with a man who makes us feel unsafe -- all because we think we should give him the benefit of the doubt, and we don't want to be rude.

- - -

I thought I'd lived in this city for so long that I'd learned to sharpen my instincts. I don't often find myself in troubling situations, I'm just not on that wavelength I guess. When someone is doing something untoward, even if it's small, I try to listen to my instincts and get the hell out of dodge.

Sometimes, though, like last Thursday I don't listen, instead I talked myself out of it. On that day I immediately noticed there were more men on the streets and it was very early and this was not normal and it felt... a little unsafe. But I thought to myself, "Laurie, if you were telling this story to someone they'd come up with all the very logical reasons these men are digging through the trash. Other people wouldn't be immediately fearful, you jerk. They'd be kinder, more allowing. Other people would be more understanding, compassionate. After all, these guys are just people like you, people who are trying to feed their families. They're probably good people simply trying to make a few bucks. Don't be alarmist, don't be rude..." and on and on and on.

It's true that these folks are probably just decent folks trying to pull together a few dollars. It's also true that it felt weird. Something was off. I kept on walking though, right up until I got threatened, and I was threatened, having two strange young men pulling up in a cobbled-together car at 5 a.m. staring at you like you're a piece of meat and they're rabid dogs is never, ever a good thing.

It was a sharp and immediate reminder. Listen, listen to your instincts. I'd rather be impolite or politically incorrect and safe than sweet and nice and in harm's way. And whose feelings am I hurting if I decide to walk the treadmill one morning a week? Isn't that the most insane part?

So this morning I suited up and got my sneakers on and got ready to walk indoors. There's only one small impediment to my treadmill workout, but surely with some well-placed catnip -- in another room -- we can all learn to share on Thursdays ...

frankie-treadmill.jpg


Posted by laurie at 9:10 AM

October 15, 2008

Wednesday in the Valley of Fur

Lovely reader and friend Lucia alerted me to a picture she saw of our fires out here:

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This image is by Mel Melcon of the Los Angeles Times and apparently it was reprinted in the Baltimore Sun. That's some view. Wow.

Faith's parents were told to evacuate late yesterday but now they're fine, their house is fine. My neighborhood is ashy but safe and well, too, and we all hope the winds will die down later today and this will all become past news, so yesterday like all that crazy Dow Jones stuff that happened way back in ... now, 2008. Yup.

In stressful times I find it's good to experiment with new smoothie combinations:

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That's my banana-cherry-peach super yummy smoothie. The layers are from the bottom up:

3/4 cup kefir (or yogurt)
1 tbs or so flax oil
1 scoop of protein powder
1 tbs psyllium husks (much less if you don't eat a lot of fiber!!)
1 large banana or 2 small ones
a few frozen cherries
some frozen peaches

Blend and enjoy. OMG SO GOOD. Really though -- start small on the psyllium husks because there's fiber in them thar hills and you don't want to be caught up a creek without a port-o-potty if you aren't used to having fiber in your diet. TAKE IT FROM SOMEONE WHO KNOWS THIS FOR SURE.

In news unrelated to fiber, I had to buy a new blender a few months ago -- not because I over-smoothied but because I got lazy one day and tried to chop an onion in the blender. A big chunk of it got stuck under the blades and it wouldn't turn and some dumbass at the controls kept hitting the pulse button. In other news, I am a really great chef!! Who blends onions!! So I totally broke the blender, it was a sad day. Then it was a happy day because I got to go shopping, as a blender is VERY necessary in my house, and I found this Oster retro-looking machine on sale for a good price. It's so loud, though, every time I use it I wonder if my kitchen is about to take flight.

This week I have been using my loud blender very early in the morning hoping to punish my neighbors for playing loudass Ranchero music ALL DAY Saturday until late-late on Saturday night. Eight hours of Ranchero music at full volume will make your brain runny. I think that instead of invading other countries we should just play very loud Ranchero music into their dens of terrorism until they surrender, finally beaten and bedraggled by the polka undertones and begging for chips and guacamole. I don't know why our guv'ment hasn't thought of it already. We could probably quell terrorism with creative speaker placement.

Clearly I am not only an awesome chef but also totally ready to run the guv'ment.

I had Monday off work for Columbus Day (in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue, in 1495 Columbus did a jumpin' jive...) and I was glued to the TV watching Fire Coverage! Breaking Fire news!! all day so I decided midday to remove my butt from the groove on the sofa and do something productive, anything, and the only comforting thing to do was eat. So I made this yummy Swiss Chard Gratin recipe from the New York Times.

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I can't tell if the picture looks gross or not since I already tasted the gratin and it is really tasty. The only changes I made to the recipe were that I did not use breadcrumbs and I skipped the whole blanching/boiling/put-in-cold-water step and just added the chopped up Swiss chard to the onions/red peppers/stalks mixture cooking in the pan and let it cook that way before baking it. Because in addition to trying to chop onions in the blender (!!) I am lazy in all ways, like pre-cooking Swiss chard.

OH! And I also added more than the 1/2 cup Arborio rice called for and I have a very good reason why. See, I have never purchased Arborio rice before or cooked it. And in fact the longer I thought about it I became certain I have never even tasted risotto, which is made from Arborio rice, since every time I see it on the menu somewhere I think, "Meh, it's rice... I'd rather have fettuccine." You see, I only cook and eat brown rice at home so while it is nutritious and filling and fine, it's not exactly fettuccine alfredo you know. It's .. rice.

But I was wrong, I was mistaken, I was DELUSIONAL.

Arborio rice is a whole 'nother story. The package I bought for this recipe only had cooking instructions for risotto on the bag so I didn't even know how to cook it plain -- I just cooked it in a 2:1 ratio like you do with my staple brown rice, 1 cup of rice in 2 cups of water. I figured if I screwed it up the world would still spin in its axis and I'd have plenty left in the bag to experiment with. It's just rice, right?

After cooking a cup of rice in plain boring water for about 15-16 minutes, I grabbed a fork and tasted it to see if it was done yet. Can I just confess to ya'll that I could have scrapped the entire Swiss Chard casserole effort and stood there in the kitchen with a fork and eaten that entire pot of Arborio rice? (And I probably would have ... except I'd just spent 45 minutes chopping onions and bell pepper and Swiss Chard into tiny pieces.) That rice tasted like the carbiest, yummiest, gooiest pot of goodness EVER. Now I understand risotto. It's not just rice, it's like the smooshy insides of a loaf of white bread. It's delicious.

I can't imagine how good some butter and olive oil and all the other risotto fixins would be on the already fluffy gooey dreamy awesomeness that is Arborio rice. I ended up adding the whole cooked amount of rice to the gratin recipe or else I really would have eaten it all in one setting and rolled back to the sofa nevermore fitting into any jeans at all ever again, the end.

So I cooked my little Swiss Chard gratin and it was good, but I will admit to having dreams of creamy risottos of my future, a plan which I will make into reality as soon as I get another day off work. Because who needs to wear jeans anyway? I can probably rock the muumuu. MuMu? Moomoo? How about caftan -- I know I can rock that too. There is nothing sexier than a woman with a herd of felines wearing a caftan and brandishing a pot of risotto!!!!

I am serious about the risotto, people. I never kid about carbs.

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This is how Frankie sleeps sometimes. IT KILLS ME. She's posing even in her sleep. The cuteness is unbearable.

- - -

Thanks for the emails but the website isn't broken -- all comments are currently closed. Have a great day!

Posted by laurie at 8:43 AM

October 14, 2008

Smoke in my eyes, lotion on my hands

This morning I drove into work and as I pulled out of the neighborhood, there were folks out watering down their rooftops. I wondered to myself, do I have the right shoes for that? And how does one get on the rooftop, anyway?

But we're not in danger right now, I hope, I think, the fire is burning quite a bit north of me and right now I just have ash and the smell of smoke everywhere.

New Jersey came in this morning as another co-worker and I were talking about the fires and he said, "Oh man, I know! I woke up yesterday morning and I smelled smoke and I thought my apartment [in Santa Monica, FAR from the fires] was on fire. I don't even light candles that often! So I looked around everywhere and since it wasn't my apartment I figured it was someone else's, so I went to be a hero and I sniffed door-to-door looking for the fire, but I couldn't find it. So then I went to breakfast and the air everywhere smelled like smoke! So I finally had to ask someone. They said it was off somewhere far away, in a valley."

"Um, it's in THE Valley," I said. "The one we live in..." I pointed to me and my other Valley-livin' co-worker.

"Oh, so can you smell smoke there too?"

"I have ash an inch deep on my yard. It's a little smokey," I said.

"My sister and her kids evacuated and they're at my house, for now anyway," said Co-worker.

"Whoa," said New Jersey. "That's crazy!"

"Well, it's fire season," I said.

"You have a FIRE SEASON?"

"You live here now, WE have a fire season. We're in it," I said.

"This place is crazy," he said. "But hey, at least it never rains."

And we still didn't tell him that it will rain, one day, when he least expects it.

Of course, it sure would be nice if it rained today. I really do not have the right shoes for rooftop-climbing!

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Let's all just close our eyes and think of catnip.

- - -

Um, so! I am apparently a little crazy and stressed out right now. Understandable, I think, but I've realized through trial and error and possibly hiding under my desk that I am not in a happy, balanced place to accept cheerful critique at this time so comments are closed for now. I really appreciate the understanding. I just need a little quiet time. I'm sure I will pull it all together again very soon. It may involve shoe shopping, this "pulling it all together." Who's to say.

Posted by laurie at 9:13 AM

October 10, 2008

Pumpkin Farmer

Well, I am officially a big-time agribusiness pumpkin farmer, if by "big-time" you mean delusional and "agribusiness" you mean: spent $200 in gardening supplies this year to produce two pumpkins of questionable provenance.

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One small but lovely perfect pumpkin.

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And one large humongous warty multicolored behemoth, THE PUMPKINATOR. He will eat all trick-or-treaters! He scares away mailmen! He smokes cigars and talks like a Robert DeNiro impersonator!

He is my finest work of gardening ever. Well worth the time, effort and watering bill.

Posted by laurie at 9:47 AM

October 9, 2008

This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.

So I started knitpurling along on my quest for perfect seed stitch on my Misti Alpaca scarf. THIS YARN IS SO SOFT I WANT TO EAT IT. And you can see here my mad scribbling trying to come up with a cable pattern that I would like and work on my stitches with my big ol' seed stitch border:

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The pattern, whatever it was going to be, had to be simple enough that I could divert brain energy away from counting and pattern-remembering. I do believe I have mentioned before that I am not a multi-tasker, I am not someone who can focus really well on more than one task at a time. (I read a study recently that said no one really multi-tasks, they just stop doing one thing and start doing another. I believe this is true because can I tell you how many times I have been on the phone with someone and you can sense the exact moment they begin to "multitask" and start reading their email? You know it's happened because they've essentially dropped out of the conversation. I am guilty of this, too, but anyway. Science, etc.)

Most of my knitting time is on the bus commute to and from work. That is also my foreign-language learnin' time (right now I'm learning French and thus far I can say with great enthusiasm, "I want some beer or some wine now please!" so I think I am practically fluent.) The Pimsleur language stuff on my iPod is very repetitious, so I can knit while listening to it, I just can't knit anything complicated. I figured a nice cable pattern would do the trick because I'm all wonky and I don't care if my cable turns perfectly every ten rows, if it twists just when I remember to do it that is fine by me.

Seed stitch seemed to be looking good so I was going to continue that up the middle between the cables and on the side so it didn't roll. Except I didn't plan very well what it would look like and it's just funky. I wish I would have done a reverse stockinette inside, between my two cables (I also wish I would have increased four stitches instead of just two before my cable rows started, since it's pulling in more than I anticipated.)

This is the mess, avec yogurt and tea:

mistiscarf-falsestart1.jpg
By the way, see those amazing beautiful knitting needles? Those are the KnitPicks Harmony Wood straight needles, and I LOVE them. Stay tuned, next week I'm doing a give-away of five sets of these beauties!

Maybe I am lazy or maybe I am just ... uh, tres lazee, but I LOATHE unraveling my knitting. This is why so many of my swatches turn into scarves. I'm thinking I might try that technique I have heard fancypants real knitting people do where you take a long straight needle and place it through the stitches right around the area of the scarf you want to unravel down to (Lordy that sentence made no sense at all, even to me.) I want to rip the stitches out just in the cabled area and re-work them without re-knitting all the seed stitch at the border, so I might try it. If you have ever tried that technique let me know if you have any tips I should be aware of beforehand or if you have soothing suggestions for accompanying chocolate to go along with that pile of unravely un-fun.


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Bob avec tour eiffel. He likes to unravel yarn and eat it, too.

Posted by laurie at 8:46 AM

October 8, 2008

Crochet for dudes!

Congratulations to Drew on his very un-granny-square new book, The Crochet Dude's Designs for Guys: 30 Projects Men Will Love.

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You can visit him in person and get a copy of his book on November 1, 2008 (a Saturday) at the lovely Yarntopia in Katy, Texas. They might ply you with wine. I just feel like I should tell ya'll. I was at Yarntopia about this time last year Sheryl and Amy are awesome and will maybe even have those INCREDIBLE Chick-Fil-A little biscuit bite-size sandwiches and let you drink champagne from the bottle. Or maybe that is only if you are introverted and trying to hide in the bathroom. ANYWAY on Saturday the first at 2 p.m. Drew will be signing books and doing some teaching of the fancier crochet techniques from the patterns. He's also going to be giving away a gift basket with some yarny goodies.

I'm so proud for Drew and happy for him, he's a talented guy and a kind soul and above all a beloved friend. He also will let you hide in the bathroom with a bottle of champagne if you really, really need to.

p.s. Not that there is anything wrong with the granny square.
p.p.s. Yes, we'll do a drawing for the book one day, but it isn't out yet! You can pre-order his book right here.

Posted by laurie at 8:40 AM

October 7, 2008

Dear people who put the TV in our elevators, can you please change the channel?

In the mornings lately the elevator ride is frightening -- watching people get sucked into the tiny TV monitor inside the elevator is fascinating. They oooh, they ahhhh, they groan with wild abandon when they see the Dow numbers ticking downward on the screen. Sometimes I worry that they're going to hyperventilate or keel over right there in the elevator and I will have to climb over them to get to the free coffee in the galley before those Government Lending folks get in and drink all the coffee.

Hi! And how are ya'll?

So my mom and I were talking on the phone yesterday and she asked if all the financial news I get all day long is making me depressed. I do get a lot of financial news across my desk each day and I read it to keep up with what's happening in the world (and, I admit it, I want to see if the Euro is getting cheaper so I can go eat chocolate and wine some place far away.) But I'm not depressed about it -- or the election stuff for that matter -- because if I decide to fall into a deep abysmal existential fugue state about world events it still has ABSOLUTELY NO OUTCOME WHATSOEVER on those world events. My emotions about the Dow have no effect on it at all. In fact, it's much easier to check the foreign exchange numbers every day instead and realize that my wine and chocolate just got two bucks cheaper. Yay me. Victory for French wine and Swiss chocolate ensues.

Some people would think this was cavalier, my decision to not worry myself into a funk of doom, as if I am not patriotic or normal or concerned. That also doesn't change the outcome. So I go about my life calling my cats Mr. and Miss and Lord Queen Monkeypants (guess who gets which preface) and watching Dancing With The Stars (I admit it, I got sucked in. AGAIN.) and learning to make cornbread and understanding there isn't any reason at all to get really mad or frustrated or upset since that has no bearing whatsoever on the banks, the lenders, the world or the weather.

Now, if I could change the weather, maybe that would be a different story. Ya'll know I would be all over that cute Dallas Raines like white on rice. We could tan together and discuss who we want it to snow on while the Valley would be 75 and breezy and sunny every day for eternity. But I digress. (Also do you think one day Dallas Raines will do a google on his own name and wonder who on earth is this crazypants woman with all these cats who lives in the Valley and obsesses over the weather?) (Hi Dallas! Call me!)

Like most people my relationship with credit cards and slippery money started during my first week of college in the University Center where a cheerful group of strangers were handing out free backpacks and clock radios if you just filled out a credit card application. Looking back now, I think this activity should be 100% ILLEGAL. Because what college student -- especially a poor kid on scholarship who thinks Jon Bon Jovi is the second coming -- would qualify for a credit card? I MEAN REALLY NOW. Except we all did, me included, and having had zero education on credit management and budgeting and finance I looked at that credit card as an extension of my income. My relationship with credit started with me clueless, in dire need of college supplies and holding one brand new shiny Master Card. It was a very bad start.

It wasn't until much much later when I found myself alone in my thirties in the middle of a messy and expensive divorce with four cats and a gargantuan load of consumer debt that I began to mature financially. In other words, I had to grow up and fast or I was going to be living in a shed with a herd of felines and my shoes. And eating beans from a can and wondering if zappos.com missed me as much I missed it. There was no more easy credit, there was no more shopping to make myself feel better, there was no more dual income and blaming it on someone else or letting someone else handle the money. It was all my mess and mine to figure out alone.

(By the way, you can download my free Excel Budget Spreadsheet if you too are in the sordid, messy and expensive place. The spreadsheet is pink, which I think helps!)

It took me a long time to get out from under my debt and to this day it's one of the best things I have ever done for myself. It sucked sometimes (no more expanded cable, no new stuff, getting rid of my lovely and pricey manicured nails, no trip to so-and-so, writing down every red cent) but it was awesome, too, watching that number on the credit card statements go down every month, watching my savings go from nonexistent to $40 to $200, to $800 to $1200. Being able to pay my folks back (three years later) for the money they loaned me for my divorce lawyer. Being able to buy AWESOME NEW SHOES ... and then deciding not to. Not because I can't afford them but because I can and choose to put the money elsewhere. There's a difference.

There are two big things I learned during my own personal financial crisis. One: No matter how big a hole you're in, you can choose how you feel about it. And two: You are not your stuff.

That first one was a huge shift for me (in every part of my life, not just finances.) I used to be someone who spent a LOT of time arguing for my unhappiness. I heard myself one night on the phone to my parents, it was about four years ago and my ex-husband was still a then-husband and he had moved out and my mom was trying to tell me something positive, I don't even remember what it was, and I started off with a long list of why that particular positive thing wasn't good at all. Because of this, and because of that, and this other thing, and I was giving her a whole list of all the reasons I was unhappy. I was arguing for my unhappiness. I could actually hear myself there on the phone coming up with all the reasons my life was awful and empty and dire. It was sad, being that person, the one who doesn't stand up for her happiness but instead defends all her misery.

So no matter how deep and wide and vast and dark the hole is that you're in, you get to choose. You get to decide if you're going to make a list of all the things you lack, loathe, fear and worry about. Or you get to sit in that exact same hole and say, "Wow, this is a big dark hole I am in. It sure will be nice once I get out of here. While I'm here, though, think of all the nice people who have been concerned for me down here, or who want to hear my jokes. I still get to eat. I drink wine. I have really cute cats. I might go try on some of my shoes now, since I am paying them off and all. Thank God this hole is wide enough for me to walk around in! I can wear all my shoes!" And so on.

By the way -- if someone had told me this little gem when I was in the "my hole is deep and dark and it is all his fault and I will cry now" phase, I would have hit them with my cute shoes. I had to get there, and I had to decide to change my perspective for me, not for my friends or family or co-workers or the mysterious "They" who judge us silently from the sidelines. I knew if I didn't change my thinking I was going to be bitter and empty and living in fear and that was a choice I had to make. Argue for my unhappiness or find a way to see something positive and be grateful for that one thing, even if it was so small I might have overlooked it before.

The other concept I got a handle on, finally, is that I AM NOT MY STUFF. I am not a better person if I wear designer labels. I am not a kinder, smarter or even happier woman if I have the most expensive handbag. I am not sexier or more successful if I drive a nice car or own my own home or get my nails done or have an ipod. I am not my stuff. I enjoy my ipod -- believe me it is a saving grace on the bus -- but I am not lesser of a human being for buying a refurbished one or not buying one at all. I am not my stuff. My worth as a human being is not contingent on driving a fancy vehicle -- and thank God, since my Jeep qualifies for extinction, I think.

Yes I love pretty things, and I like shoes and I love to shop at the grocery store and buy the stinky yummy expensive cheese. But all of it is just stuff. It took a while for me to disassociate who I am from what I have, and sometimes it was painful. I had given all these little things -- things with no value -- so much sentimental value that I had a house full of clutter and my life was cramped and confusing and uncomfortable. Because of stuff! Stuff I'd bought to make me feel better in a lonely and sad marriage, stuff I'd bought just because it was on sale, or because I thought it made me look better, or I thought maybe this one thing is what I need to make me happy once and for all. Can you imagine when I finally started getting rid of even the smallest bits of clutter how much my emotional load lightened? Being free of objects that had all these old ideas and memories and hopes wrapped up in them was like letting go of a false self.

So anyway, I am not worth more or less because of what I wear, own, buy or charge on a credit card. There's integrity in that knowledge. There's happiness and contentment in having things you know are within your means and not pushing yourself into debt. There's happiness in appreciating something that you enjoy just because it's appealing to you, not because of its price tag alone. (And then you're not awake at night wondering how to pay for stuff, either.)

That's not to say I don't enjoy fancy things, but I think I'm more clear now on whether I like something because I just like it or because I'm supposed to think it has value (and by extension, gives me value.) Nothing gives me value. Real worth can't be purchased at a store and gift-wrapped and placed on a credit card, no matter what anyone tries to sell you. Also later you can hand me some of crackers to go with my yummy stinky cheesy text because I know this is cheesy, but it's still true. You are not your stuff.

Getting in the elevator every day is a little microcosm of humanity, I watch the folks watch the TV screen and I wonder, can we ask management to change the channel? Can they put on The Food Network instead? I think people would be much happier each morning if they got to watch a little Food TV on their way in to work. And it would have just as much effect on the Dow as if they watched the news. Or maybe we could watch The Weather Channel -- that's something we also have no control over but people don't seem to fall into a deep existential funk about it all. Unless they maybe live in the Valley.

- - -

ALSO! Congratulations to all the folks who won a copy of The Green Beauty Guide: Natalie and also Trudy both from Indiana, Jackie in Connecticut, Janice in Victoria British Columbia, Tari in New Jersey, Laura in North Carolina, Stacy and Lee both from California, Lisa in Tennessee, Connie in Ohio, Cora in Florida, Thalia in Maryland, Theo in Oregon, Jennifer in Idaho, Gayle in New York and Allison also from North Carolina.

So far four people still haven't responded with their addresses so I'll re-send them an email of winningness. Thanks to everyone who participated and the next give-away is knitting related and won't be in the comments, I promise! With all this helpy going on you'd think I could help myself to some form-coding but I blame it all on politics, the economy and of course the weather!

Posted by laurie at 8:25 AM

October 3, 2008

As Kermit would say, Green is Beautiful

Mmmm, Fridays are dee-licious!

Today is a good day for a give-away! Today twenty (!!!) lucky folks will receive a copy of Julie Gabriel's The Green Beauty Guide: Your Essential Resource to Organic and Natural Skin Care, Hair Care, Makeup, and Fragrances. It's only very recently that I realized some of the products I was using on my skin and hair had some funky chemicals in them, I don't know why it never occurred to me before. So this is a good read if you're also into that sort of thing, and you could get a free copy! I also haven't read this book, maybe if I am nice they will throw in a 21st copy for me. Whaddyathink?

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I'm sorry this is another one of those post-in-the-comments drawings, those are just easier for me on short notice and I am either lazy or on a very overscheduled schedule, but just post in the comments if you want to be entered to win a copy of this book. And a BIG HUGE thank you to my friend and publicist Kim Weiss, who I emailed asking if she'd want to give up a few free copies of this book (I was thinking ya'll would like it) and here I was expecting maybe one or two free copies and she offered up TWENTY! So thank you, Kim!

Also it is Friday and it is going to be thirty degrees cooler today than just two days ago and I am so happy, they ("The U.S. Department of They") are even saying it might rain on Saturday and if I am being totally honest Your Honer YES, YES I was just a little tiny bit disappointed that it wouldn't be maybe-raining on a weekday so I could hear poor New Jersey talk about how THIS CITY IS INSANE and also LEARN TO DRIVE YOU CRAZY CALIFORNIA. Luckily the weather forecast is usually wrong so... you never know...

- - -

Update: Thank you everyone for your happy responses! Comments are closed now, but I will randomly draw 20 winners and alert you via email. Thanks everyone and have a great weekend!!

Posted by laurie at 9:22 AM

October 2, 2008

Q&A: Knitting Bag, Books, Cat Litter... all the basics

Today it's Email Day here at Chez Blabsalot. But before we get to the important stuff like books and cat poop, I just wanted to chime in and say I know that the world has gone completely ass over teakettle and all we hear about right now is gloom and doom and crisis and crunch and bailout and collapse and on and on. Trust me, I hear it all day long.

But getting upset about it or cowering in fear or obsessing over it every minute of every day has pretty much zero effect whatsoever on the outcome and only makes you grumpy. Same goes with the politics stuff. And even though there is Crisis! And spin room! And insanity! There is an awful lot of good stuff, too. Like cheese. And cats. And yarn. And there are so many good inventions like hulu.com where you can watch TV shows and movies for FREE! (I don't work for them, they don't even know me from Adam but I like free, so I am a fan.) And the weather forecast says it will cool down tomorrow which is a blessed, joyful event not unlike the time I found the last box of chocolate truffles at Whole Foods and I almost wept in appreciation. That is how I feel about it cooling off, which also coincidentally is FREE. So there are good things happening you just have to look for them. Sometimes they come at the bottom of a box of truffles, but whatever.

- - -

Now for correspondence! Which I am SO GOOD at that I think some of these emails are from forty-six months ago. Reader Karen who has just re-taken-up knitting emailed me and asked:

I have decided to find a knitting group in my area which brings me to my question. What do you transport your knitting stuff in? I don't recall you showing a knitting bag. I want something hip rather than grandmotherly. Could you recommend a source for cool bags?

Thanks!
Karen

I have a few different knitting bags, and which one I use at the time usually depends on whether or not I am toting around a bigger project (giant scarf) or a little project (roll-brim hat.) I take mass transit, so my bag also sometimes doubles as the transportation not just for knitting but my lunch, a book, and whatever assorted papers and bits I'm carrying to and from work.

The bag on the left is an old Isaac Mizrahi find from Target, that superpink and cute bag was a birthday present from Drew. It's a Lantern Moon tote which I love. And the green shapeless sack is a big ol' freebie bag which I got from the book expo and it has been carrying around my most recent project, plus my lunch and assorted work stuff:


Click for big pictures.

Sometimes I use my envirosax, too. But the most important bag in all my knitting is the oh-so-awesome ziploc baggie, which I use almost all the time even if it is then carried around inside a knitting bag. (See: lunch and knitting sharing same bag, accidents averted via magical ziploc.)

That's the glamorous right there.

- - -

Reader Allan from Newcastle (my favorite beer!) said:

Enjoyed your house reformation. It has inspired me! But where do you keep your books and can we have a photo of them? They give an insight into someone's zeitgeist.

I cannot resist emails with the word zeitgeist! So, part of my no-shop has been easy (not buying clothes has been VERY easy, since I've been feeling uninspired to see myself in trying-on room mirrors) and buying less stuff for the house has been easy. But about a month on into my no-shop I decided books were an essential. I love and support my local library but having dipped my toes into the murky waters of royalties I want to buy books now, more to support the authors I like than anything else. It just feels like the right thing for me to do, though you know of course I don't expect others to abide by my little quirks and roadsigns, this just works for me. So I have been buying books, the best of which recently are by Kate Atkinson -- she was recommended to me by Karin Slaughter and I have fallen in love with her books, my favorite being Case Histories.

But you asked about storing books, not about buying and reading. Right now my books are spread all over the house. One day (one day! always one day!) I want to get a big huge bookshelf with closed doors to keep the dust out and the clutter in, but until then I have my books on many shelves.

My little house has a built-in below the main window in the living room:

bookcase-soba.jpg

I arrange the books here mostly by color, with exceptions for piles that go together in my own insane filing way. (I also enter people in my address book by first name, a practice which makes my mom crazy.)

Another view:
bookshelf-colorized.jpg

There are books by my bedside and books in the office, these books are my knitting/craft/project books:

bookshelf-knitting.jpg

There are books in piles, too, because not everything has been filed away by color just yet and I have unread books in one area, my goal is to put all the books I haven't read on one shelf so I have my own mini-bookstore-library at home and that way when I want to read a new book I can go shopping from my little cache of unread litterchure.

books-stacked.jpg

Books everywhere! I love books. They make me happy.

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Reader Courtney writes:

I recently discovered the joys of knitting, and subsequently the joys of your blog. :) I was wondering, since I'm still figuring out how to navigate this site, if you knew of an EASY two color scarf I could knit. My brother has his first college football game EVER in about three weeks, and I wanted to whip out a super cute scarf in the school colors for his game. Any recommendations?

Garter stitch in a bulky knit is not just fast and easy but can be more boyish, too, less refined -- I love a simple garter stitch scarf. That's where you knit every row. Or, how about a knit 3, purl 3 rib stitch? I'm sure more folks will have suggestions for you, too. If you're reading you'll have to let us know what style you picked...

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Finally:

Reader Elizabeth writes:

Dear Laurie, A friend of mine recommended your website to me because she said you might have a suggestion of a good cat litter to use. One that won't make my asthmatic (seriously, she takes pills) picky female cat poop on my bed when the litter box (one of TWO) has a little bit of stinky male kitten pee in it. Basically that means I'd need to change the litter box everyday and I can't/won't do it! Help! I read on your blog that you used Clump n' Flush but it is no longer sold in CA. I live in Oakland. What do I do? I mean the cats love each other, evidenced by their playing together, cleaning each other, etc, but SHE has litter box needs. Please help!

Thanks,
Elizabeth


So those of you who have been reading about my exciting world for some time now know I had a big Kitty Litter Crisis (!!!) a long time ago when the stupid people who manufacture stupid Clump 'n Flush decided to stop selling it to California rather than put a sticker on the bag with a disclaimer about sea otters. And even if they started selling it again in California now I wouldn't buy it just on principle. (It's all too much to get into here, you can read this post and this one, too.)

At that time my cat Roy, rest in peace and I MISS YOU, had all sorts of problems including asthma. I discovered mostly by trial and a lot of error that he responded best to litter that was NOT scented and NOT made of wheat (people aren't the only animals with wheat allergies!) I know a lot of readers rhapsodize about World's Best Cat Litter, but I didn't find that it worked for my cats or for me. (It's made of wheat, as is Swheat Scoop.) Plain ol' Johnny Cat unscented works great, though it is not scoopable. Some folks love Feline Pine -- bottom line is I think you have to experiment to see what works for your cats. What I used to do to find out if a cat litter would work or not was to use a "test box" for the new litter. I would buy a cheapo plain old plastic litter pan and place it near the other litter pans and fill it with new litter and see how the cats responded. It was like science, with more poop. This whole website is an excellent resource about cats and their litterboxes. I found it really interesting and helpful!

Normally I try not to give advice about catboxes and cats in general since it's a pretty personal topic. But since you asked.... here's what I would recommend:

1) Have your cat checked for any infections or illnesses. This is the standard thing folks tell you when you have litterbox issues, especially if they are recent changes.

2) Start with the litter box itself. I used to use a Booda Dome and the cats HATED it. It's too cramped and dank when enclosed like that. In fact, many vets will tell you that while humans prefer the enclosed litter boxes because they seem more sanitary, cats prefer a nice open pooping surface like a plain ol' basic cat pan. Speak with your vet or do some reading online about this. But I can tell you as soon as I switched to unenclosed cat pans, we had much better litterbox behavior in Chez Poopsalot. This is what my catbox set-up looks like and you can read what I wrote about it here:

catbox.jpg

3) I scoop twice a day. Yup. It is very exciting being me, what with all the poop scooping. I scoop once in the morning and once when I get home at night. This is because Queen Sobakowa will not use the box properly unless it smells like sunshine and unicorns. Scooping twice a day eliminates pretty much all problems for us in this area.

4) Clean the box when you change the litter. I use some unscented cleaning wipes that are safe for use with pets and I wipe down the box inside and out before replacing the clean litter.

5) Discourage the alternate pooping by removing the place it's happening. This means for you closing the bedroom door when you're away since your cat seems to like that room as her alternate loo. Also, you might want to try laundering all offended linens with enzymatic cleaner (get this at any pet supply shop). It removes the scent so they don't keep returning to that spot.

Eventually I switched to Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract litter, and I have found it works great for us. I purchase it at PetSmart, and each bag comes with a $1 off coupon inside so your next purchase is a little cheaper. Keeping the pan VERY clean is really important, and luckily I am a little OCD with the cleaning so it works out fine for all of us. I hope you're able to find a solution that works for you and your felines, and I'm sure the comments will have all sorts of helpy advice, too. We are cat crazy around here!!

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Thank you so much everyone for your emails, I know I am weeks behind as usual but I do eventually get to them all and I really appreciate your notes and questions and hellos. Even the poopy ones!

Posted by laurie at 9:16 AM

October 1, 2008

Bonjour October!

Thanks to everyone who chimed in yesterday for a copy of The Reincarnationist and congrats to Henley and Debbie who each won a copy of the book. There is nothing like free things in volatile times to make you say whut whut ... except for maybe some outdated rap slang!

And there will be even mo' better blues... I mean giveaways,.... coming to this here website very soon and they are knitting related. Hooray for knitting in volatile times!

Speaking of both, I finished this super-simple garter stitch scarf over the weekend:

sensations-scarf1.jpg

sensations-scarf2.jpg

I made this using two skeins (I think it was two although it may have been three) of the JoAnn's "Sensations" brand yarn called "Licorice" in the red color. I love this yarn, and I used it on one of my big chunky beret patterns. I cast on 25 stitches on a size 13 needle and went to garter town. This yarn has so much texture already that it turned out really funky and thick. I made it wider than usual, sometimes a simple scarf done on a much larger scale is a real piece of work!

Right now I'm trying to decide what kind of fabulicious scarf I want to make out of this:

mistialpaca-blue.jpg

That's GORGEOUS Misti Alpaca chunky from SuperCrafty.com and I actually spent part of my Saturday winding four hanks of this into little center-pull balls. As far as I know I have not suffered a head injury yet I chose to do this activity all the same. I'll have to check with my parents and see if they dropped me as a child...

mistialpaca-blue2.jpg

This yarn is so soft, I have a feeling it will become my most favorite scarf ever. But I'm not sure what pattern I want to use for it. I thought of doing a seed stitch or modified seed stitch but now I've decided I really just want a big wide seed stich border but I want the body of the scarf to be a different kind of pattern. Have any suggestions? I think I have some time to decide, seeing as it's still over 100 degrees out here in Swelterville. I understand that by admitting I live in the armpit of the scorching bubbling core of hell several readers will immediately ask me WHY I need an alpaca scarf. And to that I say, let us use logic, shall we? For example, YOU only have two feet -- why do YOU need more than one pair of shoes? That is logic right there, if only you sort of look at it from the glass half full of wine perspective, e pluribus unum, etc. INDEED. Also I do plan to travel to cold places ... like Santa Monica. And maybe Malibu. heh.

Finally, I have decided to wait and see on the Rosetta Stone. Realistically I can't see myself spending even more time in front of the computer than I already do without getting up even earlier in the morning and if I do that I'll be getting up about ten minutes after I go to sleep. Besides I'm not moving to a new country poste haste, at least not as far as I know, but it's a weird time out there folks. Who knows. Do they have a stable economy in Greenland? I hear I can wear handknits there. So, instead of running out to buy the Rosetta Stone I'm listening to my Pimsleur language recordings on my ipod, which is working well and I can combine it with my commute, always a good thing.

And Finally number two, the REAL Finally, I was trying to take a picture of my bookshelf for a thing I am writing in which I actually answer email (Hell-- freezing over??) (No, not according to Dallas Raines, sadly) and then I saw Sobakowa looking cute, so I was trying to take her picture and as usual Miss Frankiepants had to be the center of attention. This picture turned out so funny I might frame it:

sobacrazyeyes-frankie.jpg
If Soba were a person, she'd be really dangerous.

Posted by laurie at 9:09 AM