Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Riddles for a Walk

I'm always looking for adventure.  In everything.  My body certainly can use the exercise.  Two days each week the Things I get to do today include hiking over to the local Parks & Recreation Center for Tai Chi.  I'm totally new to this art and figure that the balance training and two-mile round-trip walk will help my body and sharpen my mind.  Walking means I don't have to jockey around in the parking lot wishing I could put my car in my hip pocket and be done with it instead of circling, waiting for someone to leave, and dealing with the scratchy feeling inside.  After all, Tai Chi is partly about peacefulness on the inside, balance on the outside, and sharp, sharp minds.

What is this called?

So let's see how sharp my mind is as I walk to class. My camera will record a few scenes from my short trip.  Being a civil engineer's wife, I dutifully found an interesting section of road and recorded it. Can you guess what you are seeing in this picture and what it is called?  Big Clue:  it is named after an animal that lives only in the United States and China (a Trivia question for sure).

Hard as I looked for other interesting pavement sections to photograph, there was nothing other than some patched sections, school crossing warnings painted on the asphalt, and speed bump/bicycle cautions also done up in reflective white on the black surface.  Snores are already coming from readers as I write this and at this instant it's not even posted.

Suddenly I discovered little folks with funny faces who were begging to sit for a portrait.  Can you tell me, for our second riddle of my walk, what family these faces belong to?

If either of these riddles takes you very long, you might want to check out Tai Chi at your local exercise facility just to get things moving mentally.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Average-sized egg on the left.
Anyone want to guess how many yokes in the big one?**
I am not making this up.* One of my hens, I know it wasn't Katy Perry Chicken or Queen Latifah Chicken, laid a "goose" egg this morning.  If this is what happens with free-range hens, then open the gates!

Of all the Things I get to do today, weighing and measuring this BIG chicken egg is definitely the most curious.  The enormous egg weighed in at three ounces while the average is only two. Hens aren't that heavy themselves, and packing this dude around while it was in the making must have caused a case of heavy butt.

Further deduction tells me it came from Lena Horne Hen; she eased the giant into the nest first thing this morning.  Smart hen:  I wouldn't want to carry it all day myself.

*Dave Barry fans will recognize his frequently-used disclaimer.

**Note added 2/29/12:  This giant yielded two full-sized yokes.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Instant Gratification

Sometimes I just want it now.  It's been winter and wet for a long time, though my grateful heart acknowledges it has been mild.  Today was lovely with warm air and with plants sprouting hope everywhere.

A  real Crowd of Kale--Red Russian and Blue Scotch

Tyler, my yard-crew-in-one,  had transplanted some of my crowded kale into his garden bed.  He said it had doubled in size in two weeks.  I could do that!

Empty bed in waiting

I have more crowded kale and a garden bed that is just right for planting and transplanting regardless of the rain.

Instant Garden of Gratification 

Things I get to do today--please myself first and do it right now by making an instant garden.

Note to gentle readers:  I am away visiting my Mother this week.  The blogs will post automatically, but I won't be available to respond to your comments.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

How Many. . . Does It Take to Change a. . .

The real questions is how long does it take.  One Handy Andy can most likely manage this simple task, being tall enough to reach and moderately clever enough to find a structure to make up the difference if not.
All the light has leaked out of this bulb

A bulb over the kitchen counter has been out for weeks. Not a real problem since there are six other lights on full-blaze, and meals have continued to come through the production line.

Fresh bulb waiting to be installed.  Waiting.  Waiting.

A replacement bulb has been waiting for a lift for about that same period of time.  The bulb is willing, but its jumping muscles are weak.

Careful eyes can see the tan dribble on the wall.
All cleaned up by only one H. A.

Very ordinary Things I get to do today are pull up a chair, step on the chair, step up on the counter, unscrew the dead bulb, put in the new one. Less than two minutes.  But wait!  I'm pretty sure it's been six or eight years since I dusted off the lamps and the rail.  And while I'm up here with a soapy, wet rag, it would be smart to get the food spots off the wall (how on earth did food get on the wall nearly 10 feet up?  Don't ask, just clean.  So a simple two-minute task is extended by another two minutes.  No big deal. What took me so long, anyway?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Must Have Done It Myself

Big black crust already removed
and the bottom scraped with a sandwich knife
It's a new and, I should say, undesirable alchemy for the kitchen. Take a perfectly good reduction of juice to a syrup and turn it into 3/4" deep layer of firm, foam-like char on the bottom of the sauce pan.  Well, OK, not new at all.  But it is the first time I've burned up juice.

I've had, most unfortunately, plenty of experience burning up (please note the difference between burning the potatoes and burning up the potatoes--which, for the record, I've never done, yet) peas (several times), carrots, broccoli, artichokes (this was amazing), and I honestly cannot remember what else, though, of the list, everything but the artichokes has been burned up more than once.

About three years ago we purchased a set of pots and pans from the big box store.  It was in the middle of the "Harry Potter" fever, and the pots looked like little cauldrons.  We loved them and still do.  And then I  burned up something in the medium/small pot, which for some reason seems to take the brunt of my pyroculinary skills.  All subsequent charrings have occurred in this pot.

But back to the black at hand.  At the time of this big smoke, I ran the pot out the back door to finish smoldering.  And then we went away for the weekend.  Some tasks find their way into my heart, my hand and my list of Things I get to do today--face it and do it.

Chipped out the black foam.  Scrubbed the pot.  Absolutely not better.  Thought of all the clever things a Handy Andy would do to cause the char to release easily.  Added water and brought it to a boil on the stove.  Nothing.  Put in 1/2 cup of vinegar, boiled it.  Nope.  Soda?  No.

I scraped at it with a rounded metal sandwich knife that my sister-in-law had given my about 8 years ago--another friend in my kitchen. It was very slow and made scratch marks on the surface of the pot.  I remembered that if the pan were as hot or nearly as hot as the burn, the black remnants would probably release, which is why boiling water won't work--the water keeps the pan at 212 degrees--not anywhere nearly as hot as the "fire".  So I put in some oil for a solvent and turned on the burner again.  A wooden spatula worked pretty well to get the flat surface mostly clean, but then the oil started to smoke up the house.

Clean and scratched, but clean
Ultimately it was the sandwich knife that loosened all the remaining chunks of char from the pan.  There were visions of my being a dental hygienist removing scale from teeth as each remaining tiny, blacken piece of burned juice popped off the pot.

I can hear my grandmother saying that "prevention is better than a cure" and "a watched pot never boils" or burns for that matter.   I'd like to hear from you.  Is there a better way or is my grandmother right on?

PS.  The "bright" side of this tale (pun intended) is that the first time this pot was used to burn up something, the inside remained an ugly, mottled gray.  The next time it was shiny.  Then ugly mottled gray, and this time shiny bright!  I'm seriously planning to keep it that way.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Commit to a Corner

Every time I pass it, there is guilt.  You probably have one, too--a little corner that has an odd collection of stuff that needs to be sorted through, put away or cleaned up.

Chicken stuff landing

Since it's a small area, it's not top priority--but every time you pass it, it sucks some of your energy. Mine is next to the utility sink in the pantry.  I stop there when I come in from the chicken coop. Chicken stuff that is not allowed in the kitchen roosts here. And since I wash my hands here when I come in, stuff is set down with a promise for later.  And later it has become.  Taking just a minute to clean it up feels terrific.  Tiny bit of effort. Big payoff.  Cuts the draining guilt pipeline.

So I've decided that about once a week the Things I get to do today will include "commit to a corner" somewhere that needs my attention.  Once a week is enough is ease the guilt and help me keep ahead of the stuff.  It can even be the same corner.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


I used to do it every year somewhere around the 21st.  The 21st sounds like spring.  My thing was that I usually started looking for signs of it around the 21st of January or the 21st of February.  By March the signs were the size of billboards so it was silly to say you were looking.  By then everybody could see it.

Raspberry sorbet in its infancy

So it was shocking to me this morning as I was sweeping and vacuuming and generally tidying up in the hen yard (hyperbole intended for those of you who may think I'm over the top on this neatness thing) that the raspberry canes were wriggling out vigorous shoots that would soon be branchlets 18" long with leaves and flowers and then soft, fat, sweet, warm berries, all this tucked into a slow motion explosion of life.

  First out and last in--a full-season bloomer

A quick take around: the yard indeed looked like a billboard worthy of spring documentation.

Striped Iris
Tulip cup filled to the brim with Oregon rain

Lush moss
This is the most heady of Things I get to do today:  "page" through the leaves of my own yard "catalog" and bask in the elegant rush of life on all sides--Spring.

A dance of Delphiniums
Day Lilies

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Make My Day

I'm the opposite of a hoarder.  I love to make space, clear the deck, throw things away, clean up and clean out.  My idea of a holiday is Wednesday--Garbage Day.  Presidents' (Days) are seldom as beneficial to us individually as getting rid of our garbage.

Perhaps it all started when I was a little kid.  Out in the country nobody picked up your trash.  You burned it, buried it, or hauled it to the dump.  The most amazing feeling grew to a fervor as we drove to the county facility a couple times a year--clean, free, expansive, exhilarating, joyous.  The feelings are easily recalled and replayed as I make way for the fresh, the new, the clean, the rearranged.

Our town is going through major evolutionary shifts related to waste collection.  It is arguable for both sides whether we are progressing or regressing as a city or as a species on this topic.  Nevertheless, our household has garbage pickup just once a month.  If we miss that day, we are nested in our own trash for another four weeks.

I'm paying attention to the calendar: today is the day.  The exciting Things I get to do today are to hustle around the house emptying rubbish into the reused dry cleaner's bag, a prophylactic for the basket under the kitchen sink, put out all recyclables, and line up the yard debris can with the other two containers at the curb.  Can you top that?  Go ahead. Make my day.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

By Guess and By Golly

Most of the time it's a meditation.  I love the rhythm, the feel of the yarn, the fragrance of the fiber. And while one is having fun, it's amazing to see an object grow.  Magic.  Again.

From the yarn gleaned, gathered and gifted from Karen-of-Boston, one small skein of alpaca in dark teal caught my attention.  It was my sister's favorite color.  To knit it up into a skinny scarf would be a delight and an opportunity to practice a new technique.  I was fascinated by scarves knit on the diagonal that I had seen in Morehouse Farms Merino Knits (see post "Gifted by Friend" 12-29-11).

So I began.  About 6 inches into the project, I realized that solid-color yarn would not yield a diagonal looking scarf--no contrast for a slanted perspective.  Several other design stitches came and went--a dark yarn does not show off details very well.  Then a more creative bug bit me and I unplyed a length of grey wool and used the wisps laid occasionally along side the teal alpaca to create a diagonal mist.  It was lovely.  It was scratchy.  And mysteriously the width of the scarf grew to an awkward size.  My sister and I agreed it was best to begin again.

Karen sent me a gray, soft,  alpaca skein (seeds for another scarf) to mix with the teal, and my sister thought a rusty orange would give the project some punch.  This time the width stayed consistent, the colors blended, it was a pleasure to create every stitch.

Is there enough yarn to knit the last rows?

The sweet sorrow of Things I get to do today is finish off this knitting piece. Sad to see it go--delighted to have it finished. And here I found a puzzle: the diagonal scarf pattern has to stop and the end taper finishes it off.  How much yarn does it take to finish the "corner?"  I wanted to use all the teal, concluding the final stitch with just 12" of yarn to snip off.

Unravelled to the edge of the first orange

I knit furiously last night until the end of a Chopin sonata for piano and cello. I knit this morning until I took an uneducated guess at how much yarn was needed to finish the last 28 decreasing rows.  My answer was "more than these few yards." So unraveling rows and beginning the decrease sooner was my next guess. And by Golly, it worked.

By Golly design
Reached the corner before the yarn ran out.
More than 12" left. Better than 12" short!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Pesky Pocket Parts

One button on.  One button under someone's dining table.
Pocket flaps in their usual, unsightly position.

I liked them so much I bought four pair. The price was excellent and, I must admit, contributed to my enthusiasm. But right off, there was trouble.  These nice cord jeans had non-functional back pockets.

Back pockets make a style statement. But Handy Andy, a.k.a. Practical Pat, wants to use the back pockets.  It there's a flap in the way--not so good.  If the flap is buttoned down, we're in for big trouble.  That's probably why the buttons started popping off.  A dining chair with an interesting back grabbed the first one.  Later as I passed through a tight doorway, another button went for a spin.  Finally, as a guest at Christmas dinner I sat down to the sound of a snap and a whir as another pocket button swirled across the floor. Everyone at the table wanted to help find it.  I was muttering "just get lost."

Off they come!

But finally the most useful project of the Things I get to do today was to remove  the rest of the flaps and buttons from that shipment of pants.  What I really learned from this experience is that while the flaps may have annoyed me and made the pockets useless, the buttons were hazardous as they scraped chairs and snared strands yarn on the inside of my sweaters.  Next time I'll settle in right away to remedy the situation--no waiting until damage is done.  By then there will be new blog material for recycled pocket flaps.

Flaps for sale
It took pliers and wire cutters to remove
the rest of the sweater-snagger buttons! 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tying Up Loose Ends

It took about half an hour.  That's all.  When it was finished, I felt good.  The scarf is the concluding member of the knit quartet:  mittens, sweater, hat, and now, scarf (see posts "Sweater Seeds" and "Knitting on the Road").

It's interesting that loose ends have such a fragmenting effect on us.  It's just a scarf, but looking at all the tails hanging out is somehow disconcerting.
Obvious loose ends

We have a words for this emotional/mental state:  he's all strung out, we say.  Most would call that a figure of speech.  It is.  But it is also so very much more.  When someone is "all strung out", their energy is flowing too many directions at one time--no focus, distracted, tired, spent--strings of energy going every which way.

Settled and altogether

For my scarf I took one tail at a time and settled it into its corresponding color in the body of the scarf.  If you're feeling like you are going too many directions at one time, you can also close down one thought or project at a time.  You can also "cheat", take a big pair of mental (not metal) scissors and just cut, cut, cut your energetic connection to all the distractions. Things I get to do today: allow a slow in-breath, hold for a few seconds, release the breath slowly.  Once more, in breath, hold, out breath.  Settled and altogether feels like who we really are.  Enjoy being yourself.  Enjoy being just you.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Peace of Yarns


There was chaos in the "warehouse." Generous gifts from two friends who encouraged me to sort through and keep treasures from their huge yarn bins resulted in bags that overflow my warehouse (single, previously-half-full crate). Bags are on the floor and a great mishmash lives in the crate. I am not complaining! But I like order.  And I like to handle the wool--the more I did repeated hands-on reviews of my stash, the more tangled it became.

Another dear friend, the wool winder

My delight  after finishing other Things I get to do today is to settle into some serious wool winding.  There is a soothing magic that happens as scrambled hanks of yarn are transformed into beautiful cylinders of wound wool.  It is a restful and unhurried process, draping the opened hanks of fiber around my knees to hold it in place, one hand holding the strand high and one hand turning the handle of the winder.
Never thought of my knees being a substitute for hands before

Still space for the last bag

It creates such peace and order that three bags of fibers now fit neatly in the space which before held only one.  Make peace in the yarn bin.  Make peace with where you are.  Make peace.  Look how tightly we can live together when we are at peace.
Everybody's in the bin!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Home On the Range*

"And the skies are not cloudy all day."

I love that song.  Not sure how I feel about buffalos, but the idea of blue sky and antelope and deer playing is pretty cool. The most important is "where seldom is heard a discouraging word." The opposite--talking about ones troubles-- is what I think of as "trash talk."    (Today's blog is going "deep and philosophical."  Hit "delete" at any time you can't hold on for the full ride. Just wanted to warn you.)

From where I see it, we are the designers of our own stuff.  "Stuff" is created in this order:  thought, word, deed.  So these words we are throwing around everyday all day are already two-thirds of the way there.  By the time it gets out of our mouth, this recipe is ready for the oven, all but cooked, nearly a done deal.

So check yourself.  What are you "cooking" in that mouth of yours so far today? If you spent any time describing what is normally going on around you, likely it's full of misery and despair.  Talk about "discouraging words!"  By giving it breath and sound, we've helped create more of the same.  We do not need to describe what we see or have been through with such detail.

Though more effort and certainly not habit, if we could spend our words creating images of what we want to have happening in our lives, the results would amaze us.  Blissful Things I get to do today (and you, too, if you like) are look for, find, and focus on everything that is going right and find the courage and the words to speak only that.  Dr. Higley didn't go for trash talk!   And I bet I could get used to buffalos.

*Lyrics by Dr. Brewster Higley (1876)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Big Green Jug

If your water is green, don't drink it.  That's my rule of thumb.  You certainly can write your own guidelines on what you are willing to ingest.

Fun water bottles for around the house

My water bottles are filled from a gallon of "sunshine wine" (post 10-28-11), filtered water that has had a chance to bask in the sun until it's absorbed as much sun sparkle as it can hold.  The routine of Things I get to do today includes refilling these recycled, interesting, glass bottles.  To encourage myself to "keep up the fluids," I have several around the house in locations where I settle in for a time or pass by frequently (by the computer, in the kitchen, on the bathroom counter).

Hinting green, the salt slurry has done its work
But the big jug had gone green. Nothing serious, it had a delicate film of green algae coating the inside, and the next step would be the water turning green.  Last time this happened I enlisted the help of my friend, salt. Salt is fabulous for many tasks that require an abrasive.  To clean a big bottle, dump in about 1/4 cup of salt and 1/2 cup of water.  Swirl this about in the jug until the gritty salt has scoured off everything on the inside. Rinse.  I'm happy to drink the sunshine wine/water from this clear container now.

Sparkly fresh and ready to soak up the rays

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mud Monster

It was too much of a good thing.  Folks with my sort of temperament--gung-ho and full-speed-ahead-- may take longer than average to come to that conclusion.  Eventually I get there.

"Chicken Toys" (posted 1-30-12) describes the process for helping my hens get their greens and for providing a good setting for endless, and I do mean endless, hours of scratch-'n'-peck.  Without that a chicken can't really be a chicken.  My intent was right on the beak.  And gathering buckets of weeds from my neighbors' yards was/is a good idea as well.  Carrying five-gallon buckets of mud and weeds several blocks to my house--not so good, except from a chiropractor's view.

Mashed weeds and extra mud:  My own recipe

The Monster was made from the additional mud I created in the hen pen.  There is a saying that if the chicken yard is not mud when the hens move in, it will be!  I've never really bought into that but have let the thought be a not-so-gentle reminder of the possibility.  Nevertheless, for a couple of weeks, I've been dumping mud/weeds into the area where I'm hoping that spring and warmth will cause the grass to grow faster than the girls can stomp it down and/or gobble it up.

The slick and slimy Things I get to do today are corral, clean up and move the Mud Monster in the hen pen. I thought I'd use a utility bucket (small one to save my back), but neither the hens nor I could figure out how that would work.  Too small, too pink.  I may be one of the few hen lovers who routinely rakes the chicken yard just so it will look "pretty", to me, since none of the girls has commented, ever, about clutter or sticky stuff between their toes.

All the brains of the bird committee agree:  NO!
Mud Monster relocated

Regardless, I raked up the remaining weeds and topical mud, found that the pitch fork (a requested-by-me Valentine's gift years ago--put that in your list of most unromantic gifts) was perfect for the job and comfy for my back, and relocated the mess to an area that had no hope of springing up tender shoots of grass.

Tidy hen pen with a fresh pile of grass
clippings--gift from a neighbor's yard

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fringe Element

"Everything is a gift.  Everything."*  As I dial the number for my chiropractor, I'm looking for the best thought about the odd angle I stand that looks a bit like a 90-year-old.  The gift will appear.

After a needed adjustment, a warm salt bath, and a nap, I know that of the Things I get to do today walking is one of the most important as it provides a balanced massage of the mid and low back. Standing is also fine.  Sitting, no.

A cast-off ball of cotton cord

I began by standing and playing with my knitting frame and a recent gold mine:  bags of yarn from an exploration through a friend's yarn bin.  An ordinary-nearly-ugly ball of cotton cord became a scarf.  Reverse stockinette looked better than the "right" side, so some handwork was required.  I walked all around the house while I closed the long scarf.

Half the scarf length

A fringe would sharpened the look. A fringe is made from dozens of pieces of yarn, equal in length, fastened with a loop by a crochet hook.  Picking up each strand, folding it in half, forming the loop with the hook, and securing it to the scarf can take some time.  And my idea was to be walking while putting on the fringe.

Fringe lengths folded in half over index finger

I took the whole handful of  waiting strands, folding them over my index finger at the halfway mark. Slipping the hook through the desired location, then picking up one strand from my finger, pull through, hook fringe tails through, tug, done.  Amazing!

Hook first through fringe-location stitch then picking up fringe strand

Pulled through location stitch

Ready for the final pull-through

Finished scarf: a gift
The round-trip to the chiropractor took less than an hour: a gift.  My back feeling better and standing and walking for an hour: a gift. Discovering an efficient fringing technique: a gift.  Getting to share the lesson: a gift--for you.  Happy Valentine's Day.

*From Vimala Rodgers' Alphabet (  This is the statement of intent for the letter G when written in the recommended style.