Friday, 26 April 2013

My Awesome Birthday

This has been a busy week. Last Saturday, I got together with some of my Gamma Phi Beta sorority sisters whom I've known since university. We try to get together a couple of times a year. There's always a flurry of emails about what date will work for all of us, what time to meet and where. This time, we met downtown at the Eaton Centre in The Big City for an extended lunch.

This is what 40 years of friendship looks like.
It's SO nice to just pick up where we left off and spend the afternoon together catching up.

Tuesday was my birthday. I got to spend most of the day with my two favourite peeps, Skip and Scooter. We had a leisurely morning around the house. I made everyone waffles, did my crossword puzzle, Scooter played his videogame and listened to podcasts and Skip puttered around. We then headed to the Chinese buffet restaurant for my free birthday lunch. I don't know why I get such a kick out of saving (Skip) money, but I can't resist their birthday deal. Then we went to a big box book store and and browsed for about an hour. I purchased a couple of magazines with a gift card Scooter had given me for Christmas. We were so full from lunch, we fended for ourselves for a light dinner.

That evening, friends came over to have coffee and dessert. I used my nifty, new 12 cup espresso Moka pot and served treats from our local Dutch bakery plus the cupcakes I had baked for the occasion.

It was a very lovely day.

The next day I met with my monthly tea house knitting group. On the way there, Skip, Scooter and I paid a visit to a local donkey. From the time Scooter started in house league hockey about 15 years ago, we have driven by the donkey's field and have always felt sorry for him as he always seemed so lonely. Although seemingly well cared-for, he didn't have any companions. We have always called him "The Lone Donkey".

At the beginning of this month, Skip and I were driving by and noted a sign beside the fence at "The Lone Donkey's" yard. It said (and I paraphrase), "You are welcome to visit and feed Jingles but please do not use the driveway as some people have been driving on my lawn".

At last! We learned "The Lone Donkey's" name! So when Scooter was with us this week, we decided we needed to pay Jingles a visit and feed him some carrots.

As soon as we neared the fence, Jingles came running over as fast as he could making a grunting sound all the way. He certainly knew what was coming next.
We all took turns feeding Jingles carrots. Scooter was a bit tentative. He didn't want his fingers bitten.
I was next. Jingles also wanted to sample my Spectra scarf but I pulled back just in time.
Then it was Skip's turn.
I'm guessing Jingles is paid many visits like this as he appears to be getting quite chubby. But his coat is nice and soft.
After we'd all had a chance to feed Jingles, we went on our way for our respective lunches (Skip and Scooter headed to a different place for lunch).

It almost looked like Jingles was smiling as he bid us farewell.

It was very cool to officially meet Jingles after all those years of driving by.  We'll be dropping by again.

At the tea house, our reserved tables were ready.
 The 5 of us meet once a month to 'show and share', catch up on our life happenings, talk about knitting and all things fibrey and have a delicious lunch. Cheryl, the proprietor, is not only a gracious host and great cook, she is one of our spinning and knitting buddies!

During our lunch, we Skyped our friend Elizabeth from PEI. She used to join us at the tea house before she moved down east a year and a half ago. It was neat being able to have her at the head of the table, Skyping with my iPhone, with the rest of us there. She even showed us what she had been knitting.

A few minutes later, my cream tea order arrived on a rotating plate that had music box workings. It played 'Happy Birthday' as it turned. I got to blow out the candle. It was lots of fun. Diane had provided the music box plate and Jennifer had tipped Cheryl off that it was my birthday.
It's great when one can prolong the birthday celebrations over a couple of days. I really appreciated all the fuss people made.

I'm shocked at the actual number of my age as I still feel 25 in my head. I'm just so glad to be still alive and kicking and am grateful for all the wonderful people and things in my life.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Making Espresso

I enjoy drinking caffé latte. Although I don't like paying the Starbucks prices, I do admit I indulge from time to time. With a registered Starbucks card, I used to be able to get free flavourings in my lattes but recently they discontinued that perk so I have been more-or-less boycotting Starbucks.

I own an electric espresso maker - the kind you put water in the reservoir and on one setting, it makes the espresso and on another setting, it steams and foams the milk. It's a bit of a pain to use and clean and the cat chewed the rubber foamer doohickey. Although I have replaced the rubber foamer doohickey, I have relegated the device to the basement due to a lack of counter space.

The other day I was noodling around on the Internet and came across a video on how to make espresso with one of the stovetop makers also called a Moka.
I have always loved the look of these things but never knew how to use them.  A friend of mine had one and I always thought it looked so exotic. After watching a couple of videos I realized how easy it was to use the Moka and knew I had to have one.

I bought one the next day for a mere $9.99 at a local kitchen store. I bought the 3 cup size and it's perfect for me to make one latte. They also come in 4 cup, 6 cup, 9 cup and 12 cup sizes.

This Moka is the traditional Italian style even though it was made in China. Bialetti is a good Italian brand but is 3 times the cost of the Chinese one I purchased. I has 3 main parts: the bottom water reservoir with a steam valve, the basket for the coffee grounds, and the top with the handle and lid.
If you look under the top, you can see the threading for attaching it to the bottom reservoir and also the white rubber sealing ring. A spare ring came with mine but it appears to be the same size as a rubber ring one would use to seal a Mason jar.
Here's a better look at the steam valve from the outside.
First, you fill the reservoir with water to just below the steam valve where I have indicated with the light blue line. It was recommended that previously-boiled, filtered or distilled water be used to avoid scale building up or for better taste so I just use water that's left in my kettle.
Then you drop the basket in and add a couple of tablespoons of coffee. Any type of coffee is fine as long as it's espresso grind. I use decaf. Don't tamp the coffee down or over-fill because the steam needs to work its way through the coffee grounds and they will expand.
Then screw the top securely onto the bottom. You might even hear the rubber ring squeak a bit. Turn the smaller burner on the stove on medium heat and set the Moka on it with the handle facing out and not over the burner (or flame if using a gas stove). The handle is plastic and will burn if allowed to heat up too much.
Within a couple of minutes, the espresso will start bubbling up into the top and when you start hearing the gurgling, it means the reservoir is empty and you should remove the Moka from the stove.

While the coffee is being made, you can heat the milk in the microwave. I use a tall latte mug and fill it about half-full and nuke the milk for a minute. I bought a battery operated frother for $8 at Canadian Tire (a national hardware and automotive store) and use it to froth the hot (but not boiled) milk. Once the coffee is ready, I just pour it into the latte mug and begin sipping away. The total time is about 5 minutes.

If you heat and froth the milk in a separate container, you can pour the coffee into the latte mug first and then add the milk and make cool designs in the top of the coffee.

To clean the Moka, let it cool down first! Then unscrew the top from the base and dump the basket into your kitchen composter or garbage. Knock out the grounds and rinse all the pieces and leave to dry. It's SO easy! Some say not to use detergent but to just rinse out the container. Others say to use detergent every few uses. It's up to you. Make sure it is well dried before putting it away. It hardly takes up any room in the cupboard - about the size of a mug. Yay! (I don't have a lot of cupboard space)

What's the difference between a caffè latte and a cappuccino? Latte is hot milk with an espresso shot or about 2/3 milk and 1/3 espresso and is served in a larger cup or mug. Cappuccino is 1/3 espresso, 1/3 milk and 1/3 foam and is served in a medium-sized cup (6 oz or so) and an expresso is served in the little espresso or demi-tasse cups.

I have since purchased a 12 cup Moka for when we have company.

I love learning new stuff from the Internet!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Gathering 2013

I attended The Gathering in Port Hope yesterday. It was a day of spinning and shopping for fibrey things. There were probably 100 of us in attendance. I took a couple of photos early on before the place was full but you get the idea of the size of the space.
Lots and lots of spinning wheels.
I purchased a couple of skeins of sparkly sock yarn from Yvieknits.
I also grabbed a beautiful skein of fingering weight mohair/merino blend 2ply for a shawlette or lacy scarf of some kind from Wellington Fibres.
Their rovings and fibres are lovely but I'm really trying to spin down what I have.

Then I went over to The Black Lamb and paid a visit to Laurie.  I would like to do a two-colour shawl and selected these skeins of City Silk - 50/50 superwash merino and tussah silk.
At the Gathering I worked on finishing up the plying of the half pound (220g) of merino roving. I got the rest done after I got home last night. 720 yards of fingering weight for some project or other.
Back at home, I got a couple of photos of the finished paint job in our bedroom. It has been overcast for days so the light is really crappy but here goes. Pepto-Bismol has been neutralized.
Now I need to 'dress' the room with a headboard, curtains and a couple pictures for the walls. For now, I'm loving the serenity of it all.

Friday, 12 April 2013

The Dead of Spring

The weather here has been craptastic this week. Cold and now wet. Yesterday it snowed!!! (Yes, even in southern Ontario, Canada, it is unusual for it to snow at this time of the year). We got about 4cm of the stuff. (the 'hummingbird' is part of the crook holding the feeder)
At least this time of year, we know it's not going to last.

Then last night we had freezing rain. Fortunately not that much but frankly, I'm really tired of the overcast skies. This photo (through a screen) is the view in front of our house this morning. Ugh!

This morning our painter, Jennifer, a former student, arrived to paint our bedroom. We have lived here for 16 years and never had painted our bedroom! I think we just had too much furniture to move and it was just never a priority. Anyway, the prep took all day yesterday: moving furniture, vacuuming the carpet where the furniture was, buying the paint, stripping the border, washing the walls where the border was, patching the nail holes, priming the patches and vacuuming again.

Here are a couple of photos before Jennifer started this morning. I didn't realize how Pepto-Bismol pink the walls were until I moved all the furniture.
It's going to look SO much better.

I'm at a crossroads with my knitting right now. I have the urge to start a new project but I can't decide what to do. I have some UFOs I could continue with also. Ah, decisions, decisions.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Intertwined Socks

I just noticed that my last post was my 800th since I started this blog in May of 2007. Wow!

I haven't been posting as frequently because I haven't been doing quite as much knitting and I haven't been doing much other than recover from our drive back from Florida.

Last night during the Louisville/Wichita State game I finished the second pair of Intertwined socks.
This is the side of the leg. Extra stitches can be added to make a wider leg if necessary.
And here it is from the front.
This Malabrigo superwash sock yarn doesn't have any nylon in it. It's 100% merino. I sure hope the socks don't wear out after only a few wearings.
I haven't done much more work on the Happenstance shawl. Since I have an extra skein of yarn, I'll do at least one more repeat of the pattern before doing the lacy border.

I have a hankering to do the Bias 'Before and After' Scarf by Churchmouse Classics. I have a yummy skein of Classic Elite Yarns Silky Alpaca Lace that would work nicely.

I also saw the Seaweed Scarf at the A Good Yarn yarn shop in Sarasota and remembered I had the pattern at home. However, I'd like to modify by doing it as a semicircular shawl with the Seaweed Scarf ruffled edge.

Maureen Foulds has a new pattern in her collection, Rib and Braid Socks. She has another in the testing phase. I've been so inspired to knit her designs. Because Maureen is a technical writer by day, she creates very easy-to-read patterns. They are also very adaptable to different sizes.

Now I need to decide what project I'll start next...

Tuesday, 2 April 2013


Skip and I got home yesterday at about 4:30pm. Our local grocery store that is usually open on holidays was closed so we couldn't get anything for supper to make at home. We ended up sharing a sub at Subway. Happy Easter!

Our cat was very glad to see us and didn't stop purring for hours after our arrival. The neighbour who fed him came in twice a day and often sat with him after he ate and cuddled him, so the cat did well during our absence. I sure missed him and he has kept close by me since I got home.

Our drive home was uneventful. We both heaved a sigh of relief when we pulled in our driveway - the car and its 'new' engine had made it home in one piece. Click here for the story of our epic drive south. The weather was good and the traffic was tolerable given that it was a holiday weekend and there was no real rush hour. Our dreaded drive through Atlanta occurred at about 9am on Saturday morning and there weren't a lot of people on the road. Nevertheless, I used the HOV lane and whistled through that town in about a half hour. Wheeee!!!  Skip had a more exciting time driving through Cincinnati but my shifts through Toledo and Detroit weren't too bad.

Here was our route.

Having done long car trips several times. We have learned a few things.

1. CAA Plus (Canadian version of AAA) with 200km towing saved our bacon when our engine blew up and stranded us at the side of I-75 in south Georgia on our way down this year. I have been a CAA member since 1982 and have paid several thousand dollars in membership fees. Being able to be towed to the car dealership of our choice at no extra cost was well worth it.

2. When prepaying with a credit card at a gas pump, often a zip code is required. It scans the numbers in the billing address of the card holder. Canadians have an alpha-numeric postal code which doesn't work and random zip codes (90201 for instance) don't work unless that's where your bill is sent. We had success with the following tip at all major stations except BP : enter the numbers from your alpha-numeric Canadian postal code followed by 2 zeros (e.g. if your postal code is N3T 7A1, enter 37100).

3. Fast food joints usually have better washrooms than gas stations but tourist information centre washrooms are usually the best. Use the paper towel or your sleeve to open the door after you've washed your hands. You don't even want to think about how many germy hands have touched those places before you or since they were last cleaned (if ever). I'm not really a germiphobe but I do take reasonable precautions to avoid coming in contact with someone else's e.coli germs or worse. (see #6 below)

4. Use the hotel coupons from the booklets that you can pick up at the tourist information centres to save a few bucks.

5. Get loyalty cards for the major hotel chains. Those points add up! Unfortunately, if you are using a coupon, you don't get points for that visit. 

6. Keep antiseptic wipes in the outer pocket of a suitcase. I took mine out of the round plastic container and keep them in a seal-able plastic bag in the suitcase. When I check into the hotel I wipe down the door handles, light switches, TV remote control, night table and desk surfaces, toilet flusher handle and bathroom counter. Only use glasses that are wrapped in plastic. Do not trust that everything is germ free, especially the coffee maker in the room. Use the plastic bag provided for the ice bucket.

One of the germiest things in a hotel room (other than the bedspread) is the TV remote. A few years back I bought a cheap universal remote control ($5 at WalMart) and keep it with the manual and TV code sheet in my suitcase (in the same pocket as the antiseptic wipes). It only takes a few seconds to program the remote for the hotel TV. If you misplace the code sheet, just 'Google' the remote's code sheet and you can use the .pdf online.

7. When renting a car, many credit cards have adequate car rental insurance along with the insurance you carry for your own vehicle. There is no need to buy extra rental insurance if that is your case. It's OK to decline the extra insurance. I keep a printout of the pertinent clauses from my credit card agreement in my travel folio (where I also keep my passport).

Also, if you're in a jam and need a rental car pronto (like we did on a Thursday afternoon at 5) and you're in a rural area or a small town, most airports have car rental kiosks where you can pick up a rental car. Call ahead to reserve one.

8. If you're driving to Florida down I-75, Dave Hunter has written a comprehensive guide of the route from Detroit to the Florida state line. It is in its 17th edition and gives you lots of stuff to inform/entertain/annoy the other occupants of the car during the 2500+km (1500+ mile) trip. He also has published a guide covering the expressways in Florida.

9. Cell phone roaming fees are expensive if you are in a different country. Check with your cell phone carrier before you leave to see if there is a reasonably priced plan you can use while out of the country. 'Pay as you go' phones (or what I call 'disposable' phones - Net10 or TracPhone for example) are an inexpensive alternative for purchase and use in the US.

10. The exits on the US interstates are numbered by mileage from south to north (odd numbered expressways) and from west to east (even numbered expressways). There are also mile markers every mile or more so it is easy to determine how far to the desired exit as you hurtle down the highway. In Ontario, Highway 401exits are numbered by kilometres ascending from Windsor to the Quebec border.

11. If the Wifi in the hotel is unsecured (no access code needed) DO NOT use that network to access your bank or credit card accounts. Anyone else on the network could have access to your information. If you're using a public computer (i.e. in the hotel business centre), remember to log out of your email or social network and delete the history before leaving the computer.

12. It is a good idea to inform your credit and debit card carriers before you leave that you will be travelling and that you plan to use the cards out of province/state/country. Purchases could fail to be authorized if the bank suspects fraudulent activity. Also, while you are away, check your bank and credit card statements (in a secured network) to make sure unauthorized purchases haven't been made with your card. Don't panic. If it is discovered your card has been compromised, the bank will courier a replacement card to you - wherever you are staying - within 2 or 3 days. It pays to carry more than one valid credit card in the event one of them gets lost/compromised/deactivated. It's no fun to not have access to funds while on a holiday.

13. Drury Inns are great! They may be a bit pricier than the real budget hotels BUT they have free snacks (hot and cold) between 5:30pm and 7pm and 3 free beverages per guest (including some cocktails, beer and wine) and free hot breakfasts. Add up the costs of the meals to what you would have paid at a lesser hotel and it'll probably be more than you'll pay at a Drury Inn. Also they have special rates for AAA/CAA members and guests over 50.

14. Bank machine charges are expensive! If you are comfortable with it, travel with cash for your non-credit card spending. If you do have to use a bank machine, take as large a sum as you can out to spread the fee over a larger amount of money. (i.e. a $5 ATM fee on $100 cash is an additional 5% of cost but over a $400 withdrawal, it's only an additional 1.25%. Avoid bank machines altogether and get cash back at grocery stores or WalMart if your debit card works at stores in the US (mine doesn't). Also, know that your bank charges 2.5% on any out-of-country transaction over and above any exchange rate.

No, I am not a worry-wart or fuss-budget. But I have done a LOT of travelling and have learned a lot of these things the hard way. I hope I can save you some travelling stress.

Back to knitting...

I did finish the first sock of the second Intertwined pair and got the second sock cast on. I'll have pictures in another post. Maureen Foulds is working on a 6th sock design which is still in the testing phase but will be coming out soon. Have a look at her other cool designs. I got a preview copy of the new pattern and look forward to trying it out as soon as I finish this pair I'm working on.

After spinning tonight, there was a wisp of snow on my car. OK. It's April now. Bring on the warmer weather, for Pete's sake!