Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Defeated by the Simple Things

Sigh. I made a batch of soap yesterday.

So I used the formula here to calculate how much oil I needed for the two wooden soap molds my Dad made for me. Even I can follow a mathematical formula, I thought. I was incorrect. I did the math, and it told me I needed 6lbs 2oz of oils. I used 6lbs. I filled 3 molds - luckily I had already lined a spare. I hope all my family and friends like orange and cinnamon, or slse we will be using this stuff for years.

My digital scales had taken a couple of knocks ie. the weigh plate had come off at least twice, between my DH and DS rootling around in the cupboards, and I'm not too sure of their accuracy anymore - not something I want to feel uncertain of when dealing with caustic soda, so I shan't make any more soap until the weekend when I can pick up a new one.

soap freshly poured in molds; then in 2nd picture, same soap in full gel

Today I unmolded and cut the soap. Enter another simple thing that defeats me - consistency of bar size. I weighed the 'logs', then drew lines at equal distances to give me the size of bar I wanted; for example, one mold contained 3lbs 12oz of soap; so to get 4 oz bars, I divided and cut into 15. Of course, the weights of the bars varied, sometimes by as much as 1/2oz.

Now, had I not been doing a stellar imitation of the Scarecrow of Oz today, I would have written down the weights of the soap from each mold, so I had a record for next time of how much oil turns into how much soap for each mold. On the plus side, it's curing on layers of greaseproof paper and the house smells fabulous.

Yesterday my neighbor Su asked me to pop in and switch on her slow cooker with the chicken in today at lunchtime. ''No problem'', says I, ''happy to help''. Firstly, I remember about it - always a good start, and an achievement in itself. I clicked the little switch, but it's an old slow cooker with no red light to tell that it's on; I even checked the wall socket. This evening she called me to thank me for the fact that her fish and chips were delicious.

So let's have a quick flashback to last week's knitting project, which was successful:

a lacy bordered baby cardigan for my BIL and SIL. They popped in for a cuppa on their way up to Norfolk last Friday, and were - or at least seemed to be - chuffed to bits with all the various bits I'd knitted for their bump.

So tonight I'm kinda thinking maybe I shouldn't do anything, you know, anything that requires any concentration, a modicum of thought, common sense or one working brain cell, as no doubt it will be doomed to failure.

I would not be just a nuffin'
My head all full of stuffin'
My heart all full of pain
I would dance and be merry
Life would be a ding-a-derry
If I only had a brain

(The Scarecrow's Song from the Wizard of Oz)

Monday, 23 November 2009

Quiet House

So the vet told us we were doing the right thing. I cried. Well, actually, I bawled. And today when I came home from taking the kids to school, there was no old smelly dog grinning at me with his crookedy smile of snaggledy teeth, wagging his tail so hard his whole body moved with it.

In the post today was a condolence card from the vet.

I miss my shadow, who was never more than 3 feet away from me, who would get anxious if he was napping, woke up and couldn't immediately see me, then would have to search the house to find me even if I was only in the bathroom.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Tough Decision

So Maximus Pratticus has aged suddenly and totally not gracefully. We thought he was about 9 years old when we got him from the Leicester Stray Dog Sanctuary; and when some do-gooder took him from our car park just before Xmas that year, obviously thinking he was a stray in spite of him looking well-fed, shiny-coated, healthy, cared for, and being on a private car park, fortunately he ended up here. Perhaps he just has a stray dog face and mien. Since I'd registered him here, they called us and we got him back. The RSPCA thought he was about 13, which makes him over 15 years old now - a venerable age for any dog, let alone a stray with unknown history.

At the beginning of summer, he had a bout of kennel cough (apparently very common this year) which took a few months to clear, a flea infestation from who knows where, and a swollen abdomen that the vet thought was probably a cancer. His cough has come back, and his abdomen has swollen further; he can't walk very far, he can't manage the stairs anymore, he's uncomfortable (but not in pain) and has no quality of life anymore - he can't do any of the things he loves.

So DH and I had the Conversation, and Maximus is booked for his final trip to the vet on Saturday while the kids are at dancing. Next was to decide what to tell the kids. DH was leaning towards not saying anything. I felt differently. I know how I would feel (and would have felt at their age) if I went out somewhere and upon my return my dog had disappeared permanently, and that my parents had colluded in the deception.

The kids already know that Maxie is not well, so when I told them that he was going to Doggie Heaven on Saturday, it was not a huge shock to them. They were upset, but we focussed entirely on the fact that Max will be much happier as Doggie Heaven is just the place for him - the sun always shines, the grass is green, it is always warm, he can piddle on limitless trees, he can poop anywhere and everywhere he wants, there will be good things to chase, and he will be healthy again.

Maximus has been a brilliant first dog for the children - gentle, sweet-tempered and tolerant (totally opposite to me). We persevered through his separation anxiety (although we got through a lot of bleach) and even his aggression towards other dogs faded completely, once he felt settled and secure with us. His only downside was that he never played; he loved to run, a graceful loping hound gait, but wouldn't play - he thought anything raised or thrown was at him, not for him. And, whatever had happened to him before, we know that he has had the best love and care in his time with us.

So I drew some cards about this, and my question was: 'Is it time to euthanize Max ?'
The 10 of Pentacles fell out of the deck while I was shuffling. The 2 of Wands was the card I drew, and the 3 of Pentacles was at the base of the deck.

The 10 shows me a life completed, what was there to be given has been given; the 2 of wands shows me someone ready to move on, a new horizon; the 3 of Pentacles shows me we were right to discuss it openly and clearly with the children.

Maximus Pratticus when he was healthy

Monday, 16 November 2009

Married Pastime

I have had a lovely weekend - on Saturday, we dropped both our kids off at noon to play with friends until 6:30. Woo-Hoo ! Free adult time with each other !

So, because DH can be a real honey, he took me to Felixstowe because I needed some buttons from Fabric8; while we were there, I got some wadding and some fleece for the cot quilt I shall be making. Some darning wool for my neighbor, and a pack of shiny, glittery bits for DD to do 'making' with completed my haul.

We popped into a church sale and got a baby cardigan to add to the pile for my BIL and SIL, who I am expecting to see this Friday, plus a couple of dolly outfits for DD's Xmas stash.

It was blowing a hooley, so we got a coffee and an cornish pasty and drove down to the sea front; the rain had started, and was coming in from the sea horizontally, and hard. It was fabulous, even if it was a seriously sad, married, middle-aged thing to do.

Also over the weekend, I have finished the baby hoodie I so dislike; I disliked it so much I knitted a whole 'nother baby sweater (the one I needed the buttons for) last week rather than sew the seams of the hoodie. Here they are:

Both from Patons Book 2990; the hoodie is 'Frankie', the cardigan is 'Bonnie' (with a star motif that doesn't show on the photo because of the yarn)

I have been searching for a simple baby hat pattern for two needles (as opposed to DPNs or circulars), but wasn't able to find exactly what I wanted. So here I am proud to present my first ever pattern that I did myself, for a simple baby hat for 0-3 months using Moss Stitch; it switches to stocking stitch during, as moss stitch and decreases look ugly, to me.

Yarn: DK (I used James C.Brett Harmony DK in multi, to match the cardi above)
Needles: 3.25mm and 4mm straight needles

With 3.25mm needles, cast on 67 stitches.

Row 1: K1 * P1, K1; rep from * to end
Row 2: P1 *K1, P1; rep from * to end

These two rows set up single rib; continue for another 4 rows (6 rows rib in total)

Change to 4mm. needles
Knit 1 row, inc. 3 stitches evenly spaced (70 st)

Row 1(WS): (K1, P1) til end
Row 2 (RS): (P1, K1) til end
These two rows set up Moss Stitch pattern. Continue until 8 cm (3 1/4 ins) from beginning, finishing with RS facing.

Changing to stocking stitch, knit 1 row decreasing 6 st evenly spaced (64 st)
Purl 1 row.

Decrease for crown:
Row 1 (RS):
*K6, K2tog; rep from * til end (56 st)
Row 3 (RS): *K5, K2tog; rep from * til end (48 st)
Even Rows from 2 to 14 (WS): Purl
Row 5: *K4, K2tog; rep from * til end (40 st)
Row 7: *K3, K2tog; rep from * til end (32 st)
Row 9: *K2, K2tog; rep from * til end (24 st)
Row 11: *K1, K2tog; rep from * til end (16 st)
Row 13: K2tog across (8 st)

Cut yarn, leaving a long tail. Thread a needle with the yarn tail, then pass needle through remaining 8 sts and remove sts from knitting needle. Pull tightly to close top of hat. Turn hat so wrong side is facing, and join seam. Weave in ends on WS.

I could not have done my pattern without the mathematical guidance of this pattern , for which I'd like to thank the creator, Jennifer Brown. I believe I have written my pattern pretty much as I knitted it, but if anyone has suggestions for improvement, finds glaring mistakes (or even minor ones) , please let me know.

Finished hat:

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Armistice Day

For The Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is a music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted:
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end they remain.

-- Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)

The last three World War I veterans living in Britain died this last year: Henry Allingham, Harry Patch and Bill Stone.

I watched the special service to commemorate those who suffered, and those who died, in the Great War. The poppy wreath laid by the Queen was given to her by two Victoria Cross holders, Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry and Trooper Mark Donaldson. I was awed to see two living holders of this rare and usually posthumous award.

I left the house to fetch my DS from kindergarten; we live close to the park, so I heard the church bells tolling, the guns, and the Last Post as I walked up the hill. I was almost in tears, I'm not sure quite why. War is not always pointless or futile. But we do not seem to learn from history.

How Long, O Lord?
by Robert Palmer (killed in action,1916)

How long, O Lord, how long, before the flood
Of crimson-welling carnage shall abate?
From sodden plains in West and East, the blood
Of kindly men steams up in mists of hate,
Polluting Thy clean air; and nations great
In reputation of the arts that bind
The world with hopes of heaven, sink to the state
Of brute barbarians, whose ferocious mind
Gloats o'er the bloody havoc of their kind,
Not knowing love or mercy. Lord, how long
Shall Satan in high places lead the blind
To battle for the passions of the strong?
Oh, touch Thy children's hearts, that they may know
Hate their most hateful, pride their deadliest foe.

Please support the British Legion.

I would like to thank the artist daliscar for his fabulous poppy image.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Bits and Bobs

So, my brother came to visit with me on Wednesday, bringing a new hard drive for my computer. He drove me far, far out of my comfort zone by insisting that I actually fit it. Under his patient supervision, I opened the casing and unscrewed, unclipped and in general footled about in the inside gubbins of my computer. Please to note, my confident use of the correct technical terms.

Alas, not everything was straightforward - it didn't work straight away, so it was lucky for me he was here to take over and do the troubleshooting; he also re-installed all my most necessary basic programs. I fed him dinner (pre-cooked by DH, naturellement) and we had a wideranging and in-depth discussion about Family. Which was quite surprising, as my brother hates to re-hash old history. So it was a productive and interesting evening, although the 2 a.m finish did nothing for my beauty or temper the next day.

Friday evening we went to a local fireworks display. It started to shower as we left, and by the time we got there it was pouring and quite windy - the announcer kept apologizing for the delays between fireworks, but the fuses had got damp. I didn't get to see any but those at the very start, as DS remembered that he doesn't like really really loud noises, and wanted to be taken home. So we trickled our way down the hill with the rainwater, while DH and DD remained to get soaked to the skin with our neighbors Su and Hannah; they arrived back shiveringly drowned in spite of having been dressed appropriately for a polar expedition. Therefore, Bonfire Night this year was a damp squib (no apologies for the bad pun).

Once we had sorted out Ingrid the Volvo's flat battery with a call to the efficient and inexpensive recovery people, Saturday was spent mainly ferrying DD and various friends to dance class and parties - I wish my social life was as varied and full. Or maybe not, as I don't think I have the stamina any longer to be on the go non-stop, as they are. DS got another pair of school trousers, as last week I had to wash them, his sweatshirt, shirt and coat every single day. It turns out he was irresistably drawn to roll down a muddy hill - of course ..... so I shall speak to his teachers, as I can't work out where the hill is on their perfectly flat and level playing field.

Sunday was on overdue visit to the optician for me, a contact lens check which was fine, and an eye test which showed that I am aging - I can't do close work or reading anymore. I have also been referred on to a specialist clinic as I have signs of glaucoma. I did a marathon load of ironing, installed a bunch more programs on my computer, and had a marvellous roast chicken dinner courtesy of DH. The only slight upset of the day was when vegetarian DD's cat Moonheart appeared over the wall of the garden with a live blackbird as her new playmate. Unfortunately, the blackbird had soon ceased to be, passed on, was no more, expired and gone to meet 'is maker, a stiff, bereft of life (thank you, Monty Python) - although the play aspect continued for some unpleasant while. Cue conversation about the cycle of life and how even pet cats always, always have a little bit of Wild in them.

Moonheart in ambush mode

We also put our boxes together for Operation Christmas Child ready to take to school tomorrow.

DD spent much thought and effort on what should go into her box; DS .... not so much; but I had commandeered - pardon me, I meant to say 'volunteered' - Daddy's packing expertise to the Cause.

And now, my favorite time of day .... everyone is in bed except me. Everything is finally quiet and peaceful. Time to put the kettle on and finish the baby hoodie - border done today, sewing up to do tonight, may have to buy suitable buttons tomorrow ......

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Life Gets Teejus, Don't It ?

From the final verse of a song my parents had on LP (remember vinyl ??), by Carson Robinson:

Grief and misery, pains and woes
Debts and taxes, so it goes
I think I'm gettin' a cold in my nose
Life gets teejus, don't it.

Trouble comes in threes, they say. This last weekend, my hairdryer broke (blowing its fuse every time it was switched on) and DH consigned it to the bin. It is one of the few times I need a hairdryer for the hairstyle I currently have. Boy, I hate straight hair and wish I could afford a perm - smudge of mousse, run your fingers through your hair, and - done.

Also this weekend, the washing machine quit working. It drained, but the drum wouldn't turn to agitate, or to spin. It turns out the carbon brushes had gone (whatever they are) and it was not cheap to fix. However, it is fixed now (thanks to my friend Mandi's uncle), which is a Good Thing, as I have had to wash DS' complete school uniform both yesterday and today, since he 'thlipped in the mud, Mummy'. I think he is really PigPen in disguise. It's not just the washing, of course, it's the getting it dry in time for the following day - in the cold, short autumn days which are all too often wet days too. My tumble dryer guilts me every time I see it outside tidily wrapped in its tarp. I want it, I want it, I want it, I really want it. Are you getting my message here ? I really want it. But, it won't fit in the house and sucks electricity like the government sucks money from taxpayers. The only meagre plus side is that I'm environmentally friendly by not using it, which puts me on some kind of moral high ground somewhere, no doubt. But a feeling of righteousness does not sustain me; global warming and climate change pale into insignificance when it comes to wet school uniforms.

So the third thing hasn't happened yet. Our theme this time is obviously electrical, and we have the rest of the week to go .....stay tuned and send mojo that it won't be either the computer or the TV. I can survive anything else.

In knitting news, I have completed the feather and fan baby blanket for my SIL's Bump; I found the pattern here; I may have mentioned that it is in James C. Brett marble DK yarn - a nice, soft acrylic that will wash and wear well.