Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Beef Induced Bliss

So, I don't eat meat that often these days, but I find myself cooking it now and again. Recently, I decided I'd cook beef stew for my knitting friends. However, the entire process takes a long time, so I decided to cook it the night before they usually come. That night was tonight.

I have never made beef stew before, but I cruised the internet and found a recipe I thought sounded good. Anything called 'ultimate beef stew recipe' ought to be good, right? Indeed, it was fantastic! Someone had mentioned to me recently that they had beef stew with mushrooms in it, and they really are good - they turn sort of silky smooth and wonderful in the stew. The recipe also called for a horseradish sour cream sauce, which was okay, but not necessary. I did add some corn starch to thicken things up a bit, and used less red wine and more beef broth to balance it out, but all of the other flavors were perfect as is. Some unusual ingredients included large strips of orange zest and ground cloves... I really do think the orange zest added something special.

My tummy is happy and warm. Yumbo!

I hear we are getting another large pile of snow tomorrow. That might mean no knit night... I guess that might also mean more stew for me! Don't worry, ladies, this recipe will DEFINITELY make it back into the rotation in the future!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sniffles, Speed Knitting

I have had the sniffles this week. Not a super stuffed nose, just really runny and ouchy. I do hope it stops soon - it is so runny, it woke me up at night, running right out of my nose! (ewwww)

I have been doing a fair bit of knitting, but as I have already noted, it is not sharable at the moment. When it IS sharable, I shall simply point you in the direction of pictures from the pattern book! Too cool - it occurred to me that indeed, the items that I'm knitting will be the ones modeled for the pattern books... neato! I handed in the first project, and now have a cardigan and a cabled vest to churn out.

Sorry for the pathetically short post - it is bed time and I totally have to sneeze. Again.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Vehicular Update

So, a couple of people pointed out to me that I had not blogged about what finally ended up happening with my car. What happened was painful. Ouchy. Worse than stubbing a toe, then dropping an anvil on it. The upshot is, they couldn't replicate the scrapy noise, but the exhaust issue they said was coming down the pike finally came to fruition, along with word of a catalytic converter that needed replacing. Oh, and I was also due for the 'do these things every 30,000 miles or your car will die' maintenance... of course, that list is an expensive one. The good news, if you can call it that, is that the car will hopefully be retired before it needs another one of those maintenance visits.

The whole shebang was rather expensive. Like, several weeks' net salary expensive. However, the car is still running, has been starting up without complaint even in this ridiculously cold weather, and the shop says the Skittle will hopefully be in action for another 20-30,000 miles. That is good news, particularly because I only drive about 7,500 miles a year these days.

So, needless to say, the whole 'spend no unnecessary money and sell a kidney on the black market' plan is in full effect. I actually babysat today for a few hours today. It was the first time in YEARS that I have babysat, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and let's face it - I have over 20 years' experience working with kids - I am a ridiculously overqualified babysitting machine. It was like riding a bicycle - we were playing games, building stuff, and I was calmly suggesting that he not throw ALL 52 cards up in the air all at the same time. Conveniently, he totally bought the act (you know, the act that I tooootally knew what I was doing). He even fell for the old 'cleanup as competition' trick that my mother taught me - at one point, I needed to use the bathroom, but was not sure what trouble he'd get into while I was out of the room, so I challenged him to a race: he needed to clean up the puzzle before I returned, and yes, it worked like it always does. Huzzah! What's even better? I evidently tired him out so much that he took a 3 hour nap after I left and went to bed on time tonight. Naturally, I won both him and his parents over with that.

Even better than that is that I will be paying for my groceries in cash for the next two weeks. Yesssssss.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Brr, and no knitting pics!

We are having record cold weather - it hasn't been this cold in five years, as a matter of fact! When the temperature dips below a certain temperature, I can feel the cold radiating in from the windows... and it wakes me up at night. Last night, I rolled over to face the window, and the cold woke me up. Fortunately, I had the wherewithal to roll over and face the other direction!

Now, I am not complaining about the cold - I have a warm place to live, loads of cozy sweaters, and don't work outside. It's definitely freezly out there, but I'll survive.

So, yeah, no knitting pics now, or possibly for a little while... I have found another source of a little extra income, doing some test knitting for pattern writers. I am rather sure that I am not allowed to photograph and show off the patterns prior to publishing, so no pictures - sorry people! I'll just have to come up with other things to photograph.

In the meantime, stay warm, people... it is currently 8 F here... and will be -1 F when I have to WALK to a meeting tomorrow morning, 45 minutes after sunrise. triple brr! I will be wearing long underwear, to be sure. And warm jeans. And wool socks, mittens, sweater, scarf, hat, multiple shirts, down parka, and possibly a kooky giant shawl over the whole ensemble. If so, there will also be large sunglasses to hide my face, so as to hide my identity. Crazy wool lady, that is me. Yeehaw!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Socks

A few years ago, I made a concerted effort not to buy any new yarn and knit only from my stash, and the plan worked quite well. Now, it is time to do that again, and wow... I have a lot of really pretty yarn! I joined a 'stash knit down' group on Ravelry, and one of the groups-within-a-group is a 'personal sock club'. The idea is that you pick out several sock yarns, and pair them with patterns. Each month, you pull out a new yarn/pattern combo, and away you go. The first one for 2009 is Mad Color Weave using Shibuiknits Sock yarn.

Ain't it grand? The slipped stitches break up the minor pooling, and I love how the elements on the side split off down the foot and heel.

I took a one-evening intermission from knitting these socks, because I was struck by the desire to knit a reusable Swiffer dry mop cover. I cruised Ravelry, found a crocheted loopy cover, and decided to make a knitted version of my own:

It is not exactly a thing of beauty, but it is rather functional, picking up surprisingly large amounts of dust bunnies and lint and such from the floor. I would call it a success! It took about 1.4 ounces of that cotton Sugar and Cream yarn. It probably should/could take a bit less, as the 'sleeve' part really should be a bit shorter. I may tweak the pattern and then write it up in case anyone is interested.

Now, I have started up on the B-Side Cardigan by Cosmicplutoknits. It is a fabulous cardigan that I will knit up in black, and will hopefully serve well as a go-to piece to throw on over anything and everything. Here's hoping!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Bad Noise

Well, just in time for me to try minimizing expenses, my car started making A BAD NOISE. Sort of a scraping, flapping situation. A brief, uneducated under-car inspection (by me) resulted in no visual conclusion, other than the conclusion that my jeans had gotten salt stains on the knees.

This happened last night, which was rather ill-timed, as I had an important appointment to get to today, not to mention getting to and from work and whatnot. So, here is the part of the story where I explain that, even when things aren't working out, they somehow work out. Last night, I determined that Enterprise (car rental place) is less than two miles away from my mechanic. So, I reserved a car online, and made sure to get to the mechanic right when they opened this morning. I had planned to walk to Enterprise, as usually the mechanic does not have a shuttle running on Saturdays. This would have been a bit unpleasant, as the temperature was in the teens this morning, and it was a bit breezy. Also, the sidewalks (where there are sidewalks) are all lumpy and freezy and definitely difficult to navigate while remaining vertical.

But for some reason, they had a shuttle running today, so instead of hoofing it 2 miles in the freezing cold, I had a nice, warm ride. And, there was no line at the car place, so I was in and out in plenty of time to get to my appointment.

What is this important appointment? Well, I know I said I was not going to get a job, but... I decided that babysitting 1-2 times a month isn't quite as terrible as flipping burgers or selling stuff. So, today I met with a family who has a young son who needs looking after now and again, and yay! they liked me. A few more bucks flowing in the correct direction. Huzzah! Now, I just hope that the noise that my car was making was not an EXPENSIVE NOISE. I hate expensive noises.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Excellent tip, readers!

Several of you contacted me, either through comments or backchannel email, suggesting that I save money by doing meal planning. I could not agree more - I have been on the meal planning bandwagon for some time now, and it saves a ton of money, not to mention preventing food waste!

It has become a regular routine for me to sit down with a cookbook every week or so, and pick out a couple of recipes to buy ingredients for. I have even been known to look through my cabinets to see what various canned foodstuffs might already be at hand, to make the recipe even cheaper.

In addition to buying ingredients for a couple of recipes, I always get milk, eggs, cheese, bread, cottage cheese, fruit, peanut butter and jelly, cereal... you know, the stuff that you can cobble together a quick meal with once you have eaten the recipes, and before you feel like going to to the grocery store again!

I estimate that I spend as little as $30 and as much as $60 on groceries in any given week. Usually in the $40-$50 range... I have no idea if that is normal for one person, but that is what it costs for me. Another grocery related saving tip is to avoid buying prepackaged snacks... they are empty calories, and it is easy to inhale 20 bucks' worth in just a few days - especially if you are pro-snack, like I tend to be, if my true snacking urges are left unchecked! Also, you can try to center your recipes around ingredients that are on sale that week.

This week, my snazzy recipe was pork chops cooked with red cabbage and apples, alongside some herbed cooked carrots... 'twas rather tasty!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Finally, a gigantic knitting update
And we're talking gigantic!

I'm just going to blast you with images and very brief details... these days, all of the specs like pattern, needle size, yarn used are well taken care of on Ravelry. My knitting friends can view them there, and my non knitting friends don't need to be bored by having to look at the details here.

First up, a zig zaggy scarf with a pattern name of Isobel:

Next up, a couple of pairs of felted clogs - the nicer looking pair went to my sister for Christmas, and the lamer pair was made of leftovers from various Christmas knitting projects. They look a bit weird, but they are warm and cozy and remind me of the other projects I made with the yarn:

Next is actually a crochet pattern; it is a baby blanket for my future nephew. My grandmother supplied the yarn, and I supplied the obsessively fast crocheting. My grandma was the one who taught me how to crochet when I was young, so this was an appropriate gift from the both of us:

Next, Christmas stockings for my brother, his wife, and the new baby. After all, it would seem weird for them to have stockings with their names on them, they HAVE to say "mom" and "dad", right?

Here is another crocheted project, the One Skein Scarf, made from leftovers:

And here is a lovely scarf knitted from Malabrigo Lace yarn, the pattern is the Plum Lotus Scarf pattern:

Next up, is the Arbor Sweater, which I knit over the Christmas vacation. It has an I-cord bindoff at the neck, which makes the neckline very stable, rather than stretchy or droopy... a lot of scoop necks tend to sag all over the place, but not this one:

I don't know why I'm burying them way down here in the post, because I'm quite proud of these socks - I knit them with yarn I spun myself:

These next three sweaters were finished a little while ago, but I got my sister to take pictures of me wearing them, rather than me taking a picture of the sweater lying on the floor, as is my custom:

And finally, a groovy pair of socks that I initially wanted to knit for my sister for her birthday, but that never quite worked out... so I gave them to her as a 'just because' over Christmas.

Whew. I hope you enjoyed the parade of knitting pictures. I already have another project to photograph and yet another that I'm currently working on... we'll see how I do about getting them up here on the ol' blog!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Resolutions, past and present

In 2008, I was able to make my first resolution that I've ever kept throughout a whole year: to reduce my plastic bag usage. I would rate my efforts as quite successful, actually! I made the following changes:

1. Got and used reusable shopping bags, for groceries, the mall, whatever... at first, I would sometimes forget the bags, but now, it is totally an ingrained habit, and I pretty much always grab a shopping bag before leaving the house.

2. Made reusable produce bags for fruits/ vegetables - I made the bags out of nylon mesh, with drawstrings, and have been using them all year quite successfully. They have weathered the washing machine quite nicely, as well.

3. Carried a giant purse/bag/satchel thingy - for when I forget the shopping bags.

4. Separated wet garbage from dry garbage - dry garbage can be collected in a separate container and emptied into the dumpster; the container can be reused. Wet garbage still needs a plastic bag, though.

So, a simple success that I will certainly continue over the coming years. I even gave reusable produce bags to a couple of people for Christmas - spread the reusable joy!

So. What about this year? This year, I don't have any original ideas... so I am defaulting to an old tried and true resolution: to spend less money and reduce my debts. The problem? The monthly bill total is painfully close to my monthly income... a typical problem, I'm sure! So, how to pay off more debt (mortgage and student loan being the chief offenders) without getting... *shudder* a second job!!!! (retch, moan, blarf)

Here is what I have already done:
1. Quit the gym. I got funny looks going in 2 days after New Years asking to QUIT the gym - it was hilarious!
2. Decrease my cable package. This one is going to be painful. No more DVR, no more fancy channels. Basic network channels ONLY now. *sob*
3. Decrease Netflix package.
4. Fortunately, my monthly escrow payment for my real estate tax actually went down this year. Whew.
5. Decrease my cell phone package.

Here is what I plan to do:
1. Write down everything I spend.
2. Review my automobile and homeowner's insurance packages - perhaps a bit of fat can be trimmed there?
3. Brainstorm other non-spending ideas... beg blog readers for help? (ideas that do not include stealing ketchup packets from restaurants, if you please)

I thought about adding in money making schemes, like increasing jewelry sales, or selling more doll clothes (sewn and knitted), but if the past few years have taught me anything, it is that I love making stuff, but really HATE the marketing and selling aspects, so I wanted to shy away from that as much as possible.

Check this out - with the changes listed above, I have already shaved about $260 off my monthly bills, which will add up to $3120 by the end of the year. Amazing! I could use it to pay off more debt, or could put some away for a new water heater... a new mattress... a new CAR! :)

And, with just those changes, I will have paid $12,480 LESS in monthly bills by my 40th birthday - which is the date by which I hope to buy said new car. MMMMm.... new carrrrrr...