Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Zune Bug

If your 30gb zune locked up today, like mine did, you'll find this article very enlightening. I just wish it had a solution for the problem.,2817,2337748,00.asp

Added several hours later: here is Microsoft's explanation. We'll have to wait until tomorrow to see if they're right:

One Word Resolution

I am stealing this idea from my friend, Laura Lippman's Memory Project ( (Check out her main blog here: )

Laura is continuing an annual tradition of forming One Word New Year's Resolutions. Can you sum up your resolutions in one word? I tried.

My word: Maintain

I've spent the last 15 months on a major life change. I like those changes, and I know how difficult maintaining a change can be (from my own past, and from the example of 95% of the human race who tried and failed to make major life changes stick). But it's not just weight loss and health that I'm thinking about- I am old enough to know how quickly life can change for the worse. I want to keep what I have- my wonderful family, my comfortable home, a career that is doing just fine lately, my good friends. It's selfish, but there it is.

I also want to maintain the friendships and connections I've made through posting on this blog almost every day. The fact that there are enough of you out there tuning in to tick the web counter over 190,000 times amazes me. I hope to keep your interest, and maybe amuse you all in 2009.

So, what's your One-Word Resolution? And why did you choose it?

Uncle Jay Explains 2008

do not drink while watching this...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Socks and Scarves

Did you know that The Special Olympics has a drive to give each athlete a blue and white hand knit or crocheted scarf for The World Winter Games this year? You can use any pattern you like, and the scarf can be knit or crocheted, but you MUST use Red Heart Super Saver Yarn (no, they don't want wool or any other yarn or fiber or brand. ONLY Red Heart) in the following colors: Delft Blue and Soft White. The deadline for scarves to reach them is Jan 15, so there's still time to knit a few. I bought some of the yarn, and will start a scarf tonight. Here's some info, with more links:

I finished the Aunt Helen Variation Variation Socks, and they came out exactly as I predicted: joyfully unmatched. This yarn, Melody from Yarn Treehouse, is sort of like Noro, in that the colors repeat, but they repeat at their own leisure and in whatever order they want. This colorway is M06, with pink, yellow, green, blue and purple in a lovely jumble. The yarn is worsted weight, comes in 50gr balls and 11o yds, 100% wool, non-superwash. I used a bit of a 3rd ball for these Ladies Size 8 socks. Yarn Treehouse yarns are very reasonably priced and they have a ton of colors and weights. Link in Stash Enhancers.
And since I'm on a worsted-weight sock kick, I started another pair. This yarn, Freedom Spirit, from Twilley's of Stamford, is gorgeous- colors, again like Noro, repeating at will. The yarn isn't, at first glance, sock yarn. It's a softly spun single. But I've learned that these yarns, if knit tightly enough, wear just fine, and make super warm and comfy socks. The yarn comes in 50gr balls and 120m, the colorway is#511, rusts, oranges, browns. I'm already past the heel on the first sock, again with the Aunt Helen Variation Variation. The texture doesn't show as well as on the Yarn Treehouse socks, but it adds a nice heft to the fabric. I am pretty sure I can get a pair of size 8 socks from the 2 balls I have on hand. If it looks like I'll run short, then I'll make these size 6 instead.

You don't wanna hear that these (along with the finished Valkyrie Socks) are going in the tub for next Christmas, do you?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Catching my breath

It's been lovely and busy and noisy here, leaving not a minute for blogging. But I'm stealing a few moments while the grandkids nap, to catch up on things.

Not that there's a lot of catching to do. The Hard Lemonade was sweetened with assorted juice drink concentrates (Lemonade, Limeade, Fruit Punch, Apple Strawberry), which turned 3 gallons of fermented lemonade into 4 gallons of freezer-ready slush with a pretty potent kick. We had some on Christmas Eve (a couple of scoops of slush, topped with whatever pop or mixer you like- orange juice, champagne, water, anything) and yowza!

The Merlot finished bubbling, and had an SG of .098 this morning, so I added the sulfite and Sparkolloid (clarifier) and now we just have to wait for the sediment to settle out for bottling (a month or so, with a racking or two in between).

I ate more carbs in the last 3 days than in the last year, but I'm getting back on track again. I hit the treadmill this morning and picked up with the Librivox recording of Pride and Prejudice- Lizzy has just read Mr. Darcy's letter explaning Mr. Wickham's perfidy. Things are heating up...

And I have done a little knitting. This sock, made with Yarn Treehouse (link in Stash Enhancers) multicolored worsted weight wool (size 5 needles, 48 sts)- I can't remember the colorway, but I love how the shades blend into each other. I doubt I'll be able to make a matching pair (same yarn, but the stripes and colors aren't going to match up at all). I'm doing a different Aunt Helen Variation Variation (heh) for the texture (works with any even number of sts):

Rnd 1: *YO, K 2, pass the YO over the 2 K sts, K 2*, rep around
Rnd 2: K
Rnd 3: *K 2, YO, K 2, pass the YO over the 2 K sts*, rep around
Rnd 4: K

I like staggering the YO's- they show up well. This is a nice utility wool yarn, and very reasonably priced, and Yarn Treehouse ships very quickly. They have a lovely variety of weights and colors. Check 'em out.

I hope everyone's Holiday Week continues to be wonderful!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

One of the many advantages...

...of being married to a man in the construction industry.

He knows people with big machines.

(don't be fooled by the blown areas- there were some humongo drifts in front of the house)

Thursday Tab- Merrill Little Miss Christmas and Holly Belle

Is this not the cutest paper doll in the history of paper dolls?
Merry Everything to Everyone!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Get Dressed, Ye Married Gentlemen

Misheard holiday lyrics....

Get Dressed, Ye Married

The Back Side, The Outside, and The Up Side

Commenter Bedstemor remarked on the Hardanger cloth under the Pewter Santa in the Chocolate Mead pic from yesterday's post. She mentioned that she had a piece done in blue and white (sounds gorgeous) but the openwork border was coming apart. She asked what she did wrong. My guess is that she did nothing wrong- it's the nature of the beast (especially if little fingers start picking at the edging). Case in point: the back side of that same piece of Hardanger embroidery. I really do need to do something with it, before it all comes unraveled (accidentally or otherwise). (I'm not sure of a solution either- Fray Check would work, but that seems like cheating. Any suggestions out there?)

It's above zero this morning, calm and beautiful. The 6" or so of new snow is a soft blanket right now, but as soon as the wind comes up, it's going to become *interesting* again.

The upside of not knitting sweaters for anyone this Christmas, is that I am done with my Holiday knitting! In fact, I made an extra handspun ribbed hat for a guest who had no gifts under the tree (these are his school colors). And I have time to work on the Aunt Helen Valkyrie Socks, which I will probably finish today, though I have a bunch of cleaning and cooking to do in prep for tomorrow's influx of family and company. Of course, that just means that I am in danger of adding items to the Christmas Knitting List, because I can't leave well enough alone. Is two days enough time to knit a sweater?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Knob Hats and Extreme Weather and Chocolate

My son loved his little felted gear shift skull knob cover. I would have wrapped it up for Christmas, but he asked for one last Winter, so it's more a Last Year's Late Gift than a current one. At any rate, it's getting a workout, given that the thermometer read -18 (F) this morning, without the wind. It is supposed to be above zero by supper time tonight, which will feel positively tropical, though we're also supposed to get 6" of new snow. Sigh.

Back in '05, when we were in our winemaking heyday, I had something of a Mead Obsession, fermenting assorted 1-gallon batches of meads using local honey, and then making larger batches of the ones we really loved (like Blackberry). One of the gallon experiments was a chocolate mead, made, I kid you not, by fermenting unsweetened cocoa powder with honey. I chiefly remember how much that sucker foamed, overflowing my small fermentation bucket. I had to transfer the gallon batch to the 5-gallon bucket just to keep it contained. I also remember how difficult it was to name the wine- Meads are honey based wines (using honey rather than sugar for the yeast food). Pyments are grape/honey wines. Melomels are fruit/honey wines. Metheglins are spice/honey wines. Cocoa Powder isn't a spice, and it's not a fruit, and it certainly isn't grapes. But a chocolate mead isn't plain mead either. I finally went with Chocolate Kiss as the name. Unfortunately, Chocolate Kiss was no more than okay when we bottled it, so I crossed it off my list, put the bottles away and forgot about them.

I remembered them last night and had a glass. Omigod! The chocolate scent. The slight citrus undertone. The wonderful choc aftertaste. The beautiful dark amber color. We sweetened it a lot, so it's a dessert drink, and we won't ever want more than a glass at a time, so that gallon will last a bit, if we're careful. But now chocolate mead is on the ever lengthening list of wines I have to make so that 3 years from now, we don't have to ration them.
(btw- that's a little bottle, not a giant wine glass. And I did the Hardanger Embroidery sitting under the Pewter Santa- the design ended up in a magazine, but I don't remember which one).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Decorate A Gingerbread Cottage

Kill Da Wabbit

(and if you don't get that reference,
you didn't spend Saturday mornings in the 60's watching Bugs Bunny)

I have finished one Valkyrie sock (worked with the Aunt Helen Variation texture). It's totally gorgeous, and I finally got a scan that showcases the little ridges properly. I love this pattern, and of course, I love this yarn (Twisted Fiber Arts, Playful, Valkyrie colorway with coordinating heel and toe yarn).

The Merlot went into the carboy this morning, for secondary (anaerobic) fermentation. We won't start another wine until after everyone goes home (we're having a wonderful housefull next week). One of the bad (or is it good?) things about making wine again, is that it reminds us that we really enjoy drinking our homemade wine. We cracked open a bottle of Cherry Almond Melomel (Melomel is a mead- a honey based wine- made with fruit) and were blown away by it. I only made a 1-gallon test batch in '05, and it's been ageing ever since. Unfortunately, I can't just produce a 3 (or 5) gallon batch of 3 year old Mead. And I can't even make a brand new Cherry Almond Melomel right away because I am going to start a batch of Blackberry first (our absolute favorite). Meads take longer to ferment and clear than sugar-based wines, but oh... they're worth the wait.

On the weather front- trust me, it's better to stay inside. The wind chill is something like -35(F), and Driftzilla is taking over our front yard. BRRRRRRR

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sexy People

Remember last January, when I posted a terrible formal portrait taken of my family in the late 70's, courtesy of our bank, and had a contest to caption the shot?

Well, here's a site with nothing but those kinds of pictures. Venture forth, and remember the abominations of the past :

Felted Skulls and Yeast Leavings

My younger son (a grown man, mind you) asked if I would knit and felt a gearshift knob cover to match the We Call Them Pirates Hat that I knitted for him last winter (Adrian Bazilia's wonderful free pattern: ). His gearshift knob is metal, and it has been consistently below zero for awhile, so his fingies are cold, I guess.

It was a very quick knit, and the cover came out pretty much perfectly. I adapted the We Call Them Pirates skull pattern to a 14 st repeat, got out some Knit Picks Palette yarn (hurrah for a large stash), size 3 needles, and CO 56 sts. I worked the lower border, 2 skull repeats, and then decreased, working vertical stripes, until there were 16 sts left. The unfelted cover was about 4 1/2" long, and 3 3/4" wide. I hand-felted it in the sink until my fingers were pruney, and it shrunk to about 3 1/2" long and 2 1/2" wide, and it slips over the metal knob snugly and perfectly. He hasn't seen it yet, and I don't know if he'll want me to trim the excess and tighten the bottom, or if the longer cover will work. I think he'll like it, and it'll be a good insulation from the cold metal. And it matches his hat (he doesn't read my blog, so he won't know I'm making fun of him. He is actually quite hard to knit for, so I'm happy to be able to make him something that he will use).
BTW- the flare at the bottom of the gear shift cover is the result of not stranding the first few rounds. I did it on purpose, so the cover would come on and off easily, but the propensity for solid color rows to shrink differently is something to remember if you want to felt Fair Isle knitted items.

And I was pretty sure you all really wanted to see the goopy sediment left after racking the Hard Lemonade to a clean carboy for the final settling. I was right. Right?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Yarny Stuff

Whoa... and I thought this was a wine blog...

There is small wine progress to report- I'm going to rack the Riesling to a clean carboy tomorrow because there is a goodly amount of sediment in the bottom of the current jug. It's clearing nicely, but has a ways to go before it's transparent, much less clear. The Hard Lemonade specific gravity is nearly where it needs to be for me to stop the fermentation. I'll probably do that tomorrow as well, and then let it settle until Tuesday, at which time I will sweeten and freeze it, so we can enjoy it over Christmas. The Merlot is bubbling away merrily in the bucket and will go into a carboy in a couple of days. We won't start any more wines until after The Holidays because having a loosely covered 5-gallon bucket of fermenting juice sitting on a chair in the kitchen with 15 guests (5 of them ages 7-9) is just too much temptation for Fate to resist.

But, back to yarn. I finished the Monkey Socks, and they're gorgeous, as all Monkey Socks are (pattern on Knitty). I worked a short row heel and a star toe, but otherwise, followed the pattern (which is becoming easier- I still refer to the chart to keep my place, but mostly I can go with the flow of the repeat). The yarn is Fleshy superwash from Beyond Basic Knits (link in Stash Enhancers). It has a fantastic hand, the colors are lovely, and the socks are wonderfully soft. I wish I could keep them.

I am down to the heel of the Valkyrie Aunt Helen Variation Socks. You all know how much I love Twisted Fiber Arts yarns (and I missed the most recent update totally... bummer...) and this yarn is no exception. I really like the Aunt Helen Variation pattern (K 4 rnds, next rnd: *YO, K 2, pass the YO over the 2 knit stitches*, rep around), but I think it might be more effective if I worked the YO thing with a couple of plain knit stitches in between. It's a great texture, but I think it would *show* more if it was interspersed along the row, rather than solidly around it. I'll give that notion a try on a different pair. As it is, I do love these socks.

And I knitted another handspun ribbed hat. This one will come in handy if the recipient has to hide out in the wilds of sculpted berber carpeting. He'll blend right in.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I got nuthin'

It doesn't happen often, but I have nothing to report today. No knitting that I can show you. No wine progress that isn't the same as what I've posted before, except Merlot-colored. No weather related stories that involve anything but it being -10(F) but not so bad for all that. Nuthin'

So, here are some Lol Cats to amuse. All from I Can Has Cheeeburger ( ).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Merlot and Podcasts

No progress to report on the Monkey socks because I'm working on a project I can't talk about, but I hope to get back to them in a day or so.

In the meantime, the Hard Lemonade went into the 3-gallon carboy this morning (SG 1.010- a little lower than necessary). There is a chance that we can drink this by Christmas because all it has to do is finish fermenting. It doesn't have to clairfy, I just need to let the dead yeast settle out a bit because we're not bottling this mixture. I'll add lemonade concentrate to the wine (divided out into several batches- regular Lemonade, Strawberry Lemonade, etc) before freezing it in buckets. We serve it by mixing scoops with whatever (pop, orange juice, champagne- it's all good). Anaerobic fermentation could take a week, or it could finish in a couple of days. We'll just have to wait and see how it goes. Hard Lemonade is as close to instant gratification as you can get in winemaking.
Note the Riesling carboy in the top picture- the wine is getting that *glossy* look, which means the sediment is dropping already. We'll rack it to a clean carboy in a week or so.

I started a 5 gallon batch of Merlot this morning, using Alexander's Sun Country Merlot Concentrate and the recipe on the can (except that I don't add bentonite to the wine because we use a different fining method. Bentonite is a clay that attracts sediment). I don't think I've posted pictures of the yeast starter yet- the early pic is the warmed Merlot juice with the yeast nutrient and yeast added. The second, is the starter, an hour later, with the yeast awake and multiplying. I stirred it into the bucket shortly thereafter.

And on another subject entirely, I'm really enjoying listening to Pride and Prejudice on the treadmill, interspersed with episodes of Old Time Radio Mysteries. My first, an Ellery Queen, managed to surprise me with the ending. I thought I had it sussed out from the beginning, not so much from the clues, but from the mystery conventions, and social proscriptions of the time. I was totally wrong. I love when that happens.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Monkey and a Half

As the wind howled last evening, I got as far as the heel on the Monkey Mate. I do love this pattern, but I'm ready to knit something else when these socks are finished. Pattern mods: short row heel, and star toe.

The Great Snow Rearranger blew all night, but by morning the wind had died,and we could again see further than 20'. I am so glad that my husband talked me into buying a Carhartt jacket in the fall (back when it seemed like it would never get this cold)- it does a fantastic job of keeping the wind out. And my 20 year old Sorell boots still work their magic. And I know this because we had to go into town during the worst of the storm. Not that this dry powder is any good for snowmen, but I think I need some snow pants too. Just in case we get a fat, wet snowfall.

It's -15 (F) at the moment, but with no wind, and a bright (very bright) sun, it feels a great deal warmer than yesterday's -5. I'd say we got about 6" of new snow, though it's hard to tell out in the country, what with it being piled up here and scraped bare there. This is going to be an interesting winter, not as interesting as the Winter of '97 (when we had a full out blizzard every week from November through April), but more interesting than the shirtsleeve winters we've been used to lately. Good thing I have a lot of yarn on hand to keep me busy. Oh wait, maybe I don't have enough, and should buy more. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Had a bit of routine wine work to do today, handy since doing anything outside is totally out of the question.

The Riesling reached the proper SG (.098), and the sediment was starting to settle on its own, as you can see in the picture. If I was patient, I could just let the wine settle and clear, with no additives. It would take a year, but there would be no sulfites in the wine. Sulfites don't give me headaches, and I am not patient.

So, I sanitized a new carboy and the siphon, and put (grunt, heave, strain back muscles) the full carboy on the dining room table, trying not to jostle the sediment too much. Then I racked the wine, leaving about 1" of sludge on the bottom of the old carboy. That sludge was active yeast. The alcohol content of the wine hadn't exceeded it's genetic limit, it just ran out of sugar to eat. If I added it to a new batch of juice, it would be up and bubbling in an hour. If I added more sugar to the riesling, it would be bubbling again as well. In fact, adding more sugar and yeast is how champagne and sparkling wines are made.

I stirred in 1/4 tsp of sodium metabisulfite to kill the yeast, and then gently stirred in 1 cup of Sparkolloid mixture to clarify the wine. We usually use Isinglass, but Northern Brewer said that Sparkolloid was the best clarifier they'd found. I'll be curious to see how well and quickly it works. The last task was topping off the wine to minimize the air space under the fermentation lock (if I had a bottle of home made Riesling on hand, I would have used that, but alas, it's all gone. So I used filtered water). Now we just wait for the wine to clear- that can take 3 weeks or 3 months, or it can take a year, depending on the wine, the clarifying agent, the temp, and whether or not I chanted the proper magic charm when I started this enterprise. We'll rack the wine several times as it clarifies- whenever there is an inch or more of sediment in the bottom of the carboy. When there is no more dropping out, and the wine is crystal clear, it's done. At which time it can be sweetened (if desired) and bottled.
The Hard Lemonade is bubbling and slowly dropping SG (1.050 this morning- it has to be 1.020-1.030 when it goes to anaerobic fermentation). The foam is totally different than the foam on the grape wines, which I find fascinating (I amuse easily). Next up, I think a 5 gallon batch of Merlot, after the Hard Lemonade goes into the carboy.