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March 29, 2011

Basketball Heads

The last week or so it has felt like the only time I get to knit is at lunch at work. At home I'm constantly in motion washing dog stuff and cleaning up dog messes. Between the epic mud in the backyard and the wobbly tummy one dumpster diver has had, the washer is going almost non-stop and the vacuuming is never ending. I'd be grumpier if the pooper wasn't my beloved 15 year-old Sapphire who I adore to distraction and who I can't help but watch closely for those dreaded aging signs. She is getting awfully unsteady but still commands the troops and dominates the toys so I maintain good handmaiden status by cleaning up after her and spoiling her rotten. She is pictured here on a sofa covered in fleece. Fleece is my dog-friendly strategy for maintaining some semblance of control over hair/mud/etc. I have big, blanket-sized pieces of fleece picked up at the "material by the pound" store. Then I cover everything with these. The couch, futon, my bed, dog beds, even the floor gets some since it is easier to pick those up and throw them in the wash then to try to clean the carpet. The stupid, champagne-colored carpet some masochist installed in the house at some point. Someone who clearly never went outside themselves since even if you don't have dogs you still have wet, muddy shoes sometimes here in Oregon.

I have gotten desperate enough about the mud that got the bright idea for putting down straw. I see them do that all the time in newly landscaped yards. I discovered you can't buy straw at the nursery; I had to find a feed store. The feed store sounded like such an exotic establishment I was a little surprised to find one near my house. Turns out straw is cheap! A bale of hay costs $6 so I splurged and bought three bales. Good thing I stopped at three since that is all that will fit in the back of a Subaru Outback. I've been spreading the straw onto all the muddy areas of the yard and it seems to be working really well! Plus it smells wonderful. It smells so much better than the wet soil in my backyard. There are a lot of wetlands in my area so I suspect that my development was likely wetland at some point and the soil retains an organic, bacteria-ish smell to it. Plant decay I believe. Straw is much better. I'm hoping the straw will compost into the soil.

I only had one quick thing I needed to finish (in addition to the March socks) to stay on schedule for Christmas knitting and that is a hat for my brother who has a giant head. If you need to know how long to make a hat for someone, you can simply measure the hand from the base to the tip of the middle finger. Knowing how big my brother's head is, I didn't take any chances and asked him to measure his hand. I had a good giggle when his response included his proud boast that his hand can palm a basketball. It took a lot of fortitude on my part not to respond with something to the effect of "So you're head is the size of a basketball?" It does, however, backup my claim that he has a giant head. This hat was a stash buster. A simple rib pattern from my head that used up the last of some chunky Baby Alpaca (color 638 I believe) and some left-over Patons SWS. The colors are nice and properly manly which is very important to my brother. I work with a lot of engineers and I noticed more than a few went out of their way to walk past the lunch table to check out what I was holding. I chalk this up to engineer curiosity. I think they were just trying to figure out how I was constructing the thing in my hand. But the fact that they didn't run screaming made me confident that it looked "cool."

Finally, from the "you spend too much time with yarn if..." file: I was going to a movie this weekend and noticed this mosaic pillar. The first thought in my head was, "this is a pretty colorway."

 

March 28, 2011

Items of Note

1. Yesterday I bought groceries and dog food and I think my bank account wept a little. I moaned that it was expensive to be me.

2. Mud in the backyard is epic. Dogs look like they are wearing 4 black socks all the time.

3. One dog got a bath Sunday and no matter how long I ran the water on his paws, the water never ran clear.

4. I curse the idiot who installed champagned-colored carpet. I will look into mud-colored carpet as soon as I recover from grocery/dog food bill.

5. One of the dogs got into the garbage and has an upset stomach. This has added additional colors to the carpet and a smell that may eat away all adhesives in the house making carpet replacement easier.

6. Got the bright idea to put down hay across the muddy back yard. There is a chance the hay will just turn my backyard into an adobe brick. I'm not completely opposed to this idea.

7. Am told I can only get hay at feed stores. I have never been to a feed store but I dreamt I had two horses so I guess I'm ready to visit the feed store.

8. Found a feed store. Bales of hay are only $6 each. Today, it is not expensive to be me.

9. My car will only carry 3 bales at a time. Decide against two horses.

10. Bales of hay smell wonderful and have improved the car. Am thinking of covering the floors in my house with bales of hay.

11. I don't have a pitchfork for bale of hay. I'm wondering what will be a suitable substitute. Barbecue fork?

March 23, 2011

Mo' Money

I find money management a challenge. It wasn't anything that was really taught or was even discussed when I was growing up. Not that we were wealthy or didn't have to think about money; quite the opposite. We struggled and we were well-schooled in hiding the overdraft letter from my step-father if we got the mail first. Clearly, money management deficiency is a proud family tradition.

Over the years I've gotten myself into real financial pickles. These days the wisdom of college kids + credit cards is questioned but when I first went to college it was a credit card free-for-all and I blew it with the best of them. (For the love of Pete, why don't they teach basic finance in schools? I hear some people did have this in their high school curriculum but it should be standard for all high school students. Basic finance and basic car care.) Each time I've gotten myself into a mess I've learned a little more and gotten myself out of the mess. I've purchased homes so I do point myself in the right direction in general. But I still catch myself going down the stupid road.

Budget has become a big thing for me. Everyone who manages money successfully say the secret is a budget. It sounds too simple to actually work so I've been slow to the party. I guess believing the solution must be hard helps to rationalize the craptastic way I've managed my money in the past. If the solution is simple, then I'm just an idiot. I'm trying to put that realization off as long as possible.

I had an epiphany one day (shut up, we all have epiphanies that aren't exactly brilliant) that a person who has no idea what her disposable income is every week or month or even what her water bill generally runs, doesn't really know where her money is and is probably not being smart with what she has worked so hard to earn. In other words, I realized I was pissing my money away and I can't point my finger and laugh at any of those big stars who were rich one day and bankrupt the next because I'm no better at managing my money. I just have less to lose (and less resources to recover!).

When you first start earning money it always comes down to, "If I just made _____ amount of money..." and we work like crazy to get our first salaried position. Then we are always looking at the next salary bracket and thinking, "If I just made a little more, I would be able to do such and such." There was a point when I looked at my salary and realized I was living the same way I did when I was 19 and had an hourly job. I had bigger and more toys but I still lived from paycheck to paycheck and still bounced checks, missed bills, etc. There was no difference in how I managed my money. I have friends who make the same money I do but they have savings accounts (with money actually in them, I've found that just opening the account does not mean it will fill itself up) and can buy appliances, take overseas vacations, give to charities, etc. I was feeling good if collection agencies weren't calling me at the moment.

So I reluctantly made a pathetic stab at the budget. It was more like recording what my bills were for each "category" every month but even that was a revelation as I saw the dining out category loom over everything else. For someone who rarely eats out, how could that category suck up so much of the paycheck? It turns out that grabbing something at the deli on the way home or ordering Chinese food counts as dining out even though I'm doing loads of laundry between bites. This was my first indication that some spending can get really out of control when I'm not looking. (Shut up again, this doesn't come naturally, OK?)

Another lesson I've learned is that banks are not your friend and are not there to do anything that actually benefits you. Regardless of what they tell you or advertise. I cannot begin to list all the ways banks have screwed me and done things that seemed shady and even on the side of wrong. I can only say I was not at all surprised when the Federal government recently shook their finger at the banks' methods. They didn't actually do anything to stop them or protect the consumer but at least I had some validation. This was also when I admitted to myself that even though I signed up for notification emails from my accounts when they got below a certain point, my banks would much rather have the overdraft fee. I never get emails from my banks when my account drops below a certain level or the "email" they send you is internal to the site so I can't get it unless I sign into my account. But duh! If I sign into my account to get "alerts" then I'm already seeing what the balance is. Useless.

It was this small feature that led me to Mint.com. Disclaimer: This isn't a plug for this company, I'm just sharing what seems to be working for me at the moment and I still never trust any organization that has anything to do with my money. Mint isn't a bank where you put any money but you do have to grant them access to your accounts so they can "see" what is going on in there. I'm not crazy about this and I warn everyone I tell about Mint that they will have to give them highly sensitive data. This is really dangerous because even if they have amazing online security there is the human element that every organization has and there is no telling who the next doofus is who leaves a laptop in their car to be stolen or does the stealing themselves from the company. So users beware, in a perfect world, I would not have given this information to anyone.

That being said, Mint.com is a site that monitors your spending and funds and gives you a heads up when something is going down that stupid road again. It will actually email me when my account gets below a certain level. An actual email...in a timely fashion...in my email inbox. Amazeballs.

But the other feature Mint has that I'm loving is their budget tool. They have a default "budget" that they will apply if you don't set your own budget amounts and they give you a visual of how close or far you are from your monthly budget amounts. This was really helpful for me because I didn't know where to start. I know what I'm spending monthly on groceries but should I be spending that much? Should I be spending less? What is the average? You can go in and change those amounts as needed and adjust the categories. You also tell them what category an expense may be (for example, the charges to the cafeteria at work should go into "dining out.") so every charge coming through your account is getting applied correctly to the budget. I've gone in and refined the budget so it reflects what I believe my monthly expenses should be (gotta add the pet food expense!) and with my phone app, I can see at any time how close or far I am from budget. If I go over budget in any category I get an email. I love it.

This really has helped me understand where my money is going and where I need to make changes. But it has also become a bit of a game. Can I stay on budget in every category this month? Games are great but apparently I cheat. I recently had a hefty veterinary bill and I found myself giving the vet a different card the other day so it wouldn't show up on my Mint budget and make me over in that category for the month! I'm cheating on my budget. I'm cheating on myself!

Proof that no matter how well-paved someone makes the road to fiscal responsibility, some of will still say, "Stupid road, here I come..."

March 18, 2011

Short-Attention-Span-Friday

Just a little randomness today. It has been a LONG week and I'm struggling just to finish any task my brain is so flighty.

Random #1: I was pleased that, for once, my funnest green socks and St. Patrick's day coincided and I sported what I refer to as the "alien socks." I don't know why except something about the bright colors make me think alien. Not that I have any first-hand experience. These have sure been a good pair of socks. The yarn was Lorna's Laces and they have been worn a lot but aren't thinning anywhere and have always been soft and comfortable. I'm not thrilled with my standard long-tail cast on. I may look into a cast on that has some more give. The tops of my socks tend to be tight at a certain point won't go up as far as I would like.

Random #2: I forgot St. Patrick's day was coming up so I was caught unawares and didn't have corned beef and cabbage ready to make for dinner. Fortunately the cafeteria at work is better prepared than I and they did a killer job with their corned beef (some people make it way too salty) and the cabbage was cooked to perfection (you don't cook it to death but it should be just getting limp) so I maintained the tradition for lunch. They were also serving Guinness cake which is something I have always wanted to try. It was killer. I mean so good that if I make one I'll eat it all myself it is so good. The Guinness makes the chocolate not too sweet and there is absolutely the tang of the Guinness which is delicious in a cake even if you aren't crazy about it as a drink. This cake was served with cream cheese frosting which was so perfect in keeping it from being too sweet. Absolutely divine.

Random #3: I saw a television ad for a glass repair company who made a point of advertising their website feature where customers can make appointments online. "Great!" I thought, "I need to get my windshield repaired from a chip that splintered during the cold snap." I went to the website and was given two choices: a cost estimate or make an appointment. I thought I'd get an estimate first so I'd have an idea what I was going to have to cough up. After filling out numerous forms and fields I received no estimate (they said it was because they didn't know what my deductible was which I don't understand how that figures in to overall cost). I wasn't thrilled by this and even a little suspicious but this was the business my insurance company recommended so I tried the other option of making an appointment. The process looked exactly the same and at the end of it, I was TOLD when my appointment was. I wasn't asked what some choices would be or even if I could make the appointment they gave me. I also received a call from this company because they were confused as to why I now had two appointments. Excellent, asking for an estimate results in no estimate but you do get an appointment. I go through experiences like this and I know that the website developers and the organization themselves haven't done any kind of user testing on the site. I mean, clearly they haven't gone through the process themselves or if they have, no one questioned whether or not it was clunky, helpful, realistic, or even providing what it said it would provide. That gave me a little teeth-grinding today. I have a low tolerance of this kind of user experience online.

Random #4: My favorite comedic actors have a new movie that opened in the US today and I can't wait to go see it. I'll put it off one weekend so I can go with a buddy who likes them too. I'm thinking I need to break out the alien socks just for the event...

March 16, 2011

Suki Sue

Well chickens, Suki did not beat her battle with cancer. Tough tough decision but she deserved the best quality of life I could give her and it was pretty grim at the end. I'm sorry for bringing down the party but I talked about what we were dealing with earlier and I didn't want to just drop it. Besides, she was such an awesome kitty she deserves a nod and a mention.

Give your furries a scritch and count your blessings. We are so lucky to share our lives with these little guys. They just give so much love unconditionally and I truly believe they lead by example. We should all be more like our animals. Any pain and loss I'm feeling right now is only because I was so blessed to have a loving, demanding, funny kitty in the first place.

I've spent some extra time with the doggies to make sure they aren't confused by the change but they totally have it figured out. I'm always amazed how much better they understand life than we do.

March 09, 2011

The First Step in My Plan to Rule the World

I am bouncing around a fairly brilliant business idea but it would require start up capital and it involves manufacturing products which is all kinds of crazy complicated. Anyone experienced with this or know someone experienced with this? I'd love to pick someone's brain and start scoping out the start up requirements and costs. This is a retail idea which couldn't be more different than my current business which is easy because I sell my services. This idea should bring me riches galore and seems to be a much more plausible plan than my current plan for wealth...the lottery; which I forget to play every week so the plan has more weaknesses than you can imagine.

Until I'm running my empire and ducking calls from Trump, March socks move along. I'll venture to say, hopefully without angering any knitting gods, I should complete them this month as planned. Regardless of how this picture looks, they are exactly the same size because I knit my socks at the same time on a single circular needle. I could never knit socks separately on dpns; I know my weaknesses. I do not have the fortitude or the attention span to knit the same thing twice like that. Not a sock.

They are no where near identical. I knew that would happen since one of the skeins was wound into a ball while the other was still in a skein (for my non-knitters, this means the "beginning" of the yarn is on the outside of the skein and in the very center of the ball so I'm starting in different places on the yarn). I don't know why that was done and I can't believe I did that so I'm wondering if I bought the skeins that way. It's OK though because it doesn't bother me at all when socks don't match. In fact, I consider it one of the charms of hand-knit socks.

Baby stuff shall go out in the next couple of days. I'm finishing off few pairs of baby socks and then I'll cut myself off and put it all in the mail already. A good friend is pregnant with her second child so I am not going to have to go cold turkey and am thinking another Baby Tulip with the same yarn would still be fun. Well, fun for me but for readers I'll try to do something entertaining to divert you rather than show you an identical sweater and demand you admire it as much as the first one.

Kitty update isn't very definitive. We've narrowed it down to either a treatable condition or cancer in her brain/nervous system. Ugh. Could it sound more grim? We shall just proceed forward with spoiling her rotten, enjoying our time together and if we have to face a tough decision, we'll face it. For now, she is the Queen of the house, as kitties should be. Suki does appreciate knitting. The last time Grandma visited she put her knitting bag down on the ground and unzipped it (actually I should say one of her bags. Grandma is a Knitter). Before she could even get her knitting out Suki installed herself and gave us all a look that said, "Go ahead, I dare you." We left her there for as long as she wished.


March 08, 2011

Wooly Love and Kitties

I've done my best to get semi-attractive pictures of the beautiful wee things I've finished before they get sent off to the beautiful wee baby who needs them. You know Oregon has had a lot of gray days when the weatherman gets excited and tells you that "today will have enough sunshine that the buildings cast shadows!" Seriously. He said that. And we have had sunshine and I do get to enjoy it. From the window at work. That isn't really all that bad but it means the sweaters and I seem to only be together when it is gray and raining again.

First up is the Baby Tulip. This was knit from left over yarn I had and I love it. I love the saturated colors. I'm a big fan of bright, vibrant colors for babies. I'm excited the babies are here and light colors don't capture my excitement. This is such a fun sweater to knit. I don't know why I enjoy it so much but I've done a few of these and they make me happy every time. Yarn details here and pattern/yarn details on Ravelry.

This isn't the best picture but it captures the colors most accurately. I adore the vibrant violet at the collar and wish I had more of it in the sweater.

The next one is the little shrug. I'm very pleased with how this turned out. This was left over sock yarn and I think it made such a pretty shrug. Pattern and yarn details here and on Ravelry. I'm enchanted enough I may try to knit another one with the left over yarn for a future baby. I modified this a bit to make longer sleeves. The baby lives in a cooler climate so her Spring will probably need more sleeves. I apologize for the photo quality. I have had three different photo shoots trying to get a decent picture of this one. Shrugs are kind of hard to take pictures of anyway since they are mostly sleeve and back.

Life has all been about kitty drama lately. Suki started acting funny Saturday and then had some neuro "episodes" that night that scared the crap out of me. She was twitching and falling over. Not quite seizure-ish but enough that I thought it could be a possibility. I'm blessed with the most wonderful vet and veterinary hospital so I know she is in really good hands if not the best hands available. We spent most of Sunday at the vet and when we got back she was so perked up (all they could do was give her some fluids so I don't know why she was feeling so much better) that she started talking non-stop. This is all in a very perky, happy, talky, Suki-of-old tone. She has told me when she is going to eat, when she is going to walk down the hall, when she is going to cuddle up with me, when I should be petting her, and my favorite...she announced herself while she was going to use the litter box. I could just hear her telling me from the other room, "I'm PEEing!" I am responding to all her talking (Which is really what she loves and why she is talking so much. She adores to talk.) so I told her that was fine. But now I can't help thinking, "I'm PEEing!" when I walk in the bathroom. I'm wondering what the other ladies would do if I announced this from my bathroom stall here at work.


Happy Mardi Gras everyone!

March 02, 2011

Me Me Me

I did not cast on the March socks on March 1 because I was wrapping up the shrug. I was so close to being done I just wanted to finish it. However, I have cast on today and I'm very excited about this pair. This pair is for me. I haven't knit a pair of socks for me in 4 years I think. Over 4 years. My sock knitting has been exclusively gifts as my hand knit socks got holes and have been stuffed in a "darn" drawer. Me, the sock knitter, only has one pair of hand knit socks that were a birthday gift from a dear friend. She looked kind of shocked when I gushed over them and confessed that I had not made any for me in forever. So this month feels very decadant and I'm thrilled. This was one of the reasons I started my knitting schedule.

The yarn is Opal I believe but the yarn bands are long gone. I've cast on and off more than a few times as my socks took a backseat to sock gifting. These are my colors and this was never going to be for anyone but me. The pattern is a basic Mistaken Rib. I'm using the Sock of Doom pattern which makes very nice socks. I've taken a covert picture of the cast on rows since I'm in a place where it is entirely inappropriate to take pictures of knitting.

March 01, 2011

Smell My Fingers!

The Baby Tulip has been completed and is blocking (I'll get better pictures when it is dry and I can get it by the Ott light.). I love it so much I keep petting it whenever I walk by. The colors got even more vibrant when they got their bath and the wool wash I used has a lovely cedar smell to it. I kept walking around smelling my fingers (which I know is terribly attractive) and telling the dogs, "Smell my hands! They smell so good!" The dogs were unimpressed.

I had intended to make baby bell bottoms to go with Tulip in either the lime or lavender colorway but even as a solid color the outfit just turned into baby disco. It was too much. So I grabbed a skein left over from a pair of socks (the Quill Lace socks) which had a lot of yarn left on it. I thought I might have enough to make a baby shrug. I think baby shrugs are a great idea for just covering up shoulders and arms for a bit of warmth. Plus I knew this colorway would be so pretty for a little girl! I'm not a huge fan of traditional baby colors and believe sage to be perfect for baby girls. But I also think lime green and purple are the perfect combo for any baby items.

In this case I'm right. The shrug is lovely and I have more than enough yarn to make longer sleeves. It is a nice, simple pattern that has been easy for me to customize. I'm using the wrong weight yarn and wanted the longer sleeves but simply making a size up has worked for sizing (Sometimes doing this just makes the sweater a funny shape. Ask me how I know.) and I made a long rib cuff to "shape" the sleeves. I just need to finish the second sleeve and it will be ready for it's smelly-good bath.

I haven't used up the yarn either which is sorta disconcerting. Well, if I'm going to have to find the magic never-ending skein of yarn, this is a good one to never end. I have a ton of the yarn I used for Tulip left over too. I love all this yarn but I'm kind of tired of it too. I should look into swapping with someone.

We have had so much rain that my back yard is flooded. I mean the dogs went splashing through this morning and came back happy as clams with black feet and ankles. The worst of this is that Oscar is so short, his belly is all wet and muddy too. All of this happens just as I'm getting ready to leave for work and can't do anything about it so it is a testament to my fortitude that I just turn a blind eye to what they have just done to the carpet and kitchen floor and walk out of the house. I tell myself that it will be easier to clean when it has dried but it makes my eye twitch a little. Why that gets my panties in a bunch but I can ignore a sink full of dishes for a week, I'll never know. I'm an enigma.