Thursday, May 29, 2008

In the Nick of Time

Thank goodness now that June is almost upon us and the weather is beautiful and even hot, I just finished these:

They're out of Bearfoot Mountain Colors, and knit up really soft. I got the yarn cheap at a yarn shop that was going out of business, and even went back for another color. I was actually glad that was all they had left, or I would have ended up with much more. The colors they use are all so beautiful, and the yarn makes a lovely fabric.

I wonder if wool socks are being worn with bathing suits this year?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

As Seen on TV

I've been in the closet about something for a long, long time, but I think I am finally ready to admit my deep, dark secret. I love infomercials. There, I said it. I really do. I am fascinated by many aspects about infomercials, mostly about how excruciating it must be to sit in the audience and applaud widely when the sandwich maker is opened up and reveals a family size breakfast prepared in 9 seconds with only canned apple pie filling and a piece of wonder bread. I also am continually amazed that the presenters of these infomercials can come up with so many ways to comment on how wonderful the rotisserie chicken is that they've just cooked from frozen to delicious in 4 1/2 minutes. (This is something that also amazes me about home shopping channels - how many ways can they say this ring is pretty? An awful lot, judging by these channels).

I love the eternal optimism of it all, and even though I am always skeptical of the claims made, somewhere in my heart I truly hope that they are true. I've been burned by this many times. I tried the steam vacuum which was going to pick up all the filth on my hardwood floors with just a gentle push of my hand and the power of steam (it didn't). I tried the apple pie filling thing in my sandwich maker (amazingly, it tasted like canned apple pie filling wrapped in wonder bread).

But now I have a new best friend. She's sleek, she's dark, she's reliable, and amazingly she tells the truth. I had seen this little vacuum on TV, and resisted the urge to buy one, as my other forays into such television promises had resulted in disappointment, recriminations, and a trip back to the store.

When we visited my sister-in-law (who keeps a really spiffy house) and saw this puppy in action (it picked up giant cupcake crumbs that her 1-year old had scattered everywhere after happily munching up his birthday cupcake) I picked one up at my local CVS. (I don't know about where you live, but for some reason by me you can't go 2 blocks without tripping over another CVS. Who's buying all these aspirin?) It works! Not only does it work, it works really well. I have a white kitchen. I have a black dog. My own hair seems to come out by the handful - why I'm not bald, I have no idea. I don't like to haul out my big vacuum. Sensing the problem here? My new little friend sucks up everything, fits in little spaces, and requires very little effort on my part (a prerequisite for any cleaning product in my house).

I now have a relatively clean floor, and a cute little vacuum to boot. Yay for optimism. Now I need to dig out my sandwich maker and that can of apple pie filling....

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


We had a low-key Memorial Day weekend here at Chez Necessity. While all around us people seemed to be traveling to magical destinations, we stayed home. I had to work at the library (next week is my last week!!!) and amazingly it was actually busy on Friday and Saturday. Apparently other people were also staying home, and were in fear of running out of things to watch, so the amount of DVD's that passed through my hands was staggering. (People don't take books out of libraries anymore - they take out stacks of DVD's).

Yesterday we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and went to the Pepsi Gardens. It's housed on the (enormous) grounds of the Pepsi Corporate offices (when the kids asked us what Pepsi makes, we told them soda and diabetes), and is chock full of fabulous sculpture and beautiful gardens. We got some pictures before the camera died (amazingly, when it says low battery, it means it!)

We've been there a few times before, and usually we have the whole place to ourselves, but yesterday there were piles of people, including several tour buses. Who knew we would have picked the place to be?

We met up with some friends, picnicked, marveled at the sculpture and had a wonderful day. If you're ever in the area, look it up - it's worth the trip.

Perhaps an unusual way to commemorate Memorial Day, but definitely a lovely one. We did see a small Memorial Day tribute at the war memorial outside our window in the morning, and my thoughts are with all the families that have aching hearts for loved ones on this day.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Where Are My Sunglasses?

The Easter Egg Socks are done, and if possible became even brighter. The Bare from Knitpicks is really soft, and knit up beautifully. It has nylon in it, so I hope that they hold up. Happy Mother's Day Mom! Wear them in good health (and maybe in the dark.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Is My Head Dented From Beating It Against This Wall?

We got our tax rebate last week. Although I am not in favor of the bizarre policy of our government to try to fix a sagging economy by sending everyone money they don't have, I'm unfortunately not principled enough that I would refuse said money. And, although the powers that be are trying to talk people into spending this money as soon as humanly possible, The Professor and I had just been discussing some options we would have for a good savings vehicle for some savings we had accumulated, our tax rebate, and tax refund. We try to live pretty cheap here at Chez Necessity, and by pinching pennies as tightly as possible, we were pleased to be able to even have such a discussion.

Thus, we come to today. I went to Trader Joe's, which is actually one of the more pleasant activities of my week. I love Trader Joe's. When I first moved here, I must admit I didn't get the whole Trader Joe's thing. I had heard good things about it, and went in thinking it would be a large specialty market like The Fairway in Manhattan. It's not. It's tiny. But the longer I've lived here, the more attached to it I've become. So much so that I think I would consider the proximity to a Trader Joe's before I would move (if that ever happens, which I'm starting to seriously doubt, but I digress). I purchased our groceries, filled my cloth bags, and left, still feeling the Trader Joe's love. All that quickly subsided when I got out to the parking lot and was met with this:

This is our poor car - not even a year old. We traded in our gas-guzzling mini-van last year for it, choosing it specifically because it gets great mileage and is listed as a SULEV (Super Low Emissions Vehicle). It is now a Super Scraped Up Vehicle, and of course there was no car in sight who had done the damage, no note, and not a single person in the parking lot who had seen the deed.

I guess I will be supporting the economy with my tax rebate check after all - I'm trying not to think about government conspiracy theories, but can you blame me?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Move Over Hummer!

As we live in the land of SUV's, I thought this video was too good to pass up.

Don't you wish you wish you could drive not only to the office, but in the office?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

In the Still of the Night

I like to sleep. I sleep as often as I can (which is definitely a lot less now than it used to be). I am not, however, an efficient sleeper. It takes me a looooong time to fall asleep (The Professor refers to this time period as my pre-sleeping) and if something wakes me up in the night, it takes me even longer to drift back off. The Professor, on the other hand, is an extremely efficient sleeper. He lays down, closes his eyes, and within 5-10 minutes tops, he is sound asleep. I find this profoundly annoying, and often have to stop myself from trying to smother his happily sleeping self with the nearest pillow; so far I have resisted this urge. He then sleeps throughout the entire night and doesn't wake up until morning. When I found this out, I was astounded; I assumed that everyone wakes up several times during the night. Apparently, I was uninformed.

Thus, when I was awakened at around 2:30 am, I realized that it must have been extra-extra-noisy, because The Professor woke up as well. The sounds that woke us up were the unmistakable sounds of a girl-fight outside. We live on a relatively busy street, 4 stories up, and the sound carries really well up to our open windows. Not that it was necessary, because these ladies were screaming their fool heads off while standing in the middle of the street while traffic maneuvered around them. We peered out the windows, and as others had intervened and there didn't seem to be any physical altercations (and since I couldn't understand what they were actually saying - nosy gal that I am), we crawled back into bed. The Professor, as is his wont, fell immediately asleep; I lay awake for a while, climbed out of bed and read some Sherlock Holmes, and fell asleep around 4:00. Unfortunately, Miss Serious decided that her nose was running and she was having difficulty sleeping right around this time, and came into my room to inform me of the situation. (Lord knows I like to be informed). This is one of my favorite thing the kids do in the middle of the night (vomiting probably tops the list); not only do they come in to wake me up, but as The Professor sleeps closest to the door, they go all the way around the entire bed to wake me up specifically.

I suppose I should feel flattered, but at 4:00 am I am not even remotely grateful for this attention. Call it a character flaw if you will, but I would just as soon they spread a little of this The Professor's way. I guess I should be grateful for the fact that they look to me for comfort. I should probably be more objective about the whole thing, but for some reason, I'm awfully tired...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Oh My

Nora Ephron has a really funny book of essays about aging called I Feel Bad About My Neck. I read it last summer, and found it quite amusing, especially since it made me feel young and relatively non-saggy. And then The Professor downloaded this picture onto the computer:

I've been trying to only look straight ahead from now on to avoid further chin/neck furrows, but it's not going well. I don't think I'll re-read that book; I have a feeling I might find it slightly less witty the second time around.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

To Dye For

Tried something new here at Chez Necessity this week. It's actually something I've been planning for a while, but being the procrastinator careful planner that I am, I hadn't gotten to it. I decided that I needed to try dyeing my own yarn. The Professor has been rolling his eyes (I use eye rolling as a generic term to cover heavenward looks, lip pursing, long silences, etc.) ever since I mentioned this plan, but I forged ahead, as most of my plans elicit eye rolling in some form or other. I bought some cheapo Easter egg dye on sale at Target the week after Easter (I told you I've been putting this off!) and some lovely soft sock yarn called Bare from Knitpicks. I had planned to dye some yarn for socks for my mother for Mother's Day, and so, this past Friday with the deadline looming I decided to do the deed.

There are some fabulous tutorials on the web on how to dye your own yarn, with many different ways to go about it. I decided to paint it with the dye, hoping this would give me a little more control, and a little less mess. The first step is to take your lovely little hank of yarn:
and make it into a really long hank.
Note the very high tech use of chairs placed far apart in my living room. I tied this hank with some yarn to mark where I wanted to paint the colors. A little math helps here; I began a sock with this yarn, figured out I used about 28" of yarn per row, and did a little multiplication. I decided I wanted each stripe of color to be about three rows wide, so I marked around 90" per color. This was not exact, as I wanted some of the stripes to be wider than others (and I didn't measure very carefully, what with the tape measure only being 60" long and me being unable to remember where it stopped).

Then, I laid out newspaper, saran wrap, and the soaked hank of yarn onto my kitchen floor:

I mixed up the colors (had a little trouble figuring out which pellets were for which color, but I persevered) and began painting:
When I had painted all the stripes, I folded the saran wrap around it, put it into a ziploc, and popped it into the microwave. To heat set the color I cooked it on high for 1 minute and let it rest for 1 minute. I did this four times, pulled it out, let it cool, and then soaked it in some water to make sure the colors didn't run:
Note the subtlety of the colors (hmmmm...who would have thought that Easter egg dye would make yarn look so much like, well, Easter eggs....).

Then I hung the yarn to dry (again, extremely high tech):
wound it up into a ball:
and lo and behold it became this:
If feet could ask for sunglasses, mine would. I started the sock in the evening and thought it was bright in the extreme, but that was nothing to what the colors looked like in full-on daylight. Hope you like them Mom - I think I can guarantee that no one will have a pair like them!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

I had a lovely day, even though I spent a large portion of it sitting in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike. I got to wake up to homemade waffles, and these:

The kids really outdid themselves, and that shiny thing in the corner is my present - a tortilla maker! I've been eyeing these for about a year, but was too cheap to buy one, preferring instead to raise multiple blisters on my hands as I roll out tortillas with a rolling pin. Thanks Miss Serious and Big Trouble (and The Professor). Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there - hope you had a wonderful day.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Eagle Has Landed!

Hello, all. The Professor, here. I'm guest blogging today.

We have made another little commitment to traveling with a lighter footprint ‘round these parts. It’s an investment in using less energy about the house and it will save us a bit of money each laundry day. We purchased an Eagle Clothes Drying Rack for air drying our clothes in the apartment.

Industrial size and strength. Hard metal frame with coated line adding up to 65 feet of drying space. Folds up nicely for storage, but opens into the general shape of a medium-sized flying wing aircraft you might see flying sorties over no man’s land. However, no stealth bomber, this… Once its wings are unfurled and it’s loaded with 30-40 pounds of the recently sopping, you can’t miss the darn thing!

It cost $52.90 including the delivery of the massive thing. That’s a pretty fair bargain given its MSRP of 59.95 without any shipping. (We declined the under carriage rust-coating package and the 10 year drivetrain warrantee.)

Our building has a laundry room in the basement. (Mother Necessity has her own homemade laundry detergent recipe that she’s told you all about in a previous post.) The prices for washing and drying the clothes went up a bit recently, including a bump in the price of the ultra mega-mega dryers to $1.75 per load. (Note my liberal use of parentheses, Mother Necessity?)

Yes, we partially did it to be cheap. Mother Necessity prefers the term frugal, with its connotations of personal virtue, simplicity of living, and noble intentions totally absent of meanness. But let’s call it as it is: we’re trying to squeeze the old nickel until it screams “uncle.” Mother Necessity is the mistress of the household books. We’ve worked hard to budget our money to go as far as it can. OK, she’s worked hard and I’ve quietly supported her from a respectful distance. But ultimately we’ve tried to answer the question of how to make ends meet in a rather unique way in this affluent enclave. Instead of driving hard to make more, we’ve tried to use less.

The Eagle has flown twice since it arrived, letting us skip the equivalent of three of those coal-fired, wallet-sapping, $1.75 each dryer loads. That’s $5.25 saved so far and the Eagle is already about 10% paid off. We’re not just saving a few dollars and cents; we’re avoiding regularly running a heavy machine that gobbles electricity to make heavy wet clothes spin for 30 minutes in excessive heat. Here in Chez Necessity, green living = black ink.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

Good customer service is a beautiful thing. I broke one of my Brittany Birch sock needles (the combination of a couch + big bottom + tiny needles is not one I would recommend) a while back. I had heard that they had a replacement policy, so I dropped them an email to see if I could get a replacement for the one I had broken. Lo and behold, I received a little package in the mail:

Three needles!!! It's rare that one gets rewarded for stupid behavior; I do have a sneaking suspicion that they assume that if you do such a thing once, you're likely to repeat it, so they're trying to avoid having to send out a second package when that inevitable email comes. Either way, I'm grateful.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Turned Off

Last week were some dark days at Chez Necessity. Illness, you ask? A death in the family? No, it was TV Turnoff Week. Every year the school system sends home these cute little notices announcing this annual festival of self-denial. Last year was our first experience with the whole thing, as Miss Serious had only begun Kindergarten. We gamely unplugged the TV's and found other ways to amuse ourselves for the week. I was stunned, however, when chit-chatting with the other parents picking up their kids that we seemed to be the only adults participating. They all had the kids not watch TV, but then after they went to bed, it was a free for all.

I couldn't see expecting the kids to do something I wouldn't do, so we again followed the rules, unplugged ourselves, and hunkered down. Now, this is supposed to be hard on the kids. It's not. They enjoyed themselves. In fact, I got some requests that we continue the experiment for another 3 weeks; this noble gesture ended as soon as they were allowed to turn the TV on again. I found it much harder to do this year. I'm one of those people that airily says, "Oh, I really don't watch that much TV." Apparently I do, because this week was almost physically painful at times. (I also don't think I eat a lot of sweets, but somehow managed to promptly lose 3 pounds when I gave them up for Lent.)

The week of darkness is now over, and I have never been so happy to open up the TV Guide. Unfortunately, there isn't a darn thing on...could all the good stuff have been on last week, and I missed it?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Crunchy Granola

I don't like to spend money. This is partly a result of my upbringing, but mostly because of the fact that I don't have any money. Living where we do, housing is really pricey, and as I don't want to live in a box somewhere under a bridge, I need to save money so that I can pay the mortgage. The food budget is one of the most obvious targets, and I try to make as much as I can from scratch. Thus, today I made a batch of granola. I try not to mention that I make things like this. When socializing around here (I'm telling you, people here are not just ordinary wealthy. They are SCARY wealthy) I tend to keep the chit-chat light and on neutral topics. Once in a while I've slipped and mentioned making things like bread or granola from scratch, and the person I'm speaking with generally eyes me warily and takes a step backward as if I've just announced I beat my children with sticks or perform pagan rituals around the trees out front. I then realize I've said too much, and steer the conversation back to pediatricians, school systems, and taxes.

Here's the granola recipe:

6 cups dry oatmeal
1 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup dry milk
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup ground flax seed (optional)
1-2 cups chopped nuts (optional)
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1-2 cups raisins or craisins

Mix the oatmeal, wheat germ, dry milk, cinnamon, and nuts together. Heat the oil and honey on a stove just until boiling and add the vanilla. Mix into the dry ingredients and pour the whole thing onto a pan sprayed with PAM. Cook in a single layer in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes; stir and cook another 10 minutes. If you like it really crispy, you can put it in for a little longer. Take out of the oven and mix in the dried fruit.

This makes a yummy breakfast or snack, and can be made into granola bars (I'll post the recipe another day). I buy most of the ingredients in bulk, which cuts down on cost and packaging. It's easy to make, and much cheaper and healthier than what comes in pricey little boxes in the grocery store. Just don't mention it at your next cocktail party.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Never Judge a Book by its Cover

I work part time at our local library. I began there last year when The Professor was on sabbatical, and as it was a pleasant job and amused me, I continued. I haven't had many jobs where I work directly with the public, so it's been interesting to note the various slices of life that pass my way.

When you work in a library, you get an insight into the character of the person taking out the books. People definitely have their preferences, however odd they may be, and I've seen more than my share of unusual titles. I did have a good one this week, however. A quiet, nondescript woman in her early thirties approached my desk with a very large, full bag. She began unloading a LOT of books, and I realized that they were all rather tawdry romance novels. She continued to empty this enormous tote bag of lady porn (I was pleased to see that she was using a reusable bag. See - being green can be sexy!) without batting an eye. The following conversation then ensued:

Me: You have an overdue book; would you like me to renew it for you?

Her: Yes, thank you. What's the title?

Me: (Quietly and after a short hesitation) Her Sexiest Mistake.

Her: (Without batting an eye) Oh no - I've returned that in this pile. (And she proceeded to dig it out of the giant pile of books with pictures on the cover that were definitely of the raunchy persuasion and hand it to me.)

At this point, my mind is wandering, because I'm thinking, "I wonder what exactly WAS her sexiest mistake? And, the title suggests that while there may have been other sexy mistakes, this one was by far the sexiest. What WOULD make a mistake the sexiest?" My mind reeled with the possibilities, but as she had collected another tall stack of books of the same persuasion, I needed to focus on the task at hand, lest I make a mistake, which I had a feeling would not be even remotely sexy.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

How Green are my Gables?

Got a little knitting finished, and it's actually something I can wear now. Usually I finish a wool sweater which would be perfect to wear during the coldest days of winter, but unfortunately it happens to be August. Or, a lovely cotton tank comes off the needles in early January. This time I timed it right:

It's Green Gable from Zephyrstyle. I knit one last year (in January) and it actually fit, so I thought I'd make another. This is one of the only patterns I've ever paid for as a single pattern, and it was worth every penny (and for cheapo me to say that, you know it's got to be good). It's out of Cotton Fleece, which I got for a song from Little Knits. Apparently there were some problems with some of the dye lots, so they were considered seconds, and the yarn became half price. Their loss was my gain! The pattern is completely in the round, and has some nice lace at the top to add a little interest to an otherwise plain top:

It's a pretty quick knit, and as it actually fits me (as opposed to other unnamed sweaters of late) I'm happy with the result. And, as a bonus, I don't have to wear it under a heavy wool sweater so I don't freeze out in the snow!