Sunday, July 29, 2012

The World's Most Expensive Tea Cozy

The minute I saw the latest design by Kate Davies I knew all was lost. Within minutes I had purchased the pattern, and within a day had gone in on a yarn order with my knitting friend Maureen. I hinted at what was on my needles in this post back in early July, and finished it not long after. It was a highly addictive pattern! Introducing Sheep Carousel, the latest addition to my growing cozy collection.

This cozy has everything - stranded colourwork, vikkel braids, i-cord, steeks and corrugated ribbing. I was so excited when it was finished! I hurried over to the cupboard and grabbed my teapot so I could do a photo shoot and put pictures of my project on Ravelry and my blog. When I slipped the cozy over my teapot I was so disappointed. It was huge! My teapot looked like a small child playing dress-up with  grown-up clothes. My teapot is a 6 cup size, and clearly this cozy was designed for an 8 cup teapot. This is where the title to this post comes in. There was no way this tea cozy was going to sit in a drawer, unused and neglected. After giving it some thought - well, okay, not really, I had wanted one of these for ages - I ordered a British Brown Betty teapot to accompany my tea cozy. 

I was probably exaggerating about this being the world's most expensive cozy, but with the addition of the new teapot it's definitely the most expensive one I own. It's also my new favourite. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Just One Thing

Aside from the Three Ps (people, pets and photos), do you know what one thing you would grab if you had just seconds to get out of your house? I have spent many years living in fire interface zones, which means the hot, sunny days of summer come with a price, namely the risk of wildfires. Two summers ago the east side of Juniper Ridge (the subdivision we live in) was placed on evacuation alert. There were some tense hours as we watched the smoke billow up, accompanied by the drone of the water bombers going directly overhead. 

I have known for a long time what thing I would grab. Back from when we lived in a log house in the Slocan Valley, to our time in the grey house fifteen minutes outside of Nelson, up to now, where we are situated on a ridge in the dry hills of Kamloops, with pine trees standing like torches waiting to be lit  on the hills above us, the item I would scoop up as I ran out the door has remained unchanged. It would be my recipe box.

It isn't the box itself that holds any value. The real treasure is what is inside. There are gems like the Ginger Cookie recipe my Grandma Ella wrote out for me just before I got married. I especially love her instructions to "get Jay to shake them while you roll them."

Then there is this Chocolate Oatmeal cookie recipe I wrote out when I was about 10 years old. I smile every time I look at how I spelled the word vanilla. I also smile because I remember sitting at my Grandma Vera's dining room table copying out that recipe. I can almost smell my grandpa's pipe tobacco in the background. 

Here is a sampling of some of the other precious contents of this box.

There is a recipe for a casserole called U Name It, given to me by my friend Maureen Wood. This recipe was actually the start of that friendship. We had just moved into our townhouse in Richmond the previous day. Our stuff was all in boxes and our lives were in a state of upheaval. When the doorbell rang I couldn't imagine who it could be since we didn't know a single person there. I would just like to say I now know angels don't have wings and wear white. They deliver casseroles to needy neighbours. 

Then there is The Shortbread recipe, scrawled out on a piece of scrap paper. The thing about this is it isn't just any old shortbread recipe. It is Jay's mom's shortbread recipe. I remember flying up to Vancouver over the Christmas holidays to meet Jay's family and tasting these for the very first time. Oh my. It was the start of a love affair, and I am not talking about with Jay! A few years later I asked Romaine for her recipe, not knowing at that time she would only be with us for a little while longer. It is the only thing I possess that is in her handwriting.

When we adopted Alexandra, Jay was the one to go to Romania. I stayed home with three young children, and that story really deserves a book to do it justice, so will have to wait for another time. Let's just say that by the time he finally got home with Alexandra we were all pretty much toast. It was at this point that my dear friend Wendy Evans came knocking at our door. This might not sound like a big deal, but at that time we lived a half hour out of Nelson on a backroad that required some skill to navigate, so it wasn't like you decided you would just "pop by" on a whim. There stood Wendy with a huge smile on her face and a casserole in her hands. Every time I see that recipe in Wendy's own handwriting I am taken back to that happy time.

Last, but not least is Chicken Supreme. Or, more often in this family, Turkey Supreme. Granted it isn't the healthiest recipe. And maybe to most people it wouldn't be the tastiest either. But this recipe is pure Madsen comfort food (Madsen is my maiden name). It also happens to be written out by my Grandma Vera, adding to its specialness. After every holiday this is my "go to" recipe for turkey leftovers. 

Tattered, with torn corners and faded handwriting these recipes each tell a story. They allow me to grab pieces of my past and bring them into the present. That is why, if the moment ever comes when I have only a second to decide which thing matters the most to me, which thing I will rescue above all others, I know just what it will be.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fergus Friday July 20, 2012

I see it has been awhile since I last did a Fergus Friday post. Time for an update! Fergus is now seven months old. Lots has been going on in his little puppy world since I last blogged about him.

He has successfully completed puppy school. No credit goes to his negligent owner for this accomplishment. It only took one class to figure out that waiting until the night before class to "study" doesn't work with dogs. The humiliation of seeing Fergus look like he was a few kibbles short of a full meal was incentive enough to work consistently with him on a daily basis for the remainder of the time.

It really helped that there was a nasty miniature schnauzer in the class. That dog made the others shine in comparison. Fergus can now sit, touch my hand, stay for about three seconds (okay, this needs some work) and come when called. The qualifier here would be to say he only does these things when there are no distractions and he gets treats, but it's a start. He also managed to have the distinction of being the only puppy who pooped in every single class.

Fergus has also visited the dog park. It is an off leash, fully fenced-in area where dogs can romp around and socialize. Fergus loves the dog park once he gets there, but the walk from the car to the park seems to fill him with terror. Here he is at his first visit.

Fergus and Jenny continue to cause trouble. Their latest trick is to charge out the front door when it gets opened. They tear up the street, looking back every few seconds to be sure their people are running after them in a panic. It is like a scene from The Incredible Journey, minus the cat (Emily hates Fergus and Jenny, and wouldn't lower herself to be seen in public with them). Do not let these innocent faces fool you!

There have been a couple new experiences Fergus has not enjoyed. Three weeks ago Fergus got fixed. Here is some career advice - if making lots of money is high on your list of priorities, seriously consider becoming a veterinarian. Fergus has also had his first grooming appointment. When we got there he was even unhappier than this picture portrays. I think poor Fergus thought he was headed back to the vet to get fixed again. As it turns out, that experience was probably less traumatic than the groomers. At least they knocked him out at the vet's.

When I went back to pick him up I couldn't believe the change in his appearance! He looks 100% Westie now, and all grown-up.  

Best of all, his ears now fit his head, which is a huge relief. I was getting worried he might take after the Hammond side of the family. They are known for having goofy ears.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Old Dog, New Tricks

Sorry to disappoint, but this post is not about Fergus. If it was it would have to be titled New Dog, No Tricks. No, this post is about me and my quest to learn new things and challenge myself by stepping out of my comfort zone. My comfort zone basically consists of my kitchen and my computer desk, so I don't have far to go to cross the boundary line.

Last night was the first martial arts class since I blogged about trying it out. All weekend I went back and forth about whether to give it another try. In the end I decided I would not be happy with myself if I didn't at least give it one more week. Am I ever glad I went! First of all, there was another woman there, and she just started last November. She was well beyond her twenties, and was incredibly encouraging. There were also a couple other newbies, so I didn't feel like the odd one out.

But here's the best part! At one point I was paired up with the female instructor during an exercise. She said she noticed the t-shirt I was wearing last week had a knitting sheep logo on it (it's from the Loopy Ewe) and she wondered if I was a knitter. I said yes and she said she is a knitter too. We got all excited in that weird way that knitters do when they discover each other in the wild. Here's the best part though. I asked her what she liked to knit and she said socks! This is almost enough in itself to keep me going back to the class. And yes, I still enjoyed the hitting.

I have also been stepping out of my comfort zone with my sock knitting. The new Knitty has a great sock pattern called Longitudinal. They are knit in garter stitch, and constructed in a completely different way than any socks I have ever attempted. I dug through my stash and found some Knit Picks Felici self-striping yarn and cast on.

These were fast and fun to knit. So much fun that I ordered some Crazy Zauberball, the yarn the pattern calls for, and have cast on my second pair already. The longer colour runs on the Zauberball make for a much nicer sock than the Felici. Plus I now know to take out a few rows to make them a bit smaller. Still, I am very happy with the way pair #1 turned out.

I wonder what I should try next. I'm open for suggestions...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Wing Chun

I am exhausted. It is Saturday morning and I am sitting out on my back deck with my iPad and a cup of tea. Isn't this the greatest mug ever? It was a gift from my friends John and Gill in England.

Anyway, back to the reasons I am exhausted. Yesterday afternoon Starbucks was giving out free drinks, promoting their newest offering called Refresher. It is a cold fruit drink but also has an extract from green coffee beans in it. The problem with this is coffee and I are not friends. So why did I think a drink made with coffee extract would be okay? Two reasons - it was hot out (37C, or 99F) and I am way too frugal to pass up a free drink.

Big mistake. After spending the afternoon feeling like I wanted to slap somebody (coffee does this to me), I spent a sleepless night cursing my stupidity. Still, this probably wouldn't have been enough to do me in had it not been for the day previous to the consumption of the ironically named Refresher drink.

For several years now I have wanted to take up martial arts. Several things have kept me from moving forward with this. I wanted the right martial arts program, it had to be at a reasonable time, and I didn't want to drive to the other side of Kamloops. I was pretty excited when I saw the YMCA offered Wing Chun, a form of Kung Fu, twice a week. It is just what I have been looking for, but still I kept putting off signing up.

This past week I finally decided to give it a try. Thursday night was my first class and, not to brag or anything, but it took a lot of courage just to show up. It might have been easier had it been a class filled with martial arts newbies like myself, but it is an ongoing class. That meant there would be people there who knew what they were doing. People who could hurt me.

The instructors are a husband and wife team, and they were so kind and patient. And trust me, they needed patience when it came to showing me some of the basics. Who knew there was so much thinking involved in martial arts? The class was an hour and fifteen minutes long, which is about a half hour longer than my brain had the capacity to process new information.

The other students were all really nice too, even though I am sure they wondered what this 55 year old woman was doing there. Oh, did I forget to mention the fact they were all men, and with the exception of one guy who looked to be in his early forties were all twenty somethings? Picture me blocking punches thrown by a hulked up 25 year old guy with tattoos running down his arm and you can see why I was slightly out of my comfort zone.

The good news is I survived. The class is twice a week, which is a pretty big time commitment. Plus it is in the evening, and at 6:00 PM I automatically turn into a hermit, making it very difficult to do anything at night. So here I sit with my cup of tea, trying to decide if I will go back on Monday night. I know I have forgotten everything they so patiently taught me, so returning means I will have to suffer the humiliation of having to learn it all over again. But you know what? It felt really good to hit something, even if it was just the padded blocker Mr. Tattoo was holding up. And that was before I had that Refresher drink.

This picture doesn't have anything to do with this blog post, but I didn't want anyone to think I have stopped knitting. I actually have a couple of finished projects to show you, but will start with these. I love this Knucks pattern from Knitty, and have knit it many times. Here is my latest pair. And just think, if I decide to go back to the Wing Chun class these hands could become lethal weapons. Or I could just order a Refresher at Starbucks. If the small made me want to slap somebody, imagine what the large would do!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Double Eighty

I have just returned from a visit to my mom's. Karsten and Diana were also there, so it was fun being able to visit with them at the same time. My cousin Kath (she did the Cateran Trail in Scotland with me last year, and to date has the distinction of being my only guest blogger) was throwing a party. The cause for celebration? Her parents both turned 80 this year. We were jokingly calling it a 160th birthday party!

Kath, Uncle Marsh and Aunt Joyce

My Aunt Joyce and Uncle Marsh were a huge part of that idyllic childhood I have referred to before on my blog. Next to my parents and grandparents they were the adults who had the most influence on my life. I still find them to be very inspirational people. My Aunt Joyce rides her exercise bike on a regular basis, and my Uncle Marsh has a workout routine he does several times a week. The day before the party he had gone on a lengthy bike ride and had also been out kayaking on the lake for an hour. He told me that didn't count as one of his exercise days though!

The party was split between their summer home and Kath's permanent home on Lake Pend Oreille near Sandpoint, Idaho. This was easy to do since the two houses sit right next to each other. This is the view from the deck. I really miss northern Idaho...

I love this picture of my mom and aunt - two sisters deep in conversation.

Aunt Joyce on the left, my mom on the right

It was fun seeing relatives I hadn't seen in years, and in some cases decades. It was also a bit confronting to see how much everyone had aged. Even more confronting was knowing they were looking at me thinking the same thing. At the end of the day while we were having our dessert several family members sang some songs. I was not among them (I think I might have been the original inspiration for the expression "can't carry a tune in a bucket.")

Lois on the left, Dan on the right

All I can say is it is good we are a family with a sense of humour. Not because of the singing itself, but because of what happened during the singing. Kath and Jack have a Golden Lab named Mike. Mike is still really a puppy, so I guess he can be forgiven for upstaging the performers. During the first song Mike wandered over to a chair and threw up under it. He was promptly removed and that seemed to be the end of it. Mike, however, had clearly enjoyed his two seconds of fame. When the next performer was singing Mike wandered back to the chair and ate what he had just rejected. It was one of those horrible moments when I knew all was lost. I started laughing uncontrollably, and no matter how many sad and awful things I tried to picture to make myself stop I just couldn't. The good news was I was not alone.

Now I am back in Kamloops, and the lake, family and my beloved northern Idaho all seem very far away. I think I would have been content to sit on that deck for the rest of the summer. Well, as long as I had my knitting. Happy 160th birthday Uncle Marsh and Aunt Joyce. It was wonderful being there to celebrate with you!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Setting the Record Straight

This is the blog post I know I shouldn't write. I have talked myself out of writing it, only to talk myself right back into writing it at least a dozen times over the past week. I know I stand the risk of hate mail, losing followers, and having people think and say bad things about me.

I do not want to make a political statement with what is to follow. I am not taking sides in the current health care debate South of 49. I am not saying that Americans should have what we have here in Canada, or that if you did have it the outcome would be the same. In other words, this post is in no way meant to give advice, take sides, or do anything else that could prove to be divisive. There already seems to be more than enough of that going around without me contributing to it.

What this post is meant to do is to clear up some common misconceptions about the Canadian health care system. As I have been reading this past week about the recent Supreme Court decision regarding Obamacare, over and over again I see the Canadian system brought up in articles, forums and social media. And let's just say that facts have been in short supply. So, instead of grinding my teeth and muttering to myself I thought I would try to do something more productive. If you have no interest in the Canadian health care system please forgive this rant, and come back in a few days when I return to normal (not that I have ever been normal, but you know what I mean). For those of you who are interested, please read on, keeping in mind that this is not a statement for or against Obamacare.

I want to start with a sample of what has made me so crazy this week. Here is a comment after an online article on the recent decision. "...socialized medicine increases the size of government and leads to socialism which makes people poor." Granted, that one didn't mention Canada, but since we have socialized medicine I figured it applied to us.

And there was this one. "I also feel terrible for the Canadians. Where are they supposed to go now when they need something done without having to wait two years for it?"

Or this. "There is horror story after horror story about lack of funding in the UK and Canada for enough medical treatment."

And there were all the anecdotal reports - the kind where someone knew someone who knew someone with a connection to Canada, followed by some medical horror story.

The per capita expenditure on health care in Canada is $3895 compared to $7290 in the US. 10% of Canada's GDP is spent on health care with 100% of the people covered. 17% of the US GDP is goes to health care, but 15% of the population has no coverage.

Perhaps you are thinking that the fact we spend less means we have worse outcomes. Not so. Both infant mortality and maternal mortality rates are lower in Canada than in the US, and the average life expectancy of a Canadian is two years longer than that of an American. (Imagine what it would be if we gave up our donuts and poutine.)

It is commonly believed that we pay higher taxes overall in order to support our medical system, but this is not true. The average after tax income in Canada is 82% of gross pay compared to 81.9% in the US.

Universal health care is often portrayed as being a bureaucratic nightmare. The reality is 31% of every health care dollar spent in the US goes to paperwork, overhead, CEO salaries, etc. The Canadian single-payer system has a 1% overhead.

The government does not determine who gets medical care, or what care they get. In Canada it is the physician who makes all medical decisions.

Canadian doctors are not employed by the government. Most physicians in this country are self-employed.

No patient needing urgent care is made to wait. I don't care how many anecdotal stories you have read, it just isn't so. We have a triage system, which means if you are in an emergency room with a headache you are going to have to wait longer than the person having a heart attack. Need moves you to the front of the line, not money.

The average wait for elective (meaning non-emergency) surgery is 4 weeks. The average wait to see a specialist is 4 weeks. The average wait for a diagnostic test such as an MRI or CAT scan is two weeks.

Over 90% of Canadians support our universal health care system. Which in itself should be enough to stop all the inaccurate stories. After all, if it was really as bad as it is so often portrayed in the US media it wouldn't have that kind of approval rating.

And just so you don't think I have come completely unhinged I will close on a lighter note. I cast on for this little project this week and can't seem to put it down. My knitting time has been totally focused between this and one other addictive project I cast on last week. Any guesses as to what it is going to be?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Happy Canada Day!

Happy Birthday Canada! You are looking pretty good for turning 145. I would go do the socially appropriate thing, which in the year 2012 means wishing you a Happy Birthday on Facebook, but when I checked your page you didn't appear to have a wall. Gee, you would think it was 1867 or something.