Monday, July 21, 2014

Hi, hello

I feel like I should break out in song:  Hello, it's me.  I haven't seen you for a long, long time.

I figure I needed to stop by my long neglected blog and say hello.  So what happened to me?  I landed a job--a real job.  Regular hours, paycheck and all that.  So my year of unemployment interrupted by periodic temporary work ended one year eighteen days after it began.  When not at work I've been knitting, riding my bike, reading, and doing a wee bit of travel. 

Cycling is occupying most of my free time.  I'm riding between 85 and 100 miles a week.  Some of these miles have been on my own, on club ride and organized rides including the Cinderella Challenge and Wine County.  Both were milestones.  Cinderella because this year it did not rain like two years ago and I didn't get sick toward the end of my training like last year.  So I rode the Challenge.  This takes you over Patterson and Altamont Passes.  Then a month later, I rode the Wine Country Century.  My first 100 mile ride.  It was fun with only one small problem--I got a pinch flat about 2 miles away from the last rest stop.  Fortunately, I know how to change an inner tub and get the tire back on the rim.  Double fortunately, a very nice fellow stopped to help me.

Some of the weekly miles are also done on my turbo trainer and TrainerRoad.  As much as I'd like to ride my bike outside, during the week it is just not possible.  I don't get home until evening and I don't see well in low, flat light. TrainerRoad gives me structure so it's not endless pedaling with no plan.  To make it work, I listen to music or watch videos of pro races. 

As to the travel, I've done a bit for work.  Nothing too exciting--Los Angeles and Orange County.  G and I went to Boston in November and then a whirlwind trip to Madrid two weeks before Christmas.  Both trips were lovely if too short.

My knitting has been for pleasure.  I've made mistakes, like the sweater that I tried to finish before leaving for Madrid.  I ended up not liking it. I ripped it out and am knitting another sweater, which will be finished long before I can really wear it.  I also knit a pair of socks with an interesting construction, which I'd been eyeing for a long, long time.  Turns out I thought they were fun to knit but don't really care for how they fit.  The fit is a direct result of the construction.  The other thing that has been interesting is knitting up my stash.  My year of unemployment broke me of the habit and desire to constantly add to the stash.  Strangely, or not, I've no desire to go back to the days of acquiring for acquirings sake.



Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Oranges and other hot things


 When I was a kid, my mom always packed oranges in our lunches in the winter, both school and "ski" lunches.  She would score the peel into quarters so that they were easy to peel.  Navel oranges always remind me of those lunches, especially ski lunches.  I grew up skiing so ski lunches were not anything special.  Usually they consisted of salami, cheese, bread or crackers, oranges and sometimes a bar of chocolate.  It may not seem like much.  Eaten outdoors on a sunny Sierra winter day those lunches were wonderful.  Today my favorite way to eat salami is with good bread followed by an orange.

So what are the other hot things in the title?  Two things.

Thing one.  I made soap yesterday.  Cold process soap.  Cold process soap generates a lot of heat.  You see you start by mixing lye with water.  That produces heat, quite a bit actually, up to 200F.  Then you heat the solid fats.  Yup, heat again.  You let the lye solution and the fats cool to the same temperature, mix them together until they do that magic of turning into soap.  Then you pour the soap into a mold.  Wrap the mold in a towel or blanket and wait.  While you are busy doing other things, the soap is producing heat.  A lot of heat.  So much heat that if you peek you will see that your soap looks a bit like gel and is kind of translucent.  After about 24 hours, it looks like soap again.

Thing two.  I have a wise friend who dyes yarn and fiber for a living.  After telling her about overdyeing some yarn which continued to bleed color despite being rinsed to death, she suggested that I put it back in the pot with more citric acid to set the dye.  She hinted ever so kindly that I may not have used enough citric acid in the first place.  Today I tossed the yarn back in the dye pot with water and citric acid.  It has been gently heating for the last little while.  The water is clear so I am hoping that the color has set this time.

Oh, there is a thing three.  I really am using magic loop.  This is the sleeve of the Neckdown V Neck Shaped Cardigan by Knitting Pure & Simple.  This is the second time I've knit this pattern.  The first time was a gift for my mom using handspun merino.  This time I'm using Brown Sheep Cotton Cloud.  The color is cavern.   This is the second sweater I've knit from this yarn.  I mean that literally.  I ripped out another sweater that needed buttons.  It sat on my dresser for six months waiting for buttons.  I realized that I hadn't bothered with the buttons because I was never going to wear it.  I hope I haven't made the same mistake again.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Insurance update

Friday I had a minor meltdown over my situation with WageWorks and my medical insurance.  It all began when I received a call back from a customer service supervisor.  He told me he had good news.  His good news:  my "issue" had been referred to an account manager who would be contacting my former employee in seven to ten business days.  He even told me we were making progress in resolving my "issue."  Unfortunately for him, this wasn't good news to me.  So I asked to speak to someone with more authority.  I was told that that wasn't possible.  I would have to write a letter, not an email, a letter and that someone would get back to me seven to ten business days after WageWorks received the letter.  I used a few choice words about the lack of customer service and their inability to take my situation seriously, said good-bye and hung up.

I was tired of the fight but not done with it.  After all, I am paying for health insurance and I want what I am paying for.  So I called my former employer and told them my story. I am not blaming them for this situation.  They hired a company to handle COBRA for them.  I know that if I were in their shoes I would expect that the vendor was doing what I hired them to do.

And I did another thing.  I filed a complaint with the California Attorney General against WageWorks.

Today my former employer called me to gather a bit of information for the form that WageWorks apparently refuses to send to my health insurance provider.  They completed the form and sent it to the insurance provider and let me know that they had done so. 

This is not how I wanted this resolved.  I wanted WageWorks to handle my situation with understanding, compassion and, more importantly, action.  WageWorks has failed miserably on all counts.  They may be big and bureaucratic but they should know that you don't mess with people's health insurance or any other benefits they have been hired to handle. 

Magic Looped and an Apology

When Pyroclastic was accepted for publication by Knitty, I was thrilled. I'd written the pattern the way I prefer to knit socks--I use 5 double pointed needles and distribute the stitches so I don't have to use a lot of stitch markers. When I was contacted by the technical editor, I learned that I would have to rewrite it as what I call needle neutral. At the time I knew how to knit using two circular knits. I had never knit using magic loop. I really couldn't imagine how to write the pattern to accommodate various needle choices. In my mind, if you knit with two circular needles or magic loop you most likely had knit from patterns written with reference to double pointed needles and knew where you needed to place markers.

Pyroclastic calls for markers to keep track of the increases and decreases that shape the foot. I could visualize those regardless of needles used. What I couldn't visualize for magic loop was how one kept track of the division between the top and bottom of the foot. So I came up with what I thought was the answer. It was messy with a lot of markers, four of which were moving every two to three rounds. I knew it was messy.

When the pattern was published, I got a lot of questions from people knitting it using magic loop. I couldn't really help them much. I bought the magic loop pamphlet and read it. I just didn't try it.

I finally got around to teaching myself magic loop last year. I don't use it for socks because I like my double points too much. However, I love magic loop for working sleeves in the round. Frankly, I find double points larger than US 5 bulky and awkward. Right now, I'm knitting a sweater using Cotton Fleece. I dreaded knitting the sleeves because the body is on the heavy side and I thought I'd be moving it a lot while knitting the sleeves. With magic loop, I've figured how to work the sleeves without moving the sweater much. Plus, I didn't have to change from a 16-inch circular to double points when there were too few stitches to work comfortably on the 16-inch circ. 

To all those knitters that have struggled with Pyroclastic and it's crazy number of markers in the Knitty version, I'm really sorry I didn't learn this technique earlier.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Super Food


I emailed myself a link to this website called The Italian Dish over a year ago with the intention (intentions are good, right?) of making the mushroom bolognese recipe.  I love mushrooms.  And as you can see from the box, they are a super food.  Before you get picky, I usually buy loose mushrooms because I like to inspect them.  Yesterday the market didn't have any loose brown mushrooms so I bought them in this package.

The recipe calls for dried porcini as well.  My pantry isn't lacking in dried porcini.  But I didn't use them.  Instead, I pulled out a one ounce package of mixed dried wild mushrooms from Far West which I picked up at the Ferry Building in San Francisco on a lunchtime outing.  I intended to make the sauce last night but continuing COBRA drama interfered with my plans.  So the dried mushrooms got a good long overnight soak.  This morning my kitchen smelled a bit like wild mushroom heaven!


 This was the other ingredient that I didn't have at home.   I love the label on this bottle and thought I'd give it a try.  The wine was added to the sauteed onions, carrot, celery and garlic and allowed to cook down a bit.  By the way, the wine was a lovely dark red and looked quite drinkable.  However, it was morning and I was drinking coffee.  Somehow, the idea of even a sip of wine right after drinking coffee doesn't appeal to me.

Then the chopped fresh and reconstituted dried mushrooms were added to the pan along with crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, the strained mushroom soaking liquid, herbs and a touch of sugar. 

I followed the recipe with some minor changes.  I used mixed wild mushrooms instead of porcini.  I used water with a dollop of Better Than Bouillon reduced sodium vegetable base instead of beef or vegetable broth.


Now that everything is in the pan, it just has to cook down to a pleasing thickness.  It smells really good.  I'll cook up a suitable pasta shape, something with ridges that the sauce will cling to.  After all, I want all the mushroom goodness I can get.
I will sop up any sauce left in the bowl with this:  salt and pepper focaccia.  (This is one of rounds of sourdough focaccia I made a few weeks ago and put in the freezer.)



Thursday, February 07, 2013

An endurance sport I didn't sign up for

I am so very frustrated right now.  I've been going around in circles with the company--for what it's worth, it's WageWorks--that processes my COBRA payments.

Last year,  I discovered that the company that I was supposed to have dental insurance with didn't have a record of me.  Result, I couldn't use my insurance.  The company that handles the administration of the COBRA program for my former employer entered my social security number incorrectly.  Their response when I got to the bottom of the problem--I have to send them a form to correct their mistake.  When I pointed out that it was their mistake and that they could refer back to my original paperwork and see the error, they still insisted that I had to correct it.   Oh, and by the way, it will take 10 to 14 business days for them to make the correction once they receive the form from me.  It took them over three months.

During open enrollment in November 2012, I elected to change my medical insurance for a variety of reasons.  I sent in the form on time.  On December 15, 2012, I received a letter along with payment coupons for 2013 indicating the change would be effective January 1, 2013.  I was a happy woman.

Except I've never received new insurance cards.  And, I've made every premium payment on time since I was laid off last January.  So in mid-January I called the insurance company.  And low and behold, they have no record of me.  I called the plan administrator and was told that 1) they couldn't tell me when the insurance company was sent my enrollment information, and 2) they would submit it that day.  I asked for a supervisor as this was unsatisfactory.  Supervisor repeats what the first person I spoke with said.

Ten days later I call the administrator again.  This time I speak to two "customer service" representatives. The first hangs up on me.  The second wants to know why I want to see my doctor, which is completely none of her business and is a violation of HIPPA.  At this point, I was so upset I knew I would yell unpleasant things if I called them back.

I called the following day and got a "supervisor" who was going to work with the eligibility department to find out why the insurance company has no record of me.  She called me back later the same day to inform me that it's being processed and that she will check again the next day and call me back with an update.  That call never came.

Today I called the administrator again and insisted on speaking with a supervisor as I had no confidence that a "customer service" rep will do anything other than tell me that it's being processed.  I got a wee bit lucky with the supervisor today.  I say a wee bit because I still don't have medical insurance even though I've paid all my premiums.  Turns out that the insurer notified the plan administrator that the paperwork was incomplete in November.

This supervisor and I were on the phone to the insurance company together.  We were on hold long while so the insurance company could find my records--why yes, they do have a record of me, just not as a member.  It turns out that the plan administrator has refused to send the "proper" COBRA paperwork to the insurer.  Until that happens, I have no medical insurance. 

At the cost of my premiums I shouldn't have to go through this.  It seems with healthcare in the US even if you play by the rules, there is no guarantee that you will have the insurance that you've paid for.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Money for nothing, kicks for free

I just posted a new sock pattern on Ravelry for free two days ago.  I made a deliberate decision to give this pattern away.  My decision was based a a few factors:  I used a technique that I’ve not used before in a published pattern, it was not test knit, nor did I hire a technical editor.  There was another consideration as well.  I was curious to see how many people would download the pattern because it is free. 

Other than writing a blog entry about the pattern’s availability, I did not announce that it had been published.  Within an hour of putting the pattern in my Ravelry shop, it had been downloaded 10 times.  As of this afternoon, it has been downloaded close to 100 times.  I find it fascinating that I can give away so many copies without promoting.  What would happen if I actively promoted the pattern?  Perhaps several hundred more downloads? 

Which leads me to a question.  A serious question about knitters.  Why are so many unwilling to pay for patterns?  I understand that for some $4 or $5 many be a financial stretch.  Yet many of us (and I include myself) willing pay the same for a large latte and several times a week at that. 

Which leads to another question.  Do knitters expect free patterns to adhere to the same standards as patterns that are available for purchase?  In other words, do knitters expect the pattern to have been tested by others, edited by a technical editor, and offer multiple sizes?  

And a final question.  If you download a free pattern from a designer that also sells patterns, do you consider purchasing one of their patterns? 

I am not trying to start a war here.  I realize that we are motivated by many factors, including our financial means, our desire to support designers--well-known or not, our desire to see our craft thrive, etc.  I ask these questions because I am genuinely interested in the answers. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

New sock pattern (and it's free)

I just added a new sock pattern to my Ravelry Shop and it's free.  It's a quick little knit called Zig Zag Road.  The green yarn--Koigu  KPPPM--I used reminds me of the colors of the trees in the hills in the Bay Area. The socks are knit toe up, which is a new approach to sock design for me.  They have a heel gusset but no heel flap and are finished off with twisted stitch ribbing. 








The sweet little lace pattern zigs and zags, thus the name.  But Zig Zag Road is also the name of one of roads used in the 2012 Summer Olympic Cycling Road Race.  The day the women raced the landscape was a lovely, lovely green.  It was absolutely dreadful with rain though.  Zig Zag Road lead up to the big climb on Box Hill.  Since I was somewhat watching the Olympics, I needed a knit that was engaging yet not so complicated that it required all of my attention.  So Zig Zag Road socks were born.