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.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

For the love of bread

Today I am torn between editing a sock pattern which has been languishing on my desk for a few months and making focaccia with sourdough starter.  Plus, I have an eye doctor appointment.

Obviously, the focaccia dough can be made now and set aside to rest and rise.  But in order to make the dough I have to make an adjustment to the recipe because my sourdough starter is wet.  The recipe calls for a starter that is more dough-like.  This is always a conundrum for me.  I want the math to be simple, as in a simple ratio of flour to water.

Flour to water ratios are rarely simple, usually involving decimal points.  In the US, we are allergic to decimal points.  Our weights and measure system can't be bothered with units of 10.  My solution is to round up or down as the case maybe in the flour to water ratio and then adjust based on the feel of the dough.  Too sticky, add a bit more flour.  Too dry, add a bit more water.  All measurement is cast out the window in these situations.

The other thing that the recipe calls for is unbleached all-purpose flour, preferably organically grown and stone-ground.  I don't have any of this in my kitchen at the moment.  Instead of running down to Whole Foods (which I'm avoiding at the moment for soft political reasons) and buying such flour, I will settle for Trader Joe's unbleached all-purpose flour.  Besides, it is raining.  Otherwise, I have all the exact ingredients called for.

So here’s the plan.  Make focaccia dough with half the additional yeast called for to allow for a slow rise to bring out more flavor.  Edit the pattern.  Go to the eye doctor.  Check on the dough to see how much it has risen.  Continue to edit the pattern.  Check dough; prepare it for  shaping and second rise.  Finish editing pattern.  Check dough and prepare it for third rise.  This is the fun one because you get to poke it all over with your fingers and drizzle it with olive oil.  The oil will pool in some of the dimples, looking a bit like golden ponds.  Bake the focaccia and eat while still warm.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Fighting the tofu revisited

Back in February 2008, I was fighting the tofu.  Then knitting and spinning were fighting it out in my head and I'd lost my interest in both.  I spent most of 2012 engaged in a similar fight.

But this past year was different than 2008.  The 2008 tofu fight was insignificant compared to 2012.  I lost my job in January as the result of a merger.  The business side of my brain completely understood that the acquiring firm would keep their own people.  I worked for the acquired firm.  I was offered the option of staying on with the acquiring firm for an additional month to assist with the transition.  I accepted the option because it meant a larger severance package. 

This is where my head started fighting the tofu.  The "rational" side understanding that being laid off was a business decision and had nothing to do with me per se.  The emotional side taking it all very personally, feeling very kicked to the curb.  Soon enough the rational side stopped talking and the emotional side took over completely by fighting itself.  I, for whatever reason, stayed on the rough, jagged edge and went for a wild ride, pulling myself--and sometimes others--down the rabbit hole of despair.  Just about everything was painful.  And I wallowed in it, rarely bothering to peek over the top to see that maybe, just maybe, there were pleasant things outside of my hole.

This, of course, made looking for a job difficult and the tight job market didn't help matters.  I've worked professionally in a niche market for a very long time.  For too long, I defined myself by that role.  So what am I now?

If I follow Natalie Goldberg's advice about fighting the tofu, I need to go deep and discover what I really am beyond the narrow view of who I was professionally.  So I'll start here.

I am (among many things)
  • creative
  • a mother
  • a knitter
  • a spinner
  • a girlfriend
  • a cyclist
  • educated
  • intelligent
  • curious about the world and other cultures
  • a pretty good cook
  • an avid reader
  • a survivor
Oh, and I am a librarian.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Been gone too long

I wish I had a better reason for not posting for such a long time. I don't. My consulting job in Napa ended in October. I thought I'd get in a lot of bike rides. I didn't. I worked as a substitute librarian at a few law firms in November and December. It was fun.

I spent time baking cookies in December as well. I just started with one recipe one morning and in two days I had baked five different kinds of cookies. It was relaxing and the kitchen--the whole apartment actually--smelled homey. It was comforting.

I put out a new sock pattern in late November. It's called Calaveras after one of my favorite bike rides. Calaveras Road winds up to the Calveras Dam, which is a reservoir serving San Francisco. Even though the road is between Livermore and Milpitas, you know you are in the country. The shades of green from the oak trees and wild grass as well as the many different kinds of birds I see when out there confirm it is country. In the spring, there are a few more people up near the head of the dam because there are at least one pair of nesting eagles.  Anyway, back to the sock.  I used Pigeonroof Studios Siren 2 sock in a beautiful green.  The color of the yarn and the lace pattern combine to reflect what I like best about this ride:  the greenery and the winding road.

Speaking of Pigeonroof, Krista is working with new base yarns and Siren 2 will probably be discounted.  I am confident that any fingering weight base she uses will work with patterns I have designed using her yarn.  And, if you haven't visited her new online shop, go there now.  It's really lovely.

I have another sock pattern in the works called Zigzag Road.  The name is also cycling related.  Part of the 2012 Olympic cycling road race was on Zigzag Road.  I was working on the pattern during the Olympics and the name seemed appropriate.  I hope to finish writing the pattern by the end of the month.

One last thing.  I hope that 2013 brings you much joy and happiness!