Thursday, 26 January 2012

Cheap is not the only reason to buy

You will be relieved to know that my recent bout of yarn-lust didn't result in a purchase. Maybe, as Amy suggested, it was the time between receiving Lidl's email and actually visiting a branch (Lidl is a supermarket chain from Germany), that allowed it to wear off. Maybe it was because I'd spent several hours rummaging through the stash on Sunday, reacquainting myself with what I already have. Maybe it was because none of the patterns are screaming "Make me in this!", but when I popped into Lidl yesterday, I was underwhelmed by the look of the yarn and the colours on offer.

It was all quite "Meh" in the flesh. Ok, but nothing special. Even the sock yarn didn't appeal. Forget the bargain price. Cheap is no good unless you want to knit with it. And I don't.

This is one big reason I prefer to buy my yarn in person rather than via the internet - internet purchases often look far prettier on the monitor than in real life and colours are deceptive. (I do purchase yarn online, but it is usually something I've seen and touched first.)

Lesson reinforced.


Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Non-darning sock repair

Over Christmas, one of the things I did was repair the worn-out soles of a pair of DH's socks.  These were alpaca socks that I knitted for him in 2009 and, I've just realised, I've never documented.  (The closest I've got was in this post, when I ended up knitting on them in a traffic jam.)  The yarn is UK Alpaca's Alpaca Sock Yarn, a 60% alpaca, 20% merino wool, 20% nylon yarn.

Anyway, last winter, DH wore the ball of one foot down to the nylon.

I don't darn socks, but after the labour-of-love it took to make them, I decided I had to do something.  So I hit upon the idea of knitting a patch over the top.  (The rest of the socks are in good condition.) Using a latch hook, I picked up stitches along one side of the worn section and slipped them over a DPN.

Then I knitted a row and purled back.  On the next and subsequent knit rows, I picked up the stitch that was parallel to the patch and knitted it together with the end stitch from the patch.  (Not sure how clearly you can see that from this photo.)

 Basically, I knitted a pocket that was attached across the bottom and down both sides.

When I was satisfied that the patch covered the worn area, I Kitchener stitched the patch to the sole.

Finally, I wove in the ends, using them to invisibly tack the nylon to the patch. 

And voila! Not invisible - the yarn is from a different dye lot for a start - but it's soft, doesn't rub and will last for a long time.

- Pam

Friday, 20 January 2012

Frugal Friday - Temptations and Balancing Acts

I am having one of those days, when I want something "just because" and part of me is rationalising hard to get it.  The thing is, it might turn out to be pretty ordinary when I finally get my hands on it.  But I won't know that until I handle it.  All I've seen are pictures and the colours are lovely...

Naturally, I'm talking about yarn.   I subscribe to the Lidl newsletter, which lands in my in-box on Mondays and Thursdays.  Every so often, they do knitting yarns and the odds are 70:30 in favour of their yarns being good instead of cheap, nasty acrylics.  Yesterday's edition announced that, as of Monday, they'll be stocking a cotton-wool-blend sock yarn (this one with a new name), some 100% DK cotton in assorted packs (meh), and a cotton-viscose blend DK which really caught my attention (this one, I think).  The colours I'm lusting after are the two at the back, the pretty pink and the aqua:

 (Photo from Lidl's website.)

They'll be sold in packs of 4 skeins for £4.99 a pack.  Two packs of either would be enough to make a Soleil from Knitty; three would make a Raina from the Twist Collective.  And here is where my argument with myself really starts:

On the one hand, the price is totally within my self-imposed £3/ball limit.

On the other hand, purchasing enough to make the Raina would absorb a quarter of my £60 yarn budget for the year and we're only one month in; buying both colours would have me spend £25 or even £30 on something I might not knit with for 2 or 3 years.  That's 40% or 50% of the budget.  Can I really go 11 more months on £30?  Money will be tight until DH gets a new job and I don't want to set myself up so that I'll break the budget later on.  Also, if I spend this much now, what will I do if something better comes along later?

On the first hand, I'd like to encourage Lidl to keep stocking yarn, and the only way to do that is to buy some.

On the second hand, I have two separate yarns in virtually the same shade as the pink (if the photo is true to life).  I don't need more.

On the first hand, I don't have anything like that aqua.  I could settle for just the one colour.  And while Soleil is nice, the Raina will be more flattering (especially if I modify the neck to a sweetheart one like this one in Ravelry).  Or I could do the Soleil - that'd mean only spending £10.

On the other hand, I have far too much yarn as it is.  I DON'T NEED MORE YARN.

God, I hope the stuff looks horrible in real life!  That'd save me from trying to square the circle.  Knowing I only have £xx to spend means that I want to get the best value possible and not squander it.  I have to balance the "I want it now" with the "but will I want that more, later?".   That is what budgeting is all about.  It's a way of ensuring that sufficient money accumulated now for goodies later. 

- Pam

Thursday, 19 January 2012

A letter to Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo:

Recently, I've been catching up on your podcasts, having missed several weeks of live shows.  One thing I've noticed is Mark's regular disparaging remarks about so called "comedies" such as The Hangover.  A few weeks ago, while I watched Burn After Reading (3 laughs); a question occurred to me upon which I'd like to hear your views:  is modern American comedy predicated on the assumption that the audience is stupid and that, as a consequence, the audience finds stupidity funny?  

I'll rant about Burn After Reading because it is the most recent example I have watched, but you could substitute any one of a hundred other films.  It was impossible to connect with the characters played by Brad Pitt, George Clooney or Frances McDormand - they had no character traits other than stupidity and self-centredness.  They just weren't interesting.  Surely comedy works best when you have sympathy for a character?  The only main character in that film who wasn't vapid, stupid and self-centred was John Malkovich's, Ossie Cox.  Ditto, he was the only really interesting person.  And yet, in a film which starts off about the disintegration of his life, he rapidly becomes a bit-part character because the producers/director/writers found it easier to focus on the stupid characters.

Anyway, what do you think?    Is it possible for modern Hollywood to produce a comedy about well rounded characters which relies on intelligence and wit to be funny? 

Love the show, Steve.  Say "Hi" to Jason Isaacs for me.

- Pam

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Broccoli & Stilton Soup

Whenever we have broccoli, I save the stems in the freezer until I have the urge to make Broccoli and Stilton Soup. I use the stems as padding, instead of using two heads of broccoli, I'll use one head including the stem plus another stem.  However, if you're feeling particularly frugal use 3 or 4 stems and no florets of broccoli.  If you've only got frozen broccoli, you'll need about 500g/1lb.

If you don't have Stilton, you can use any other blue cheese.  Be warned if you use Danish Blue - it gets most of its flavour from salt.

Since I decided to make soup, DH dug the bread maker out of storage.  Here's proof you can make bread and cook a meal with vitually no workspace whatsover.

 Broccoli & Stilton Soup - Serves 4


1 tablespoon of oil or butter
1 medium onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
200ml dry white wine or cider
800ml stock (or water plus 2 stock cubes)
1 head broccoli plus 1 or 2 stems
150g Stilton or other strong blue cheese, cubed
Pepper to season

  1. In a deep saucepan, melt the butter or heat the oil.  Stir in the onion and garlic and fry until soft.
  2. Meanwhile, cut the broccoli into florets and slice the stems.
  3. When the onion is soft, pour over the wine or cider together with stock, then gently add the broccoli.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes or until the stems are soft.
  4. Stir in the cheese and keep stirring while it melts.
  5. Using a hand blender, blend until smooth. Alternatively, if you have a food processor or stand-alone blender, carefully ladle the hot soup into the blender and process until smooth, then return to cooking pot or decant into a soup terrine.  Do not over process - I once made a soup so smooth and textureless that it was horrible to eat.  It had the mouth-feel of water.
  6. Season with freshly ground pepper.  You won't need salt because the cheese is salty enough.
  7. Serve with fresh bread.


- Pam

Friday, 6 January 2012

Frugal Friday - the "M" word

M is for money. 

It seems that, every where I looked before Christmas, people were talking about budgets and budgeting.  The BBC ran a series of the Money Programme looking at people and money. Channel 4 ran a Christmas Special episode of Superscrimpers as well as The Ultimate Guide to Pennypinching.  We recorded most of the episodes and have caught up over the last week.

The BBC Money Programme series started with an episode about people paying hundreds/thousands of pounds to attend wealth seminars, in the blind hope that they'll discover some big "secret" that'll make them rich overnight without putting in some hard graft first.  The people profiled missed the big irony - that the real secret behind wealth seminars is in the income they generate for the organisers a.k.a. "wealth counsellors" and not in the information they're presenting to their audience.  (That is a rant for another day.)

What was more interesting to me were the second and third episodes:  the second episode was about couples and the conflicts money (or lack of it) causes;  the third profiled several families where their combined, after-tax  income was £40,000.  In each, the couples talked about their budgets and their attitudes to money.  The couples episode, in particular, included questions about whether they ever talked about money to each other, how they rated the other person's attitude to money, etc.

Some really stuck in the memory.  For example, I don't rate the longevity of the marriage of the legal secretary who despised her NHS-employed, research scientist husband's income for being too low at approximately £31k.    He has a PhD and is working on potentially life-saving research but science doesn't pay in this country (frankly, if he was married to me, I'd be really proud of him for the work that he does and not care about his salary).  Her opinion, though, was that he is failing as a husband because he would not keep her and her children in the manner to which she'd liked to be accustomed.  According to her, he was "tight" with money.  It was obvious that she compared him to the lawyers for whom she worked, who earn a lot more than he does and who probably have stay at home wives, kids at private school, etc. They only married because she got pregnant within 6 weeks of their first date and didn't have a "money conversation" until long afterwards.

(Incidentally, the obvious money-earner has never seemed to occur to her:  studying law and persuading her employers to back her. Or as DH put it, "Stop moaning about your husband's income and work out a way to earn some more yourself".)

One of the eye-opening points of the show, of all these shows really, is that many couples never talk about money.  Oh, they grumble about each other's spending and how much things cost, but they never really talk about money.  Or about what they want it to do for them.  That is what a real money conversation should be all about:  goals.  It's about determining what you want out of life and how you will get there. It's also about working out how you will pay for it.  For a couple, it's about give-and-take, determining what is jointly a priority and what they'll sacrifice to get there.  It shouldn't be about one person giving all, while another take-take-takes.  Both partners need to pull their weight.

Really, that is what budgeting should be all about.  Sitting down with your partner and determining what you want out of life, what it's going to cost, how long it will take to get there and how much you'll need to set aside from each pay-cheque in order to pay for it in the long run.  Then when the priorities are settled, you need to work out together how you're going to have a good quality of life from the money that remains.  The aim is to have a champagne life-style on a beer budget without going into debt to support it, while setting money aside to work towards your goals.

- Pam

Thursday, 5 January 2012

I'm with lurgy

I don't think I've had more than a minor cold since 2008 but, this year, one has really hit me.  This one started with the sneezes last Thursday and appears to be progressing one symptom at a time.  (I really hate it when that happens.)  Naturally, it started when I was already on leave - I'm sure there are statistics about that somewhere, people getting sick when they finally have time to relax.  However, I know that since it's a cold, I would have become infected in the first or second week of December.  That's when the lurgy was going around the office.

I phoned in sick on Tuesday, with my tonsils pretending to be golf-balls.  By yesterday night, they were down so I thought "Yes, I can cope with work.  I'll go into work tomorrow". Set the alarm for 6am this morning. It went off, I got up had my shower, etc, sat down with my breakfast coffee and realised that I felt more tired than I did when I went to bed last night. Breathing was harder, too.  So I phoned the office and told my team that I won't be in for the rest of the week.

I do hope this damn thing isn't escalating.

- Pam

PS:  Yes, I've had my flu jab.  I've been having flu jabs religiously annually since I developed a secondary chest infection after having the flu in 2000.  My GP recommended it, which means I get it for free on the NHS.   I'd have paid for it, prior to that, but it was almost impossible to find somewhere to obtain it.  (One year, my employer organised flu jabs for everyone who wanted one.  We paid £5 each towards them.)  Now, of course, you can buy a flu jab in Boots.