Wednesday 31 October 2007

A Football Match Was Attended

... And it was NFL! Yes, we went to the historic first regular season match outside America at Wembley Stadium on Sunday. It was a "home" match for the Miami Dolphins against the New York Giants.

We supported the Dolphins, on the basis that they were the underdogs (and we've driven past their stadium in Miami).As you can see from this shot of the cheerleaders, we were up in the top tier. It didn't matter - the view was good.

Here's DH (at the front) and friends, all wearing their team shirts and jackets. They're serious fans. DH and his best friend used to play in the local amateur league, and they've all played play-by-mail fantasy NFL games.

Do you like DH's New England Patriots jacket? Pretty blue, isn't it? He's had it since he was 21. I was disappointed to discover it still fit him (I was hoping to "borrow" it for the match).

Here's me and my knitting. Unsure of whether there would be a problem with knitting needles, I almost smuggled the sock in. The security guards saw my make-up-bag-knitting-case and didn't check inside. Once inside, the Safety Stewards didn't care.

You can't really see from the picture, but I'd just picked up the gusset stitches and knitted 3 rows before we got to Wembley. I knitted throughout the match.

Can't say it was a particularly good football match (if you hear that from me, who's only seen a couple of live NFL-Europe games and a few televised matches, it really was bad!). But the pre-match and half time shows were good and it was just really great to be there.

The middle two quarters were dire. The Dolphin's were their own worst enemies - they clocked up a string of penalty plays in the second quarter (six, I think), including a 1st and 25. Much to the surprise of my friends (who'd thought that was the worst play they'd ever seen), the Giants topped it with a 2nd and 37!

Just when you thought the Dolphins had a chance in the final quarter, they inexplicably blew through their 3 time-outs before the two minute warning. This meant that although the did manage to score a touchdown (finally!), they couldn't call a time out to organise a field goal. Even I know that was stupid. What did their coaches think they were doing? Throwing the match?

This is how far I managed to get with the sock, approximately 60 rows knitted at the match including the gusset. The blue part is leftover Opal self-striping yarn, while the white is all Lisa Souza's Sock! in ecru ordered directly from her (remember the problem I had obtaining white yarn? Lisa solved it for me. More pictures later). No, I didn't borrow DH's jacket - he held the sock for me.

Here's another photo of the sock. Taken in the last two minutes of the match.

On the whole, a great evening out. Next time, though, please can we see the Pats?

- Pam (when the play got really bad, I was chanting "we want Pats")

Thursday 25 October 2007

Not dead yet, either

I've been at Site for most of this week: a 504 mile round trip. My little Toy car will hit 151,000 miles by the time it gets serviced next week. (BTW, Mr Snarky, the Toy is a Seat Arosa, the cheaper, LBYM cousin of the VW Lupo . Same car, different badge, fewer inclusive options and no central locking/electric windows.)

What was really surprising about visiting Site is how easy it was to forget that 3 weeks ago, I'd just had surgery into a major body cavity. Everyone kept asking me how I was feeling and, since I've picked up Jan's croup, I thought they meant it because my cough would give a barking dog a run for it's money. (I even have the loud, inspiratory wheeze.) They all knew about my operation - it was me who'd forgotten.

Am I glad I my gall bladder out? Absolutely. Have I suffered for it? No. Am I sick of feeling ill? Yes.

- Pam

PS: If I could only get rid of this chest, I'd feel wonderful.

It's official

It's official. Whilst I can knit and watch TV, drive and listen to the radio or cook and listen to the radio, I cannot REPEAT cannot read and do anything else. Nor can I surf the Internet and watch TV. Or write a report and pay attention to anything else that is going on.

Therefore, apparently, I cannot multi-task.

Am I the only one?

- Pam

Saturday 20 October 2007

A show was attended

Last Saturday, I had my first big day out since the operation: the Knit and Stitch Show at Alexandra Palace. I took the tube up to Wood Green and met my Best Buddy At (former) Work ("BBAW") at 10.30am. We were a sorry pair: me - weak, pale and with the odd pain from my wounds; BBAW - unable to use her left hand for much at all since damaging the tendons in her wrist several weeks ago. This was a Girls' Day Out for two women who had been house bound and gone stir-crazy!

We hadn't booked classes; we hadn't even purchased our tickets in advance. We just wandered the stalls, chatting to the stall holders and fondling the merchandise. (And buying some.) Unlike last year, when I had a shopping list of patterns I wanted to knit, I was woefully unprepared. I've purchased quite a bit of yarn in the last year, so didn't have anything on my wish list.

Here are my spoils:-

The ram came from a stall selling New Zealand yarns. He bleats. I bought him for DH - after all, if I was coming home with a load of wool, he might as well have something to play with.

Amongst other stalls, I visited the lovely ladies at Get Knitted, the only UK shop I know that stock any American yarns. I came away with an invitation to visit their shop (on the A4 between Bath and Bristol - our side of Bristol, about an hour and a half away), and some pretty pinky sock yarn.

I picked up 7 skeins of some lovely grey DK alpaca from UK Alpacas. It was marked down to half price at £4.95 per 100g skein. That'll be enough for a cardigan for me with some left over. Also purchased a skein of their charcoal grey alpaca sock yarn for a pair of socks for DH. (Appears black in the picture.)

And from the Wensleydale Sheepshop stand, I purchased 600g of their DK yarn in a divine shade of blue. It was this blue yarn that attracted me to their stall last year when I came away with the wool for the snowflake sweater. I'm not sure what I'll make yet.

A very nice lady selling knitting machines promised me to mail me two more latch hooks, like this one below. They form the bed of the knitting machine, but their value to me is that they are the best tool I've ever found for picking up dropped stitches (say, if you've made a mistake two rows below and drop down to correct it). The one below I "borrowed" from my mum over 20 years ago.

Some things were too lovely to not handle, even if I didn't buy them afterwards. Even now, I can't believe how close I was to buying sock-weight quiviut from a Danish stall. It was so light and soft! The £37 for a 50g skein is what finally put me off. That and BBAW acting as my conscience. Yarn lust can be very strong.

It is hard not to underestimate the importance of the Knit & Stitch Show for the UK knitting underworld (knitters are very much a hidden underclass). For many stall holders, these shows are their only window to the outside world - there were stalls from artisan wool growers and spinners, as well as small yarn shops, craft shops and embroidery designers. For knitters, it is often their only chance to find specialist yarns or, indeed, any yarn that isn't made by the companies behind Sirdar and Rowan. Ditto for embroiderers. Craft/yarn shops just don't exist like they used to - there might be one in a 50 mile radius.

- Pam (who knitted socks on the way up and back)

PS: DH loved "Derek" the ram...

Mushroom Duxelles

Here is the "Mushroom Duxelles" recipe I promised in my Mushroom Ragout post. It's a type of mushroom pate, very dark and rich. The first time I made it was when I did my big mushroom cookup - word of warning: this uses a shed-load of mushrooms for not much pate. You could easily double the quantities for a dinner party starter.

You will need a food processor.

Mushroom Duxelles

Makes just over 1 cup of pate.


350g Mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
15g dried mushrooms (ceps/porcini, wild mushrooms or whatever you have)
50ml red wine/sherry/marsala
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
5 or 6 grinds of black pepper


  1. First, soak the dried mushrooms: put them in a small container, pour over sufficient boiling water to cover and set aside for at least 20 minutes. (Meanwhile, prepare the other mushrooms.)
  2. Drain the dried mushrooms through a sieve (I use a coffee filter), saving the soaking liquid. The sieve collects any grit.
  3. Lightly chop the dried mushrooms.
  4. In the food processor, combine the sliced mushrooms, dried mushrooms and tarragon. Grind over the black pepper. Process in 5 second bursts until the mushrooms are finely chopped.
  5. Pour the mushroom mixture into a saucepan. Pour over the wine and soaking liquid. Add the soy sauce. Heat gently until the mushrooms begin to water, then stir fry over a high heat until all the water is evaporated.
  6. Spoon into small ramekin dishes and allow to cool. Serve with crackers or melba toast, or use as a sandwich filling.

- Pam

Friday 19 October 2007


My beloved Toy car passed another milestone on Wednesday: 150,000 miles in 6 years 11 months.

Only 12 of those miles were driven before Toy became mine. The nickname comes from my remark to the delivery man from the dealership: "You've brought me a new toy to play with". And it stuck. Here is a side view of one of Toy's relatives. You can understand why he's "The Toy".

Although I'm his regular driver, Toy gets driven by DH most weekends. He's also been driven by my sister on her explorations of Scotland and my friend Stephanie.

Excluding DH, Toy is my favourite travelling companion. Our regular daily commute has never been less than 25 miles each way; at one stage we did regular day trips to Worcester, Birmingham and Bristol (242 miles, 240 miles and 220 miles return respectively). For most of those, it's just been me, Toy and the radio (usually LBC) or books on tape/CD (mainly Terry Pratchett). We've listened to cricket matches and football games, classical concerts and rock CDs.

There have been trips to Scotland, day trips to France, and mad dashes to West Wales. That awful drive to hospital following the ambulance when my FIL died.

For a long time, there was a nose print in the middle of the back window from Sammy-dog, when we took him out to play. That was when I realised the back windows didn't open (it hadn't occured to me, since I rarely carry passengers in the back). Sammy slept with his head on my seat belt and his nose out the driver's window on the way home, half choking me.

There was that nightmare drive on the M25 in January 2003, when it snowed and the roads hadn't been gritted. We'd stayed late at work, so there wasn't too much traffic, but I'd had to chisel the snow out of wing mirror housings as well as scrape off 6 inches of snow. (I wish I'd had a camera that day.) That was the day we hit ice 500 metres from home and, at 5 miles/hour, drifted into the middle of an empty intersection. We were lucky, other roads closed and some were trapped in their cars.

Sure Toy's had the odd "digestive problem" recently and there is an on-going problem with the cowling around the gear selectors (it has one bolt holding it in place which gets lose about once every 20,000 miles making gear changing difficult), but I'm hoping to post the 200,000 mile photo some day.

Thanks Toy!

- Pam

Monday 15 October 2007

First day back at work

and I'm shattered. I felt faint a few times, suffered nausea at the same time and considered throwing up on one of the auditors. If he hadn't caught me, I'd have gone home before 3pm.

Returned to chaos, 103 emails in my work inbox and an "I'm glad you are back" from several of the Site staff. Of my colleagues in the office, well... Excluding my boss, only the girl I sit next to spoke to me for hours until my mate from Project Accounting popped round to see if I was in. Even the finance team at my client were nicer to me than the women I sit with.

- Pam (eventually left 45 minutes early, when I couldn't keep my eyes open)

Thursday 11 October 2007

Mushroom ragout

It's been a busy evening in the PipneyJane household. Yesterday, DH and I did our main supermarket shop for the month and scored 1.5kg of mushrooms for 28p! Result!

They were in the "Reduced Price" aisle, so needed to be cooked relatively quickly. We already had mushrooms in the fridge, but I can't look a cheap mushroom in the mouth; this evening, I turned my kitchen into a mushroom processing factory. First, I cleaned and sliced 2kg of mushrooms (as I said, we already had some). Then I divided them up and started cooking.

I chopped 5 onions, crushed 6 cloves of garlic, added 800g of mushrooms and made base. That should make 4 or 5 containers for the freezer (it's still cooling, so I haven't dished it up yet). Another 350g of mushrooms went towards making "Mushroom Duxelles", a type of pate (recipe later).

The balance of the mushrooms went towards making Mushroom Ragout. This recipe is based on one from Sue Kreitzman which was published in a Sainsbury Supermarket cookbook. I haven't seen the cookbook for at least 3 years, couldn't find it when I looked, so cooked this from memory. It makes 2 pints, for a total of 14 WW points. I usually freeze half for later.

This works well as a sauce over pasta (I use tagliatelli), as a filling for a vegetarian lasagne or as the basis for a quick, creamy mushroom risotto.

Mushroom Ragout

makes 2 pints or approximately 8 servings


Olive oil spray
1 onion, chopped
750g mushrooms, sliced
20g dried porcini mushrooms
1 x 400g/14oz can evaporated semi-skimmed milk (skimmed would be better, but I can't get it)
300ml/1/2 pint skimmed milk
30ml/2 tablespoons brandy
1 heaped tablespoon dried mustard
25g corn flour
25g/1oz freshly grated parmesan cheese
Pepper in a grinder


  1. Start by preparing the dried mushrooms. Put them into a bowl, cover with hot water (approximately 100ml/4 fl oz) and set aside. They will need approximately 15 minutes to reconstitute.
  2. Spray a large saucepan or wok with the olive oil spray and heat.
  3. Gently fry the onions until soft.
  4. Stir in the fresh mushrooms (yes, all of them), pour over the brandy, add a splash of water and gently fry the mushrooms until they make water. Turn up the heat and reduce the mushroom water by approximately two thirds.
  5. Drain the dried mushrooms through a sieve, collecting the liquid in a measuring jug. (I use a coffee filter for this - it catches any grit.) Chop these mushrooms and add them to the saucepan. Measure the mushroom liquid and top it up to 300ml/half a pint with the skimmed milk.
  6. In a small bowl, combine the dried mustard, corn flour and sufficient of the milk/mushroom liquid mix to make a paste. Stir it into the balance of the milk mixture. Ensure it is well combined.
  7. Add the milk mixture and evaporated milk to the mushrooms in the pan. Stir well. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  8. Just before serving, stir in the parmesan cheese and grind over some pepper. Once the cheese has been added, don't reboil the sauce as it may curdle.
- Pam

Wednesday 10 October 2007

Train crashes waiting to happen

I found an article via Boston Gal's Open Wallet and read it with an increasing sense of frustration. It's an article about three well-paid families in middle America. It's Money Magazine's Life and Debt in Suburbia. I'll just quote a few bits, focusing on the last couple covered:-

Like middle-class families everywhere, the Mendells, Steins and Wrights judged their own financial health by how they thought their neighbors were doing. How wrong they were....

When Ernest and Miriam Wright traded in their downtown Philadelphia row house for a four-bedroom on Willow Lane 2½ years ago, they hoped to swap city life for a suburban idyll. No more urban anonymity and late-night howls from the drinkers at the bar next door.

And there was a bonus: The bigger house in the burbs actually cost less than their home in Philly (though they did take out a larger mortgage to pay for it), giving the Wrights a $100,000 cash cushion.

But the price of fitting into their new neighborhood has turned out to be a lot higher than the Wrights bargained for. With a bigger mortgage and higher property taxes, they're spending nearly $1,000 more a month on housing than they did in the city.

Then there are the incidentals of life on Willow Lane. Landscaping cost $1,500. Remodeling the 20-year-old kitchen cost $25,000. They've upgraded to a Subaru Outback from a Volkswagen Jetta.

And next year they'll spend $13,000 to send Jillian to kindergarten at a private school in the more exclusive part of town - even though the town's highly rated public schools are a major draw for Wallingford....

the Wrights, who make a combined $85,000 a year, are coming up a few hundred dollars short every month, sometimes nearly a thousand....

In two years, the Wrights have blown through $60,000 of the money they banked from the sale of the house in Philly ($40,000 is left) and have $7,000 in balances on their credit cards.

Don't you want to shake them and yell, "What planet are you on?". It's obvious they don't have a budget or any idea of where their money is going. OK, the Wrights are still saving for their retirements, but for how much longer? How much longer will they afford to live their affluenza lifestyle?

The advice I'd give them is simple:
  1. Budget. Draw up a budget based on the one existing income alone. Include childcare and travel expenses for when the wife returns to work, college funds for the kids, debt repayment, investments both inside and outside retirement vehicles, maintenance of an emergency fund, any home renovations they plan to have.
  2. Wife's career. When Mrs Wright gets a job, keep to this existing budget and use her income for additional debt repayment, investing and college funds for the kids.
  3. Children's education. Ditch the private school. It is unnecessary - they have excellent local schools - and costs them more than just the school fees; the "keeping up with the Jones' " lifestyle it engenders will kill their finances.
  4. Cars. Start saving now for their next vehicle. They should keep their existing vehicle for as long as possible, but should plan for it to need extensive work within 5 years. They don't need two cars now, so shouldn't buy another.

None of the couples in the article can see the wood for the phantom trees. They think they can spend their way to wealth, without realising that they're just digging themselves into a pit. A bit of foresight and delayed gratification will give them strong financial futures and the opportunity to fulfil their dreams.

- Pam

Tuesday 9 October 2007

So that was in me

I had my gall bladder out last Monday (1st). I'm only just starting to feel really human about it all. If you are squeamish, you might want to skip this post.

What can I say about getting your gall bladder removed? Well, the first part of the day made me feel a bit like a turkey voting for Christmas: on the one hand, you're really not looking forward to the pain afterwards; on the other hand, the earlier in the day they do it, the longer your recovery time before they kick you out. As it was, I was second on the list. That gave me enough time to roll some leftover sock yarn into a couple of balls, cast on and knit about 5 rows. I also read for about an hour (knitting gave me too much time to think). My book-shaped distraction: London 1945 by Maureen Waller.

I'm the typical ex-nurse: I know too much and ask all the strangest questions. I was asking the anaesthetist about the anaesthetic drugs they use these days when he knocked me out (pancuronium is off the menu, suxamethonium is saved for emergencies). I never did get to ask if he was going to use thiopentone first. [pout!] Oh, and Hamilton's anaesthetic machines appear to have disappeared (we used them at RMH and, 10 years later, they were one of my audit clients - how's that for a coincidence).

I have hazy memories about the immediate post-op period. Yes, I was in Recovery with lots of other patients. Yes, they did 15 minute obs like we used to. Although they use machines more (I had a pulse oxymeter on my toe and probably an electronic BP machine). My throat hurt like hell and I could only grunt when the anaesthetist told me he was giving me more pain killers and some Maxalon for any nausea. A specimen jar was tucked into my right hand with "you might want to hold onto those" and they took me back to the ward. I slept for the next 4 hours.

I woke up to find DH at the foot of my bed. He'd popped in on his way home from work because he hadn't received the call to come and collect me. My first response was to thrust the specimen jar in his direction and whisper "Here you are. You wanted them." (Whenever the topic had come up, DH had wanted to see my gallstones.)

We were both surprised there were so many and that they were so large.

They gave me pain-killers to take home as well as a couple of dressings. The pain-killers were a complete disappointment: Voltarol and paracetamol. Neither of them came close to touching the shoulder pain, which was excruciating (and is the main side effect of keyhole surgery - the CO2 they use to pump up your belly irritates your diaphram = pain). I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in agony. Thursday was better, but not brilliant, and on Friday I didn't need painkillers.

DH took my specimen jar full of gallstones into work and, being a typical engineer, dissected one:-

FWIW, a 5p piece is 18mm in diameter.

DH reports that the outside is hard, whilst the inside is crumbly.

- Pam (I married a science geek)