Thursday, January 26, 2006

Me vs home heating bills

It's a battle to the meter-reading date, that's what it is. Like many Oklahomans, we have natural gas heat (and stovetop and oven and hot water heater) and electric other stuff. Like many folks this winter, a few weeks ago we received our first semi-astronomical home heating bill of this scarily expensive winter. I sure don't want to see a bill for that many dollars again. The electric bill and natural gas bill had both nearly doubled. The battle is on, I said.

Layers: ON! Son2 and I are home most of the day, most days, so the thermostat is set at a comfortable temperature. That is, comfortable if I'm wearing 2-3 layers of clothes (turtleneck, dress, maybe big shirt) and am active (working in kitchen, doing chores, etc.). The kids seem oblivious, but I make them wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, and socks at home. When I'm sitting down for a bit, even with layers I feel a bit cool. So...

Everyone uses lap blankets if they're sitting down anywhere in the evening or on a cloudy day or working on the computer/knitting/reading/etc for a long while. Dear husband and I might even put blankets over our shoulders after the kids are in bed, when...

The thermostat gets set quite low for overnight (as in: shoulders uncovered? brrr!). The thermostat is at the top of an open staircase and cathedral ceiling. Up there it's set at 63-64F for overnight; 68F for daytime; 65F from the kids' bedtime until later evening. One can only imagine what temperature it is down at the house's main level, where...

The main-level floor in the common areas is finished concrete (the foundation, actually). That's a bit cold in winter, you know. So everyone wears socks all the time, and dear husband and I definitely wear shoes or slippers as well.

Everyone has their winter blankets for their bed, and flannel sheets. The kids wear thermal pajamas. When it's especially cold and/or windy outside (rare for us so far this winter), and the house is losing heat more rapidly, the thought crosses my mind that nightcaps are not a bad idea at all.

I love sunny days!! When it's sunny, I take full advantage of the heat our downstairs sunroom and upstairs little sunny room pump into the house in the afternoon. I also open all of the blinds and let as much sunlight into the house as possible...

And keep closets and cupboards closed all the time. And keep our bedroom, at the top of our open staircase/cathedral ceiling, closed during the day to avoid heating that room unnecessarily with ambient heat.

I strategically choose when to (a) use the gas oven and (b) use the electric clothes dryer, because they heat the house. Typically I try to dry clothes in mid-morning, when I'm a bit cold; use the oven by noon or before dinner; and dry clothes in the evening.

Cold plates cool off dinner pretty quickly, so we're heating our plates in the microwave if the oven is not warm! I try to use the microwave oven for at least some cooking and reheating. I think I need to get out the crockpot and do some dinners in that.

As for the water heater, we have always used cold water for most clothes washer cycles, and the new dishwasher is fairly frugal with hot water and electricity (we don't use the heated dry cycle).

To warm up from the inside, I eventually get moving and do chores if I get cold, and I try to remember to make a pot of hot tea for the afternoon and another for the evening. My nighttime chocolate treat is now a cup of instant hot cocoa!

I'm contemplating ways to rig a clothesline in the sunroom. Sunlight is cheaper than the clothes dryer...

I looked up how to read the gas meter, and tried it. I think we're wayyyy below last month's use, and the prices has only gone up a small(er) amount. (The gas company's Web site lists the current month's cost we'll be charged.) That's if I read the meter correctly. We shall see.

Time to read the electric meter, too, and see how that's going. That would be mostly: the heat pump (for heat on mild-yet-cool/cloudy days), the clothes washer and dryer, the fridge, the freezer, computers, and lighting (though we switched almost every bulb that's on for more than a few minutes at a time to compact fluorescents in the fall).

As I'm writing this, I am wearing a turtleneck, a denim dress, wool socks and shoes; I'm sitting in the upstairs loft at my computer with a heavy lap blanket over my lap and legs, and a fleece shawl over my neck, back, and arms; I'm drinking hot tea; and I'm comfortable. When I go downstairs to watch a little TV and knit for a bit, I'll leave this blanket and shawl at my office chair, fill up my mug with more hot tea, grab a down lap blanket for my legs, and make a cozy nest on the sofa for an hour or two.

With all of this effort, I am very grateful that our winter has been quite mild so far. I think with a more normal winter our indoor attire would include hats, fingerless gloves, and vests or pullover sweaters, plus maybe I'd have bought long underwear for myself. Or at least wool- or silk-blend tights...

WOOHOO! I just checked the gas company's Web site; they've read our meter and we dropped from 10.3 Mcf delivered (billed this month) to just 4.1 Mcf delivered (to be billed shortly)!!! Woohoo!!

Starry, starry nights

On Tuesday morning I hosted a Starry Nights activities get-together for my MOMS Club chapter. I did a bit of online research and looked through my own books. Ultimately I figured that besides the fun of simply looking at stars and the moon on winter evenings, any child who can recognize a few letters or numbers can learn two simple constellations or parts of constellations in our winter sky. AND if we moms learn them too, it will help us at the MC star party evening in February!

I think the best starter constellations for all ages are the lazy W of the constellation Cassiopeia (it's her throne, cast into the night sky for spite by a Greek/Roman god) and, in winter and spring, the row of three stars that marks Orion's belt.

Then you can pick out the stars that mark Orion's two shoulders and two knees, and also the row of stars-and-fuzzy-nebula that make Orion the Hunter's sword, hanging from his belt. A starry connect-the-dots or shape-finding game, that's what this is!

::: Online Resources :::

= What Orion and Cassiopeia Look Like =

Orion chart and's Orion page
Cassiopeia chart and Cassiopeia among the circumpolar (northern) stars

= Constellations Game =

Pictures in the Night Sky -- constellation games for kids! The COOLEST, simplest online night sky game! Thank you, Australia.

= Just Starting Out =

Earth & Sky's Getting Started info is excellent
Stardate, from the University of Texas McDonald Observatory

= What to See Right Now =

Sky and Telescope has a free downloadable PDF, "Getting Started in Astronomy," with two-month star charts and a map of the moon for binoculars fun (if I remember).
Tonight's sky from Earth & Sky
This week's sky almanac from Earth & Sky
Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar
This week's sky at a glance from Sky & Telescope includes this:
Saturday, January 28
This week, make it a point to teach someone the brightest constellation in the sky: Orion, shining high in the southeast these evenings. In its middle is the easy-to-recognize three-star row of Orion's Belt. The Belt points down lower left to brilliant Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest star of Canis Major.
Also, do a Google on "stargazing" or "night sky" or "star charts" to get lots of good info!

::: Books :::

  • Audubon First Field Guide: Night Sky (2005) -- excellent! I borrowed this kids' books from the library and thought it was so good I'd love to have it for our home library.

  • I highly recommend the following three books I have had for a long time, and there are lots more to be found.

  • 365 Starry Nights: An Introduction to Astronomy for Every Night of the Year, by Chet Raymo (Fireside, 1990), would be the first one for anyone to get, in my opinion. On any day of the year, turn to that date's page and there's something great to learn about the night sky. Or browse through the current week and month, too. Great format, nice writing style, perfect for beginners and yet lots of info for everyone.

  • Stars and Planets: The Sierra Club Guide to Sky Watching and Direction Finding, by W.S. Kals (Sierra Club Books, 1990). Great orientation to the night sky and how to find what where.

  • North Star to Southern Cross, by Will Kyselka (University of Hawaii Press, 1976). I bought this many years ago and really like it.

  • Finally, I gave this away as a gift once and really wish I still had a copy.

  • The Stars: A New Way to See Them, by H.A. Rey (Houghton Mifflin, 1976). It's by the author of the Curious George books! His book Find the Constellations (Houghton Mifflin, 1976) is geared more for beginners and is also great.

  • On our next clear evening I'm going to show my sons Orion and Cassiopeia, and look for the fuzzy spot in Orion's sword (that's the Orion Nebula, where stars are being born and lighting the nebula from within!). Go forth and do likewise, y'all.

    Starry blessings!
    ...once upon a time I ran an environmental education center's bookstore...

    Thursday, January 19, 2006

    The Manolo, is to love

    Thank you, thank you, Julie D. of Happy Catholic for pointing me to...

    Manolo's Shoe Blog: Shoes, Fashion, Celebrity, and Manolo!

    HiLARious! Just the thing for me this week!

    Monday, January 16, 2006

    Home coffee roasting -- wow

    We had a wonderful Saturday afternoon and evening at the home of some friends, and got to know them a bit better. One of the wonderful things was being introduced to home coffee roasting!

    Dear husband and I love dark-roasted good coffee, which sometimes is not the affordable option. I was shown their little coffee roaster and given a little introduction to costs (very affordable after an initial small investment in the roaster) and how they fold that into their daily (weekly) life.

    Their roaster was having some problems, so my friend ground some other coffee beans with her hand-crank grinder (memories of a college friend's grinder and much-enjoyed coffee...) and made delicious coffee!

    Oh my, what a great idea. This afternoon dear husband found and sent me an interesting site,, with a page of info on home coffee roasting.

    My friend recommends Sweet Maria's for home coffee roasting beans, supplies, and how-tos. Hmmmmmmm. (Yummmm!)

    Ten reasons why you should never accept/buy a diamond ring, or, why I do a sarcastic sing-along with the deBeers TV ads

    Ten reasons why you should never accept a diamond ring

    If I ever end up getting a ring with precious or semi-precious stones, it will NOT have diamonds unless they've been in the family. I knew about a lot but not all of these ten reasons not to get sucked into the international diamond price-fixing-for-a-hunk-of-carbon monopoly.

    You've probably never been subjected to my sarcastic impromptu sing-along to the old deBeers diamond TV ads (da-duh-da-duh becomes O-help-us-preserve-our-priiiices...). My husband has, for years, and today he sent me the ten reasons link, LOL.

    If I ever get a ring with stones, it'll have tiny rubies, emeralds, and sapphires in a channel all the way around. Inexpensive and I love it.

    Please don't be offended about your engagement ring. I still like to look. Cut precious stones are still amazing objects.

    Saturday, January 07, 2006

    Office reorganization photos

    My office loft last Monday afternoon -- a composite shot.
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    I'd already moved a few things from the floor in the foreground and put some boxes below the state map for sorting before I remembered to take some photos. Photos are good; they help one see change and, one hopes, progress!

    My office this afternoon from about the same location.
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    My first sorting station -- for the objects, not papers, throughout the office.
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    The smaller box on the left is for stuff for "Elsewhere". Clearly I didn't find a lot to "Give Away". Hmmm. But I didn't take a picture of the rather larger pile of stuff for "Trash".

    My power paper sorting station.
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    First, from the pile on the right into the boxes; then, from the boxes into the piles on the shelves. These shelves are new (to me), and very much needed.

    I'm pretty sure these shelves will be for "active" papers, probably with lots of trays. Before I get to that point, though, I need to look up how long to keep financial records, spend some extended time with a shredder and a recycling bin, set up anew the filing in the file cabinets, and put archive files in a file box for storage.

    My desk area.
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    It's wonderfully clear, but that's in part because my desktop objets d'clutter are still in the "Keep" box.

    Thank you, "Mission: Organization", for continued inspiration that I can indeed do this even when I thought it was just too much to ever tackle.

    Knitting update

    My very own to-go cup sleeve -- with cheery, wild Squiggle knit into the top several rows.
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    I keep this in my purse for those opportunities to use it instead of the boring paper sleeves for coffee to-go cups. It's a sock cuff, more or less.

    Three of my four or five brand-new, knit-by-me, chunky, hand-sized dishcloths. These have all been used and washed several times over the last week or two.
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    In the middle: my first DW dishcloth. On the left: my second DW dishcloth in my favored Christmas/winter colors -- displaying the left half which has cool variations in colors; the right half has weird pooling, and I wish it'd gone one way or the other. On the right: my first of several bee stitch dishcloths in the same yarn (Peaches and Cream 100 percent cotton).

    The hat too small for anyone.
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    Shall be frogged back to the crown and made bigger. Next time, must trust my gut feeling more than the math (checked and rechecked multiple times). But I like the patterning I came up with!

    A ruffle for a sock! I did this yesterday.
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    Now that I have figured out how to knit a small-circumference in-the-round thing on a single circular needle, I can get going on these socks for one of my young nieces. Many weeks ago I had cast on the 136 stitches needed to start with the ruffle, but hadn't yet figured out the Magic Loop technique I was planning to use, so it stalled. I inquired about this ruffle edge after a Knitlist mention. The subsequent ribbing is k3p2 to set up for the pattern repeat. After a half-inch or so of the ribbing, I'll get going on the actual pattern (Chutes and Ladders from Six Sox Knitalong).

    It feels good to get past the mental-block parts of various projects. Next: to park the toe of Sock the First and then cast on for Sock the Second of the Harry Potter socks for Son1.

    Thursday, January 05, 2006

    12th day of Christmas, and 5th of the new year

    Christmas Season Day 12:

    Tonight is our annual Twelfth Night party, yay! The house is in pretty good shape. It needs to be decluttered of recycling (all the shipping boxes!) and garbage (wrapping paper! decluttering junk!), and I will put out of sight or put away the Christmas storage boxes, homeschooling and art stuff, and light clutter on horizontal surfaces. The kitchen and dining area just need to be set up for hospitality. The boys will clean the bathroom this afternoon.

    Thanks to a good hour of work last night with the boys, the kids' playroom is clean, vacuumed, and has several fun, sturdy toys out and the rest in the closet, barricaded with the table!, ready for the hordes to descend tonight. Kids at an all-ages party are less supervised than kids at a playgroup, let's say. Last year was better, though.

    As for food, I am taking it easy this year. Guests are encouraged to bring something to eat or drink, so I'm providing some easy, fun basics. We'll have my crockpot party meatballs, homemade Cuban bread, black-eyed pea salad if I find nice bell peppers, chips and salsa and bean dip, lots of fresh vegetables and ranch dip, maybe snack mix, soda and water and cranberry juice and beer and wine (maybe I'll set up mulled wine, maybe not), and a homemade flourless chocolate cake. All of that is very easy to do.

    IF and only if everything is going smoothly by early afternoon, I'll mix up a batch of molasses crinkle cookies and let the boys make cookies this afternoon after cleaning the bathroom. Son1 is competent to handle the oven and hot cookie sheets; both boys love scooping the cookie dough, especially since they can try out our new Pampered Chef mini scoop. The cookies are a maybe, though. I would never consider it if I had to do it by myself, and that's the truth.

    We're ready to finish out the Christmas season with a houseful of friends, food, laughter, good conversation, and all that good stuff.

    New Year Day 5:

    I showed a friend the in-the-midst-of-deep-reorganizing office and she wasn't suitably impressed. I guess it just looked differently cluttered to the uninformed eye (for now). I, on the other hand, see a clear and vacuumed floor; the desk and shelves (some new!) in great new locations; an in-the-midst paper sorting station; boxes of sorted objects ("keep," "give away," "elsewhere"); a pile of trash; a set of boxes of already-sorted resources for major projects; grocery bags of papers to be sorted; and, hidden to the eye, four file drawers to be emptied and readied for at least some of those papers.

    My main office (and household management) issue is paper accumulation, can you tell?!? I did discover that there was an underlying organization that was pretty good, covered by a layer of "where do I put THIS?" papers that got out of control quickly. That's the obvious thing to tackle, and I need workable ways to sort/organize active papers and to file them when it's time.

    I'll keep working on the office and the papers through the weekend, but not today.

    Tuesday, January 03, 2006

    Hat knitting gone loopy, and office cleanout

    Two things I've learned already in the new year: Magic Loop is very helpful for hats, and it IS possible to muck out and rearrange my office space in one day even with several years of paper clutter amidst everything.

    Re. the office, I'll post pictures when the Mission: Organization-style sorting boxes are gone, but baby, it's looking good! I need to look up how long to keep various types of financial records, and then it might be a good thing to get a paper shredder at last. I'm excited about how well this is going!

    About the hat, this is the top-down fair-isle hat I started for myself. First things first: don't believe gauge and math. This hat is far too small for me. I just don't want to rip it out, so it's going to be a gift for a child in the family. Too bad, 'cause I like how it's turning out and I was inventing something I planned for me. But that's okay. Pictures later on that, too.

    Anyway, I was using four (really five) double-pointed needles at first, until the top got big enough that I added two more dpns. That was annoying because of how it was divided up, so I added two more dpns. That would be EIGHT dpns in the hat! It was easier to knit, but harder to stuff in the zip bag for my purse.

    So... last Thursday when I got together with Emily we hit a great knitting/yarn shop in her area and I bought the appropriate needle size of a 40-inch circular needle. For the next couple of days I winged it on this Magic Loop thing, thinking it was enough to pull out a loop of cable on the far side of the knitting. I'm sorry, that was just plain tough to knit! I finally did some more research online, reading the descriptions carefully, and figured out that it's really the magic pair of loops -- at least once you start knitting a round. Wheee! So much easier now, and therefore faster. Yay!

    Even though we seem to be having a non-winter here in Oklahoma, a wildfire-warmth-and-wind winter, I hold out hope for at least an ice storm or a good freeze before spring. Therefore I plan to use my Magic Loop knowledge next in another project: making mittens for the boys and me. I got the yarn at the aforementioned yarn shop, and I want to use the alternating-yarn method with two different jewel colors to make the mittens thicker and more wind- and snow-resistant. We'll see. For now, I have a hat to finish.

    And piles of papers to sort!