"Respect the earth, live in harmony with nature, spend time with your family, be good to your neighbor, and value the dedication, skill and care of the craftsman."

Christmas Decorating

November 29th, 2017

My husband decorated the Christmas tree. He decided to go with a Santa Claus tree topper holding a Springfest headband, vampire candy cups from Hallowe’en, and a mix of white twinkle lights and multicolored ones. The multicolors are on the lower part of the tree and the white ones on the top.

It’s a different look from our usual. He remarked to the cats that it’s very strange to have a tree in the house.

This is what you get from celebrating a holiday with little attention for 40 years.

Discipline, Automation, and Habits

November 28th, 2017

For decades, I was a classic time management person: long term goals subdivided into milestones and action steps, all adding up to accomplishment and success.

In recent years, I’ve learned about the power of habit. I still set goals, but instead of subdividing into sub-goals, the next step is to identify the habits that will lead to the accomplishment of those goals. I expect to reach my final weight-loss goal this year, because of my no-decision breakfast, my habit of starting every day with 3,000 steps, and my habit of loading half my plate with vegetables. Not because I set goals and subgoals and determined the right action steps.

I’ve been listening to How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb. She talks about automating things — essentially, developing habits — for another reason. When we automate decisions, we free our smart brain from putting its attention onto less important things.

If we had to make decisions about every single thing we do all day, our brains would overheat and cook themselves. Not good. Plus, Caroline wants us to use our smart brains for things like listening with an open mind, overcoming confirmation bias, setting intentions for meetings, and identifying the best ways to work with other people effectively. That’s a lot of stuff most of us don’t do. The automatic part of our brain is always watching for an opportunity to grab stuff away from our smart brain and shunt it into an already-developed habit loop.

Because that automatic part, which also keeps our hearts beating, doesn’t want us to cook our brains.

So the automatic part of the brain recognizes a familiar thought pattern — say, “Trump is a buffoon” or “This is why we need a sales team” — and slips us into that pattern instead of putting serious thought into something we’ve already decided. This is good in some ways, but negative in others.

Webb proposes that we automate as much as we can, so that our decisive smart brain is free for important things. We should settle what we eat, what we wear, which phone calls to answer, when we exercise, whether we study the thing we’re supposed to be learning and at what time, and indeed everything else that could take up time and energy that our smart brain needs for more essential things.

She uses the example (well, I listed a bunch of her examples above, but this is one she focuses on) of answering phone calls from unfamiliar numbers with no caller ID. Each time you decide whether or not to do that, you spend some seconds and a lot of mental energy considering things like your current schedule, who the caller might be, people you think might be calling, the possible consequences of skipping the call… and much more, because your brain is fast. That just takes seconds. But it can take a while for your brain to get back in focus and to full productivity on the thing you were working on before the phone rang.

Instead, just decide once not to answer those calls. Put serious thought into it once and then automate it and never give it any brain power again.

Indeed, multitasking is a myth — except if we can be doing one task requiring our smart brain’s attention and one or many that we have on autopilot. This is obviously true when you think about breathing. It is rare for us to be so engaged with higher brain functions that we forget to breathe. So, if we have successfully automated laundry folding or knitting stockinette stitch or something, we can multitask that particular action and another action that requires attention and thought. Plus breathing, keeping our hearts beating, and whatnot.

My experience with developing habits is that it can take a lot of discipline to establish a habit. Some things can be a no-decision decision, but most things require brain power until they’re established habits… and sometimes even then, because former bad habits are still carved into the synapses, so to speak, waiting for the chance to grab us and slide us down that particular chute. Or snake, if you played Snakes and Ladders rather than Chutes and Ladders.

So, supposing that I take on Discipline for my 2018 Word of the Year, I can simply be using discipline to solidify those habits that still need solidification. I can put some discipline into automating more and freeing up my brain in the future by using a disciplined and intensive approach to undisciplined areas — and automating those areas of my life.

Loss of Self-Discipline?

November 26th, 2017

I’ve been a disciplined person for much of my life… much of the time. I’d say that the tension between discipline and liberty has been an important feature of my adult life. But I think I’ve largely become undisciplined recently.

I don’t have to take care of anyone any more and I can choose to spend my whole weekend knitting while watching Selife. What’s more, I actually do that.

But I might miss the benefits of discipline a little bit.

Granted, I have lost 80 pounds. I have built a business. I’ve taken part in leadership in my community. I put make up on at least half the time.

But I rarely do anything I don’t want to. And I do things that I feel like doing, even when I know they’re not the best choices for my future.

So I think maybe “discipline” will be my Word of the Year for 2018.

It seems like a strange choice for me, frankly. I work hard and constantly strive to improve my self and my life. I seek to lead a joyful and holy life. I have been developing and strengthening good habits like nobody’s business for years now.

So, when it comes time to Buy the 2018 planners (yes, there is a time for that), I begin to think about my goals, resolutions, and plans for the upcoming year. My Word of the Year is often the first step. I ponder the possibilities at the back of my mind between Thanksgiving and Christmas and then do serious thinking and planning between Christmas and New Year’s.

For 2018, I have already determined my fitness and financial goals. Both will require discipline. So I guess this is the right Word of the Year for me in 2018.


November 24th, 2017

#2 son is an accomplished bread baker. He and his girlfriend started sourdough starters, and he shared his with me. I must feed it at 7:00 a.m. and p.m.

It is, his girlfriend says, like having a pet.

But sourdough bread is quite delicious, and can’t be bought locally.

Here’s a collection of recipes to make with the starter or the starter discard.

Thanksgiving 2017

November 23rd, 2017

Great food and 12 hours of family game time.

A small group, a relaxed meal, lots of fun.

Dining Room Week

November 19th, 2017

It’s Dining Room week on the HGP. I made Fiori di Sicilia Spritz Cookies for the freezer. They’re a light, delicate cookie that should freeze well. The flavoring is “Flowers of Sicily.” I also made Cranberry Fudge, which should keep nicely till Thanksgiving.

Holiday Prep:

  • ‘Deadline Week: If homemade gifts are not done, put them away. After Thanksgiving weekend and go buy something. This is not a contest, this is life.” The deadline was for years 12/10, and I plan to keep to that. Give up the week of Thanksgiving? I think not.
  • “Get everything out for Thanksgiving Dinner and prepare everything that can be done ahead of time. Make sure enough dishes are available.” It is definitely time to cook! #2 son is coming in on Tuesday and the Empress, #1 daughter and Nico are coming in tomorrow.
  • “Stock bathrooms and first aid kit.” I don’t know about the first aid kit, but I certainly must get the guest room and the bathroom ready.
  • “Wednesday: Use one of the Freezer Meals, buy a salad at the store…” This sounds like excellent advice.
  • “Friday or Saturday: Have children make/set up Advent Calendar.” I’ll send one home with #1 son for his children.
  • “Set up the Creche area and add figures each day as we read from an Advent book. Continue until Jan. 6 when the wise men come.” I might do that after Turkey Day.

Today I have church and a play with some friends. We’ll be watching Avenue Q.

I also must make the horseradish cranberry relish:

Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish

  • 2 cups whole raw cranberries, washed
  • 1 small onion
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons horseradish from a jar

Grind the raw berries and onion together. (“I use an old-fashioned meat grinder,” says Stamberg. “I’m sure there’s a setting on the food processor that will give you a chunky grind — not a puree.”)

Add everything else and mix.

Put in a plastic container and freeze.

Early Thanksgiving morning, move it from freezer to refrigerator compartment to thaw. (“It should still have some little icy slivers left.”)


I’ll give half to the Empress. I may also make some more cookies, to have some to serve on Monday as well as a couple more kinds for the holidays. But cleaning is probably the highest priority.

Sweater Decisions

November 18th, 2017

The vest is finished, except for blocking. In general, I like it a lot. I will definitely make it again.

However, I don’t like the neckline. The vest is designed to have edges that are finished, more or less, as you knit.

There’s an interesting back neck band which I might try out when I next make this.

It’s also designed to have a sort of triangle of ribbing. I replaced that with a nice cable from the Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible. That could be why the edges just look messy rather than rustic and interesting.

So I picked up the stitches around the neck and made a small ribbing band — small enough to look like the edging on the armholes.

But then the armhole edgings looked messy, too.

Sonow I’m thinking maybe I should do the edging at the armholes as well. I tried the vest on to see how messy it looks while being worn. The answer is — not very.

I think it needs edging, though. I should still be able to finish it today. Then a blocking to get the cable looking its best, and it’ll be ready to wrap.


November 17th, 2017

I have to make my Marketplace decision about next year’s insurance. I paid thousands for health insurance last year and didn’t use it except for dental and vision. On the other hand, I’ve been blogging for the top website on the subject and therefore doing lots of research.

So my choices are these:

  • an HMO type, at about the same price I’ve been paying, with a predictable co-pay for doctor visits and prescriptions
  • a catastrophic coverage type with an $11,000 deductible, which pays nothing until the deductible is met.

Essentially, I can pay thousands for something which I will probably not use — but I might, since I could visit a doctor for $40 — or pay fewer thousands for something which I will almost certainly not use.

Half of all the healthcare expenditures in the U.S. are for about 5% of the people. Those people are typically old people with chronic diseases. I may be old, but I am in rude health and never need medical care. All Americans have about a 20% chance of needing hospital or emergency room care. But since that number aligns with the 5% needing predictable care, my chances of needing a hospital stay are actually very slim.

Now, if I have the bad luck to rend up in the hospital, I couldn’t afford $11,000 for the deductible anyway. I’d be unlikely to need that much care, actually, and if I did I would just have to pay it off gradually for the rest of my life. So the high deductible catastrophic coverage will be $1,000 or so from which I absolutely won’t benefit.

The other option will cost me closer to $3,000. That’s what I paid this year, and I’ve had a couple of dental visits, the most expensive of which came during some sort of waiting period and was not covered, and an eye doctor visit which cost me $600 counting the glasses. No doctor visits. So I might well spend more with that option and still not benefit.

That is, the most likely outcome either way is that I will pay a lot and get nothing much. From that point of view, I’d be better off paying the smaller amount for nothing much.

Imagine that I pay the $100 or so each month and set aside the $150 so I save. I could use those funds for medical care, and probably still spend less than with the HMO option —  but also run the risk of needing care and not having the funds set aside yet.

However, if I choose the HMO option, I might get preventive care, catch something early, and maintain my excellent health until I’m eligible for Medicaid or Medicare or whatever it is, which will actually happen in a mere five years. From that point of view, I’d be choosing between paying a lot for nothing, or rather more for something.

Studies have shown that people who get preventive care feel healthier, even if they are not healthier in fact.

Since I have to pay for it anyway, it might make best sense to pay more, and then make sure to use it.

Is It a Salad or a Cake?

November 15th, 2017

This should be a Vegetable of the Week post, but it has been more than a year since I last had one. It would have to be Vegetable of the Year, or at least Vegetable of the Undefined Months-long Time Period.

This is beet. A Chiogga beet, specifically. Courtesy of Blue Apron. It became a pickle — or at least part of it did, because no way could my husband and I eat a whole pickled beet.

We used to grow these pretty vegetables, and I put them into salads, because you always can, right? I once had an interesting conversation about salads with a group of people who had determined that anything could be a salad if it had three ingredients.

This doesn’t make sense, of course, but it did get us discussing all the thing people call a salad.I feel as though it has to involve fresh produce, but that doesn’t explain pasta salad, Jell-O salad, tuna fish salad, egg salad, or even canned fruit and vegetable salads.

What the heck is a salad? Research suggests that it is the dressing that makes the salad, and the cut up ingredients. Not the number of ingredients, but the cut up ingredients and the dressing. Interesting, eh?

In my search for something interesting to make with half a beet, I discovered Chocolate Beet Cake. Having just been ruminating on the salad issue, I was reminded of the Craftsy class I saw in which a German baker explained the difference between a cake and a torte by saying that a cake had just one or two ingredients.

The Little Girl agreed. The one ingredient in a cake could, she thought, be cake.

So would a beet be better in a cake or in a salad?

This is the big question.

Amount Per

Calories 59
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0.2 g 0%
Saturated fat 0 g 0%
Polyunsaturated fat 0.1 g
Monounsaturated fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Sodium 106 mg 4%
Potassium 442 mg 12%
Total Carbohydrate 13 g 4%
Dietary fiber 3.8 g 15%
Sugar 9 g
Protein 2.2 g 4%
Vitamin A 0% Vitamin C 11%
Calcium 2% Iron 6%
Vitamin D 0% Vitamin B-6 5%
Vitamin B-12 0% Magnesium 7%

Beets have plenty of fiber, and a good amount of protein for a vegetable. They’re chock full of vitamins and minerals, and they also have betaine, a substance that protects our cells from stress.

Maybe some Red Flannel Hash, or Beetroot Pudding?

Chicken hash with potatoes, beets, and kale. Delicious, in spite of the beets, which essentially taste like dirt.

Beet and carrot salad alongside quesadillas.

HGP Attic Week

November 12th, 2017

Once again — or maybe still — I am not feeling well. Fortunately, it was a perfect day to stay on the sofa with a nice warm blanket and a Murdoch Mysteries marathon and Christmas knitting.

Above, the front of #2 son’s vest lies atop the back. I’ve reached the under-arm bind off rows. I should finish it this week if all goes well.

The attic is the cleaning area on the Holiday Grand Plan for this week. We have a little attic but we never use it, so I can clean the rest of my house, which has gotten pretty messy over the past few weeks.

Here are the other things we should do:

Holiday Prep

  • Make one batch of Holiday Goodies.
  • Make one extra meal for freezer again labeled HOLIDAY MEAL.
  • Buy two canned food items from menus (get 2 of each item, one to use and one to donate to food drive).
  • Buy 1/8th of TO BUY gifts. Save all receipts, note return policy before buying. Ask for gift boxes.
  • Wrap and label packages. If needing to ship, get some shipping boxes now and store packages in them.
  • Work at least 1 hour a day on homemade gifts.
  • Make place cards.
  • Make 3×5 card for each serving dish, list what goes in it, garnish, how much before dinner can it go in and serving silverware used with it; tape it to edge of dish.
  • Be sure all dishes are clean!
  • Borrow or buy any additional serving dishes needed.
  • Buy reusable foil bakeware from party paper place.
  • Are linens clean and ready? Unfold and verify that all spots can be hidden by centerpiece.
  • Work on centerpiece.

I’m not planning to make more cookies ahead of time. I have two kinds of drop cookies and a simple cake in the freezer, but I’ll wait and bake the weekend before Christmas.

Here are some things I’m thinking of making:

I’ve bought all my Christmas presents and all the canned goods I’ll need. Wrapping gifts must be done, and of course the Thanksgiving preparations — including buying the turkey and baking the desserts!

I think it’ll take more than an hour a day to get the handmade presents done.

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