The Hard Times Chronicle

If you haven’t yet done so, you should read Joanna Ossinger’s piece titled “Does the Downturn Make You Sick? An Ode to My Dad”1. It was so familiar, I was wondering if I had written it myself.

My Dad was a pipefitter at Norfolk Shipbuilding & Drydock, never made more than $19,000 a year and built the house I grew up in. It took him three years, working as long as six or seven hours every weekday evening after he was done with his day job and all day Saturday. My Mom was a seamstress — a damn fine one, I might add.

We had one of those families where Dad came home every Friday and traded Mom his paycheck for some cash. Mom paid all the bills and balanced the checkbook. She went to great lengths to save a penny wherever she could. When she felt she had accumulated an extra $50 we didn’t need, she went to the bank and bought a CD. My dad would often tease her because what she was doing seemed so miniscule in the grand schema of things. She was in her 70’s before she ever knew what it felt like to own a brand new car.

When my Dad passed away in 2001, he left my Mom with no debt and somewhere in the neighborhood of $240,000 in assets. As we saw her expenses increase due to dementia and a stroke that left her unable to walk without assistance, I couldn’t help but think of all the times she carted that $50 to the bank and said “this is so you and your brothers won’t have to take care of us when we get old”.

My Mom died last year at the young age of 92 and still had something left over to leave to her kids. Just goes to show that if you live smart, spend smart and save smart… things have a way of working out.



Oh my gosh… there’s a journalist who actually has a clue. According to Sebastian Mallaby1:

The claim that the financial crisis reflects Bush-McCain deregulation is not only nonsense. It is the sort of nonsense that could matter.

First, deregulation occurred in 19993 during the Clinton administration. Second, deregulation should have been a good thing. Third, deregulation and lack of oversight are not the same thing — legalizing hand guns does not give anyone the right to go out and murder someone. Fourth, every effort to exercise oversight over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac failed to gain traction in Congress.

There are a few people who should be charged with committing fraud: they knowingly lied when they said “there is no problem”. There are a few others who at least deserve to be fired because of their stupidity and greed. And there is a whole host of politicians who should be terribly ashamed for not having the guts to go against their party and scream and yell until somebody listened.

One of my favorite movies is “The American President”. When I think about this economic mess we’re in and the impact it’s having on the election, I can’t help but recall what Rothschild (Michael J. Fox) says to Shepherd (Michael Douglas) in light of Shepherd’s waning popularity:

People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.2

My biggest fear is that November 4 is going to leave most of us with an unexpected thirst.


The Obama-Ayers Connection

They lived in the same neighborhood. Who cares?

They met at a luncheon meeting. Who cares?

They were both members of a couple of note-worthy organizations. Who cares?

What I want to know is how in the #$%&! did a founding member of the Weather Underground Organization1 weasel his way into the position of Distinguished Professor at the University of Chicago where he has an enormous opportunity to shape the minds of young adults? We’re talking about a guy who as late as 2001 refused to believe he was a terrorist:

The reason we weren’t terrorists is because we did not commit random acts of terror against people. Terrorism was what was being practiced in the countryside of Vietnam by the United States.2

Granted there are 100’s of definitions for the word terrorism, but I can’t find a single one that doesn’t apply to William Ayers:

  • The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes; the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization; a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government3
  • The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons4
  • The calculated use of violence (or the threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature; this is done through intimidation or coercion or instilling fear5
  • The unlawful use or threat of violence esp. against the state or the public as a politically motivated means of attack or coercion6

Exactly what part of “terrorism” does William Ayers not understand?
To make matters worse, this madman has published several books dealing with what I deem to be some pretty radical methods of teaching and influencing young people. He wraps it up, slaps a bow on it and calls it educational and social reform.
Note to self: Do not allow my nieces and nephews send any of their kids to college in Illinois. They don’t grow them too smart in that part of the country.


3 Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. (accessed: October 06, 2008)
4 The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. (accessed: October 06, 2008)
5 WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University. (accessed: October 06, 2008)
6 Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law. Merriam-Webster, Inc. (accessed: October 06, 2008)

Aye, Nay & Present

“You voted with insert-name-here…”
“Did not.”
“Did too.”
“Did not.”
“Tastes great.”
“Less filling.”

So exactly what do the Senate voting records1 look like? For the period beginning January 6, 2005 and ending October 1, 2008:

  • Of the 574 votes in which Biden, McCain and Obama voted:
      They all cast the same vote 204 times (35.54%).
      Biden and McCain voted opposite Obama 31 times (5.4%).
      Biden and Obama voted opposite McCain 318 times (55.4%).
      McCain and Obama voted opposite Biden 21 times (3.66%).
  • Of the 615 votes in which McCain and Obama voted, McCain and Obama cast the same vote 250 times. (40.65%)


Making a mountain out of a molehill

I just watched a television ad aired by DividedWeFail.org1 that said:

1.85 million Americans go bankrupt due to medical bills in one year.

I can only deduce one fact from that statement: either AARP or U.S Courts2 need to fire their editors and proof-readers. Surely there’s no way either of those organizations could have deliberately lied with an important election pending in November.

Here’s my problem: The bankruptcy statistics published by U. S. Courts just don’t match that number that’s being touted by

Here’s the facts: As of 2005, there are three types of bankruptcies:

  • Chapter 11 is primarily limited to a business restructuring, but also open to individuals with unsecured debt (like credit cards) exceeding $336,900 or secured debt (like mortgages) exceeding $1,010,650. While it’s possible that some Chapter 11 filings are due to medical expenses, these filings make up a tiny percentage of annual bankruptcy filings (well below 1% in 2006).
  • Chapter 13 is primarily for individuals who are behind on their loan payments. When you file for this type of bankruptcy, you get an opportunity to pay down your debt and keep your assets.
  • Chapter 7 is for business or individuals and results in liquidation of assets. This type of bankruptcy is where large medical expenses fall.

With the exception of 2005 when Chapter 7 filings spiked to a whopping 1,631,011, the number of filings has never exceeded 1.2 million for any year since 1990, with the number of filings for 2007 being about 1/3 of what’s being reported by

According to a study done by Harvard3, approximately one-half of the 1.4 million filings in 2001 were due to illness and medical bills. But the more interesting statement with respect to the Harvard study was this:

The study estimates that medical bankruptcies affect about 2 million Americans annually — counting debtors and their dependents, including about 700,000 children.

Now wait a cotton-pickin’ minute… it’s all beginning to make sense. If a married man with eight children filed for bankruptcy because of medical expenses, would you think I was painting an accurate picture if I said “10 people went bankrupt due to medical bills”? Sure there were 8 kids affected — and that’s sad… but to say those 8 kids went bankrupt is simply inaccurate because their future credit rating is neither related to nor affected by their parents’ bankruptcy.

If you’re thinking straight, you’d tell me I was a blooming idiot. But the sad fact is that millions of misinformed voters will be quoting between now and election day without ever knowing they’ve been duped. Thank you AARP — once again you’ve mangled the truth beyond recognition.


Continue reading

How do you spend your dash?

Every once in a while I come across a phrase or story or poem that just sends a jolt through me. The Dash by Linda Ellis is at the top of my list.

Read The Dash:

A bit of advice for Governor Palin

As well as you did in last night’s debate, there was one particular area where you could have really excelled. You have a gift for being able to explain each candidate’s policies in terms that Main Street America will understand, but you allowed a golden opportunity to just slip right through your fingers. Case and point:

  • Joe works for An Itsy-Bitsy Company and pays $2000 a year in federal taxes.
  • An Itsy-Bitsy Company does not provide health insurance for Joe.
  • Mary works for A Big Conglomerate and pays $1000 a year in federal taxes.
  • A Big Conglomerate provides health insurance for Mary who has a modest amount deducted from her paycheck to help defray the cost of that insurance.
  • The American Medical Association1 estimates that the government is giving more than $125 billion — between $1500 and $2500 per employee — in tax breaks to employers who offer health insurance.

Huh? My calculator says that at least 25% of Joe’s tax dollars are being used to subsidize Mary’s health insurance — a benefit to which Joe is neither entitled nor able to pay for out of his own pocket.

So which candidate’s plan is going to give Joe the most control over his health coverage and ease the financial burden of providing for his family?

Say what? Don’t tell me… tell Joe. And keep telling him over and over until he gets it, because November 4 is going to change his life. It’s up to him as to whether that change is going to be good or bad.


How do I determine the right setting on the tension dial?

Your knitting machine manual probably includes a chart or two to use as a guide when setting the dial on the tension mast. But if your manual is like mine, those guidelines are based on the size the yarn and do not take the type of fiber into account. Obviously, a slick yarn will move through the tension dial much easier than a fuzzy, sticky yarn like mohair. To get the dial just right, try this trick…

  1. Set the tension dial for the tightest possible tension.
  2. Thread the tension mast as directed for your machine, but don’t thread the carriage.
  3. Pull the end of the yarn straight down toward the needle bed until it’s about 6 or 8 inches above the bed. Attach a plastic clothes pin to the end of the yarn.
  4. Loosen the tension dial one click at a time until the weight of the clothes pin pulls the yarn freely through the mast — the clothes pin will often fall to the floor.
  5. Now, tighten the tension dial one click. This should result in the appropriate setting for that particular yarn.
  6. If the yarn is slick and fine, you may find that the tightest tension setting is too loose. Try wrapping the yarn around the tension dial twice; on the SK-155, you can also try wrapping the yarn several times around the bar next to the tension dial before wrapping the tension dial itself.
  7. If the yarn is thick and fuzzy, you may find that the loosest tension setting is too tight. Try threading the tension mast without wrapping the yarn around the tension dial at all.

Gauge Trouble?

So you have a pattern, you have some really yummy yarn that you know would just look fabulous… but no matter how hard you try, you just can’t match the gauge in the pattern.

Or… you found the most wonderful pattern for a hand-knit sweater that you want to make on your knitting machine where even trying to match the HK gauge is probably a waste of time.

These can be very frustrating circumstances, but they’re easily overcome if you understand gauge and the very simple math involved in redrafting a pattern to work with your yarn and your style of knitting.

I believe gauge is the most important knitting concept because it is the sole principal that determines whether a knitted item will be the right size when it is finished. For an afghan, you have a bit of leeway in that a slightly smaller or slightly larger afghan is still acceptable. For a sweater however, a mere 1/8″ inch difference between the pattern gauge and your knitting gauge is enough to cause an improper fit.

If you’ve always believed that knitting a swatch is a waste of yarn, think again… you’ll waste a lot more yarn knitting an entire sweater that ends up being 3″ too small.

To guarantee a good fit, it’s important that you follow a few simple steps before you start knitting your item:

  • Knit a swatch that’s at least 5 inches wide and 6 inches long. The larger your swatch, the more accurate your gauge calculation will be.
  • Block and finish the swatch exactly as you will block and finish the knitted article. If you are going to wash and dry the sweater, you must also wash and dry the swatch before taking your gauge measurement.
  • Measure the swatch to determine gauge after blocking and finishing.

Swatch Hints

  • If you’re working with a particular yarn for the first time and can’t approximate the number of stitches and rows required for your 5 x 7 swatch, try 60 stitches by 80 rows for fine yarns, 40 stitches by 60 rows for medium yarns and 20 stitches by 30 rows for bulky yarns.
  • Different types of stitches — stockinette, rib, lace, cables and others — will have different gauges. If the pattern specifies the gauge for stockinette, your swatch should also be stockinette. Otherwise, your swatchshould incorporate the stitches used in the pattern.
  • Do not include the edges when you measure your swatch because they may distort your measurements.
  • Always use a knitting ruler or high-quality metal ruler to measure your swatch. Inexpensive wooden and plastic rulers are often inaccurate and tape measures have been known to stretch and shrink with the weather. I use a metal drafting ruler that is known to provide accurate measurements to the nearest 1/16″.
  • If you’re using a very heavy yarn, you may want to knit a longer swatch and let it hang from a clothes hanger overnight. Gravity will sometimes cause knitted garments to stretch in length over the course of time.
    Always take measurements to the nearest 1/16″.

My Favorite Method For Knitting A Swatch

  • Cast on 20 (40,60) stitches with the main yarn and knit 10 (15,20) rows.
  • Knit one or two rows of a constrasting yarn that is the same size and fiber content as the main yarn.
  • Knit 15 (30,40) rows in the main yarn.
  • On the next row, mark the fifth stitch from each edge with a small length of constrasting yarn.
  • Knit 15 (30,40) rows in the main yarn.
  • Knit one or two rows of constrasting yarn.
  • Knit 10 (15,20) rows in the main yarn.
  • After blocking and finishing my swatch, I measure between the contrasting rows to obtain rows per inch and between the markers to obtain stitches per inch. This avoids use of the edge stitches and usually results in a more accurate measurement.

Calculating The Gauge Of Your Swatch

The number of stitches ÷ the width of the swatch = stitches per inch:

If the distance between the marker stitches on my swatch is 5″ and there are 20 stitches between the markers, my stitch gauge is 4 st = 1″: 20 ÷ 5 = 4.

The number of rows ÷ the length of the swatch = rows per inch:

If the distance between the contrasting rows on my swatch is 5″ and there are 30 rows between sthe markers, my row gauge is 6 r = 1″: 30 ÷ 5 = 6.

I Can’t Get Gauge… Now What?

You already know from the explanation above that gauge is merely a means of making sure a knitted article ends up being a particular size. So when you’re having trouble getting gauge or contemplating using a substitute yarn, it helps to think of things in terms of inches instead of stitches and rows.

Let’s assume that my favorite v-neck pullover pattern calls for a medium weight yarn that yields 20 stitches and 24 rows over 4″ (or 10 cm). I can’t obtain the recommended yarn, but I have another yummy yarn in my stash that I think would be just fabulous. After knitting, blocking and finishing my swatch, I learn that I get 18 stitches and 21 rows over 4″. I might be able to match the gauge more closely by changing my needle size, but I’ve decided I really like the way the swatch feels as it is and I don’t want to give up a softer fabric by switching to smaller needles. So I grab the calculator and start writing my own version of the pattern to work with my yarn and my gauge.

Determining The Number of Stitches to Cast On

First, I need to know how wide the item is supposed to be on the needles. If the pattern contains a schematic that gives me the width, I’m all set. If the pattern gives me gauge and the number of stitches to cast on, I can calculate the width as:

# stitches ÷ stitches per inch = width

In my case, my pattern only says I need to cast on 88 stitches for the front of the sweater… so I need to figure out how wide the piece is supposed to be:

20 ÷ 4 = 5 stitches per inch
88 stitches ÷ 5 stitches per inch = 17.6″

Now that I know the width, I can figure out how many stitches I need to cast on to make the front of my sweater the same size as the pattern using my gauge:

18 ÷ 4 = 4.5 stitches per inch
4.5 stitches per inch x 17.6 inches = 79.2 stitches

Since the number of stitches must be a whole number, I need to cast on either 79 or 80 stitches. If my sweater has a special stitch pattern that must be centered across the front of the sweater, I need to round up to 80 stitches because the original pattern calls for casting on an even number of stitches. Since we should probably have the V in the center of the sweater, I’m going to cast on 80 stitches.

The very next thing I’m going to do is take another look at my pattern. Did you know you can sometimes use the wrong size pattern to make the right size garment? If my pattern provides instructions for different sizes and has instructions that call for casting on 80 stitches, those instructions will knit the width I want using my gauge. I’ll simply follow those instructions for everything having to do with the number of stitches: cast on, bind off, number of stitches to decrease or increase, etc. Since this is a basic pullover with a standard amount of ease, I could use any size on the pattern that’s close — casting on 78 or 82 stitches, for example.

Next, I need to know how long the item is supposed to be. Again, if the pattern contains a schematic, I’m all set. Otherwise, I need to calculate the length in exactly the same way I calculated the width:

# rows ÷ rows per inch = length

In my case, the pattern doesn’t give me row gauge nor does it have schematics, but it does tell me to “knit until the piece measures 15 inches” and that’s all I need to figure out how many rows I need to knit:

length ÷ rows per inch = # rows
21 rows ÷ 4 inches = 5.25 rows per inch
5.25 rows per inch x 15 inches = 78.75 rows

Again, I’ll round to the nearest whole number and knit 79 rows

At this point, we’ve taken care of all the simple calculations. But, how are we supposed to handle arm and neckline shaping or those gradual decreases required for a tapered sleeve? Simple… we’ll continue to apply what we’ve learned above to shape the garment. To illustrate this, I’m going to use a schematic because that will make explaining things a little easier. After we get through an exercise with the schematic, we’ll talk about what you do when you don’t have one.

Here’s the schematic for the front of my sweater. Ant to keep things as simple as possible, we’re just going to concentrate on the body of the sweater and not worry about the ribbing that goes around the waist, armholes and neckline:


I’m going to knit this sweater from the bottom up, starting at the waist line and working our way to the shoulders.

Shaping The Waist

The pattern tells us that the width of our knitting needs to increase from 17 1/2″ to 19 1/4″ over 3″ of length:
From before, we know that length ÷ rows per inch = # rows, so 3″ of length is 16 rows (15.75 rounded up). We also know that width ÷ stitches per inch = # stitches, so 19 1/4″ of width is 86 stitches (86.625 rounded down). If I had cast on an odd number of stitches, I would have rounded up to 87.

We now know we need to increase from 80 to 86 stitches over 16 rows. Since we need to increase on both sides, we’ll increase 3 stitches on each side.

There’s nothing of any interest for the next 5″ — the distance between the top of the waist and the bottom of the v-neck — so we’ll simply knit straight for 26 rows (5.25 x 5 = 26.25 rounded to nearest whole number).

Shaping The V-Neck

If you’re already thinking you know how to do this, you’re probably right — we’re going to use the exact same method to shape one side of the neck, putting the other side on hold until we’re ready for it. We’re not going to go into all the details, but I’ll give you a few measurements to start you off:

The distance between the bottom of the v-neck and just below the shoulder is 5 1/4″: the pullover is 14 1/4″ long (11 1/4″ + 3″), the v-neck shaping starts 8″ from the bottom of the waist and stops 1″ below the shoulder.

The distance between the side of the pullover and the center of the pullover is 9 5/8″: 19 1/4″ ÷ 2.
You now know you need to decrease from 9 5/8″ to 6 1/4″ on one side over 5 1/4″. Try doing the calculations yourself using the waistline shaping as a guide. If you come up with “decrease 16 stitches evenly over 28 rows”…

Pat yourself on the back and have some chocolate… you earned it!!!

How To Cook a Perfect Rib Roast

The verdict is in. I’ve been experimenting with prime rib and rib roasts for four or five years now can say without a doubt you don’t have to buy prime rib to impress your dinner guests. I’ve started buying boneless Angus select rib roasts at Sam’s Club and they’re absolutely awesome when they’re cooked right.

For best results, buy a rib roast weighing between two and six pounds with lots of fine marbling.

  1. Remove the roast from the refrigerator at least 45 minutes before cooking (longer if your refrigerator is near freezing or the roast weighs more than three pounds). You want the roast to be no more than 10 degrees below room temperature when you put it in the oven.
  2. Mix 1/2 to 1 tablespoon fresh coarsely ground black pepper with an equal quantity of Canadian Steak seasoning.
  3. Coat the roast on all sides with the seasoning. Note that the Canadian Steak seasoning is very salty, so don’t be too liberal.
  4. Stand the roast fat-side up on a rack in a large roasting pan.
  5. Preheat the oven to 500°F. Use your oven’s convection setting if it has one.
  6. Place the roasting pan in the center of the oven.