Thursday, May 28, 2009

And I'm Off . . .

. . . like a herd of turtles, as my late mom would have said :-)

I'm off to Colorado. It's been a long time since I was back for a visit and unfortunately this visit is shorter than usual, but it's already crammed full of fun, with visits with many friends, a Rockies game, and maybe even a trek up to Boulder to visit Shuttles, Spindles & Skeins . . . we'll see!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Walk On . . .

It's late. It's 11 o'clock.

I just got out of the shower - I actually just got home, because I took the 9:20 train. At that time of night, the train makes every stop. The milk run, if you will (although it's at night). And I should be in bed, but this was a pretty kewl evening, and so here I am.

The firm I work for participated in the JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge, a 3.5 mile (just over 5K) race. I signed up to do this last year, but I was sick on race day so I missed it. I have been walking a lot lately, and I wanted to participate this time, so I signed up as soon as we got the notice.

It was big fun! I think that I was the (ahem) oldest woman in my firm's group, and I didn't acquit myself too badly!

I ran a 5K once about 25 years ago (in another life ;-)), but it was in Washington Park in Denver - it was nowhere near the size of this race. This time I walked. There were more than 17,000 participants tonight, and proceeds from the event (it cost $40 to enter - the firm picked up the tab) went to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, a wonderful place to support. One of my cousins used to drive a truck for them in food rescue (that's perishable food that goes right to a shelter, rather that to a food bank).

I brought some canned goods and some oatmeal in my back pack and dropped it off at one of the trucks.

The walkers start at the "non-competitive" start, behind the runners. By the time I got to the starting clock, it said 5.29 (that's minutes/seconds, not the time :-D) It was a beautiful evening to walk in the Windy City, and I was really excited to be there. I walked pretty much by myself, which was fine with me because I was working pretty hard. I'm not the fastest walker, but I can walk for a pretty long time. But tonight, I was caught up in the excitement of the crowd, and I pushed myself to walk a little faster than usual.

I was thinking all along that it was a 5K race (3.1 miles), but instead, it was 3.5 miles. I had hoped to do the lesser distance in under an hour (which I did. I was at 52.29 at the 3-mile marker! Yay!), so I'm really proud of myself that I finished the longer distance in just about the time I hoped for the shorter. And hey - I wasn't the last one in!

I did the race in 1 hour, 1 minute. Exactly!

And I'm pretty impressed with myself :-D

And what a perfect night in Chicagoland - I had to futz with this a little in Photoshop because it was awfully dark, but I think you can see it well now - click to biggify. I really don't think there is any skyline as magnificent as this one anywhere else in the world. I mean it.

And now, I'm clean and I've taken a couple of Advil (just in case). This sleepy girl is headed to bed (and I'm sleeping in tomorrow!). Here I am - and yes, my face does always get that red. It has since I was a child - and my head sweats so much that my hair under that hat is completely soaking wet. But I was fully recovered from the race and not even breathing hard. The red lasted for about an hour. So it goes - it's one of the reasons I never could do a lunchtime workout and go back to the office. I'm sorry I had such a baggy shirt on, but I had on my workout shorts, and they are form fitting - I didn't want my tush out in plain sight. Thus, I look a little shapeless (Well, I think that the uni-boob look from the sports bra contributed to the odd look), but I'm a happy, tired girl.

Sleep tight :-)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Note to Self . . .

After having a hot dog on a poppyseed bun for lunch, always go to the Ladies' and check for seeds . . . ;-D

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I've Been Trying to Catch Up . . .

Kind of a long blog break for me there.

Truth be told, I have been exhausted since my trip to The Loopy Ewe's Spring Fling, i.e., since April 23rd (also my happy birthday :-D). I don't ever think I'm doing too much, but I must be, because I haven't been able to get to bed on time more than maybe twice since then. I mean, I love catching up with my friend, KniftyRed on the later train, but I have to really hightail it across the Loop (or walk on Lower Wacker) when I catch that train instead of my regular one, and it's been happening to me multiple times each week for the past three weeks. . . not so good.

This might not sound too critical, until you understand that I go to bed by 9 p.m. in order to get up at 5:00 a.m. I've always needed around 8 hours of sleep, and when the alarm goes off at 4:45 a.m., I'm usually up and functional by 5. You might be asking why, on God's green earth, would I get up at five o'clock in the morning. Well, I'm what they call a "lark in the morning." I'm a true morning person, and I work out in the morning because I'm too tired by the end of the day to do it. So, I've found that getting up and walking, or riding my recumbent bike early in the day is best for me. If I'm up by 5, I have about an hour and a half to work out, and then have plenty of time left to get ready to go to work.

Lately, not so much. Seems like every night, all of a sudden it's 10 o'clock. Or 10:30. And I'm like, WTH - how did it get so late??? And then, I when I go to bed late, I can't get up on time, and my workouts get cut short, and I'm still sleepy and you can see where this is going . . .

I'm thinking that the Monday/Wednesday physical therapy sessions are taking their toll on me. I know my exercise time is down. Sometimes the PT work is really painful - I like to think that that can't be it altogether, but for the past six weeks, pretty much every Monday and Wednesday, I get home at 6, eat something in a big hurry and go to PT from 7 to 8. By the time I get home, it's 8:20, and I'm supposed to go to bed - but if there's anything left to do around the house - simple, little things, I usually end up doing them, and the time gets away from me. I haven't had enough sleep for almost a month and that, my friends, is not best for me. So, today I granted myself a day of indulgence, and I have been in my jams all day long! I slept until I woke up - which was 7:30 a.m., a major miracle that I slept that long, believe me!

I've started working through another book with my Iona sister, Tori. We're going through Joan Anderson's A Weekend to Change Your Life. This is a great book that we have both read before, but neither of us actually worked through it doing the exercises and writings. So, just like when we did The Artist's Way, my Saturday morning calls have started again, and we'll be working on it for probably 7 or 8 weeks. It feels good to have some focus there.

This was a very nice day - great call this morning for the first section of the book, and then I got ALL the laundry done, and actually made myself a healthy lunch (my Spinach Burritos! Yum!), and settled down with some knitting for a bit to catch up on some telly. I updated most of my yarn purchased from the Spring Fling on Ravelry, and then I decided that it would be a good plan to finally go through the 5 months of O Magazines that have accumulated. Now I'm working on the editions of More Magazine (which I like as well or more than O) that have also stacked up. And the day is gone.

Had a great dinner last night with my friend C. We went to Lockwood, a relatively new restaurant in the lobby of The Palmer House, downtown. If you're not from Chicago, you'll have to take my word for it that The Palmer House, like The Drake Hotel, is a quintessential "Chicago" experience. You don't find places like these anywhere else - at least I haven't, and I've been a lot of places.

The lobby of The Palmer House is on the second floor - the ceilings are mosaic and soaring, and you could blink your eyes and easily step through time there. Lockwood was very, very good - the food was great, the service attentive (and our waiter really took a liking to C!). I highly recommend it and would definitely return.

Oh - C really did like her Lucy Bag. She opened it up and said, "why, it's a Lucy Bag!" Yes, she reads the blog, and she clicked on the link a few months ago when I told her not to :-D I made this one out of Noro Kureyon. The colors are PERFECT for C (at least according to me they are :-) ). Kureyon felts well, but it became very very soft in the process. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I do have concerns that it might not be as sturdy as I had hoped. C assured me that she's not going to cram it full of heavy stuff, though, so I would guess that all will be well :-) And at least I have one finished project to show you.

And it's already past 9 o'clock. See what I mean? . . .

Friday, May 1, 2009

Consistent Care - Plants V

Back to plants for a bit! But first - How on God's Green Earth could it possibly by MAY???

There, now that I have that out of my system, big thanks to everyone who has said such nice things about my blog and the plants! Thank you all very much - I'm glad you are enjoying this little "series." :-)

What is consistent care? I've mentioned it numerous times in the past few plant posts. I keep mentioning it because it's really critical to having great plants. When African violets get watered haphazardly, or allowed to completely dry out until they wilt time after time, or if they get way too cold, or way too hot, or you don't repot them for a year or more, they may show what is called a "culture break." The care that violets receive is directly reflected in their foliage! And when you're growing for show, the foliage is just as -if not more - important than the blossoms! This photo is one of the first ones I took of Melodie Kimi before I repotted her. You can clearly see that a culture break happened between the oldest row of leaves and the next. The oldest (largest, at the outside of the rosette of leaves) is pale and the leaves show signs of haloing around the edges. They are also much longer/leggier than the inner rows. Now, I've grown Melodie Kimi for many years, and so I know her growth habit is a little loose rather than a tight rosette, still, the symmetry and obvious differences in the rows of leaves are clear markers of poor and inconsistent care.

I was taught that the difference between a good grower and a champion grower is that the champion grower checks his/her plants every single day. It's true. The times when I have been most successful with my plants have been when I was totally focused and checking them every single day.

But what if you don't have time to check them every day? Listen - no worries. You're not likely growing for show right now. You should probably give them a look and check for water at least 2 times a week. Give them a quarter turn (so they don't begin to lean into the light) every time you water, and you should be good to go.

Wait a minute, you mean that's all there is to it?! Well, yes and no. ;-) You knew there was a catch, didn't you. Well, not really a catch - consistent care is more than just watering every few days.

The easiest way to remember what African violets like is to think about what humans like. Really! Bright, indirect light (no baking in the hot sun in an unprotected South window); not to hot, not too cold; no drafts; and they don't like to have their feet wet for any great length of time. Here's the short list:
  • Watering - Geez, that's a post in itself. First off, let me just tell you that the most common cause of "violet death" is overwatering. Did you get that? :-) You can't just dump a bucket of water on the plant and let it sit in it for days at a time. It will be a swift demise if you do.

    What do I do? I run all my water through a Brita pitcher. I let it sit over night to let any gases evaporate out - this means that you need to be prepared and always have a gallon jug of water ready at any time. I use gallon milk jugs, and I usually have two ready to go - right now, I'm filling them again because I just watered this morning and used up the last of the plant water I had made up before I went on vacation last week.

    I check the pH of the water, which, where I live is quite high. I use an aquarium product called pH Down to lower the pH of my water to keep it at about 6.5 which is where the violets like it. You'll recall that I pot all my plants up with wicks. I don't communally water them, I have each plant in its own saucer and I usually water from the bottom.

    Do you have to water from the bottom? No, you don't, but that's why I have that wick in there - the capillary action of the wick will draw the water from the saucer up into the plant, getting right to the roots where it needs to be. And remember that layer of lava rock I put in the bottom of each pot? That helps keep roots from sitting in water. You can water from the top, and you should every now again, but when you do, be careful not to get water on the leaves, otherwise you'll have water spotting (go back and take a look at the leaf I posted of Gail and you'll see what I mean).

    The water should be room temp. Not hot, and for sure not cold. Whether you water from the top or the bottom, after about 20 minutes to half an hour, dump whatever's left in the saucer.

  • Fertilizer - for me this is kinda part of watering. I use Optimara African violet food. I use it about 1/2 to 1/4 strength added to every gallon of water I mix up. I use it at a lower strength because I do what's called "continuous feeding," meaning that my plants get some food in the water every time I water them. If you give them too much, you run into problems with fertilizer salts and buildup. So it seems to work best for me to lessen the strength and feed more often. I use Optimara brand because it does not have any urea in the fertilizer. If you're using a commercial mix that already has fertilizer in it, DO NOT add fertilizer to your water. Use plain old water, possibly adjusted for pH.
  • Light - African violets like bright indirect light. I grow mine on light carts, but again, I'm growing for show and need to be able to control the amount of light the plants get. When the plants are not on a pre-show schedule, I usually have the timers set so that they get about 12 hours of light every day. When I'm getting ready to go to show and the plants are on a pre-show schedule, they get more - gradually increasing over a period of time to about 14 to 16 hours of light a day.

    If you're growing your plants on a windowsill, they will be happy as clams. They may not bloom so much in the winter, but they will bloom more in the spring and summer. I have found that a Northeast window is practically ideal for African violets. If you have one in your kitchen or bathroom, so much the better - they will like the extra humidity :-)

Those are the big three, and the more consistent you are with them, the happier your plants will be.

Now that I'm growing for show again, I find myself checking every day - every second day at the most except when I'm out of town. I check to see if they need water - if the soil feels like a wrung out sponge, then they are OK. If it feels dry, they are thirsty. I also check to see if any of the plants are sending out blossom stalks to try to bloom. If they are, I disbud them. You might want to do this maybe once after you repot to give the leaves and roots a better chance to re-establish themselves before they expend energy to bloom. I will disbud from now until just before show time this fall.

Disbudding encourages the foliage to grow and become strong. Then, when you're ready for the plants to come into bloom, you stop disbudding - and usually get a tremendous head of blossoms :-) These were my plants ready to go to my first show about 8 or 9 years ago in Ventura, California. I put this in from Flickr - I hope it works! Show1

It's about time for a progress photo. I apologize because this is kind of hard to see. The section on the left was taken the day I did all the repotting (April 11, 2009). The three photo sections on the right are the same shelves all taken today, May 1, 2009, but the first two are from different angles. Even with the different angles I think that you can tell that the top shelf babies are all growing very nicely. The middle shelf is actually a reverse of the April shot - Again, you can see clearly how things have filled out, particularly in the two trailers that are in front on the right side. The bottom shelf on the right is taken from the same side as the the first photo. These plants are very happy now, and I'm going to have to start another shelf (this is actually a 4-shelf stand) because soon the plants are going to start touching each other - not what you want for show plants. They need enough room to grow out to their full potential.

So - look on that bottom right photo. The plant in the bottom left-hand corner, is Gail. The plant in the middle row, middle plant, is Melodie Kimi, and the plant in the top, right-hand corner (that's the back row, of that photo, on the right), is Mid-America. When you compare the April and May photos - you can already see that substantial growth has taken place - there is far less "white space" between each plant.
I'll keep you updated as we go along - and I'll take some progress shots along the way. :-)
And now some breaking knitting news: I frogged my St. Brigid. ======:-O It's not a bad thing, and it will be reknit shortly. I started the bigger size and realized - thankfully pretty quickly - that it was going to be too big. I'm not going to do all that cabling for a sweater that's going to swim on me.
And as KniftyRed said the other day, the class schedule is out for Stitches Midwest. I wasn't even sure I was going to go, and then today, my hard copy of the schedule arrived in the mail. I have no idea why I think I want to learn Kumihimo (the art of traditional Japanese Braiding), but I think I do. . .