Forecast: Cloudy

No dunks in the backyard swimming hole for the last few weeks because the water looks like this (note that no one has spilled gallons of milk into the water, but the phosphate level is high enough that it nearly glows at night and the cement bottom is not visible to the naked eye):

This is actually a distinct improvement over its appearance last week, when it more closely resembled a mosquito-breeding green swamp. Never has there existed a bigger (literally!) scourge on suburban living than the backyard swimming pool. Oh, sure, it provided a useful incentive as we prepared to move from the east coast to the left coast eight years ago when my daughter was a little girl with no desire to be uprooted from family and friends, but for a swimming pool right in our own back yard? Well, maybe a move cross-country wouldn’t be so bad after all.

In the last few years, however, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have been sufficiently motivated to don my frumpy, burka-like suburban hausfrau modest, one-piece bathing suit and plunge in. Why is this? Surely modesty has nothing to do with it. Our property is fenced, and although the next-door neighbors are close by on all sides our privacy is pretty well protected.

Every spring as the weather begins to warm up, my husband and I make excited plans for romantic midnight swims, after which we’ll lie back and admire the starry night sky while sipping from glasses of mellow California wine. And every fall as that raw chill seeps into the air to let us know that months of rain will soon begin, we muse wistfully about another summer of lost opportunities.

Hmmm… Maybe it’s not too late. Where did I put that swimsuit?

Feeling Clever

Let me introduce Za-bui, my new triumph of blended fiber.

First, I wound the Shibui “Silk Cloud” skeins on my swift. Then I put one yarn cake into a steep-sided bowl and rewound it along with a skein of the Twisted Sister “Zazu.” The result is even lovelier than I’d hoped when I held the two skeins side by side in the yarn shop. The mohair in “Silk Cloud” produces a haze of warm color that mutes the variegations in “Zazu,” but loses none of its ethereal softness.

Now I can knit my evening wrap without having to carry separate strands and deal with the inevitable twisting and baggied-ball complications. I’ll be swatching this weekend to determine the ideal gauge and stitch pattern density. Yeah, I feel pretty clever.

See You In September…

Wait a minute. It is September. What the heck happened to August? One day I’m flipping corn and chicken thighs on the grill, and the next I’m spotting piles of dried brown leaves in corners of the garden waiting to be raked.

For weeks I’ve been lamenting the failure of my vegetable garden this summer, and suddenly I’m out there with a basket every day picking tomatoes, peppers, pears and squash. Last night for dinner I made chicken enchiladas with home-made salsa verde. They would have been heavenly if my culinarily challenged always helpful husband had not insisted “…the whole wheat tortillas are so much healthier than the corn ones…” that actually hold their shape when baked. As it turned out, I spent most of dinner extricating forkfuls of chicken, cheese and salsa from the glutinous rubbery saturated tortilla layers. Lesson learned… next time, ignore the husband and go for the corn.

Making salsa verde from my home-grown tomatillos was much easier than I anticipated; I picked three pounds, de-husked them, and cooked them until soft (with a cup or two of veggie broth, a couple of chopped hot peppers and a couple of garlic cloves keeping them company in the pot), then pureed them until barely chunky – have I mentioned how much I love my immersion blender? – with a generous helping of chopped cilantro, a couple teaspoons of cumin, and a little S & P. Mmm, mmm, mmmmm.

Hold on a sec while I flip over the page on my wall calendar. There. September it is.

My daughter is back in school, with all the dramas of senior year already playing out. College applications about to go out, another campus visits trip in the offing this fall. Financial aid to seek. Copious forms to complete. Fun for all.

Meanwhile, although the temps still climb into the 80s and 90s most days, the nights are definitely cooler. That other telltale sign of autumn’s imminent arrival is nigh – it grows darker much earlier in the evening, and I’ve already had to reset the light timers to come on by 7:30 so I don’t wind up knitting in the dark. Having completed another major project (I can’t share this one yet, either), I’ve decided to make a lace wrap to wear to a wedding in mid-October.

What’s that you say? I have WIPs to attend to? Well, who doesn’t? Never mind the other cast-on incomplete projects listed over there on the right. Sometimes Almost always, impetuous inspiration prevails. I found the yarn at Article Pract in Oakland, and it was love at first stroke.

I wasn’t familiar with Shibui Knits yarns in person. although I have read rave reviews. This “Silk Cloud” is amazing to the touch: at 60% kid mohair and 40% silk, it passes like air through the fingers, feels softer than the lightest kiss against the cheek. I will carry it with Twisted Sisters “Zazu,” which the Sisters describe as a Monochromatic Variegate in 100% Extra Fine Merino Wool. Take a closer look:

Are they not divine?

The idea is for the finished wrap to complement this tiny, silk-rose-covered evening bag:

which I found in NYC over the summer at a little shop on the Upper East Side. My always-fashionable sister took me there, and although I wasn’t looking for an evening purse, I couldn’t resist it. The silk roses remind me of the French ribbon roses I used to make by the dozen to embellish the Baltimore Album quilts I made for years.

I have the stitch for the body of the wrap worked out in my mind, but I’m still searching for just the right lace borders and edgings. Something floral, perhaps.

Feasting…

… on color from the dinnerplate dahlias that take my breath away every summer,

and on the first ripened figs for which I did not have to fight off our rapacious neighborhood squirrels.

Squirrel loathing reminds me of a story told to me not long ago by a friend whose mother had recently died. In her eighties, this friend’s mother evidently got so fed up with the greed of her own neighborhood’s rats with puffy tails squirrels – whose habit it was to take ruinous bites out of fruit that was just a day or so short of pickably ripe – that she booby-trapped their fence.

An enterprising grandchild helped her install electrical wire along the top of the fence running the entire perimeter of her garden (which contained many fruit trees). This wire was connected to a switch inside the house. Grandma could thus sit inside before the picture window admiring her lush little orchard, and whenever a squirrel had the audacity to creep along that fence too close to the fruit trees, she’d spring into action; pressing a button to send a small electrical current all along the wire at the top of the fence until it met with the mangy brown fur of the would-be thief.

I smile even now imagining the surprise (or should I say shock?) of those beady-eyed vermin, drooling with anticipation at the almost-ripe fruit that lay ju-u-ust a little further… and then – zap! – they find themselves catapulted into the air by the tiniest jolt of electricity. Unkind, yes, but unreasonable? I don’t think so.

Late To the Party

I missed the original frenzy back in June over Pamela Wynne’s resized EZ classic, the February Baby Sweater… now scaled to, as she calls us, “Grown-ass” women. Yet one look at her version and I was hooked. Had to make it, and had to make it now. Despite those nonspecific “other commitments” to which I keep annoyingly mysteriously referring, I had to cast on for it, and did so pretty much as soon as I had printed out the pattern.

But first, a frantic deliberate and painstaking search for the perfect yarn. After perusing the dozens (hundreds?) of beautiful versions on Ravelry, I decided to use a smaller gauge yarn and compensate by making a larger size than I would usually wear. My choice was Classic Elite’s insanely soft Inca Alpaca in a color described on the label only as #1109, but which I prefer to think of as olive flecked with chartreuse. It’s a hard color to find, and one which makes my eyes appear, I’m told, more green than gray. Not a bad thing, IMO.

I haven’t made a huge amount of progress, as you can see. But I keep thinking about it as I work on my other projects, and every once in a while I pause and sneak in a couple more rows just because, you know, I don’t do enough knitting as it is. Poor lighting renders this photo a washed-out rainy-day concrete gray, so you’ll have to trust me on the actual color. When it’s finished, I’ll take some photos with better light so its true subtle delights are properly revealed.

EZ February Lady Sweater

Delicious

All manner of delicious things have been entering my line of vision lately, and how convenient that my camera is often in hand. From the garden (which has been uncooperative this summer despite my best efforts), a bowlful of squash and cherry tomatoes.

Still only green heirlooms, no eggplant, few tomatillos, and an underwhelming selection of cucumbers and peppers. No complaints about the pears, however, which are ready to pick. I’ve promised the family an upside down caramelized pear tart for dessert this evening (from Patricia Wells’ cookbook Bistro Cooking.) Herewith, the raw ingredients:

And then, of course, there’s deliciousness of an altogether different variety. I present Fearless Fibers’ 100% Merino lace weight yarn in Chestnuts:

and Rubicund, both of which are so gorgeous I practically salivate every time I look at them. Each 2 oz. skein holds 410 yards (375 meters) of the softest, most springy merino I’ve ever felt.

Due to other knitting commitments and deadlines, I have so far resisted winding them into cakes. I do feel myself weakening, however, the longer I spend on those other projects. The lace skeins sit on my desk right near my elbow, within range of my peripheral vision… a big mistake for one who has often declared she can resist everything but temptation. In fact, if I turn my head just a little bit away from the screen right this minute, I can see them full-on in all their glory. The subtle color variations… the warmth and softness of the fiber… it is torture of the best possible kind.

Whenever I need a break from current work, I peek at those yarns and daydream about what I will make from them. What sort of shawl or wrap will do justice to the fiber and colors. This kind of projection is an integral part of the life of every knitter (every artist, for that matter) I know. Some of my best ideas come to me when I’m supposed to be doing something else.

Still Alive

Not dead. Au contraire. Simply not blogging… haven’t felt like it. Uninspired, I suppose. Too many projects are up in the air, my daughter just returned from a summer away and her presence is a most welcome distraction from my routines, and it’s bloody hot outside. Inside, too, for that matter. Never thought I’d welcome the end of summer. When fall comes, perhaps I’ll be able to wear this without launching into a hot flash:

As you can see, I did complete the Hardenburgia Shawl, and if I can get myself a little better organized, I’ll make the pattern available to my loyal readers. All three of them. Here it is again:

Just as I hoped it would, the wave border undulates gracefully, although I did a light spray blocking just to smooth it a bit. The end result is even softer than the pre-knit yarn, and drapes beautifully. And the color is pretty accurate in these photos, exactly the bluish purple of the hardenburgia blossoms that scramble up the side fence.

Hardenburgia in August

The hardenburgia shawl is blocked, and I am pleased. In my usual bass-ackwards way I will now add the edging. There is logic to doing it this way, at least in my own mind. I’m thinking the edging will have a bit of a ripple or ruffled effect, and that blocking it might diminish its ripply effectiveness. At this point, it’s 48″ long and 16″ wide. I even toyed with the idea of turning it into a shrug… pinned the ends to form sleeves and tried it on, but decided it looks more graceful as a wrap. I’m close to the end of the only skein I have, but hope there is enough remaining yardage to add a 6″ border to each end.

On the other hand, once the edging is in place if I don’t like the looks of it, I can always go back and block the whole thing again. That’s the beauty of blocking, right? And now for the money shot:
I’ve also been spending valuable knitting minutes here and there in the garden, dead-heading roses and weeding. Picking a few veggies but not nearly as many as I expected by this point in the summer. It has been unseasonably cool by East Bay standards; a few hot spells but many more days that simply don’t get hot enough for the tomatoes to ripen. Only the squash like this weather, and tomorrow I will be stuffing a great slew of them with a blend of ricotta, thyme from the garden, sauteed onion, and parmesan… a little variety from the grilling that is my usual fallback. There are always flowers, however, like these:

The Eden roses are back in bloom, looking lovely with their soft blush of innocent color. Their timing coincides with the gladiolas – which I detest in the garden (all those long reedy stems that refuse to stand up straight) but loooove in a vase intermingled with roses.

Now I need to grab an hour to fertilize the citrus trees in hope that they’ll produce lots of fruit this coming winter. I’m still picking lots of rather wan and pallid Meyer lemons, which at this time of year have little of the fragrance that makes them so divine in the winter. In January, there’s nothing more satisfying than to rub the bright yellowy-orange skin of a ripe Meyer lemon and inhale that luxurious scent. For now, they make decent enough lemonade and marinade for grilling chicken or fish, but they’re definitely not at their best.

Hardenburgia in July

While playing around with my lovely new KnitVisualizer 2.0 software (Thanks again, Anne, for the endorsement!), I charted out a lace pattern that I’d been eager to master. Not that it’s a difficult design, but its elegant proportions remind me of the slender leaves of the hardenburgia vines that bloom along our side fence in the winter when not much else is flowering. En route to New York last week, I had five hours (seven if you count delays)on the plane to learn the simple but effective repeat, and made respectable progress.

In addition, both the color of this Mas Acero silk/wool/viscose blend yarn from Brooks Farm Yarn AND the cascades of little lace yarnover holes are dead-on in their similarity to the adorable, tiny hardenburgia flowers. Using size 8 needles with this yarn enhances the lacy texture (I experimented with size 6, but preferred the looser gauge), and makes it go that much faster. It’s been truly a pleasure to design.

My choice of border design will remain a surprise for the time being until the field of lace is complete. A hint: the center won’t be the only leafy element to this shawl.

Finally FO’s

July has not been much of a month for posting. In addition to a week of travel to visit family in NY (and, yes, to see a play – August: Osage County – on Broadway, and eat LOTS of fabulous food in the big city), I’ve kept my head down, determined to have something to show for myself in the knitting department.

While spending a couple of days with my parents, I made lists of all the medications each one takes… and there are a lot of them. Now my sisters and I have all of them on file, with the prescribing doctors’ phone numbers (thanks to my sister D.), in case anything changes. Mom and I played Scrabble every day, but with her memory impairment it wasn’t much of a challenge. While it’s good for her to exercise her brain, it’s obvious she gets frustrated when she can’t remember the rules of the game she taught me how to play over forty years ago. Hard to watch. But we were determined to finish each game even with the most unpromising letter combinations.

Here, at last, is something else finally finished: the Lizard Ridge blanket that will accompany my daughter to college in a year.

The short-rowing technique created rippled beginnings and bind-off edges of these blocks that did not want to go together without a fight, despite ruthless blocking. The strips I made as an experimental alternative, in one long piece rather than in blocks, were much simpler to assemble. I’d like to make another one all out of the strips, and not have to mess with stitching the individual blocks together end-to-end. As is, this one appears rather cobbled together because of my experimentation, but I think my darling girl will love it just the same.

If You Believe In Fairies…

I clapped my hands all the way home from the nursery this morning, because I had found this:

Say hello to the “Tinker Bell” dwarf agapanthus, with those smashing variegated leaves. I bought two, divided them into four plants, and interspersed them among the other agapanthus along the front walk where they unquestionably rule this part of the summer.

On my way back into the house, I caught this little guy making eyes at me:

Seriously, he stood on his rock enjoying the sun (now I know I was a lizard in a former life!) and never flinched as I crept closer and closer with camera in hand.

Now that the Big Secret project is en route to Interweave Knits, I’ve been able to turn my attention back to other knitting projects. I completed the final block and stitched together my daughter’s Lizard Ridge take-to-college blanket, and am halfway around the edge with a crochet border. Will finish that up while I make eyes at Keith Olbermann on MSNBC later this evening. How dare they let him take such a long vacation? Not that Rachel Maddow isn’t wonderful in her own way, but she ain’t no Keith.

My attention is distracted by what to pack for my trip to NY. No, Silly, not the clothing. Who cares about that? I’m far more concerned with what to knit during those five and a half hour plane trips to and from CA. Yes, I know I need to make progress on my husband’s birthday sweater, but his big day isn’t until mid-November and I’m not quite over my lace cravings yet. Whatever else goes into that carry-on bag – and yes, it’s all carry-on these days – this little number is definitely coming with me:

Manos del Uruguay Silk Blend, 30% Silk, 70% Merino Extrafine Wool. Colorway 3113, in every luscious shade of spring imaginable. A subtle sheen to the fiber. Lovely. Makes me happy just to look at it. See what I mean?

Dog Days of July

No new knitting to show for myself (not again!), but very exciting news… The Big Secret Project is finished!!! It is assembled from stem to stern, and drying from its last blocking bath on the board right this minute. All that’s left to do is sew on the single button that goes, well – you’ll see where it goes… eventually.

Now I just have to send it off with the pattern written in five sizes (That has taken more time than I care to admit because I am so mathematically challenged) and I’ll be able to breathe again. And get back to my own projects for a while.

In the meantime, a few gardening photos to entertain you until there’s some knitting content I can reveal. I’ve been picking the first plums ever from our tree. These are Santa Rosas – deliciously tart on the outside but sweet closer to the pit.

I love the coral-bark maple, which especially in summer reveals its elegant color contrast. Something about that chartreuse and coral color combination sends a thrill up my spine every time I see it. It pops, it sizzles… it just gets me.

My fears about the agapanthus we divided and replanted have been put to rest after much fretting. The first year they struggled mightily for survival after we put them along the front walk during the relandscaping project. But as you can see, agapanthus, both white and purple, positively rules the walk this summer. Even during this miserable heat wave, they don’t show the least inclination to bow their heads.

Waiiit For It…

So close to ripeness… Candy sweet cherry tomatoes cooperatively climb the trellis that migrated from our front walk to the vegetable garden when we relandscaped last year. Soon they’ll hang down in clusters like small bunches of grapes from the top of the trellis. Planted red ones on one side, and yellow on the other. Pretty to look at, and pretty delicious, too.

So close to edibility… the first Satsuma plums from the new tree. As luscious as they look now, only when they turn deep purple will they be ready to pluck.

So close to sinking my teeth into pure homegrown goodness… Black mission figs from the Central Valley are flooding our grocery stores already, but mine are late bloomers. I’ll look forward to eating the first of these in late August if I’m lucky. But every day throughout September, I’ll pick a handful to sweeten my yogurt at lunch time.

So close… But not close enough.

A Week of Progress

The Big Secret Project is coming along. I can’t quite see a light at the end of the tunnel, but an important milestone has been attained. Despite the do-overs, the scratched-out notes on the pattern-writing, and my increasingly cross-eyed contemplation of the pile of knitting as it grows in my lap, I’m feeling more confident as I go along. To keep my strength up, I plot meals as I knit. I mean, a girl’s gotta eat, right?

Last night we grilled several of these babies:

And a half dozen of these banana peppers:

to have with our dinner. Mm-mmm. They were delicious!

Purple in Perpetuity

Still no new knitting content to share, but here is some natural color for your viewing pleasure. Today’s color, in many of its glorious permutations, is purple:

I’ve got a real passion for purple lately… when I consider that my last several yarn purchases fall into that color family. My hands down favorite at the moment is this lovely skein from Sundara:

It is her scrumptious Fingering Silky Merino in Amethyst Over Pearl. When I took it out of the packaging, I was gobsmacked by its loveliness. I’m toying with a couple of different shawl patterns that I think could do it justice. It is these things about which I fantasize while I’m plugging away on the Big Secret Project.

I also recently acquired some hand-painted merino from Lanas Puras, a semi-solid Melosa Worsted in Eggplant. Never have I seen a more aptly named skein. When I saw this, I had to buy enough to make a sweater. One of these days, I will.

I realize that photos of droolingly delicious yarn do not compensate for the lack of actual knitting on this blog lately. My husband’s birthday sweater was progressing so nicely, and I am still determined to complete my daughter’s Lizard Ridge blanket in time for her to take it to college with her. But for the meantime, I’m committed to meeting my deadline on the project for Interweave Knits’ Winter 2008 issue. That’s all there is to it. The design challenges of the project do make me occasionally question my sanity, but I think the end product will be well worth all the swatching and calculations.