To Be Continued…

The wedding wrap is growing, even with the paltry hours I’ve had available lately for knitting. In fact, the first skein is almost gone and today I’ll get started with the second. Am still trying to decide whether an edging down the sides will enhance the final project, or merely complicate it. Sometimes less really is more, you know? More details to come.

At least my foray into jam-mania is finished for this season. The strawberry pinot concoction is addictive – not too sweet, and with mysterious depth of flavor from the wine and spices. The pinot is surely responsible for the jam’s deep garnet color. If I were a very sophisticated kid taking lunch to school every day, I’d be happy to eat peanut butter with this jam at least once a week until I left home for college. No lie.

Twisted Sister-Shibui WIP Alert

My enthusiasm for the Twisted Sister/Shibui yarn combination shown above has not diminished in the least. If anything, my passion for these yarns has grown stronger with every row I knit. It’s hard to imagine a softer fiber blend than this, and my knitting has been slow only because I can’t resist frequent breaks to stroke the sublime knitted fabric that is rolling off the needles.
I’ve been working away on the wrap that I want to wear to a mid-October wedding, and the design has been modified as I go. As the lace evolves, I’m doing a bit of second-guessing even though I swatched several options before beginning the final project. Now I wonder, should I have done a more open lace pattern for the main part of the wrap, rather than this horseshoe lace that is fairly solid? Should I perhaps have gone up another needle size to allow the yarn more openness and bloom? Then I remind myself: anything that feels so right simply can’t be wrong!

Most of my knitting is done in the evening after dinner when I’m already a bit tired, and while watching the day’s political “news” with half my attention. The flashless photo below shows the stitch definition reasonably well in the unblocked lace, but the color is way off.

The photo below shows the vibrant yarn color with much more accuracy, but the stitch definition is muted. When blocked I still think it will be lovely, and I guess my doubts are as much the product of evening fatigue as of any real indecision. More to come.

Late Bloomers

Hydrangeas in mid-September? What’s wrong with this picture? The other hydrangeas in my garden are strictly spring bloomers, and by mid-summer they have shriveled into crispy brown paper flowers from the heat. Not this one, though. After seeing nothing but leaves throughout the summer months, suddenly I came outside this morning and noticed this:

And this:

Impressed but suspicious, I took a stroll around the garden with camera in hand to see what else was blooming out of season. And sure enough, some late roses (ohmigod so fragrant with the afternoon sun upon them!) were basking in the glory of the fall day.


Plum Crazy

In proof that appearances really can be deceiving, I bought the most beautifully deep purple organic plums at the market this morning in anticipation of more jam-making. And I assumed that given the deep hue of the skin, the fruit itself would be that deep garnet red that promises a sweet-tart burst of flavor with every bite. But noooo… the flesh was yellow, and the flavor was puckeringly tart. Not my favorite plums to eat, I admit.

So what else could I do but turn them into jam? Just because I’ve been making jam obsessively every week for the last month is no reason to stop, right? To the diced fruit and sugar, I added a spice bag filled with whole star anise, a broken cinnamon stick, and several whole cloves.

The dark skin turned the jam a lovely deep red, and the spices add a mysterious depth to the flavor. Small chunks of the golden fruit are suspended in the jam, sweetened and soft. Bliss. And now, maybe I’m done for the season. Maybe this is it for jamming.

Or, maybe not. I also found strawberries at the market, priced to sell at “Buy one, get one free.” Can we eat six pounds of strawberries before they go bad? I don’t think so. But I have a bumper crop of rhubarb out in the garden, and strawberry-rhubarb jam is one of my favorites. So….

Good Fences Make Barely Tolerated Neighbors

I have a hard time with the family who lives in the house behind ours. First they razed the vintage California ranch house that sat on their double lot, and in its place (over the course of two full years) built a 5,500 square foot, two-story McMansion that looms over our back yard. That little project was immediately followed by a one-year-long (no exaggeration!) landscaping project, including the installation of a swimming pool with waterfall that backs noisily up to my vegetable garden. During this extended construction phase, the wife of this couple produced three more children to add to the two she and her husband already had. The children are all screamers who evidently spend their time pulling each other’s hair and knocking each other to the ground, and even the sound of that waterfall cannot camouflage the mayhem of these little darlings at play.

Visitors to our home are typically stunned when they step outside into our back garden and are confronted with the sight, over the back fence, of the top floor of the neighbor’s house. “Is that a hotel?” they ask, with no trace of disingenuousness in their tone. Because the house looks like a posh bed & breakfast or boutique hotel plunked down in the midst of a 1940’s-era residential community.

Yes, it’s true that since the encampment of these arrivistes, others in the neighborhood have also renovated their homes to conform to the McMansion ideal that has become the norm for so many American suburbs. We have Mediterranean-style McMansions, we have Tudoresque and Colonial McMansions, and we have a generous sprinkling of Tuscan and Provence-style McMansions.

It is also true that my own home has undergone its share of renovations over the 60 years since it was built. While today it would likely be considered a tear-down (in this neighborhood), earlier owners had other ideas. Someone added a family room off the back, and someone else converted what we think must have been an attached garage into a master bedroom and bathroom. And yet, our home is still under 2,400 square feet and for the three people who live here (and one cat who takes up her full share of elbow room) it is plenty of space. I am not complaining, not by a long shot.

The one thing that makes me only slightly less hostile to the neighbors is the fact that their garden is truly lovely. Not surprisingly, they didn’t bother to ask us before they planted several thriving varieties of invasive, trailing, kudzu-like vines that grow over from their side of our back fence (which we installed – and paid for in full – while their new house was being built because the on-site construction manager had a large and predatory guard dog that terrorized my daughter on a regular basis). However, there are now, finally, some gorgeous things growing there, such as this:

Passion flowers are a favorite of mine, even though I spend way too much time killing the volunteers that pop up in my raised bed vegetable garden and that have to be prized loose from my tomato cages. When I see them in bloom like this I soften, just barely, in spite of myself.

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.