Happy Birthday, Mom!

Lily is one of those female names that is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. I’ve met many little Lilies the last couple of years, tiny girls who epitomize the graceful and mellifluous name. And my mother is one of the originals. Yesterday she turned 79, and despite the frailties of age and a less-than-robust heart, the Lily I know is still lovely, graceful, and a proud standard-bearer for the name.
Creative from childhood, she has excelled at every artistic medium from sculpture to painting to quilt-making. Generous with her time and her exuberant talent, when my sisters and I were growing up our mother taught art classes and instilled in many of our community’s children an appreciation for art and the many ways to see beauty in the most mundane things around them, as well as a realization that they, too, could explore their own creative impulses and make beautiful images.

Always sensitive to color and balance and proportion, our mom made each of our homes over the years beautiful and welcoming even though she had no formal decorating training. To this day, when I go home to visit I find myself looking around my parents’ living room and admiring the placement of furniture, her choice of art and accessories, and the seeming casual ease with which it all comes together to create a unified feeling of comfort and visual pleasure. I grew up strong because of the countless times I pushed and coaxed my bedroom furniture across the room to try new arrangements that were inspired by Mom’s efforts. We girls were allowed to choose a new paint color for our rooms once every few years, and it was only after much agonizing that those choices were made because Mom’s exquisite taste established such a high bar. She’d set us up with water colors at the kitchen table and praise us extravagantly for our efforts. Visits to museums were always part of our childhood, and to this day (oh, so many, many years later) we still make a point of visiting the museums in any city to which our travels take us.

Our mom is a reader and a Scrabble player, and she instilled those passions in her three daughters. When we were children, our inviolable Saturday morning ritual was to pile into the family station wagon and head to the public library. There, we would spend a solid hour in that hushed, high-ceilinged space, choosing books for the week – and until I left home for college, it was routine for me to read two or three novels or biographies every week in addition to any reading I had to do for school. It wasn’t that we discussed our reading with each other around the dinner table. It was simply that reading for pleasure was such an important part of our lives, and Mom did such a good job of conveying her belief that reading opened up new worlds to anyone willing to step into books.

And Scrabble. Well, we still play whenever I visit my parents. It wasn’t until I reached adulthood and began to play with unrelated friends that I learned some of my mother’s rules were a little loosey-goosey. Pick up three of the same letter? Well, put one back, silly, and choose a new tile! And I thought it was legal to replace a blank tile with the letter for which it was a stand-in. Mom taught me that sometimes it was worth forfeiting the point value of that letter in order to make use of the repurposed blank tile in the next turn. Not real, official rules, readers. But what did I know?

Mom is even now possessed of a sense of style that is perhaps the result of all those fashion design courses she took in college. Like many little girls we loved to watch her get dressed for an evening out with Dad. She’s so elegant, with her arching eyebrows, wavy black hair, and simple jewelry. Though the hair is now gray, the elegance remains. We love her, and appreciate her, and always look forward to spending time with her.

Happy birthday, Lily!

Back from College Heaven

Some of the best times I’ve spent with my family this year are precursors to what will undoubtedly be, at least temporarily, one of the saddest times. We’ve taken a couple of short trips back East to visit colleges with my high school senior daughter, who has her heart set on going out-of-state for college even if it means paying back loans for the next twenty years of her life.

In the spring, we visited several schools in Pennsylvania over a couple of raw wet days filled with dirty snow and dreary skies. The campuses, however, were impervious to the weather, populated as they were with perky tour guides who excelled at walking backwards across campus as they extolled the virtues of their schools, and encouraging admissions officers who were thrilled at the prospect of attracting a bright and shiny new freshman from the under-represented West Coast demographic. Not that I’m cynical or anything.

This time, we went to Providence, RI to visit Brown (which my daughter pronounced “Beautiful even in the rain!”) and several schools in Boston. In Providence, we met my parents for a visit that included a delicious dinner at Mill’s Tavern to celebrate two birthdays: Mom’s and my husband’s. My dad outdid himself, calling the restaurant’s pastry chef in advance to request a special cake… it was extravagantly delicious, with a dense, moist crumb and chocolate ganache frosting. Though it was incredibly rich, I kept taking just… one… more… bite… because it was too good to stop eating. We could hardly get up from the table when the meal was finished.

Everywhere we went, I was childishly pleased to see that the fall foliage had not completely dropped off the trees.

We stuffed ourselves with chowder, oysters, and other rich New Englandy seafood dishes in between campus tours. We wandered around the Faneuil Hall Market square, and admired the historic old architecture of the Back Bay and Beacon Hill (pausing at a house on which a placard announced it as the building from which Paul Revere set out on his midnight ride), and window-shopped Newbury Street after dark to walk off yet another rich meal.

We connected with our daughter’s best friend from her summer program in France, and had dinner at a wonderful restaurant in the North End with Sophie (on the left) and her parents.
And everywhere we went, there were more of those brilliant gorgeous trees…

In three days, we toured four colleges, and did drive-throughs of another three. Quite a whirlwind, yet each school left its own distinct impressions. Memory being an imperfect thing, thank goodness I took so many photos of all that foliage those buildings!

These are the three inter-denominational chapels at Brandeis University, one of Rachel’s favorite spots on our tour of that campus.


Chard. Rainbow chard. Crunchy red and yellow stems, brilliant green corrugated leaves that glow with the sun behind them. Beautiful AND delectable. Oh, yeah.

Braised with a drizzle of olive oil, a clove or two of smashed garlic, a quick grind of fresh black pepper, and a tidge of chicken stock or water to keep it moist. That tangy, peppery flavor is the essence of fall to me. Love it, love it, love it.

Am also loving the progress on my Drops Jacket, which I couldn’t resist after seeing others’ efforts on Ravelry. It’s a quick knit on size 8’s in Beaverslide Dry Goods traditional 2-ply fisherman’s weight yarn from Montana (210 yards per skein, and in my size it’s going to take 5 skeins), at 4 sts. to the inch. Stash-busting never felt so good.

The yarn has a substantial heft and voluptuous springiness. It’s not next-to-your-skin soft, but with another long-sleeved layer underneath, it will definitely be my go-to favorite when the house gets cold this winter. I found great vintage glass buttons at Britex in San Francisco. They are faceted, irridescent dome-shaped buttons that pick up all the colors in the yarn – small and elegant without being over the top. Just perfect.

The color is Prairie Aster, a rich rosy violet with flecks of tonal magenta and heathery bits of blue clinging to the main color.

Mods: I’m making it long-sleeved rather than three-quarter length, and I’ve added a fourth buttonhole so it buttons a bit further down below my bustline to keep out the drafts. I’m working the collar right now, and will block and seam it over the weekend. Modeled photos to follow next week!


My joy is indescribable.

Congratulations, President-Elect Obama.

Standard Time

Funny, I’ve been so accustomed to the extended Daylight Savings Time that October slipped right by without my missing the early nightfall of autumns past. Even though the days have slowly grown shorter and it’s been discouragingly dark when I get up at 6:30 in the morning, it never seemed strange that we had not yet moved our clocks back.

Wouldn’t it be some small justice if the only good thing for which the Bush administration is remembered, is his decision to extend Daylight Savings Time? I still believe one of the few positive lasting achievements of the Reagan years was his first step at extending DST back in the eighties. Although Bush’s decision has given us more daylight hours in which to contemplate his dangerous brand of idiocy, the fact is it’s helpful: we turn on the lights later in the evening for those extra weeks, saving electricity.

With November here at last – and election day a mere three and a half days away – I am so excited to vote, wish my daughter was just one year older so she could vote too, and am jonesing for Change with a capital C. If only I could persuade my diehard Republican father (that’s you, Dad!) to do his grandchildren a favor and vote for Obama, I’d feel that I had accomplished a major good deed this year. He maintains cynically that “All politicians are the same,” and that therefore he might as well vote for McCain. I disagree. I believe that Obama is different, and different in the best possible ways. The last several weeks he has had to temper his message in order to appeal to the broadest possible number of voters, but once he is in office, I am convinced he will be one of the greatest presidents in our country’s history.

On the knitting front, I’ve submitted secret pattern designs to a couple of different publications and must now wait to hear back from them. Meanwhile, with a college visits trip looming, I’m trying to narrow down the projects I’ll bring with me for the long cross-country plane rides. I’ve given almost no thought to what I’ll pack to wear (other than comfortable shoes, that is), because, well, with the holidays fast approaching, the knitting just seems so much more important. I’ve been narrowing down my choices for what to make for whom, and have come up with some luscious options that I’m excited to start.

It has been pouring rain since last night, and we desperately need every drop. Earlier in the week however, the garden was looking good. Still surprising me with blooms in both front and back, as you can see.

I had no idea when I planted them that the blueberry bushes would turn red in the fall. As a transplanted east-coaster who misses colorful autumn foliage almost more than anything else about life back there, this was a welcome surprise.

And the dahlias just keep on pumping out the flowers. This specimen looks particularly autumnal, don’t you think?

The Sound of My Own Voice

I’ve been derelict at blogging lately, but not for lack of ideas. Just busy with other things. Such as:

It’s always a thrill when the folks over at our local NPR affiliate agree to let me record a piece for their Perspective segment, as I did late last week. I love being in the sound studio, wearing the headphones and communicating with the sound engineer on the other side of the big plate glass window. I love working with him to make the recording, although I can’t remember a session that did not involve a last-second edit to tighten the prose or to make my point more clear. I enjoy the process not so much because I love the sound of my own voice (which, to my ears, sounds a bit gravelly and nasal), but because as I grow older I’ve realized that I think about THINGS (politics, world conflict, the economy, social roles, family) a lot, and consequently have a lot of opinions. I enjoy sharing them and participating in the debate that sometimes results.

The new piece will air tomorrow, and if you want to hear it you can click on the link above for a direct ride to the show. My topic this time is religion, and the way it occasionally and unexpectedly intrudes on our secular lives – and how we deal with it when it does.

While my dear husband channel-surfs a numbing variety of sports events until I’m ready to poke his manhood with my sharpest knitting needle scream, there’s been a lot of therapeutic but secret knitting going on. There’s even some that is eligible for viewing but that has not been photographed because of insufficient progress. That will change in a day or so.

Meanwhile, the garden continues to please. Photos to follow.


Some words just sound better in French. Words like “fleur.” Of course, some sound pretty good in Italian, too. Like “flora.” I went to college with a woman named Flora, and I never wondered what her parents were thinking when they pulled that moniker out of the baby-names book.

Whereas, if they had named her “Flower,” I might have questioned their decision. Fleur and Flora bring to mind images of Botticelli’s lovely paintings of the Three Graces and of Venus Rising from the Sea. Flower, on the other hand, for reasons I don’t quite understand, reminds me of a disheveled Eliza Doolittle pre-Professor Higgins.

So, anyway, the beginning of autumn-blooming fleurs and flora are all around my garden this week. The pink “kangaroo’s paw” is a hummingbird magnet, but they never hover quite long enough for me to capture them sticking their beaks into the centers. Whenever I hear that tell-tale clicking sound they make while feeding, I sneak out with my camera… I’ll just have to be persistent, and eventually I’ll catch one of the little guys in the act.

And the cyclamen leaves seem particularly well-variegated this fall. I adore their heart-shaped leaves and the fragrant flowers that are just beginning to appear.

And for those who are not on Ravelry, here are a couple of photos of my completed Wedding Wrap. The beaded edging went quickly and adds the perfect finishing touch to the wrap. I can’t wait to wear it to the wedding this weekend!

The pattern is for sale here: http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/wedding-wrap on Ravelry, for anyone wanting to make their own version.

Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Pumpkin?

Surprise! The squash below is now almost completely orange, and little by little the larger guy behind it is also turning from orange-speckled green to more decidedly orange. If I pull it forward where it will get more sun it, too, will complete the metamorphosis. By Halloween I will have two convincing pseudo-pumpkins by the front door to greet trick-or-treaters.

On another note, the clematis that I thought was supposed to bloom only in the spring has launched a surprise second coming this fall. On my way out to pick vegetables the other day, I thought I was hallucinating when I noticed – climbing the fence that surrounds our pool equipment – this out-of-season specimen:


Ahh, here they are again. My absolute, hands-down favorite fall flower, the pansy. I LOVE their little faces, freckled and individual as they are, no two quite alike.

I even love it when they go to seed all over the garden and pop up to brighten unexpected corners throughout the winter. It makes me happy just to look at their bright, uncomplicated colors and the way they crowd cheerfully together as if each cluster is creating its own pansy party. They don’t need to smell good, and they don’t need to make a good cut flower. I don’t need to see them inside the house. It’s the way they perk me up on the grayest, most unremittingly drizzling, bone-chilling morning that makes them worth their weight in gold.

I confess that I usually succumb to one or two unusual color combinations like those above, or to the ruffled petals that characterize some varieties.

But it is the old-fashioned classics with their sweet little monkey faces that draw me in again and again, every autumn without fail.

In my quilting days, I even memorialized the pansy in my first Baltimore album quilt. The little fabric replicas below are pretty much life-sized, measuring about 1 1/2″ across at their widest points. I still remember how much fun I had choosing the perfect combination of fabrics to approximate pansy colors, and finding the tiny beads that would stand in for stamen. That quilt took me nearly four years to complete, and when I look at it today, it is the pansies I see first. They still make me smile.


That’s what I’ve been for the last few days, having committed to the lace edging for the Wedding Shawl. Although the bead placed at the tip of each point slows me down just a tad, it’s going well and by the weekend the shawl should be finished and ready for its close-up. Meanwhile, a pointy close-up of the lace and beading. I love the way the Shibui mohair yarn softens the variegations in Zazu, the Twisted Sister wool.

With the wedding just a week away, there’s no time to fool around.

The first side of the edging is done and blocked, and the second side is half-knitted, to be completed this evening. With no mesmerizing debate to watch today, progress should be rapid. Last night, I kept getting distracted by McCain’s pained-looking “smile,” and his overuse of the term “my friends,” interjected into seemingly every other sentence. Does he really believe that calling people his friends will make it so?

Sasquatch Squashkins

During a particularly hot week late this summer, I suffered a brief lapse in the frequency of my squash-picking activities. This negligence permitted a couple of renegades to get carried away, responding to their neglect with a power surge (“Oh, yes! She missed us again, hiding under these huge leaves! Now we can really grow… Watch us and learn, you teensie little zucchinis over there.”) that left them super-sized and hard as drums. Not to put too fine a point on it, once I discovered them they were still lovely to look at but distinctly inedible. And once I realized just how large and hard they had become, I let them go wild. Just had to see how big they could really get. And they did not disappoint. I present, herewith, my pair of sasquatch squashkins:

For the month of October, they will make excellent stand-ins for the customary pumpkins, don’t you think? And the one in front, as if reading my mind, is turning more decisively orange with each passing day. Every time I see them, I feel oh-so-locavore and thrifty, not because I’m planning to eat them, but because I won’t have to buy pumpkins at the market this year. Oh, sure… carving is not in their future, but there’s nothing to stop me from painting jack ‘o’ lantern faces on them as we get closer to Halloween.

In a couple of frenzied hours over the weekend, I pulled all the dead annuals out of our patio pots and replaced them with those traditional harbingers of fall, chrysanthemums. It went faster because I had a little helper:

She supervised from her post at the front door. I never could have done it without her.

My Daughter the Hat Model

Right around the corner is the birthday of a dear friend, for whom I have not knitted a single loving-hands item in years. And this is a friendship with such history that she deserves to have something handknit by me every year, so I have really fallen down on the job. With just enough time to remedy that situation at least for this year, I pulled a ball of fabulously soft and lushly colored Schaeffer yarn (a wool and alpaca blend, if memory serves) from my stash and whipped up this pattern for the adorable Cassidy Cap by Bonne Marie Burns of ChicKnits:

My dear old friend has snappy blue eyes, and this beret will make them even snappier.

Doesn’t my daughter make the most wonderful hat model?

I’m biased, of course, but I think if her ultimate career choice allows for a bit of free time, she could definitely moonlight.

Not-Quite FO: Wedding Wrap

Hot off the blocking board, I present herewith my almost-complete wedding wrap. Two different lace stitches, one – the more open and airy of the two – creating a graceful border:

and the other filling in the body with a dense yet rhythmic design, offering just the right degree of warmth around the shoulders on a cool evening.

Two matched halves joined by kitchener stitch at the center. See how perfectly it complements the little silk evening bag I will carry along to the mid-October wedding?

At the end of the day, I realized the wrap blocked out wide enough not to “need” an edging down the long sides. However, need and want are almost always two different things. Although I suspected that in this case more would simply have been more – and not necessarily better – I’ve decided (in consultation with a couple of discerning friends and family members) that an edging will actually dress up the wrap and give it even more grace than it already has. Plus, it will give me the opportunity to practice the knitted-on border technique of which I have become so enamored. I still have to ask my husband to take photos of the wrap being modelled by a real person (probably yours truly), but that will have to wait until the weekend. Here, take another look. You know you want to.

Nah-Nah-Nah-Nah, Hey, He-e-ey, Good-bye…

Good-bye to summer veggies, that is. We picked the motherlode, including the baby yellow squash seen above, this past weekend in anticipation of planting cool weather crops. A couple of the round green squash that somehow escaped my notice long enough to grow to bowling ball proportions (and with bright orange stripes that make them look quite festive!) are now displayed like renegade pumpkins by the front door. Photos forthcoming a bit closer to Halloween…

There are peppers still on the plants, but I picked and pulled the last of the tomatillos (enough to make a final fresh batch of salsa verde), a gorgeous sweet orange pepper, and a few underripe tomatoes (to keep them from the aforementioned neighborhood rats). Some of the ripe ones wound up sprinkled liberally with fresh basil in this ginormous salad, which we ate with dinner last night. It was soooooo delicious, I took a moment between bites to think about how lucky we are to be able to grow so much of our own produce, and for so much of the year. More than lucky, actually. Privileged.

And of course there was enough rhubarb to make a crisp or two, or maybe a batch of the rhubarb-citrus chutney I like to serve with cheese and crackers for a savory snack or appetizer.

My next big push will be to pull all the basil plants and make a huge batch of pesto to freeze in baggies for the winter. I did that last year, and although I don’t remember making THAT much of it, I am just using up the last of that crop. Jeez, is it any wonder I seldom sit down with my knitting until after dinner?

Now That’s a Fuzzy Heinie!

And just how does one correctly spell heinie anyway? Heiney? Hinee? Hiney? More to the point, have you ever noticed how most grown men have peach fuzz on their heinies? Not that I’ve ever seen most grown men’s heinies, or even – now that I think about it – more than a few. But still.

If you’re guessing that this post is intended to serve as a distraction from the pathetic lack of knitting content on this blog lately, you’re correct. Not that I haven’t been knitting. The Wedding Wrap halves are complete and kitchener stitched together. All that remains is the blocking.

And I’ve begun a hat project – a birthday gift for a dear friend who has received no knitted things from me in far too long. There’s not enough of it to show at the moment; I just cast on last night to celebrate completing the two halves of the Wedding Wrap. Never say I’ve no talent for distraction. Or is that procrastination?

Anyway, I herewith present the fuzzy heinie:

There’s a drink called a Fuzzy Navel, and that’s apparently a perennial favorite despite the unsavory mental images, so why has no one invented the Fuzzy Heinie? I’m just sayin’.