The Pause That Refreshes

Nothing like homemade biscotti and a cup of hot tea to get the creative juices flowing. A friend came over and baked four gigantic batches of heavenly biscotti with me last weekend: anise, chocolate-almond, lemon-walnut, and chocolate-hazelnut-ginger. She was the smart one, and gave most of hers away.

To restrain myself from devouring all of mine in one gluttonous sitting, I bagged them and stowed them in the freezer. Every few days, I pull out half a dozen and put them on a plate to share with the family. What’s that? They don’t care for biscotti, you say? What a shame! And here I was thinking I’d been the soul of generosity…

Outside early this morning, while weeding and pulling out a pitiful fraction of the California poppies that proliferate like a noxious plague self-sowed in a generous spirit of volunteerism among the rose bushes and irises, I caught the dew still clinging to the leaves just out on these roses:

and – be still, my heart! – the ruby flowering quince actually in flower! It looked like a goner earlier in the spring, and my fantasies of elegantly austere floral arrangements seemed in vain. Then this morning I noticed all these blooms. Not enough to pick, mind you. Those sculptural bouquets will have to wait until next year, but I can be patient. Really, I can.

ADD or Multi-Tasking? You Decide!

Last night I just had to bring my knitting to the high school basketball game. I have no son on the team to mortify with my multi-tasking; rather, my daughter is a varsity cheerleader and I go to the games to make sure she isn’t injured or worse while hoisting one of her teammates up into a paralyzingly terrifying masterful “basket toss” or a ohmigod are they absolutely f—ing crazy?! really cool “liberty.”

In order to maintain a modicom of composure, I knit. And knit. Interspersed with cheers or groans as the actual basketball playing requires. But mostly I knit. So last night I completed a sleeve for the Lotus Cardigan. It was mindless stockinette with sporadic increases and then decreases, the kind of knitting one can do in one’s sleep. Perfect.

When I returned home, however, I picked up the Swallowtail Shawl again. That project requires a little more concentration, since lace is not my middle name. And again, progress was made. I’ve completed eleven out of the fourteen repeats of the buds that make up the center of the shawl. Don’t ask why I’m knitting this on straight needles so far; it just seemed to be the right thing at the time. When it gets a bit larger, I’ll make the switch to circulars. There is so much of the Sundara Fingering Silky Merino I may even size it larger by doing several extra repeats before beginning the Lily of the Valley border.

The garden is a daily delight. In fact, why am I sitting inside at the computer when I could be out wandering around in this:

And this: The plum tree in full bloom. Should every one of those blossoms transform into a plum, we could be in trouble come summer. I love trouble.

Here, There, and Everywhere

Call me crazy, but I think it’s just spring fever that’s making me unable to focus on one project at a time. I, who have always prided myself on finishing one thing and one thing only before starting on a new one, am hopping around in a state of fickleness that is most unlike me. To wit:

Just talking about Sundara’s magnificent Seasons Club yarns a couple of days ago got me hankering to try one of them. The Autumn Rose was calling to me no doubt because once the torrential rain stopped we’ve had sun and blue skies every day… it feels like spring, and my fingers crave softer, lighter yarn instead of the heavy wools with which I’ve been working of late.

I’m making Evelyn Clark’s Swallowtail Shawl from the Fall 2006 issue of Interweave Knits. So far so good, although as you can see not a great deal of progress has been made. I suffer pangs of envy looking through samples on Ravelry, and seeing notes from other knitters who made the entire shawl in a single day.

More glory in the garden. Every day I step outside and find something new in bloom. These cymbidium orchids were potted up on the back patio last winter. I never know with orchids whether they’ll make a comeback or not. Friends of mine have perfected the mysterious art of getting their orchids to rebloom but I am not a member of that club. Certainly the ones I keep inside have seldom rebloomed, to the point that I ask myself why I’m keeping around all these pots of long green leaves. The cat occasionally enjoys munching on them, but making her barf all over the house has never been a goal of mine since I’m usually the one who gets to clean it up.

These violets have naturalized under the back pear tree. I originally planted them about five years ago as two tiny six-packs of seedlings. Now they form a gratifying carpet under that pear tree, and the fragrance is heavenly.

The Rough and the Smooth

In the last few days, the postman has rung the doorbell to deliver some fabulous stash-building additions – as if I needed them which I can always use. Leanne at Beaverslide Dry Goods sent these tweedie beauties, both of which are 100% fine wool:

Prairie Aster, on the left, is a deeper, richer purple in real life. It’s a 2-ply fisherman’s weight, 210 yards per 4 oz. skein, and knits up at 4 st to the inch on #8 needles. Wild Myrtle, on the right, is truly indigo, with lovely neps of softer blue and purple. Also 210 yards per 4.5 oz skein, with 3-4 st per inch on #8-10 needles. I first heard about Leanne’s lovely yarn over at Jared’s blog brooklyntweed, and can’t wait to try it. Thanks for the tip, Jared.

I also received the latest installment of Sundara’s yarn through the Autumn Seasons Club. It’s the Autumn Rose Silky Merino at the bottom of the following group photo. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. But is it autumnal? I’d say no. And that was also my immediate impression of the Copper Over Bamboo Silk Lace (at left in photo) which was my first introduction to the Season’s Club. I’d been expecting a series of yarns in deeper colors like the top two, Bronzed Sienna and Mossy Sock yarns. I agree with Amy at Stash, Knit, Repeat on this.

After reading about Sundara’s yarns for months on other blogs and always missing out when I tried to purchase them from her website, I was excited to sign up for the Seasons Club when she announced it. To be fair, I have never been disappointed in either the quality of the yarn or in the colors themselves. Sundara is an extremely talented colorist with some of the highest standards I’ve ever seen. It’s simply that I gravitate toward the warm, rich fall colors and expected from her description that that’s what I would receive. So although I may not sign up again for a yarn club because obviously the color choices are at the discretion of the seller, it’s been a valuable experience.

More excitement in the garden! With a couple of sunny days in the 60s following hard on the heels of a week of soaking rain (and we seem to be out of danger… looks like we don’t have to worry about another drought summer this year), spring has popped. A walk around the house revealed the following yesterday: Narcissus everywhere.

We had given up the vinca for dead once we ripped out all the nasty junipers from the front yard and started from scratch. Slowly over the last year it has made a come-back and now is in full bloom, creating a carpet of ground cover among the roses and daffodils.

Of all the hellebores planted around the garden, these dramatic burgundy ones are my absolute favorites. Vaguely sinister, they face the ground, concealing their dusky beauty until you turn their blooms upward for a closer look.

Of course, we could get another month or more of rain, but the respite is lovely. Last year, the new plum tree produced sparse blossoms, and even sparser fruit – in fact, there was exactly one plum on the entire tree, and that was IT. So I find it vastly encouraging that this year the tree is covered with buds. We pruned it back hard last month when it was all just bare twigs, and it seems to have appreciated the effort. Now if only some of those blossoms will develop into fruit for this summer.

More of the crocuses opened in the rain. Lots of the yellows, a few of the whites like these, veined with the faintest lavender, and I think I spotted a couple of purple ones getting ready to bloom as well. More soon!

Sick of Being Sick

Still sick… a full week and counting. Back to the doctor tomorrow if I can’t shake this lung-rattling cough by morning (Oh, yeah, as if another twelve hours will make a difference when an entire week hasn’t been long enough to get it out of my system). Finished the antibiotics yesterday… shouldn’t I be feeling at least a LITTLE better by now?

Managed to pull myself together sufficiently to go to Stitches on Friday with a friend who is also recovering from a cold. We tried not to cough all over people, but frankly I’m not sure it mattered because everyone there seemed to be either getting over a cold or in the middle of one just as bad as mine. Lots of nose blowing going on. Shopped with greater restraint than usual, since my stash has clearly met that “can’t possibly use it all up in my lifetime” level of abundance. In addition to a few pairs of Lantern Moon needles and some short DPNs in a variety of sizes, I couldn’t resist the gorgeous yarns at the Brooks Farm Yarns booth. This deep, rich eggplant purple one is “Mas Acero,” a wool, silk, and viscose blend that has a lovely sheen and soft hand:

“Solo Silk,” below, is a 50/50 fine new wool in a stunning geranium color that the photo does not accurately replicate. It is next-to-the-skin soft and I can’t wait to make my first project with it.

At Stitches I met Jess and Casey from, who are even more delightful in person than they seem on their blogs. Although they sold out of tee shirts and tote bags within a couple of hours of Stitches opening for the day, you can tell that success has not gone to their heads.
This week, in addition to plugging away on the Lizard Ridge blanket, I made these two swatches for a project I have in mind:

I’m not saying any more for now… have to see how it all knits up. Swatching is fun, though. I always love to see if the yarn behaves the way I think it will and if the idea in my head will translate accurately. Some experiments are more successful than others.

In spite of another day of torrential downpours, spring has sprung and every day I see more flowers bloooming. The primroses in this pot by the front door return year after year, but since I always add a few other things during the dark weeks when the pot looks bare and I convince myself that the brown stubs in it won’t amount to anything, they always surprise me. It’s the 50 First Dates of entryway flowers.

I also planted about 100 crocus and narcissus bulbs last fall and they are really popping now. Having them line the front walk adds some color and cheer to even the crappiest day.

Hacking and Wheezing and Sniffling

I don’t get sick very often, but when I do it’s as if my body is determined to make up for all those healthy months by knocking me flat on my ass. Well, on my ass I am, and I’ve landed in the squishy middle of a pile of used tissues and cough drop wrappers. The doctor says bronchitis and I say flu (in spite of the flu shot for which I dutifully rolled up my sleeve last fall), but the bottom line is I am effing miserable. So miserable that I spent all day yesterday in bed, moaning and dozing. Too miserable to knit even though I had the entire day to myself… and that’s pretty miserable. Every-muscle-in-every-body-part-aching-miserable.

I even succumbed to the lure of a good squirt of Affrin knowing full well I’d pay the price when it wore off and I suddenly couldn’t breathe again only even worse than before I used it. You know what I’m talking about.

Even this doesn’t make me feel much better:

Well, maybe a little.

Confessions of a Cheating Knitter

What you see above is the back of Berroco’s Lotus cardigan, which I started over the weekend. See, the Lizard Ridge blanket is really, truly about 75% done, and my darling daughter won’t be leaving the nest to start college for another year. I thought I’d do a square here and a square there, taking my sweet time to find twenty-five different colors of Kureyon for it, but found myself obsessed. I finally mastered short rows, and couldn’t seem to get enough. And, there was the bonus technique I had to learn of knitting back backwards… well, I just couldn’t stop myself. And then, suddenly –

BOREDOM reared its ugly head. I needed a quick and easy distraction from the very same, but suddenly interminable short rows and knitting backwards of the Lizard Ridge. So I started the Lotus cardigan. I’ve had the Noro Kochoran in my stash for a couple of years and even though it sheds like a himalayan cat in the middle of summer it is also very soft and the color transitions are so delectably subtle… I had to do it. Quick and dirty stockinette. Love it sometimes. I did the back in one day in between other things, something to occupy my hands while hubby drove or watched yet one more basketball game on TV.

I may be cursing the distraction once I get to the “skirt” section that attaches to the bodice. I already noticed the part where the pattern says to cast on four hundred and twenty-two stitches. Might not be quite so speedy when I get to that point in the pattern. Meanwhile, a little more mindless knitting for the fronts and sleeves should inspire me to get back to the blanket.

Meanwhile, the garden continues to surprise: Camellias –


And an early spring bouquet to inaugurate the beautiful vase my friend Allison gave me for Christmas:

Hellebores and Hardenburgias Galore

Camera in hand, I stroll the grounds of my little patch of northern California dirt and am astonished to discover that suddenly, when I turned my attention momentarily to other, indoor-type pursuits, the garden absolutely exploded with early spring blooms. White, pink, and burgundy hellebores bow their heads toward the ground as if they are terribly self-conscious about their adorable freckles: if these plants had feet they’d be scuffing the ground in an “Aw, shucks” manner.

Photographing them in their natural faces-to-the-ground position after nearly two weeks of rain is quite a trick. The ground is wet-sponge sodden; the knees of my jeans soak through in an instant as I bend and twist trying to capture the hellebores’ faces. I’d need a heavy tarp if I wanted to lie down on the grass and get a really good angle on them.

The hardenburgia is in full bloom, like miniature wisteria only not as messy and without the heady fragrance. These were planted exactly a year ago, and a killing frost burned them right back to the ground. Not a single flower opened last spring, so this year’s display is most welcome. I just hope they don’t get too attached to the fence, since as soon as our next-door neighbor’s renovation is complete (yes, that’s still in progress. The siding is up, the roof is on, and the hammering and pounding is – thankfully – mostly inside at this point) we will replace that section of fence with a taller one.

We Be Jammin’

A veritable avalanche of ripe citrus fruit littering the kitchen counters, filling baskets and bowls, appearing in recipes and cups of tea of late, resulted in this sampling, which represents the tip of the marmalade iceberbg: from left to right, Blood Orange, Bearss lime, and Meyer lemon.

The blood oranges were contributed by a friend, but the lemons and limes are from our own trees. I kept the sugar low, resisted my usual temptation to get fancy with spices and liqueurs, and added commercial pectin only to the lime marmalade when I saw that the seedless oranges formed a very soft set due to the absence of natural pectin. I supremed all the fruit (although to her credit, the blood orange-donating friend did half of both lemons and oranges) so there are no chewy bits of pith or rind to mar the texture. This is Purist Marmalade. And the resulting flavors are pure bursts of citrus goodness. Oh my.

There has also been knitting going on here. To wit, these Autumn Leaf wristlets. Pattern, my own adaptation of the many mitt patterns out there. I love the Rowan Yorkshire Tweed DK yarn in the Lime Leaf colorway. This yarn has since been discontinued by Rowan, which came out with Scottish Tweed DK as a substitute in fresh colors. Am I the only knitter on the planet to desire this color? I recently went online to try and find more of it in additional colors – it was such a pleasure to knit with on my size 6 bamboos. Alas, the only color out there, on site after site, is the Lime Leaf. What is it that others don’t care for? The lovely little flecks of sunflower and sky that permeate the fiber? The slightly tacky texture that makes it grip the needles so nicely? I just don’t get it. Anyway, your loss is my gain… this perplexing lack of interest just means there is more for me.

I am still hard at work on the Lizard Ridge blanket for my daughter. Coming into the home stretch, even. No more photos until it’s on the blocking board.

Here Comes The Sun

I keep looking out my office window toward the garage and back garden, and bemoan the absence of blooms. With all the rain we’ve had the last few weeks, it’s easy to think everything is gray and wet. Yet right outside my front door, all I had to do was look a little more closely to see there is plenty of color… all the easier to spot with the rare sun shining on it.

The cyclamen are in full bloom in pots on the front stoop, and smell sweetly delicious.

Primroses are brilliant, turning their cheerful little faces up to the sun to catch the rays.

The very first crocuses are up – and I love crocuses! These bulbs got all mixed up in the bag so I didn’t know which colors would appear where along the front walk. These are tiny, precious little ones. Growing up back East, crocuses were always the first to bloom, often appearing through the snow in the dead of winter. A badly needed annual dose of optimism just when winter seems as if it will last forever.

Poetic February

I catch
my breath

to spy
the raw edge of spring
through February’s naked furze

I shout
a shout
that cleaves
the chilling fog

and mists
the breathless ragged trees
in hinted green

Singin’ in the Rain

Today is my beautiful sister Jenny’s birthday. She is forty-…. well, four years younger than I am, which makes her… oh, never mind. She is lovely, hard-working, funny, and has two exceptionally smart, feisty children. I love her very much. Happy Birthday, Jen!

Hellebores bow their heads to the gods of rain:

I’ve managed to track mud all over the ivory carpet in my office after stepping outside to photograph the effects of 48 hours of non-stop rain. Rather than clean it up (my husband is so much better at that kind of thing than I am… and he really thrills to the application of elbow grease, to seeing the stain sloooowly fade under his tender ministrations, to that burst of superiority he experiences as I, mediocre and disinterested cleaner that I am, praise his efforts. So obviously I mustn’t deprive him of this opportunity to bask in his talents.) I will share a few telling images of the deluge. Anybody got an ark? We could use one…

The pool is as close to the edge as it can be without actually overflowing:

As is the fountain:

And puddles create scenic reflections everywhere I look:

On another note, the Lizard Ridge throw progresses, but there’s nothing photo-worthy just yet. Suffice to say I am 3/4 of the way through with the blocks, far enough along to realize that I have too many duplicate colored skeins of Kureyon. A trip to my LYS is in order to exchange a few of these for the newer shades, just to mix it up a bit more. My daughter may never know the difference, but I will.

A little stash-building has been going on over here, to the tune of this luscious sock yarn from Sundara. It’s 100% superwash merino, color Hyacinth. My photos make it appear more blue and less… well, hyacinth than it actually is.

How about a close-up to see the utterly gorgeous and subtle variations in this semi-solid winner?

Deb over at Fearless Fibers is the creator of these lovely superwash colors. I give you, from left to right, Sublime (isn’t it just?), Butterscotch, and Marrakesh. I’m thinking a few pairs of heavier weight socks, maybe berets and fingerless mitts… Warm, beautiful, and washable. What a concept.

Stay dry!

Never Met a Chocolate I Didn’t Like

Last week I flew down to San Diego for the 33rd Winter Fancy Food Show. Just my luck that the year I decide to attend is the year they move the show from its customary winter venue of San Francisco (a 30-minute BART ride away) to San Diego (a 1 1/2 hour plane ride with all the accompanying hassles of parking, delays, etc.).

In any case, it was quite a scene. Picture over a thousand specialty food purveyors hawking their wares to over 11,000 ravenous attendees. These are gourmet food shop owners, restaurateurs, caterers, high-end grocery store buyers, and people like me – the press. Oh, and let us not forget the individuals who used any pretext to get into the show so they could basically hoover up enough samples to tide them over for the rest of the winter. And most of these gluttons, from my observation, didn’t need the extra calories.

My article on new chocolate creations will appear in our county paper’s Food section the week before Valentine’s Day. “Fair trade,” “premium cacao beans,” “sustainable harvesting methods,” and “artisanal” were the big buzzwords. I made the mistake of letting a couple of the chocolatiers press upon me their personal favorites to try – and found that we were seldom in agreement about what constituted “favorite.” Surprisingly, one of the most smooth, delectable and satisfying samples I tried wasn’t a chocolate at all. “Caffe Acapella” is billed as a “Gourmet Coffee Confection,” made according to the same principles as fine chocolate only using coffee beans instead of cacao beans. Mmmm…

Sunshine on a Rainy Day

These are the first eight of what will eventually be 24 or 25 (depending upon layout) for the Lizard Ridge blanket that will go off to college with my daughter in 2009. Just yesterday we spent some time surfing various university websites trying to decide which schools to visit in the spring. Talking about SAT scores and GPAs as much as about the distribution requirements, campus life, location, the strongest degree programs at each school.

Then she asked me in a slightly lost-sounding voice, “Mom, how am I going to manage my life in college? It seems so soon. Do you really think I’ll be ready to go away a little over a year from now?” She looked scared and worried, and I thought about all the effort we have made to give her the independence and self-confidence to handle herself out in the real world.
And I was torn betwen wanting to scream, “Hell, yes!” and wanting to sit her on my lap and try to assuage her anxiety. Maybe a Lizard Ridge blanket will help. She picked out her favorite colors of Noro’s Kureyon yarn for the project, and has seen me work on it regularly over the last few months in between other projects. She knows how much love and care are going into its creation. All I can hope is that when she curls up under its warmth to study, she’ll feel my strength and love and belief in her capabilities.

When Life Hands You a Lemon… Or a Lime…

The rain let up long enough this morning for me to run outside and pick some of the ripe citrus. We have Meyer lemons, Bearss limes (which are a funny chartreuse color when ripe and make the best limeade) and the first crop of Satsuma Mandarins, which are seedless and tart. I hope as the tree matures, the fruit will sweeten up… but even tart and tangy they’re pretty delicious!

(I confess I already ate two of the Mandarins… there are many more on the tree still green). The lemons are HUGE this year – almost the size of oranges. Divinely fragrant.

There are lemon tarts and lemon curd in my near future, and I want to try a batch of candied lemon peel…