It’s Raining, It’s Pouring…

Oh. My. God. The fountain is overflowing, and the pool is almost spilling over its edge, too. Winds up to 100 mph in any other part of the country would be considered, I am absolutely certain, a bona fide hurricane, but here in the Bay area it’s only “rainstorms with high winds.” San Francisco weather forecasters have a talent for understatement, judging from what I saw when I was out on the road today.

Wish I could have stayed inside knitting, a cup of tea at my elbow, but no such luck. I had a birthday lunch to go to, and three friends in the car with me as we splashed our way down the freeway. Quite exciting… like the amusement park rides my family has to bribe me onto.

Nothing photoworthy today, so I’ll sign off with an amazing shot of the full moon rising over the hills behind our house a couple of weeks ago:

Happy New Year

One goal (and I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, to be honest) is to make 2008 a better year for blogging, even though with other projects taking priority right now, there’s not much to report. I’m doing a lot of writing, which is great, but that means I’m not doing very much knitting or gardening.

This being January, at first glance it seems as if there’s really not very much happening in the garden anyway. But on closer inspection, I realize the cyclamen are blooming,

and the hellebores are beginning a new cycle:

I’m encouraged to see that the daphnes we planted last winter are in bud,

and the cymbidium orchids are poised to make a comeback as well. If I look back at last winter’s photos, I can see which plants/colors are putting out the most new bud stalks… it’s exciting, if excruciatingly slow, but with orchids there’s always the consolation that once they bloom, those flowers will last for months.

And there are limes and Meyer lemons! Such an abundance, the lemons have lemons… I just sent a box of them to my dad, and I will make marmalade and perhaps experiment with lemon curd as well. The good news is they keep for weeks in the fridge.

And finally, several weeks ago I planted new irises from Schreiners. To my amazement, a couple of them are already in bloom. This one is called “Maid of Orange.” Stunning. It’s planted by the front walk along with several others, interspersed with variegated-leaf Heucheras. I like the contrast of the sword-like iris leaves with the rounded, mottled Heucheras… gives the walk a sculptural effect even when nothing is flowering.

And, of course, I am knitting, but have absolutely nothing to show for myself right now. I’m hard at work in the evenings on a Lizard Ridge throw blanket. It’s for my daughter to take to college a year and a half from now… which gives me plenty of time to finish it in between other, more pressing projects that will surely appear. Next month, I plan to have more time for knitting.

Autumn Color

I finally brought my camera along on my early morning walk to capture the fall color. For those who live in this part of the country, you know that such a quest requires a sharp eye for infinite subtlety. After living in the Bay area for seven years, I’ve learned not to expect entire mountainsides ablaze with resplendent fall foliage. I’ve learned to seek out the individual tree or shrub, whether it’s in a supermarket parking lot, in someone’s garden, or at the local elementary school. Sometimes it’s obvious, like the brilliant colors of this chinese pistache:

Sometimes it’s more subtle, like the gone-to-seed prickliness of these thistles:

Sometimes it’s a jewel-toned glory that is best appreciated up close, like the pink dogwood we planted last spring as much for its fall foliage as for its delicate spring flowers:

And sometimes it’s a gobsmacking, unexpected miracle like this angel’s trumpet blooming in November, the first year after the whole thing was lifted out of its unhappy potted existence and transplanted directly into a sheltered area in the ground:

Pesto Preparations

Here’s how I spent a good part of my afternoon, determined not to let the last of the garden’s bounty go to waste: These raw ingredients…

….turned over the course of an hour (most of which was spent picking individual leaves off the basil plants culled from the vegetable garden) into these, which promptly went into the freezer for use during the winter months:

Finished a new project in the last couple of weeks, from Interweave’s book Scarf Style, the “Midwest Moonlight” scarf by Ivy Bigelow, which began life in Barbara Walker’s second book of knitting patterns. I used Mountain Colors Mountain Goat in color Northwind, a lovely semi-solid that shifts from sky to ocean blues:

When some knitting friends came to dinner recently, I arranged the table flowers in an assortment of the brown and white transferware pitchers I’ve been collecting for years. Something about this arrangement, in spite of the spring-y tulips and lilies, said “Welcome to fall” to me:

Needle Happy

At long last, here is a recent finished project, EZ’s February Baby Sweater from Knitter’s Almanac. After seeing it several times out in blog-land, I had to try my hand at it even though I have no specific baby in mind for it. The yarn is an old Schaefer variegated I had in my stash, and one skein was sufficient for the sweater, with enough left over for a cute little matching cap (yet to be created). On size 8 needles it went very quickly, and of course I loved having only the sleeve seams to sew up at the end. Found the cute little purple plastic buttons at my LYS.

I don’t love how the purple pooled at the lower half of the cardi fronts (and on the back), especially when it achieved such successful variegation on the sleeves and upper half of the body. But the deep autumnal colors and the soft wool were a pleasure to work with. The cardi still has to be blocked, but I’m pleased to have completed it and gotten the buttons on.

The scarf below is from Interweave Press’ Scarf Style book, which has so many winners within its pages it’s difficult to decide which to try next. They call the pattern “Midwest Moonlight,” but the stitch originated in Barbara Walker’s Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns. It’s the kind of meditative stitch that requires just enough alertness to get the repeat down cold, and then it takes on a rhythm of its own. I am a couple of inches from completing it, but wanted to share the joy early. Blocking will make it longer and a bit flatter, but the stretch will enhance the tilted appearance of the stitch, which is certainly most of its charm. I already love the way the side edges undulate and the bottom edge ripples.

Autumn is in the air

Last week the new irises arrived; lovely fat rhizomes with leaf stalks attached and each one labeled, all lined up in their shipping box filled with shavings. I ordered them from Schreiners’ Irises up in Oregon; several shades of gold, apricot, and orange for up front to border the front walk and mingle among similarly colored roses, and a combination of blues, periwinkle and dark purples for the back garden beds where the colors are generally cooler. Can’t wait until spring to see how they perform.

Imagine my surprise, poking around with the gardening shears this afternoon, to find this early harbinger of fall already blooming in the shade bed. It seems at least a month too early for cyclamen, not that I’m complaining.

Out under the pergola in one of the big pots I planted this summer, the plants are making a come back now that the horrid late August/early September heat spell has broken. The last few days have barely made it into the mid-seventies, and the flowering plants seem grateful for the reprieve. Petunias are not my favorites, but these white ones are prolific and really pop behind the brighter colors of the pelargonium and the little purple one (the name of which I forget).

Once I gingerly picked my way underneath the gigantic and prickly leaves of the vegetable garden’s sunburst squash plants, I discovered a bonanza of babies. I confess I picked them all rather than leave them to get big and mealy. I think there’s a recipe for summer squash risotto somewhere in my repertoire.

Although you’d never know it from these photos, I am knitting a lot. Just have nothing to show for myself yet. Patience.

Tomato Tyranny

A couple of weeks ago, my nine (Insanity or greed? You decide.) heirloom tomato plants seemed to take fertility drugs. There are now baskets and baskets of ripening tomatoes all over the kitchen and family room. I shouldn’t complain, I know. I’ll certainly miss them this winter, and to that end I have already slow-roasted tray after tray of them, put them in freezer bags, and stuck them in the freezer to add to soups and stews on rainy January days. But I’ve also been eating them in salads, sauces, ratatouille, and tarts… every day, and thus a bit of tomato fatigue is setting in. In this basket are the following: Brandywine, pineapple, plum, black Krim, Hillbilly, green zebra, and black pineapple. And there’s more where these came from:

The pears were doing it, too, until recently, when I showed them who’s boss by canning them into spiced pear sauce, pear jam with fig and ginger, and a chocolate pear sauce that is to die for. We’re talking dozens of jars here: I’ll never run out even if I gift them to everyone I know for the holidays.

Not nearly as prolific but even more welcome are the figs on the dwarf tree: I’ve had enough to serve them as appetizers with gorgonzola and prosciutto, and to bake them into a dessert with a sauce of honey, butter, and rum. I licked the spoon clean, but the rest of the family wasn’t as appreciative. Just a little too sophisticated – and not sweet enough – for them.

Finally, here’s my loyal office companion, my furry girl Shadow in all her spread-eagled glory:

I’ve been knitting quite a bit as well, but have nothing new to show yet. One baby cardigan needs buttons, one scarf needs another skein of yarn (I know, I know. I can’t believe I ran out, either.), and another adult sized cardigan is not far enough along to show off. Soon, soon…

Aloha, Mahalo

Returned from a week-long vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii, my husband’s wow-did-he-do-good surprise to take the sting out of turning 50. Thankfully, we missed the earthquake, the hurricane, and the tsuname warnings. He was most disappointed not to see lava flowing when we stayed overnight at the only hotel inside the Volcanoes National Park, but steaming craters were quite exciting enough for me.

Unbelievable, though, was this “autograph” tree near one of the waterfalls, where grafitti has been condoned at a new level of tackiness… I guess scratching one’s name into a rubbery leaf has become an integral component of hiking and sightseeing. It just left me scratching my head.

During one of our day hikes, we spotted this tree. Don’t these roots look astoundingly like giant versions of a certain male protruberance? Even my husband was rather awed by their stiffness and “hairy”ness:

While we’re on the subject of awe-inspiring sights, it has been many years since I last saw a night sky as filled with stars and a staggeringly clear view of the Milky Way. In our rental convertible (Was that ever fun!) we could tilt the seats all the way back and star-gaze into the seemingly infinite heavens.

Most of the island seemed incredibly unspoiled and non-touristy compared to a visit we made some years ago to Oahu. We swam in clear ocean water on white sand beaches, ate fresh fish, hiked through rain forests filled with flowering ginger:

And amazing orchids clinging to and growing out of the rain forest trees like the epiphytes they are meant to be:

And these gigantic, prehistoric-looking fern:

We ate ever more fresh fish, hiked to 800 foot waterfalls, ate still more fresh fish, and hiked across a volcano crater that was as desolate and parched as a moonscape:

In the course of the week, we drove around the entire island, stopping in whichever little town caught our fancy along the way. It has been a very long time since I last felt so relaxed.

Maybe others are already aware of them, but I’d never seen a gecko up close before, and damned if they aren’t the cutest little critters! Kind of wish I had suction pads on the soles of my feet like they do.

I gotta ask, however, what’s the big deal about Kona coffee? Feh. Did nothing for me. I’ll take a good strong cup of french roast any day.

Returned home to the Attack of the Killer Pear Tree, which keeps hurling ripening pears onto my head whenever I pass by, kind of like those nasty apple trees in The Wizard of Oz. To get back at it, I’ve made pear jam with figs and ginger, as well as many giftable jars of pears Belle Helene (thinly sliced pears with orange and lemon zest and juice, cooked down with 70% super-dark bittersweet chocolate into a saucy jam the consistency of edible velvet). And pear tarts, and pear butter. Not to mention eating them fresh off the tree, sliced into wedges onto which liberal dabs of blue cheese are applied before they end up in my mouth… Yum!

So did I knit, you ask? Well, yes, but nothing I can show off yet. Especially since I, who should certainly know better, ran out of a particular yarn in mid-project. Decided at the last minute to use the yarn for a scarf that is three inches wider than the one I’d originally intended to make, and that was all it took. Now I have to wait until my LYS gets it back in, which they have assured me will happen the first week of September. And since it is a Mountain Colors yarn, I don’t expect there to be any dye lot consistency anyway. The perfect excuse to start another project. As if I needed an excuse!

Nightmare on Knit Street

If there was any doubt about my sanity during the daylight hours on August 1, the ensuing dark night of the soul confirmed that I could be one wrap short of a full skein. Couldn’t sleep, or so I thought, anticipating a long drive the next morning to the opening day of the big summer sale at Filati, a fabulous yarn shop in Rocklin, California, about 100 miles northeast of me. The mere fact that I’d seriously entertain the idea of driving one hundred miles each way to a yarn shop sale is evidence of my break with reality right there.

I found myself in the yarn shop right at opening, but – what’s this? Not a single shopping basket remained in the rack. A glance around the shop itself revealed… empty shelves! Nothing but file cabinets and boxes. No yarn. Not a single skein. I found the owner and, sweating with fear, asked what had happened to all that sale yarn? Had I driven all that way only to be too late to score? No, she said kindly. Pointing out the door, she informed me that the sale was at their OTHER shop across the street.

Dodging traffic, I scampered across the road to find dozens of women, all carrying shopping baskets that bulged with their sale purchases. Buzzing with conversation: “Did you see all the Noro over there?” and “Ohmigod, I just doubled my stash of Rowan!” My heart lifted as I hastened into the shop. But again, no more available shopping baskets! No yarn for me!

And that’s when I awoke. What a nightmare.

In reality, the drive up and back went smoothly to the accompaniment of NPR’s coverage of the bridge collapse in Minneapolis among other topics. I did arrive fifteen minutes before the shop opened (You try gauging a 100-mile drive more accurately than that!), but I was by no means the first eagle-eyed knitter in the parking lot. No, I was the third to pull into a space in front of the shop, and several others were right behind me.

Once the owners unlocked the doors, I quickly filled my basket with stash-worthy additions such as these:

Mountain Colors Mountain Goat in Thunderhead;

Mountain Colors Bearfoot in Olive;

Noro Silk Garden (evidently a discontinued colorway. I bought enough for a sweater);

Introducing… The Ruffled Cardigan

Ta-dah! Is it obvious that I’m mighty pleased with myself? My head is so swelled that it wouldn’t fit in the photos!

Finished the ruffled bed jacket from Knitting Lingerie Style, with my modification of a different ruffle pattern (didn’t care for McGowan-Michael’s version), namely “Fern Lace” from 365 Knitting Stitches A Year, a worth-its-weight-in-yarn little pattern bible. Here’s a detail of the pattern from the sleeve ruffle:

Chose it as much for its tendency to create a lovely rippled edge as for the pattern itself, which decreased nicely on the final repeat so I could stitch it neatly to the cardigan body.

Loved the basic cardigan pattern idea; so feminine, such a lovely fit, and doesn’t it go perfectly over this dress? I never know where inspiration will strike; I’d held onto the Manos del Uruguay yarn for a couple of years, loving that palest shell pink color but not finding quite the right pattern to make best use of it.

Once I found that dress, the proverbial lightbulb went on. I could see it in my mind’s eye, a soft, delicately ruffled jacket to wear over the dress on our cool summer evenings. Then I got my copy of Knitting Lingerie Style, saw the bed jacket pattern, and everything clicked.

If I were to make the cardigan again, I’d do perhaps three additional repeats of the Fern Lace pattern, and stitch the ruffle onto the cardigan body so that the extra fullness settled at the center of the back, to give the overall fit a little more swing and a little less cling. And of course, the crowning glory is this gorgeous carved shell button from my collection of vintage buttons:

Zucchini Anyone?

It’s beginning: the annual summer glut of veggies and fruit. Herewith are Early Girl, Banana paste, and Pineapple tomatoes; zucchini and sunburst squash; and the first of the Bartlett pears:

The peaches are done (and at my husband’s behest I made another dozen jars of “unfancy” peach jam, adding only lemon juice and vanilla bean to brighten the flavor – so much for my fear that the peaches were too small to make jam) and the pears are just beginning.

In a week or so, those that haven’t dropped to the ground will be at the perfect underripe stage to pick and set out on the kitchen counter. These Bartletts definitely ripen best off the tree: I no longer even have to touch them to gauge their readiness. When they reach a particular shade of chartreuse, and perfume the kitchen with a subtle pear-y note, I know it’s time to bake an upside-down caramelized pear tart (from Patricia Wells’ Bistro Cooking). That, as well as pear marmalade, pear butter, and any other pear preserve that strikes my fancy. The local hardware store kindly special-ordered eight dozen jars for me, and I guarantee they will all get used. After pears, there will be FIGS (Proof that Mother Nature saves the best for last).

Little Gardens Everywhere

Visitors bring out the tourist in me. What can I say? With two city kids in tow (my niece and nephew) just waiting to be impressed, I felt it incumbent upon me to show them something impressive. In this case, it was Muir Woods. Nothing like a stand of centuries-old redwoods to silence a couple of urban, easily underwhelmed, talkative kids.

The redwoods worked their magic to be sure, but so did the two-hour hike that on our (not very detailed) map appeared easy and short but in reality involved climbing what seemed to be HUNDREDS of steps up the “Lost Trail” and then curved along the rim hundreds of feet above the valley floor. All I could hear, after a while, was the sound of them panting. And sweating.

“How far do you think we’ve walked?” they asked in hollow and piteous voices after the first hour, stopping again to swig from their water bottles. “It must be MILES by now.”

You’d think so. Back down at the paved trail where less hardy souls strolled in flip flops, seemingly oblivious to the staggering natural beauty all around them, we discovered from a look at the big trail map that in fact we had hiked all of 2.6 miles, although it felt more like 26.

We also visited the Ruth Bancroft cactus garden, which I remembered from my research for a regional magazine article I wrote this spring. In summer, the cacti are astonishing as their blooms open and the flower stalks swarm with bees and hummingbirds. My niece and nephew were suitably captivated.

No one wanted to touch these, but god were they gorgeous:

Having been off-line for a while, I offer a one-word explanation for the lengthy silence: Houseguests. Specifically, my sisters: one at a time, the youngest one with both her children. Enough said.

Have been picking peaches, peaches, and more peaches. My niece and nephew discovered their ripeness despite their being the size of runty apricots (the peaches, not my niece and nephew). I learned that one cannot have both children and fruit trees loaded with fruit in the same garden and expect the fruit not to end up in the children’s mouths. Since their departure, I’ve picked HUNDREDS. No joke, as you can see:

Made two dozen jars of jam so far, and have hundreds still to eat, bake into tarts, donate to friends, and put up into more jams. The top row is peach jam with lavender honey, and the bottom row is peach and raspberry with cardamom. Both recipes are from Christine Ferber’s jam-making bible, Mes Confitures .

The most spectacular of the oriental lilies are in bloom right now. These pink freckled ones with dinner plate-sized blooms are my husband’s favorites.

My own preference is still for the roses, which are in the full flush of a second bloom cycle. These Summer Wine climbers are finally putting out longer canes, giving me hope that they will someday drape seductively and fragrantly over the back fence and trellis.

Since today seems to be all about all things luscious and pink, I can’t resist showing my new cardigan; the modified bed jacket design from Knitting Lingerie Style by Joan McGowan-Michael. I didn’t love her ruffle detail, so chose my own – lacier- version. As soon as it’s dry and can be removed from the blocking board, I’ll model.

Peas On Earth… Everywhere

I have cause to do a happy dance this afternoon. I spent the e-n-t-i-r-e morning cooling my heels (actually devouring Marisha Pessl’s AMAZING first novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics) at the county court house, having reported like the good citizen I am for jury duty. Around lunch time, a nattily attired judge climbed the podium (not exactly like a rappeler or fence-jumper, but with a sprightly bounce in his step nonetheless) to let us know that despite expectations to the contrary all of that day’s cases “had resolved.” He thanked us for our “service” and dismissed us. And that’s it for another year, folks. Is this a great country, or what? I would have been glad to serve, actually. I keep showing up when they call me, thinking finally my day has come, only to have all the perps cop a plea.

And I was afraid it would get too hot too soon for the peas to offer a decent crop this year. Silly me. I give away bagsful every week, and the rest go into salads and stirfries. No, they are not covered with powdery mildew, or fusillarium rot, or whatever it is that plagues peas. That’s merely microscopic condensation from their hour in the refrigerator.

A few more firsts. Optimistically planted a large Costco bag of crocosmia bulbs early in the spring, not quite believing that something so tropical, so exotic, so hot-looking, would actually want to bloom in my garden. And despite my lack of confidence, this is what they look like:

Oriental lilies are everywhere. Ordered the bulbs from Jackson and Perkins, expecting lots of the gorgeous freckled ones with creamy centers and pink-tinted petal edges. Don’t get me wrong, these are attractive. Just not quite what I expected.

I cavalierly tossed a couple handfuls of sunflower seeds into the ground at the fence line in the side yard, where they receive very little water and even less attention. My reward for this neglect is the first bloom, below. Many of the stalks are double the height of the 5-foot fence that separates us from the neighbors, which is a good thing because their (noisy and messy) longterm renovation is well underway to double the size of the house.

Let the Harvest Begin

The vegetable garden is in full swing; I pick sugar snap peas every day, green beans twice a week, a handful of strawberries now and then (and they’re sweeter and more intensely flavored than those at the farmers market), lots of little artichokes, zucchini and yellow scallop squash each week along with Swiss chard and the last of the lettuce, which is bolting now that we had a few Inferno Days last week when the temperature went up over 100 degrees and stayed there until the marine layer came in to cool us off. Needless to say the lettuce, a “cool weather” crop, did not approve.

In the flower beds, pink astilbe is in bloom far later in the season than I would ever have expected. It lives in an area with fairly constant deep shade, which surely had something to do with its June burst of flower. Gives new meaning to the term “late bloomer.”

All pieces of the bed jacket are done and on the blocking board. The jacket’s border is giving me fits, however. Short-rowing just isn’t that difficult, but I’m having problems with the row count (only ten; I can certainly count that far) and getting them to end up on the correct side of the pattern to begin a new repeat. I’m determined to figure this out, but admit I’ve been perusing my pattern books to see if I can’t find a subdued ruffle or edging I might like better than the one specified by McGowan-Michael in her book.