Pyrus communis

That’s Bartlett pear to you and me, and last week we had to take down one of the two remaining pear trees on our property. It had succumbed to scale and fire blight over the last few years despite all efforts to restore it to good health. Our neighborhood used to be acres of pear orchards, back in the  early to mid-20th century. Few of the original trees remain, making it especially sad to have to cut this one down.

The one in our back garden is still, thankfully, in fairly good health despite being ancient, despite having served as pecking practice for a neighborhood woodpecker, despite having split and healed over, and it still bears more fruit every August than we can possibly use. A lot of those green pears go to the local food bank, and the rest I use to make pear sauce, pear butter, pear and ginger jam, and the caramelized upside-down pear tarts adored by my husband.

The tree that had been in the front garden also produced lots of pears, but not of as good quality because of its diseased state. The local deer are not as picky as we humans, however, and our house had been a regular stop on their annual tour of summer deer candy. Although the plan is to plant a Japanese maple at that corner, one with brilliant fall foliage to remind me of home, I’ll miss that pear tree.

Hello From No-Knitting Hell

With my right hand bandaged to resemble a catcher’s mitt, you’d think my entire hand had been spectacularly mangled in our blender rather than what are probably a total of ten stitches and a little bruising here and there on the two fingers that were fixed. Given this state of affairs, I obviously cannot knit. Nope, cannot knit a whit. Cannot knit, not even a bit (OK, enough with the Dr. Seussian rhyming). And it’s torture, I tell you. Last night, I finished The Help, which I really enjoyed, but it is unlike me to finish a book with that many pages in just two sittings. However, when one cannot knit, one reads, at least in this house.

Think about it. There’s not much cooking I can do with one functioning hand (Hear that, honey? Can we get take-out again tonight?) which probably explains the irresistible urge I had to make the blood orange marmalade right before going under the knife.

I really can’t even focus enough to watch television without my knitting clicking along in my lap; it’s… just… too… passive. I do seem to be one of those people who hears, absorbs information, and learns better when my hands are busy. Although I will make an exception for the Oscars on Sunday night, because that’s more of a participatory experience, more like sport – yelling at the TV, screaming at Joan Rivers’ plastic surgery, keeping up a running commentary on the red carpet gowns and bling, etc. 

At least yesterday I wore my completed Citron shawl when I went out for lunch with a friend to Bakesale Betty’s for the fried chicken salad (And there’s so much delicious, crispy-coated chicken and tangy cole slaw salad in there that I took half of it home with me to have for dinner), and I felt a little better knowing that I had completed it right before the surgery. It gave me a small sense of accomplishment to know that it was my Emergency Pre-Surgery Project, and I had actually finished it.

Other than that, all I’ve been able to do is pet the yarn I bought at Stitches West last week. These signs of withdrawal are truly pitiful to behold. Just ask my husband, who has come upon me more than once this week holding a skein of hand-dyed yarn up to my nose, eyes closed in ecstasy. I inhaled its bouquet like a glass of fine wine while he rolls his eyes and tiptoes out of the room, but those skeins might as well be good wine; I get a bit giddy thinking about the possibilities of each one. I brought home yarn from the likes of Pigeonroof Studios, Brooks Farm Yarn, Handmaiden and Fleece Artist, and Miss Babs. Absolute heaven! That and getting out into the garden to see what has blossomed in the last 24 hours are what’s keeping me going.


I never got a chance to introduce my completed version of  Hilary Smith Callis’s Citron shawl, as featured in the latest issue of Knitty (Winter, 2009). I guess you could call my version, which was completed in the final hours of the run-up to my finger surgery (when I wasn’t stirring a gigantic copper cauldron filled with boiling blood oranges for jam, that is), Peach, or Mango, or some such fruity title. I’d rather just call it Genius, because Hilary’s pattern is such a delight to knit. Many rows of wonderfully mindless stockinette that are ideal to make one feel virtuously productive while watching tv, with just enough counting, increasing, and decreasing to keep it interesting.

So here it is, being modeled by my accommodating new office assistant, Grayce (so named for the nasty gray color of her fabric covering. Notice I had to press one of my husband’s retired undershirts into service in order to cover up both the form’s cloth cover AND the large plastic dials that allow me to customize her measurements.). 


God only knows why, but this was how I felt compelled to spend a chunk of the weekend before my hand surgery:

Making a big batch of blood orange marmalade. Bags of these treats show up in our local Trader Joe’s for just a few weeks at this time of year, and I always pounce on them. A couple of years ago after experiencing the delicious sweet-tartness created by a big dollop of this jam in a bowl of plain yogurt, it became a regular part of my jam-making repertoire.

So there you have it. Now I am mentally prepared to go under the knife. Catch you on the flip side.

Happy Anniversary

My long-suffering husband and I have been married thirteen pretty wonderful years as of today.


Last night we went out for dinner to celebrate at a local restaurant where the staff spoiled us rotten; they seemed so happy to see us, and were so attentive that it seemed almost ungrateful to quibble over the weak cosmopolitan that had been described (optimistically but, alas, erroneously) on the specialty drinks menu as “The Best Cosmopolitan In the World.” It seemed as if everybody who worked there knew about our special occasion, and even our menu got into the act; at the top of the page there were several “Happy Birthdays” listed and then our jaws dropped slightly when we noticed, “And a special happy anniversary to Mr. and Mrs. T.” How sweet is that?

Tonight, sentimental as I am, I cooked a reprise of one of the first dinners I ever made for my husband when we were dating. We’ll disregard the fact that he had absolutely no recollection of this meal when he saw it again tonight, even though I distinctly remember him making a big fuss over it at the time… and that was, what, a mere 15 years ago? I sauteed jumbo shrimp until they were just firm, and served them blanketed in a sauce of finely minced onion, lime juice, white wine, butter and heavy cream, with lime zest scattered over all. Not diet-friendly, but absolutely delicious over a blend of black, red, and brown rice. 

And with a centerpiece of flowers from the garden, what more could we ask? Well, another 40 good years would be much appreciated.

Texture Is Everything

And I am especially reminded of this in the spring, when carpets of green hills roll out all around me, dotted with the brilliant yellows of mustard and daffodils in bloom. Closer to home, my garden is a veritable encyclopedia of knitting inspiration; between the color combinations assembled by Mother Nature and the textures of various plants, I fill page after page of my idea notebooks. And this is a particularly fervid time of year both in the garden and in knitting; time to submit design proposals to my favorite knitting magazines for their fall issues. It’s such an act of faith (and optimism, and still sometimes-shaky belief in my creativity), sending those concepts out into the void and hoping the editors will share my vision for the knitted garments.

Much as I love the showy flowers appearing all over the garden now, as an equal opportunity color fanatic it’s the leaves that often get me. Leaves smooth and crenellated, heart-shaped, spearish, or lozenge-like, vibrant chartreuse or deepest bottle green; the variety is astounding. And don’t even get me started on the flowers! The scent of daphne overlaid with violets, all in full bloom, intoxicates me whenever I venture into the garden, camera in hand. Here is some of what’s inspiring me this week:

I’m Knitting As Fast As I Can

And I am doing so because in less than two weeks I’m having another – and I hope the last – hand surgery. How crazy is it to keep knitting when I’ve already had four of these surgeries? No, don’t answer that. The answer is obvious even to me, obsessed with strings and sticks as I am. And having bought an electronic knitting machine, you’d be well within reason to assume that I have mastered its intricacies by now, but unfortunately you’d be wrong. Machine-knitting has its place in my creative life for sure, but it will take me several intensive weeks to play with it until I’m comfortable. And that seems like an ideal activity for while I’m recovering from hand surgery in March, don’t you agree?

Meanwhile, not to belabor the infirmities of middle age, but yesterday I had a cortisone injection in my back. It had been bothering me for months, but I tried all other possible remedies first. I modified my workouts at the gym until I felt the routines were more appropriate to a frail and cautious 100-year-old. Physical therapy was to no avail, despite the enthusiastic ministrations of a highly-trained therapist whose technique I truly respected and believed in. Ieven agreed to have my kidneys and bladder tested to make sure there is no other issue at play (and that was such a thoroughly unpleasant round of examinations that I’ll spare you the details. Except to say that I fervently hope I never DO have anything wrong with my kidneys or bladder that would require a repeat of those tests!).

So I was sedated before the cortisone was injected. While I don’t normally assume sedation is necessary before getting a mere shot, for heaven’s sake (I really have skin like an armadillo hide after getting allergy shots twice a week in both arms for longer than I care to remember), I’ve had numerous cortisone injections in my hands and fingers (Ye-ouch!) without sedation, and they hurt like a sonofabitch. So going in, I knew I wouldn’t want to be awake and alert for the one in my back. The good news is, in order to avoid the possibility of paralyzing me from the waist down (good idea, right?), my doctor used an X-ray to guide him to the exact location of the swelling, ensuring that the injection went precisely where it is needed.

Back at home afterwards I slept off the lingering effects of the sedation. It was the purest, deepest, and most relaxing sleep I’ve had in months, and gave me a glimmer of insight into how Michael Jackson could have started abusing anesthetics in his desperation to chase down a good night’s sleep. Then, in the spirit of experimentation I got up to walk around the house and test out my Brand New Back. What I quickly discovered is that now I had shooting pains not just in my back, but all the way down my behind and into my leg. I limped around the house feeling sorry for myself the rest of the day, groaning mightily every time I had to sit down or stand up, and applying the ice pack way more often than I probably should have. My husband went above and beyond in the sympathy department, bless his heart, considering what I whiner I was.

This morning, however: New Woman! There is still some pain, but nothing like yesterday. And I’d been warned that it would take up to a week for the cortisone to really kick in, so I was prepared to feel no immediate relief. Meanwhile, as you can see, it really is spring here. It is totally disconcerting to see daffodils and crocuses in full bloom in mid-February, but there you have it. Even after nine years in California, it still shocks me to see this happen. It just feels WRONG! Not to mention, the plum tree is in full bloom, as are the flowering quinces, and even the roses are starting to bud out. Time to get busy with the fertilizer!

Spring Has Sprung

That headline will look extremely strange to those of you on the east coast, where you are still enveloped in at least a foot of snow. But out here in the Bay area, today’s temperature is 60 degrees and the garden has taken note:


While in transit last week, I got halfway through Hilary Smith Callis’s Citron Wrap from the Winter 2009 issue of, and I’ve never found a more perfect travel project. One skein of sock yarn, one pair of circular needles, minimal notions, and your hands.  An easily memorized pattern, and remarkably speedy results. Definitely a formula for success when one is stuck in airports (or long car, train, or bus trips, or in front of the television with someone else’s favorite show on).

My yarn of choice is Pagewood Farm’s St. Elias semi-solid sock yarn, which flows softly through my fingers with subtle color changes that make it a quiet pleasure. Hope to have it finished soon!

Faint Heart Never Won Fair Maid

… sounds like a newspaper headline ripped from the seventeenth century, doesn’t it? Thank you for that romantic declaration, Mr. Shakespeare. My own DH, never faint of heart, surprised me with an addition to my transferware pitcher collection for Valentine’s Day.  It was a most unexpected and welcome surprise, since I’ve been on a shopping diet since the New Year. But it wouldn’t be polite to complain when somebody else buys me something I just happen to be thrilled about.

This particular specimen is enormous, standing a full 12″ tall, and the mark on the bottom reads, “Manufactured for Davenport Bro.” with a New York City address. I’ll have to do some research to find out where it was actually made. I imagine a pitcher of this size was originally part of a set with a wash basin. Frankly, we suffer from a bad case of wretched excess bit of clutter in this house, so the pitcher alone is more than enough for me!

It is so good to be home from my travels. I spent most of last week in NY, where I had the unaccustomed pleasure (and much-needed workout) of shoveling my parents out of their house in the aftermath of the snowstorm that shrouded the East Coast on Wednesday and Thursday. Where they live, an hour or so up-county from NYC, it looked like this most of those two days:

I definitely got my exercise shoveling the walk and driveway multiple times over the two-day period. It was really kind of a masochistic good samaritan treat for me, since I rarely get to see snow at home. Of course, the persistent runny nose that comes with hard labor out of doors was not as enthusiastically received.

Call me a sissy if you will, but I was glad to get back to my temperate California climate late last night, even though the airline did not manage to get my suitcase onto my connecting flight (despite the full hour layover between them!). One thing I noticed about the east coast in the middle of winter is how dry the air gets. My hair was a standing nest of static electricity. Every time I put on my coat or pulled a sweater over my head, my hair would stand on end as if I’d stuck my finger into the proverbial electric socket. Patting it down with damp hands became a weird short-term grooming ritual.

On Friday, I drove on to Pennsylvania to visit my daughter at college. She needed a little spoiling from her old ma, so in addition to dinner out in a real restaurant (as opposed to cafeteria food which, while perfectly adequate in its own right, suffers at this time of year from a distinct lack of variety), I presented her with the afore-mentioned hand-knit Valentine’s Day gift:

The School Spirit Mittens. If your school colors have to be navy and orange, this navy-heavy proportion makes it less of an awful combination. I wound up nixing the embroidered orange heart idea on the palm of each hand, and it’s a good thing I did. She likes them just as they are. The project was a great stash-buster, using a fraction (roughly 125 yards) of my last skein of Blue Moon Fiber Arts Twisted, in the color “In the Navy,” and a few yards of Noro’s Cash Iroha in color #116 (vibrant orange) for the single crochet trim. The vintage orange buttons were a find at Article Pract, one of my favorite LYS in the Bay area.

The Sap Is Rising

It doesn’t look like much, but the plum tree is budding out. I’m encouraged, since last year it nearly succumbed to a strange infestation of what looked like tiny aphids, resulting in leaf curl much like that which occurs on the peach tree if it doesn’t get all of its sprayings during the dormant season. These fat little buds seem promising, although I won’t really know for sure how healthy the tree is until it begins to leaf out a few weeks from now. Keeping my fingers crossed!

Meanwhile, the double hellebore never fails to wow me! Unlike the single-flowering hellebores with their cascades of blossoms, it may have only three flowers on it, but I’m grateful even for those.

Mellow Yellow

While I’m out and about visiting family this week, let me share what’s happening in the garden. All the knitting will be accompanying me in my travels, so expect to see more knitting content upon my return.

I’m just mad about yellow… especially when it appears in the form of spring’s first daffodil.

Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Looks like a daffodil to me!

Surprises Inside and Out

There is probably only one regular reader of this blog who will understand the significance of this color combination. Let’s just say a Valentine’s Day surprise is in the works for that individual, with photos forthcoming as soon as the surprise is complete!

The daphne buds below could not go unremarked. So much more voluminous than the normal flower clusters on the daphne bushes in my garden, I thought I was hallucinating when I first noticed it. Seriously, this is the equivalent of expecting a litter of three kittens but waking up to find that your cat has instead produced a dozen little ones, all of them adorable, and all of them with that weird extra toe on their paws. But rather than having to find homes for a dozen little felines, this prodigious cluster of buds means simply that the daphne will be all the more fragrant as we head into spring. And that’s okay with me.

Gardening in February?

Well, uh… yes! If you happen to live in northern California, gardening is pretty much a year-round pursuit. Besides the cool weather veggies we grow (that would be Kale, lettuce, radishes, sugar snap peas, and chard), there are the flowers. They actually require little effort from me other than twining the occasional rose cane around its fence support. Mostly, what they seem to enjoy is my appreciation… lots of oohing and aahing at their reliable show of color, scent, and ability to perform on command.

What I realize is that many of these winter bloomers are the colors of my favorite yarns as well. For years it was nearly impossible to find a really “good” yellow. Yellow seemed to be out of favor, and the yarn shops were limited only to insipid “baby blanket” shades or – at the opposite end of the spectrum – truly obnoxious, day-glo yellow that was more reminiscent of a traffic sign than of anything one would care to knit up into a garment (unless you happened to be a school crossing guard, for example). But for a while now, yellow has been having a moment. There is every tint out there from palest buttercream to squash blossom to sunflower to mustard, and every shade in between, and they are all perfectly smashing. Forthwith, I give you Crocuses:

Back in the 1980’s, a very popular color scheme in interior design combined two revolting, putrid, thoroughly appalling shades of mauve and gray. Fortunately, knitting had not yet undergone its renaissance in popular culture (which meant the craft was far less tied to the fashion world and to current color trends than it is today), and thus we knitters were mercifully not subjected to yarn-y incarnations of these heinous colors. Now, though, when one sees gray yarn, it may be anywhere in the spectrum from fog to thundercloud, and every skein is gorgeous. But the color family that includes “mauve” has stepped far more dramatically into the 21st century. From the most delicate shell pink to the richest, most saturated cabernet, mauve is enjoying its turn in the limelight. My own preferred version includes, not surprisingly, Hellebores:

For the last year I’ve been perplexed to detect in myself a growing fondness for the color purple. And I’m someone who NEVER liked purple. I absolutely did not wear amethyst jewelry, would not deign to own a single item of clothing that could be called ‘purple’, and would turn up my nose at any and all yarns that included a single, even vaguely purple strand. But suddenly (and maybe this is attributable to hormones, like every other unexplainable thing that has happened to me for the last two or three years), I LOVE purple. I adore lilac (oh, swoon – those slightly dirty, grayed-down lavendars are divine, are they not?), and can’t get enough yarn in the color range I refer to as ‘orchid.’ I must accept that deep, mysterious eggplant tones now monopolize an obscene amount of shelf space in my yarn stash. But let us not forget my favorites, the sweetest of all, the Violets:

Happy Birthday, Jenny!

Happy birthday to my lovely and loving, compassionate and spirited, age-defying baby sister.

Here is a little birthday bouquet, especially for you:

It is a privilege to know you, let alone to be related to you. I hope you have made wonderful plans to celebrate your day!

Pruning is Good

Especially when it yields a bouquet of this magnitude. The coral bark maple by our front walk achieved truly stunning growth over the last year, to the point that it was considerably taller than the roof and needed to be taken down a few feet (if only to keep squirrels and the rest of the local rodent population from using its branches as ladders). These cuttings demonstrate how the coral bark maple tree got its name, don’tcha think?