Fabulous February

Yes, I know that in many parts of the country February is bloody cold, snowy, windy, etc. Here in the Bay area, if we are lucky it will continue to rain. The forecast is promising… because we really need it. But February is a wonderful month, too, in my estimation. My father, a sister, and my aunt all have their birthdays this month (Dad is turning 89 – you rock, Dad!). My anniversary is this month (13 pretty terrific years).

Knitting magazines ask for design submissions for their FALL issues this month – planning six months in advance is the kind of challenge I relish, even though it means I can’t talk about any of the ideas I submit.

 I’m going to see family this month, including a detour to visit my daughter at college. Since I’ll be on the east coast anyway, it was pretty easy to justify the trek to see my only offspring in situ. Since my dad has a rare form of cancer (and an appointment with his oncologist is the main reason my trip is scheduled for that week), and my mom has what we euphemistically refer to as “memory issues” (which get more severe by the week), I try to get out to see them as often as possible, and now that my little girl is a mere four and a half hours away by car… you get the picture.

Meanwhile, I picked the first navel oranges from our tree. Just a few; there are about a dozen more left on the tree, which is, I say in its defense, a very small navel orange tree. In fact, it has been relocated twice over the years to progressively sunnier areas of the garden, and was nearly given up for dead at one point. Thankfully it rallied, and these oranges are among the sweetest I’ve ever eaten!


Here’s a peek at a couple of things I’ve been working on this month that are not yet for public consumption. Elann.com’s Lana Pura is 100% Tasmanian Wool, and has a delicious springy softness. I bought a couple of bags after Bonne Marie mentioned it in her blog, and have not been disappointed. It knits up nicely on US size 5 needles, or doubled on US size 8s. It’s available in a lovely range of colors, but I gravitated toward the natural ones; upon close inspection, each skein has delicate, tweedy color variations that are not evident from a casual glance.

Working with Sundara’s yarns is always a pleasure, and her Aran Silky Merino is one of my perennial favorites. Although I tend to gravitate toward her clear, brighter palette, this moody and dramatic crushed merlot shade:

inexplicably called out to me. I had to buy a couple of skeins even without a specific project in mind. She does such dark, complex shades particularly well. The woman is a yarn-dying zen master (mistress…). When I first opened the package containing this yarn, I literally gasped because it was so beautiful, full of depth and the subtle sheen of the silk fiber. Now, after much thought, I have designed a specific project (two, to be precise) for this yarn and am hard at work. More later.

All Right Already! Enough Rain…

It has been raining since January 16th, to be precise. Knowing how badly we need it, I haven’t wanted to complain. Kept telling myself how good the moist air is for the skin. Kept breaking out the baseball caps and my Indiana Jones felted wool hat to keep the rain off my glasses when I venture outside. Kept poking around in the garden to see what new spring bulbs are sprouting and budding. Kept brewing comforting cups of tea while working indoors. You get the idea.

But lately, early every morning when I first open the drapes to face the day, it feels as if we live in Seattle, or another equally rainy location. There has been such dense fog in the mornings that we cannot see the hills behind our house until well into the afternoon, if at all. For nearly two weeks now, the pool appears to be on the verge of overflowing, and don’t even get me started on the picturesque way the french drains around the perimeter of the house have backed up, forming small pools in their own right as they make agonized gurgling noises. So all right already. Enough is enough. Not that I can do anything about it.

Much knitting going on off-camera, but a bit here and there that I can share. Yes, the February Lady Sweater now has one complete sleeve. I may yet get to wear it in February, as I hoped. By the end of next week, I’ll have a break in the secret knitting projects and hope to complete the other sleeve then. Working this sweater has been a tremendous learning experience for me. I seldom knit garments from the top-down, and the FLS has me wondering why I don’t do it more often. The construction is almost ridiculously simple, although the absence of seams gives the finished garment – at least to my mind – a bit less structure, less of a framework for stability.

And this project has given me the opportunity to experiment with shorter circular needles to work up the sleeves. I had high hopes for the 7″ long KA bamboo circs I purchased a while back (Unicorn Books & Crafts, Inc.), but found them waaay too short to work comfortably on these sleeves. So I bought a pair of the Addi 12″ long metal circs, and found them so slippery that I eventually gave them up for my trusty double-pointed bamboo needles from Clover. Just call me Goldilocks, but the dpns worked just fine until I came within the last few inches of the sleeve cuff. Then I switched back to the Addi circs, determined to give them one more try. I don’t really understand the difference, but this time they worked just fine; my stitches were in no danger of slipping off, and the length worked well for a sleeve knit in the round. Perhaps the sleeve was long enough at that point that I wasn’t worried about the bulk of the sweater body bogging me down. Whatever it was, I am now a convert.

You Can’t Fool Mother Nature

Right after New Year’s, when I returned home and had an opportunity to see my garden through fresh eyes, it seemed as if spring was already pushing its timid way up through the soil. Or through the stalks of last year’s callas, as the case may be.

The citrus crop was badly compromised by hard frosts, and we lost almost all of the limes. Meyer lemons and radishes more than made up for them.

Hellebores are budding, looking like some alien plant species, more at home on Mars than on Earth.

Then the rains began in earnest. Seriously, this is the most exciting weather we’ve had since I moved out to California nine years ago. I’m talking thunder, lightning, and hailstones. I’m talking thunderclouds that would inspire fear and dread in the hearts of Druids everywhere. I’m talking vivid double rainbows that shatter the afternoon sky with their brilliance whenever the sun peeks out momentarily. And it’s supposed to continue like this all week!

Where Have I Been?

Make that: Where have I BEEN? Amazing how easy it was for me to get out of the habit of blogging when nearly three weeks of travel are thrown into the mix. I know, I know, for some bloggers that would be an opportunity to post copiously from far and wide, but I am clearly not one of those bloggers. However, when both of my two readers (OK, there are probably more than that, but you know who you are, R and V!) send me concerned emails wondering where have I been and why haven’t I been blogging, it’s time to get back on the horse. My daughter was home from college for a week, and then we all took off to visit family for both Christmas (New York):

 and New Year’s (Ohio).

 We celebrated one very big birthday (my sister’s):

Who really appreciated the sentiment expressed on her cake (“Don’t Ask”):

And made the astonishing discovery that all three of us have the identical black down coat – and on a frigid night in New York City, naturally we all wore it:

And we saw a few movies; Avatar (yes, in a 3-D theater – worth the extra few bucks for that experience), Up In The Air (never saw it coming, George), and It’s Complicated (I’d watch Meryl Streep doing her laundry, if it came to that). Since returning home to my “normal” life, I’ve also seen A Single Man and The Young Victoria, and this totals up to more movies – in a movie theater, with popcorn and all – in the space of a month than I saw in all of 2009. This makes me a good representative of the average American who has been seeking out little entertaining respites from all the bad news in the world.

You’ve undoubtedly noticed a distinct lack of knitting content in the entry above. And here’s the reason: I’ve been knitting like a demon (and have the sore hands to prove it), but it has all been secret knitting. Three projects the details of which I cannot share until their publications come out for the world to see. What I can show is that my long-suffering February Lady Sweater now has most of one sleeve. I’m tellin’ ya, that sweater may actually be completed in February, and no one will be happier than I.

I also attended a full-day machine-knitting workshop so I could begin to learn the electronic component of the knitting machine that is supposed to save my hands. It was great, but a bit too much information. By the time we broke for lunch, I was already on information overload, even though the information we’d been given was just the tip of the iceberg. But one of my classmates is far more competent than I with computer-aided design, and she gives tutorials… my savior!

This past week, I’ve also been plunged into the edits for my forthcoming book, Brave New Knits. It feels great to be moving forward with the project, and I’m getting excited all over again as I review the projects.

And then there’s the earthquake in Haiti. My heart breaks for every one of them. Knowing that all I can do from here is give money to one of the many relief agencies that have rushed to assist that island country, I made a donation through Yarn Harlot’s Knitters Without Borders, which gives the money to Doctors Without Borders and has done an amazing  job of raising both awareness of the needs and raising generous donations from always-generous knitters. It’s little enough to give when I sit here warm and well-fed, well-sheltered, and with all my loved ones safe.

Jetlag, Sweet Jetlag

It’s so good to be back home, even though I woke up super-early this morning because of the afore-mentioned jetlag. Even though I spent close to a week in NYC going to bed fairly late at night and wakening late-ish the next morning, my body acclimated nonetheless to east coast time (darn it!). And by the time my internal clock readjusts to Pacific time, I’ll be packing up to visit family for the holiday. No rest for the weary. But my daughter will be making her first visit home from college in just a few days, and I cannot wait to see her.

While attending to my recuperating sister, I made a lot of progress on a big secret project, and none whatsoever on my February Lady Sweater (unless you consider taking it out of its project bag to stroke the fabric and look longingly at the sleeves-in-waiting progress), so I have no photos to share this time. Also got tapped for another secret project, so the FLS may have to stay on the back burner until after New Years. Curses! I am so looking forward to wearing it!

The Red Scarf Project

Others have written more eloquently than I possibly could about the Orphan Foundation of America’s Red Scarf Project, and its urgent need for more scarves to include in holiday care packages that will be sent to kids who have aged out of the foster care system. This project grabbed my heart; with a daughter of my own in college, it is painful to think about what her life would be like with no parents or family to guide her into her adult years. So a contribution to the Red Scarf Project seemed like a small gesture in light of the enormity of the need. Although my charitable giving this season already includes a donation to Heifer International to purchase a lamb for a family in South America that will raise it for its wool, I wanted to do something positive for an organization in need right here in the U.S.

I went to the gift shelf where I keep scarves, mitts, and hats that are destined to be gifts for others, and came up with three scarves that fit the criteria for the Red Scarf Project. But three already completed scarves seemed almost unfairly easy – no immediate sweat equity from me required. So I made an additional fresh one using a wool and cashmere blend from Colour Mart. Although the scarf felt a bit rough to the touch during the knitting, once I had washed it, it grew gloriously soft and drapey – and a generous 68″  long to wrap someone up snugly this winter.

IMG_2915 (1)

The tuck stitch looks fetching on both front and back, and I hope it will make one of the OFA’s care package recipients feel just that much more appreciated.

IMG_2920 (1)

I sent off the box with all four scarves yesterday. Now that I know about this project, I’ll get an earlier start next year!

Soldiering On

My February Lady Sweater just might be done by February if I keep working at this pace. Now that I’ve completed the body and picked up the sleeve stitches, I’ve allowed myself to do a little button-dreaming. And that is infinitely more complicated now that I’ve discovered Green Ray Productions’ Button Division. Jodi’s site on Etsy has turned into a sneaky, addictive little habit;

Bad mood? I know! Let’s check out Jodi’s latest fabulous buttons!

No chocolate in the house? No problem; some of Jodi’s buttons will be an equally wonderful treat!

You get the idea. So I have some pretty amazing options in my button box. Playing with those possibilities is not only a seemingly harmless but insidious form of procrastination, but a continuing source of inspiration and encouragement to complete the darned sweater so I can sew on the buttons already. 

IMG_2906 (1)

 See what I mean? 

IMG_2905 (1)

On the machine knitting front, I’ve mastered striping! My favorite orange-striped, V-neck Noro sweater that I adore is being reincarnated in the colors of an oil slick on a windy day; sludge greens, overcast sky grays, and oily, oozing purples and blues. My, doesn’t that sound attractive? And yet, it is – at least to me, and I hope, to my daughter, who professes a love of these colors and is the intended recipient of this particular garment for Hannukah.

  IMG_2902 (1)

All the pieces are done, so I am using precious spare moments to weave in the ends and will soon block and assemble it.

IMG_2901 (1)

IMG_2900 (1)


Nobody was more surprised than I to return from my mom’s 80th birthday weekend celebration to the sight of paperwhites already in full bloom in the late November garden. Just when all the leaves are down from the trees back east and the earth seems barren and cold as it awaits the full force of winter, it was disconcerting – if pleasant – to come home to mild temperatures and a garden full of subtle but definite signs of life.

IMG_2892 (1)

Sure, mornings here are in the low 40’s and the winter rains have begun, but by midday outside it is back in the low 60’s and complaints seem, at the very  least, ungrateful. Although I admit to having become one of those thin-blooded Californians by now, even I can appreciate how balmy it is here compared to other parts of the country. Balmy enough for the crocuses to think, “Spring!!!” and begin to stir.

IMG_2894 (1)

Balmy and with enough sunshine for the citrus to start coloring up. The Meyer Lemon and Mandarin crops looks promising this year, as do the limes and navel oranges. Once I’ve made my requisite dozens of jars of marmalades, I suspect there will be plenty more to sell to a couple of local restaurants’ pastry chefs as I did last year.

IMG_2895 (1)

Among my winter garden favorites are the violets that form a fragrant and lovely ground cover under our ancient pear tree. Every year they are more prolific and dense than the year before. From the sweet, heart-shaped leaves to the heady scent of the flowers, they never fail to charm me.

IMG_2890 (1)

Turkey, Anyone?

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate the holiday!!

My contribution to the dinner we’ll attend at the home of friends tomorrow:

Pumpkin cheesecake with bourbon-caramel sauce (no photo, regrettably)

Steamed green beans with lemon zest and those crunchy little fried onions that Trader Joe’s carries at this time of year

Mmmm… I’ll cook a little turkey for us on Friday, mostly for the left-overs. We have a family tradition of making “turkey carcass soup” (I know that sounds disgustingly carnivorous but, well, that’s what it IS) after the holiday, as well as turkey chili and, if there’s still any turkey left beyond that, I’ll make a turkey curry (this year’s will be Mark Bittman’s NY Times version from today’s paper, with baby spinach.). Of course, when I say I’m cooking a “little” turkey, that’s understating the size of the bird, which weighs 14 pounds. It was the smallest I could find already brined, which saved me some work and ensures the availability of those all-important leftovers.

I already made our stuffing (cornbread with sausage and fennel, for anybody wondering), and am prepping the mashed sweet potatoes tonight. So when Friday rolls around, I’ll be ready with only the bird itself remaining to prepare.

A Whole Lotta Knittin’ Goin’ On

Despite an annoying lack of cooperation from my cranky, stiff, crampy, in-need-of-R-and-R fingers, there are a few projects in the works – more than I usually work on simultaneously given my inborn tendency, supposedly the fatal flaw of all Geminis, to get quickly bored and just cavalierly toss the incomplete projects into the “mañana” pile, never to be seen again not always to finish what I start. This scarf is nearly done – just half of the second ruffled edge remains, and then off it goes to my friend Diane in Washington in time for the holidays. This yarn, Classic Elite’s Cashsoft Baby DK, is absolute heaven to work with – soft, soft, soft. And the color, palest celadon, is gorgeous – much more calm and subtle than those I normally choose, making this project a restful and enjoyable departure.

IMG_2878 (1)

Yes, I succumbed to Lemming Syndrome, and am knitting myself a February Lady Sweater along with every other knitter on the planet! I finally decided that since the rest of the knitting world seems to have made this baby, there must be a good reason for its enduring popularity. Sure enough, it is quick (for anybody without my hand and finger issues, that is), has an easy-to-memorize lace pattern, and when working with the right yarn, it feels so good to see it taking shape exactly according to plan. Fleece Artist’s hand-dyed, 100% merino Organic Wool is a joy to knit with; squishy and blissfully soft. And you know me – the brighter the color, the happier I am; it’s the magpie in me for sure. This deep, juicy berry shade caught my attention at Santa Barbara’s darling shop Loop and Leaf, so much so that two skeins leapt into my tote bag and demanded to come home with me.  

IMG_2870 (1)

I knew as soon as I saw it that it was destined to be my February Lady Sweater.

IMG_2874 (1)

I’m still getting comfortable with the new knitting machine, and this cardigan is my first experiment. It is double-breasted and will have elbow-length sleeves, as well as a drapey, swirly collar, and possibly pockets once I figure out the best kind to use. The back, fronts, and sleeves knit up breathtakingly fast – within three days, I was done. Stockinette goes pretty quickly anyway, but this was unlike anything I’ve evern seen. That yarn went through the carriage like the proverbial hot knife through buttah, and before I knew it even the back was done, shaping, decreases, and all. Amazing! 

IMG_2875 (1)

Set-in sleeve shaping: easy-peasy!

IMG_2877 (1)

Nifty technique for turned hem: slows me down a tidge, but the end result is so worth it.

IMG_2876 (1)

So yes, a whole lotta knittin’ goin’ on, just in case you suspected otherwise!

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

Last weekend I was in New York, where we had an 80th birthday celebration for my mom. Family and friends gathered at a charming restaurant near my parents’ home, and there everyone sipped hot cider (well, not me – I was busy taking photos) and visited until lunch was served. I got to help Mom get ready for the big day; due to her memory impairment, it’s not so easy for her to put together a festive ensemble (though who among us, regardless of memory issues, has not experienced similar difficulties?). She looked pretty swell!

IMG_2842 (1)

My sisters – who do these things especially well – coordinated all the details, and everything went without a hitch. It’s not often you can get all three of us girls into a single photo, but here we are with Mom:

The Iselin Girls 2009

Rather than try to fit 80 candles on top of that delicious-looking cake, we went for the “Less is more” approach with the numbers “8,” “0,” and a few stars for good measure. Good thing Mom did NOT have to blow out 80 candles; as it happened, she had a dizzy spell after blowing out the ones you see here… and that’s all I’m going to say about it. Except that the title of this post may suggest what came next. No, not an assassination – just an unanticipated, hasty end to the festivities. But Mom is fine now, and, in fact, has forgotten all about it – her birthday, the cake, etc. So it’s a really good thing we have photos, and that everybody else will remember the occasion for her. Happy birthday, Mom!

IMG_2868 (1)

Here’s the toast I made in her honor:

When we were little, we loved to watch Mom get dressed up for an evening out with Dad. She was a beauty then, and she still has style and grace to spare. With her artist’s eye and sensibility, she has always believed that “less is more” except where her affection is concerned, and that is when “more” has always been better.

She appreciates all forms of beauty, whether inside a muesum or outside in nature, and has taught others to appreciate it as well. A free spirit, she has always experimented with her creativity, willingly tries new things, and greets life with open curiosity, with a “yes” or a “why not?”

Early on, she shared her love of reading and language with her daughters, beginning with our family tradition of Saturday morning trips to the public library, and continuing with crossword puzzles and competitive games of Scrabble.

Mom has always been a loving mother and a wonderful grandmother as well. From hand-painted birthday cards to her eagerly awaited “face cookies,” she has always known how to make each of her three grandchildren feel special and loved.

IMG_2884 (1)

Here’s to you on your 80th birthday, Mom. We love you.

Remontant Irises

Perhaps you remember seeing these irises last week, enjoying their second bloom cycle in a single year:

IMG_2826 (1)

Well, I don’t mean to go on about it (despite my iris aficionado bona fides), but here’s another one that opened up this week:

IMG_2824 (1)


IMG_2822 (1)

And just for good measure here’s another shot of the pink dogwood in full autumn glory:

IMG_2830 (1)

Winter Squash

This is as festive as it got chez moi this Halloween season. We used to have very few trick-or-treaters, just a handful of little kids with their parents hovering protectively at the front gate. Suddenly in the last year or so, our neighborhood seems to have been discovered, and this year we had a steady stream of children and teenagers (Though my husband insists that when a boy is old enough to shave and his voice has changed, he’s probably too old for trick-or-treating) ringing the doorbell. I was amazed at how polite they were; perhaps only one or two did not say thank you after choosing their candy. (“Oh, come on… take some more,” I kept urging them, jiggling the bowl encouragingly, not wanting to be left with anything that I’d feel duty-bound to eat myself after the fact.)

IMG_2835 (1)

One tiny girl, presented with the bowl of candy and told to help herself, carefully picked up, inspected, and then put back nearly every fun-size bar in the bowl before making her choices. I mean, she took so long that her gaggle of little friends started rolling their eyes and noodging her to get going. Because, you know, the neighbors down the street would surely run out of the good stuff right before they arrived if they didn’t get a move on that very minute. She was so cute, I just stood there watching her deliberate rather than grab a handful of candy, fling it into her plastic pumpkin tote bag, and send her on her way.

But I wondered later what her indecisiveness portends for her as an adult. Will she always be so paralyzed when confronted with many choices? I could imagine her shopping for shoes twenty years from now, with multiple pairs in every style arrayed before her, and the salesperson near tears as she hemmed and hawed over which ones to buy. Or lipstick. Just imagine the awful potential… that child may someday own enough lipsticks to open her own make-up salon, simply because she couldn’t choose just one. Fascinating. Has there ever been a study on how children choose Halloween candy? I bet Nestles would pony up for that one.

IMG_2832 (1)

While the Japanese maple above leaves me distinctly underwhelmed by its fall foliage, the dogwood below (Dramatic leaf color! Shiny red berries!) does not disappoint.

IMG_2831 (1)

Ghost In The Machine

As hand-saving devices go, this knitting machine just may turn out to be my new best friend. The learning curve is steep, to be sure, but for basic design exercises it will have its place. And being able to design on it will save my hands for the hand-knitting I have been able to do only for very short periods of time. I have not even begun to explore the electronic component of the machine yet, but that will open up whole new worlds of possibility from felting to Fair Isle. And because so much of its operation is manual (but without the damaging stress on individual fingers) and somewhat resembles weaving, I still have the creative interaction with the yarn and the fabric that a totally mechanized piece of equipment would not permit. So we’ll see how it goes… I am cautiously optimistic.

IMG_2759 (1)

Tonight’s full “beaver” moon was quite spectacular from just outside the back door. I photographed it both with and without the flash, quite taken by the ghostly specter it presented one way, and its bright suspension in the late afternoon sky. So, okay, being back on Standard Time isn’t all bad if it allows me to capture such moments of humble drama.

IMG_2816 (1)

IMG_2817 (1)