Playing Hooky

Malibu coastline

Malibu coastline

Yesterday I played hooky from my life for just one day, thanks to a super-cheap plane ticket that took me to Los Angeles in time for breakfast. I went to visit my friend Jill, who moved down there more than four years ago and has been missed by many old friends in the Bay area ever since. It had been way too long since our last visit, and the timing was right, so off I flew. Breakfast was the first order of the day, right on the beach. Didn’t hurt that it was 75 degrees and sunny with a light breeze blowing off the ocean. You can understand why people are willing to take the risk of  The Big One (earthquake) to live in such a paradise.
Random father and son; who is cuter? Hard to tell.

Random father and son; who is cuter? Hard to tell.

Paradise Cove in Malibu; breakfast on the beach, toes in the sand!

Paradise Cove in Malibu; breakfast on the beach, toes in the sand!

Once we took off along the beach for a hike (across packed sand that is only accessible during low tide), we saw all kinds of sea creatures both in the tide pools and walking along the sand, some two-legged, and others many-legged, and some with flippers.
Starfish in the tidepools

Starfish in the tidepools

This little guy got beached in the rocks at low tide. We stuck around long enough to make sure he made his way back into the ocean.
This little guy got beached in the rocks at low tide. We stuck around long enough to make sure he made his way back into the ocean.

It was an amazing day; not only did I take a wonderful hike along the fabulously scenic coastline with a dear friend, but I walked off my breakfast omelet, as well as the Pinkberry double scoop, the Delicious Bakery chocolate babka (just a slice, honest – to keep us fortified for more walking), and an authentic deli dinner before Jill returned me to the airport for my flight back up to San Francisco. I was home by bedtime… wondering if it had all been a dream.

Planting and Cooking While Bandaged (Do Not Try This At Home!)

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A last bouquet of these dinner plate dahlias, my favorite, has graced the kitchen table this week. The blooms are spectacular, and this year I actually remembered to stake them before they got too tall.

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The lemon cucumbers were not as prolific as I had hoped they’d be, but the few we got were delectable. Next year, I’ll have to scope out a sunnier spot for them, which may be a challenge now that the next-door neighbor’s maple tree is three stories high and blocks the sun all summer until noon. In retrospect, it’s probably a minor miracle that we got any lemon cucumbers at all this year! I fantasize about sneaking over there in the middle of the night with a gigantic bottle of Round-Up, and “accidentally” spilling it all around the trunk of that tree… oops, my bad! But then, what makes them think it’s okay never to prune a tree that has at least a dozen large broken branches dangling over their own yard as well as mine?

Over the weekend, I had a helping hand from DH to replant the vegetable garden with cool-weather produce. He dug out the beds and raked in the bone meal and fertilizer. I, hand bandaged and be-gloved (is that even a word?) for protection, had the onerous task of sprinkling seeds into the ground and covering them up with a half-inch of soil, and of planting seedlings into shallow holes. To be fair, I really ought to say that DH had the helping hand from me, since he did all the heavy lifting. The only thing that hurt afterwards was my pride; not such a tough cookie after all, I had to go inside and ice my hand as soon as we were finished. Yeah, I guess I have a bit of a tendency to overdo it.

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Here’s what we planted: three kinds of lettuce, two kinds of chard, radishes and beets, sugar snap peas, and tuscan kale. Yum!

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Speaking of tuscan kale, we bought some at the farmer’s market over the weekend, along with savoy cabbage, leeks, and swiss chard. Back at home, I raided the cupboard for cannellini beans and stock, and turned all those luscious veggies into this Tuscan kale and bean soup, which should warm us happily on several winter nights (since the recipe made one and a half gallons!!!):

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Tomato Bliss

Although the full size tomatoes are not impressive in the garden this year, the cherry tomatoes are going like gang-busters. Both the Sun Gold and the Chocolate Cherries (so named for their dark burgundy-brown color, not for any resemblance to chocolate in the flavor department, unfortunately) have been prolific, and look as if they’ll keep pumping out the fruit for another month or so.

A person can eat only so many tomatoes. I’ve had more than my share, to be sure. They go in the dinner salad every night, and accompany my tuna or hard-boiled egg, or whatever I’m eating for lunch that day. But my basket overfloweth. Over the weekend, it was necessary to take drastic measures – again. These:

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after oven-drying for two full hours at 250 degrees (thanks, Anne, for the recipe!), ended up in a freezer baggie so I can scoop out as many as needed to add to soups and other recipes. Halving all those tiny tomatoes without too much discomfort to my hand was a major kitchen triumph.

More, More, More…

Ever have one of those old disco tunes get stuck on an endless reel inside your head? Well, if you’re in your twenties or thirties, probably not. But there will be other songs on instant replay in your heads, no doubt. This time of year, my garden inspires thoughts of endless reels: pick, cook, eat. Pick, cook, eat. Pick, can, eat. Pick, can, eat. You get the idea. And I’m not complaining, really, especially now that clusters of figs are ripening with sufficient yield that I can finally make a fresh batch of fig jam.

Garden produce Sept 2009_001

Now that my hand surgery is well behind me (stitches come out next week) and I can hold a knife again for at least a short while without being in danger of slicing off a finger, I’ve gotten back to the kitchen if not to the knitting.

Speaking of knitting, there is nothing sadder than watching TV in the evenings without a project in progress in my lap. It may be a while before my fine motor skills return, since I can still barely hold a pen, much less a knitting needle, for more than a couple of minutes. By then, my fingers hurt, and they are definitely still swollen and unhappy about bending. *Sigh* The good news is that I will start physical therapy just a couple of days after the stitches are removed, and hopefully that will jumpstart my recovery.

With lots of help from a friend and baggies filled with pre-chopped fruit, we made dozens of jars of rhubarb citrus chutney (mmmm, so yummy with cheese and crackers!), and still more peach jam. Today jam, tomorrow knitting!

Peach Jam 7 20 09_003

All Wrapped Up and No Place To Go

This is what happens when you leave the garden untended for a couple of days while sitting inside feeling sorry for yourself recuperating valiantly from hand surgery. The zucchini morph into inedible, super-size proportions, making them suitable for use only as lamp bases, baseball bats, and the like.

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Meanwhile, the hand that was subjected to the surgery on Monday is super-sized in its own right, and not just from being swathed in yards of bandaging. Bruising and swelling and aching, oh my. Only ten days until the stitches come out and I can begin physical therapy. Which means there is hope that I will be able to return to knitting bliss before the fall weather turns really cold. Yay!

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Of course, it’s my left hand, and I am left-handed. My right hand has been often and derisively maligned as a “useless appendage,” but now that it is the only one I have that functions, it’s suddenly worth its weight in gold. I’ve discovered that there are all sorts of things I can do with my right hand that I never would have thought possible as recently as last weekend. And most of them are even fit for polite company. Typing with one hand is painfully slow and surprisingly inaccurate, but at least I can do it.

Fig Mutant

Yes, this fig IS the size of an apple. But unlike those softball-sized peaches we’ve all been seeing in the supermarket this summer, these specimens have fig flavor to beat all, in an unctuous, chewy texture that is truly sublime.

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Paired with a bit of blue cheese pressed into the center of each half, they are the food of the gods.

WIP Purgatory

With hand surgery mere hours away, it appears unlikely that I will complete either of the two projects currently on my needles before I go under the knife. The Badcaul sock below is intended to be one of a pair, as socks usually are. The second sock, however, has yet to be cast on since my fingers cramp within about five minutes of picking up the needles – especially tiny little sock-knitting needles. Love this Fearless Fibers 100% merino sock yarn in the colorway “Vivacious.” Can’t wait to make sock #2. Someday. I figure I’ll have to take off at least a month of prime pre-autumn knitting time. Sigh. But better to restore my hands to good working order.

Single Badcaul Sock

Just look at that delicious color…

Badcaul Sock detail

And then of course there’s Mr. Greenjeans. With every good intention of sending my daughter off to college with one more hand-knit sweater (made with love by Mom) for those cold Pennsylvania fall days, I started this at the beginning of August. The hands proceeded to act up most painfully, limiting my knitting to short bursts of enthusiasm that were rapidly quelled when the cramping started up. With only one cuff and one sleeve left to go, imagine my frustration. So close, yet so far from completion. It’s not as if she has any shortage of things to wear in cold weather, but still.

Mr. Greenjeans in progress

Go East, Young Woman

Tomorrow is the big day: DD heads east to her first year of college. And pressing questions remain unanswered:  Will she make her bed even once over the next four years? Will she get along with her roommate? Will she do laundry more than once a month, or only when she runs out of clean underwear (and turning it inside out to get another day’s wear out of it doesn’t count!)  And more important issues: Will she make lifelong friendships? Will the intellectual lightbulb switch on the way it finally did her senior year of high school? Will her higher education help her decide what she wants to do with her life?

But enough about DD. What about me? How will I cope without her, my only child? Will I be one of those nauseating “helicopter” parents we’ve all read about? (No) Will I be able to delay my high-fives and gleeful “empty nester” happy dance until after we leave her on campus at the end of move-in day? Will I be able to contain my tears of maternal sorrow until she is just a waving speck in the rear view mirror as we drive away from the campus? Stay tuned.

I know for sure that Shadow will miss her, but not as much as I will…


All I have to do is go out of town for a few days, and the harvest happens – behind my back, as it were. In about five minutes this morning, I was able to fill a basket with assorted deliciousness.

Finally, enough ripe tomatillos to make salsa verde – which I made for the first time last summer and quickly determined it was my new favorite condiment. Finally, enough ripe tomatoes to make a caprese salad, and still have some left over for bagels and lox this weekend. Finally, enough zucchini go throw on the grill and have plenty for everybody.

Right before leaving town, I peeled and diced a grand total of 14 pounds of peaches and 8 pounds of Satsuma plums, put them in freezer bags, and tossed them into the freezer to be dealt with in a variety of delectable ways upon my return. I came home to discover there are still probably 10 pounds of peaches remaining on the tree AND the Bartlett pears are ready to pick. There were several dozen on the ground when I went outside this morning, and right this minute I am heading outside to pick more before they can drop off the tree. No rest for the wicked.

Announcing the Molokini Shrug

Like to knit lace projects? Find yourself in need of a simple garment that covers just enough but not too much? You’re in luck! I’ve added a new pattern to my store, available both here and on Ravelry. Here’s a close-up of the lace stitch:

Say hello to the Molokini Shrug! It’s just the thing to wear over your sun dress into that restaurant where the air conditioning is always going full blast.

It’s the perfect antidote to a hot summer day that cools down unexpectedly when the sun goes down, and you find yourself wishing for a little something to wear around your shoulders.

The Molokini Shrug is so named for two reasons: during our trip to Maui earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of snorkeling in water that was as clear a blue as this Sundara Yarn Aran Silky Merino. This was water so clean that it felt luxuriously soft against the skin – as does this yarn. And, our snorkeling adventure took place in the shadow of the Molokini atoll, where the zigzag peaks were strikingly similar to this lace pattern.

For my sample, I used not quite two skeins of the ASM. But even the largest pattern size calls for only four skeins, so this is a quick-knit project that won’t break the bank. You can read more about the pattern here.

Wrung Out

Between putting the finishing touches on my book manuscript, making enough peach jam to tide over a nationwide peach famine, and working on more new knits, I’m a bit knackered. Plus, I washed several of my winter sweaters in Kookaburra Wool Wash the other day, and that got me thinking about how we care for our precious knits, both those we make ourselves and those we buy in stores.

During a low point in my life, I was a manager at a Banana Republic store. It was not easy coping as a single parent with a small child while juggling a full-time job with a retailer that was distinctly UN-family-friendly (I still feel guilty about the night I had to work ALL night rolling out a new season’s clothes, and had to put my then-4-year-old to sleep on a pile of clothing in a corner while chaos reigned all around her. Though in retrospect, she thought it was a grand adventure.). That’s probably why I lasted only a year. But what a year it was.

I still remember some of the people who returned garments in various states of seriously-messed-up but expected a full refund anyway, even if it was obvious that they had spilled/incorrectly washed/torn/shredded the garment in question. In the days of “The Customer Is Always Right,” we were instructed to accept returns no matter how heinous what their condition. I think BR has since changed that policy.

One customer in particular stands out in my memory. She marched up to the counter and dumped the contents of her (not) BR bag onto the surface. There were three lightweight summer sweaters, made of a silk and cotton blend, and I remembered them from earlier in the season. Much earlier. Way past the standard “30 days and we’ll gladly refund your money” period when it’s acceptable to have a change of heart about a purchase.

Not only were these sweaters well past their born-on date, but they were, in a word, disasters. Stretched out of shape, terribly faded, and so pilled they appeared to have been chewed on.
“These sweaters are NOT the quality I expect from Banana Republic!” the customer declaimed.

Unable to lift my eyes from the warped and wrinkled mess on the counter, I asked her what had happened to them.

She threw her shoulders back and fixed me with a Look as if to say it – whatever “it” was – was all my fault. “Well! I took them to Europe with me this summer. I was traveling for a month, and I planned to wear them all the time.” (And obviously this is exactly what she had done – they looked as if she had slept in them, and perhaps even wore them into the shower.) “I washed them out in the hotel sinks every night, and you know what? They didn’t hold up as well as I expect something from this store to hold up. I mean, just look at them!”

But at that moment I had torn my gaze away from her mesmerizing foaming-at-the-mouth indignation and was looking at the label in one of the sweaters, which stated in bold, easily read text: DRY CLEAN ONLY. So, had she dry cleaned them? Apparently not. I gently pointed this out to her, whereupon her voice escalated. “These sweaters are a mess, and I want a refund!”

I caught the eye of the other manager, who had overheard much of our conversation. She joined us and Crazy Sweater Customer launched into her sad tale all over again. The other manager sighed. She pointed to the label and gently said, “The label clearly says ‘Dry Clean Only.'” But her heart wasn’t in it, and the customer could tell. This was the olden days, after all, when a customer could return a garment even if she had used it as an impromptu diaper for her new baby (OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration…).

Now, I take to heart the edict “Thou shall not wring out your hand-washed sweaters,” as well as “Thou shalt not rub, twist, or otherwise mangle your sweaters unless you want them felted.” I use a special product for washing my knits. Although I confess to having some cashmere sweaters with labels that advise DRY CLEAN ONLY, I know from years of experience that a VERY gentle hand washing makes them even softer than they started out, and that they can be reshaped on a towel or drying rack with no ill effect. But I do it all very carefully.

Long story short, we took the sweaters back, wretched as they were, and gave Crazy Sweater Customer her money back. I don’t think BR does this kind of thing anymore. I wonder if they’ve ever gotten more family-friendly?

(Finally) FOs

I know, I know. Not a lot of knitting content lately. But today your patience is rewarded. I finally completed the French Child’s Socks from Nancy Bush’s Knitting Vintage Socks, and I LOVE them. So cozy and comfortable. My tootsies will be toasty this coming winter (which right now seems an awfully long way off…).

These photos do absolutely no justice to Sundara’s Sock yarn in Basil Over Buttercup. The green shades are rich and grassy, with hints of straw and, yes, buttercup.

Although I’m still on a quest for the right buttons for this baby sweater, otherwise the Viking Baby Ensemble is complete. The (to my eye) very Viking-reminiscent Baby Thorpe hat was the work of half an evening, although I suspect the newborn is going to have to grow into it… it seems a bit large to me for an infant.

Some may recognize the Blue Moon Fiber Arts “Twisted” yarn in the colorway In the Navy, from a sweater I made for DH last year. I had quite a bit of that lovely yarn left over from his project, and it seemed perfect for a baby boy sweater and hat combination. He won’t be born until August, so I’ll have to be patient – but I can’t wait to see the little guy wearing it!

Peach Fuzz

A friend came over today and helped me turn this:

into quite a bit of this:

Three different flavor combinations, to be exact: Peach-Ginger Marmalade, Tropical Peach Jam (with flaked coconut), and plain Peach Jam with both yellow and white peaches. Plenty to share, and plenty for us to enjoy.

And yet there are still plenty more of these both in baskets and still on the tree. I have a feeling my peach jam-making days are not yet over for the season.

Ziggurati… Like Glitterati, Only Cuter

Introducing the lace Ziggurati Shrug and matching beret, birthday gifts for an adorable little girl of my acquaintance, who just turned two today. Since she is not available to model for your viewing pleasure, Miss Teddy will have to serve as a stand-in.

Cute as she is, she is not as cute as the intended recipient, whose parents have promised to send me photos of their little darling wearing her gifts ASAP. Given that the temperature went to 97 degrees today, it may be a while before they can persuade her to put on these pure wool items… and I can’t say I blame her! Meanwhile, Miss Teddy to the rescue…

The beret is knitted on DPNs until all the increases have been worked, and then it is transferred to a 16″ circular needle. All ribbing is done on size 6 needles, and the rest on size 8.
The picked-up-and-knitted body ribbing is bound off with a sweet picot edge.

What sartorially stylin’ two-year-old wouldn’t rock this cozy little combination, I ask you?

The yarn is Lorna’s Laces Green Line Worsted 100% Organic Wool in color Mirth, a lovely shade of warm lilac. Both projects together took less than two skeins, making this a great stash-buster or a wonderful way to experiment with a small amount of soft and fabulous yarn.

100 Degrees In the Shade

Now please excuse me while I retreat indoors where all the drapes are drawn, the better to rub ice cubes on the back of my neck.