Garden Porn

It never occurred to me before now, but when photographed from just the right angle, Monarda (AKA Bee Balm) bears a striking resemblance to a large, pink and hairy spider. If I saw this “critter” coming up my water spout, I’d scream bloody murder.

This is nothing, however, compared to the recent news flash I received from the exterminator (who is essentially on retainer chez moi, due to the pesticide-resistant population of Terminator ants and squirrel-sized roof rats in our neighborhood). Evidently, my vegetable garden is home to a large nest of real black widow spiders. So now I go back there to pick the squash and strawberries with my hiking boots on, just in case. Not that I’m squeamish or anything. Not me. No. Never have been. But black widow spiders? A bit of precaution, that’s all.

The Rose of Sharon is in bloom back by the back door, where it gets just enough sun. We put this in last summer, needing a shrub that would grow large enough to conceal the air conditioner unit. “Bring me a shrubbery!” my husband had said in his best Monty Python voice, while eying the bare spot back there (one of the very few bare spots in the entire garden, I assure you) – and off to the nursery we went seeking a shrubbery with just the right mix of spread and density.
Finally, the day lilies are plentiful all round the garden from now until the end of the summer. The amazing thing about them is that we started off with just two spindly but unruly clumps when the garden itself was just a dream. The day lilies were almost the only blooming plant in the back yard in those days, so we carefully divided those two clumps into six very small ones, and planted a couple of them around the pool, a couple in the optimistically named “flower bed,” and a couple more in front by the driveway.

Today, I swear we must have a dozen clumps of these sunny golden day lilies brightening up their places all around the garden, and all originate from those first two. Kind of reminds me of that old “Stone Soup” story that someone told me when I was a little girl, about poor villagers who wanted to make soup for supper but had nothing except a caldron of water and a smooth gray stone. Deciding that the stone might add a bit of flavor to the water, the villager put it into the caldron and stirred, sighing at the thought of her simple supper. “But I have a carrot,” said one villager, bringing it along and adding it to the caldron. “And I have an onion,” offered another, tossing it in. “Here’s a little turnip,” said an old woman, hobbling over to the caldron and dropping it into the boiling water. And so on and so on, until that caldron was bubbling away with bits of this and that, all combined to make a lovely big pot of “Stone Soup” to share. Does anybody else remember that story? Anyway, the day lilies remind me of it, the way they’ve added their flavor to what was a pretty poor plot of ground a few years ago.

Guinevere Pattern Now Available

Announcing the arrival of my Guinevere Evening Cardigan pattern, available for sale through my Ravelry store and on this site over to your right in the sidebar under “Patterns For Sale.” The pattern was expertly and oh-so-patiently tech edited by the lovely Shiri Mor.

Remember Guinevere? As cardigans go, she is as lovely and comfortable as can be (if I do say so myself). Her fitted bodice and body-skimming drape flatter a wide variety of body types, and although many other yarns would make suitable substitutes, it was a complete delight to knit up the sample in Sundara Yarn’s Aran Silky Merino. I cannot say often enough how luxurious that yarn is, and how gifted Sundara’s color sensibility is.

And of course, if you are a bit of a button fiend, Guinevere offers an unbeatable opportunity to raid the button stash for the ones that will add the perfect complement to the design.

For the 34″ size, I used 4.5 skeins (at 200 yards each) on size 7 needles. So if you’ve been wondering what kind of garment will do justice to your own skeins of Sundara ASM, perhaps Guinevere is the answer to your prayers.

Up, Up, and Away…

Preparations for Saturday night’s graduation party led to all sorts of evocative silliness, such as:

It’s going to be hard to keep her feet on the ground now that she’s a high school graduate with college right around the corner. I’ve already been asked to knit leg warmers and a cozy hat to complement the Lizard Ridge Blanket I knitted for her to take to college:

She Did It!!!


I am so proud of my little girl!

The New York grandparents made it out to CA for the big day!

The world’s best uncle came all the way from Ohio!
And a wonderful time was had by all…

It’s My Birthday and I’ll Forget It If I Want To

Well, not forget it exactly, but rather simply decline to make any fuss about it until other, more immediate celebrations have had their moments. With my daughter’s high school graduation coming tomorrow afternoon, a big party the following evening, and my parents visiting from New York for the occasion, I’m happy to defer the “gratification” of turning another year older.

My understanding friends are humoring me – I don’t have a single birthday lunch lined up until July, when I’ll finally have time to think about it. Once you get past a certain age, perhaps you lose the urge to celebrate immediately. Why not just postpone all of it a couple more weeks?

In every spare minute, I’m either working on the book or planning my next knitting project. I’m in the home stretch of the second French Child’s Socks from Nancy Bush’s book Knitting Vintage Socks (Hooray… )

and need something nearly mindless but satisfying to follow them up. I’m thinking about this from the talented Julie Weisenberger (AKA Cocoknits) or this from’s Summer 2009 issue and designed by Cheryl Niamath, or possibly even this lovely shawl by Kirsten Kapur of Through The Loops. It’s really not fair of me to describe any of these projects as “nearly mindless,” since all require attention. Perhaps I should just call them “soothing,” since that’s what I imagine they’d be, and that’s what I look forward to knitting.

Brushes With Fame

I haven’t been able to say much about this until lately, but now that the manuscript for my knitting book is well underway, it’s only fair to mention that some of my recent travel has been to meet with knitting world celebrities in their parts of the country. At the end of May, I paid a short visit to Cleveland and Canton, Ohio, where it was my great pleasure to spend time with both Shannon and Anne.

With both of these talented designer/bloggers, I got to see where they do their creative work as well as sample the local cuisine. Who knew that land-locked Canton would have fantastically fresh sushi? Or that the west side of Cleveland would have a bistro called Melt, where all the food on the menu is based on the grilled cheese sandwich – as well as some extremely novel additions to that basic recipe?

Since the last time I visited Cleveland had to be fifteen years ago, it was lucky I had time to drive around a little and discover a beautiful lakefront park. I walked right down to the end where the path met the water:

There, perched on the shoreline of Lake Erie on a rather foggy and humid afternoon, I captured this view across the water of the downtown skyline:


A funny thing happens nowadays when your child turns 18. Doctors who previously discussed your child’s health freely with you will no longer do so.

College administrators who will greet your child as an incoming freshman just two months from now will not discuss said freshman’s course selections, housing, or meal plan with parents – even though the parents are paying for all of it.

When your child is being pulled in many different directions simultaneously because of the “Three Shuns” – graduation, vacation, and matriculation, that is, and she asks you (her mother) to make several phone calls on her behalf to get information that she does not have time to get for herself, it is frustrating to be told to have your child call them directly.

But I guess I’d better get used to it.

Wacky Weather Wednesday

It’s not supposed to rain in June where we live. In June, the days are supposed to be hot and dry and sunny… the grass turns golden and crispy (and extremely flammable), and even unheated swimming pools can feel pretty darned good. Evenings cool off just enough to need a light sweater or wrap, and you can comfortably sit outside to eat dinner. Ahem.

Not this June. At least, not so far. We had an absolute downpour late last night, pounding the skylights so hard with rain that the noise woke me up. And this afternoon? A hailstorm. Brief, yes. Hailstones only the size of M & Ms, but impressive nonetheless. Mornings have dawned cloudy and chilly for the last week, and the temperature hasn’t climbed above 70 degrees for days. DAYS, I tell you! If this is global warming, I’m confused.

The garden has come to a standstill; it’s too cool for most things to grow. The tomato plants are about 18″ high, and some have tiny little Superball-sized green tomatoes on them, but that’s as far as they’ve gotten. The first wave of roses is done with and dead-headed. Not much left but brown, papery petals on the ground. I even fertilized to encourage new growth, but so far – bupkis. That doesn’t mean nothing is blooming. Au contraire.

There are lilies, both Oriental and Day varieties:

And the agapanthus are gearing up to reveal their spidery heads:

Oh, and these lavender beauties, the name of which I can never remember:

I am a floral mandala…

stare at me long enough

and you will experience total serenity.

We Interrupt This Blog Post…

… to bring you this very important announcement.

It’s official; I am writing a knitting book. The contract has long since been signed and executed, but certain additional things have happened lately that allow me to mention it here for the first time.

It’s very exciting, and lots of work to keep track of all the details. Although I am writing the manuscript words now and into the first part of this summer, the actual publication date is in Spring, 2010. In between, all kinds of things will happen, such as tech editing the book’s knitting patterns, and the projects photo shoot.

There’s not much more I can say at the moment, but now at least it should be clear that when I’m not posting regularly, it’s probably because I’m traveling for the book, and writing the book itself.

Away I Go

Late spring iris

I really hate getting up at 4:00 in the morning, but that’s when I’ll be up tomorrow in order to catch a flight out of town. I’m heading east again for one last trip until my daughter’s graduation is behind us. Although I’ll be gone only three days including travel (it’s so unfair that flying from CA to the East coast necessitates losing an entire day just to get from here to there), if last week’s trip is any indication I’ll be just as discombobulated when I return home.

When I got home last Thursday night, I was so disoriented I kept thinking it was Sunday night – I started to run the trash cans up the driveway to the curb for the Monday morning collection, and I picked up ingredients at the grocery store for my daughter to make sandwiches for school lunches. All day Friday my internal clock thought it was the beginning of the week rather than the end: I was dutifully setting my alarm clock to go off at 6:30 Saturday morning until my DH spotted me at it and asked if I was crazy. I finally got a grip after the third time I asked my daughter whether she’d done all her homework – she didn’t find me nearly as amusing as she did the first two times I asked her, and the “lost week” finally sank in.

Heritage climbing roses

This week’s trip will result in more of the same, I suspect. But I’ll at least leave you with some spring garden eye candy, since I’m taking my knitting with me (My goal is to complete the second French Child’s Sock while in transit) and won’t have any new photos until my return.


Snow Queen Melts in Spring

Whenever I go out of town for a few days, I never know what to expect from the garden upon my return. It’s always extremely different than when I left, and always surprises me. When I returned from my trip to NY last week, here are a few of the surprises I found awaiting me:

The Snow Queen clematis, slowly working its way up the back fence and twining sinuously among the canes of a companion climbing rose, was in tight buds when I left home, yet in my absence it suddenly burst into magnificent bloom. Although the flowers have no discernible fragrance, they are so gorgeous to look at that I don’t even mind…
How amazing is that?
If I don’t pick these ripening strawberries within the next day or so, the neighborhood squirrels will beat me to them. Fortunately, they will keep producing all summer so there will be enough to share with the sharp-toothed little buggers.

Every year I wonder if it will get too hot too soon for the peonies to bloom – it sometimes happens just that way in our arid little microclimate east of Berkeley.

This year, however, we are being treated to the full gorgeousness of these double-blooming peonies, which are fragrant, too, as if their visual magnificence wasn’t enough!

Before leaving town, I pulled out the decrepit, white-fly-infested plant specimens that had wintered over, and then replanted the pots by the front door with some fresh and colorful summer things: namely coleus, pelargonium, and impatiens. Coral with burgundy and chartreuse is a color combination that sings, to my mind.


Second Sock Syndrome… No Way

Just returned from a quick trip to New York for a combination of work and family. Two long plane rides to and from California could mean only one thing – knitting! There are days when I have to ask myself whether this is a knitting blog or a gardening blog, and I guess the answer is: both. With the tendonitis I’ve had in my hands and fingers, there just isn’t a lot of knitting I can do these days, when what I HAVE to do is spend a lot of time working on the computer and that takes priority for now.

But today – some knitting content, finally. Yes, it’s true that I seem like a serious slacker in the knitting department; believe it or not there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that is related to knitting but that doesn’t actually require ME to do the knitting part. However, I’ve made progress on the French Child’s Socks from Nancy Bush’s lovely book Knitting Vintage Socks. I suspect these are the first of several patterns I’ll have to make from that volume.

Actually completed one of them and immediately started the second before I could lose my momentum. Such dedication is all the more noble given that the fingers on my left hand have to be manually unkinked when I put the knitting away at the end of the evening, even when I take a break every 20 minutes or so. But I refuse to succumb to the dreaded Second Sock Syndrome – I really want a couple of pairs of warm wool socks to wear this coming winter.

These are knit in Sundara Yarn’s superwash merino sock yarn, in a color I adore called Sage Over Butter. I don’t think she’s dying it up anymore, or at least it’s out of rotation. It is various shades of green with subtle hints of very pale yellow – watching the colors flow through my fingers as I knit is only one of its pleasures, since it is also very soft and resists splitting nicely. I can’t wait to wear these six months from now!

Another Milestone

Last night was Senior Ball at my daughter’s high school. Well, it was not held AT the school, but at a party space not too far away. And in the spirit of the recession, instead of renting limousines and having to deal with all the groups forming and reforming for the ride there and back, the school rented huge buses to take the entire senior class (all 325 of them) to the venue. The class raised enough money over the course of the school year to pay for the buses, as well as for a live band at the ball, and dinner.

Every kid was required to be transported back and forth (from the high school parking lot) by bus; no individual drivers allowed. All the kids were breathalyzed going into the ball and again on the way out. Zero tolerance for alcohol or drugs. Two years ago, when two graduating seniors killed themselves in drunk driving accidents, the local police and school administration really cracked down on enforcing the law. And they meant it!
Of course, there were after-parties at the homes of some of these kids where there was plenty of alcohol and drugs for anybody who wanted it. My daughter wound up at one of those parties, but discovered along the way that she liked her date a lot better at the start of the evening than she did by the end, when he was falling-down drunk. Goodness knows what else the boy ingested, since she told us he disappeared out into the garden with a couple of friends at one point. Funny how the kids with the strictest parents are always the ones who act out the most. This boy’s parents are so over-protective I’d laugh if they weren’t so clueless… I almost feel sorry for them because they know so little about their own son.

Happy Birthday, Rachel

Today my daughter is eighteen years old. In just three months, she will be off to college. Celebrating the day she becomes an adult is especially poignant because she is my only child, and over the last several months it has been my mission to loosen the apron strings, to resist my over-protective urges, to show her that I trust her even when I’m not sure, in my heart of hearts, that I do.
I am so proud of the bright and beautiful young woman she has become, and when I look at her it is difficult for me to believe, sometimes, that she was once tiny enough to lie across my lap – no bigger than our cat (in fact, at birth she weighed only slightly more than half what our cat does). Although she has some maturing yet to do (and what eighteen-year-old doesn’t?), she is independent, spirited, curious, and friendly. She is organized, thoughtful, and persistent. While I didn’t always appreciate these qualities when she was younger, today I realize that they will stand her in good stead as she embarks on her college years and her adult life. Already she is far more willing to ask questions, and much more assertive about getting the help that she needs from teachers and other adults than I was at her age.

Adolescence has not always been easy for her. She has never been what you’d call one of the “popular kids,” although she has always had a few close friends. Watching her go through various social tribulations reminds me that I would rather watch my entire yarn stash be consumed by ravenous wool moths than be a teenager again. Having been a victim of “mean girl syndrome” in middle school taught her compassion for others, and showed her the importance of reaching out to other kids who seem shy or uncomfortable in unfamiliar settings. She has had more than her share of sad and lonely days, and it wasn’t always easy to parent her without sounding like a platitude-spouting helicopter mom. It has been a source of great pride for me to see how in her senior year she has developed a philosophical bent, and with it an awareness that if one group of friends proves fickle, there are others out there who are ready to befriend her if she extends herself to them.

I see that she is a good person who makes ethical choices – and this encourages me greatly. I see that she is beautiful both in the conventional sense and in a more spiritual sense, although she did not get this from me. In fact, the only times in my life that I have attempted to pray to any deity were when Rachel was desperately ill; first as an infant with a bacterial infection that elevated her fever to 105 degrees, then as a toddler when she fell out of a shopping cart at Costco and landed on her head on the concrete floor, and finally as a nine-year-old when she needed an emergency appendectomy. On each of those occasions, I prayed to whatever or whomever could protect my child and see her through to restored good health. Although it’s a cliche, I’d give my life for hers.

I am grateful that she has reached eighteen, and wish her a life full of good things, with only enough heartbreak to keep her compassionate, and enough challenges to keep her working hard to achieve the things that are important to her. I hope she finds love with a partner who respects her and is kind and devoted to her, and if she wants one I hope she’ll have a family of her own someday so she will appreciate all that remains unwritten in this post, but is there nonetheless.

Happy birthday, Rachel!

Happy Mother’s Day…

… to all the mothers out there in the blogosphere.

For you, a bouquet of the garden’s finest:

For all the tears, noses, and bottoms you wipe (even when you catch yourself thinking, “Hooee, this is one stinky little rugrat!” and then catch yourself because it is, after all, YOUR stinky rugrat):

For all the stories you read aloud (over and over and over again, until you’ve memorized the entire book…) and the reading you teach:

For all the team sports where you cheer on your personal champion (and privately assure your child that he or she is a winner no matter what happens on the field or court):

For the nourishing meals you cook (especially on the days when you’re really too tired even to get in the car and make a run to McDonald’s, and even the idea of picking up the phone to order in is too much effort but you haul yourself to the fridge and then to the stove anyway…), and the cooking you teach:

For the examples you set (even when it’s SOOOO tempting to be a little less noble, just this once), and the kindness you show (when you could just as easily look the other way or claim you are too busy to take on even ONE MORE THING), and the love you share:

Happy Mother’s Day!!