Tenacious Little Bugger

Hi – I’m a flowering quince.
Please ignore my lethally sharp thorns
while you admire my sculptural branchy beauty.

I’ve already extolled the perennial cuteness of the Hardenburgia vine that climbs up our side fence every February. But have I also mentioned its pernicious persistent clamouring up every vertical surface that offers the possibility of adherence?

Hardenburgia resembles, I’ve come to realize (even though I wait expectantly for its first blooms every winter during the coldest rainiest days), a hyper-horny mutt of indeterminate origins, climbing the leg of every stick of furniture and every human it can reach in the attempt to spread its genes around.

That’s what the Hardenburgia vines do, but at least they don’t poke their noses into places where they don’t belong, and at least they don’t lick you, leaving a residue of dog breath behind (can you tell I’m more of a cat person?).

The English violet is another plant that pokes itself into places you might think it doesn’t belong, but once it insinuates itself there, it looks so right it’s as if it had been there all along. What began as a six-pack of tiny little violet seedlings from the local nursery several springs ago has spread into a carpet of sweetly scented violets under the ancient pear tree in our back garden. Another plant for which I search every spring, for while the leaves are often evergreen in our climate, the temperature has to reach a certain comforting warmth before the blooms begin.

Warm and Woolly Lotus

Just a reminder that Spring is right around the corner
despite all evidence to the contrary!

God forbid I should ever have a hot flash while wearing the Lotus cardigan – it is so thick and hairy (but in an attractive halo’d way, not in an unshaven, unkempt way) – because I swear it might just melt onto my skin.
The shaping is just weird enough to work, and I really like the fit from the side view. From the front view, however, I look like an extremely well-padded protege of Batman.
As long as I keep moving, you can’t tell exactly how unflattering a garment this is, so maybe I’ll even wear it out in public sometime (perhaps to collect the newspapers from the top of the driveway very early on cold mornings when my neighbors are still asleep – that counts, right?). And did I mention the colors? Really lovely and subtle. I do like the colors. Really.
But the colors I really, REALLY like are these:

About which I promise to have much more to say soon!

Pajama Day

The pajama day is vastly under-rated for its medicinal value. I’ve had a nasty case of flu for the last few days, and spent most of Saturday curled miserably on the family room sofa, shivering under four layers of quilts while my fever soared, sticking my wobbly head out only when the wracking coughs got so bad I couldn’t breathe inside my little cocoon. It wasn’t pretty.

So today I spent almost the entire day in bed, having what my family calls a “pajama day.” If you’ve guessed that this means I never got dressed, you’re absolutely right.
Under ordinary circumstances, the pajamas come off and the “real” clothes go on almost as soon as I get out of bed in the morning, and definitely within minutes of brushing my teeth. I’ve never been good at lounging around in a state of deshabille (I love that word – deshabille – but don’t think I’ve ever had a chance to use it before now!), but today I succumbed and stayed put. Aside from the slothfulness that is a natural corollary of feeling residually crappy, my husband, bless him, brought me a cup of tea fixed exactly the way I like it AND the Sunday newspaper. I spent the next several hours reading leisurely – in other words, spending Sunday exactly as it should be spent! And after that, I made the I-cord and stitched the button onto my Lotus cardigan.
See how pale and sickly I look?
And after that, I finished a book I’ve really enjoyed: Lost Hearts In Italy, by Andrea Lee. And then I started a new knitting project, about which more later. And you know what? I actually feel so much better now.
After subsisting all day on nothing (lack of appetite is for me a sure sign that something is seriously wrong!) but cups of hot tea and glasses of cool orange juice that both felt good going down my raw throat, I think I might just have a little appetite for dinner. Is that pizza I smell?

Lotus Cardigan Almost-FO

Here it is, a cardi in a hurry. It took some rummaging around in my stash to locate the sleeves, fronts, and back that were completed late last year, but eventually I did find them. Spent yesterday evening pinning the pieces into place, stitching the shoulder, sleeve and body seams, then easing the skirt onto the bodice and working the little neck band as a finishing touch.

Now that this baby is on the blocking board, I could use a little advice on the choice of buttons. What do you think? Should I go with the single large shell button that reflects the blues and greens in the sweater?

I always like the organic feel of a shell button, and the sheen of its iridescence plays nicely off the incredible loft of the yarn.

Or should I go with the two smaller coppery ones that pick up the browns and grays? I can’t decide, and would appreciate some help on this. Feel free to weigh in here in the comments section.

Here they are up close so you can see their embossed design.

Even as I admire the unique shaping of this garment, I realize it may turn out to be one of those projects that languishes in my closet, unworn and unloved, until finally I give it away. I tried it on for fit before soaking it, and although the fit is pretty much as perfect as it gets, I’m still deciding whether I like the rippling effect of the “skirt.” Let’s just say this is not a slimming sweater, but it will certainly be warm.

Lotus Entertain You

Walks around the house with camera in hand allow me to notice the continuing raptures of early spring late winter in the garden: in my opinion nothing, but nothing, can equal the fragrance of daphne in bloom…

except perhaps the upturned faces of crocuses in full flower, the soft sheen of their petals reminiscent of buttercups – remember as a child holding a buttercup under the chin of your best friend to ascertain whether she “liked butter”? I mean, come on! Who doesn’t like butter? Most of us can no longer afford to lavish it into our baked potatoes, pour it melted over our bowls of popcorn, or use the full amount called for in cookie recipes, but that doesn’t mean we have ever stopped liking it. I’m just sayin’.

Progress continues on the Lotus cardigan. The “skirt” is growing in leaps and bounds (well, okay, rows and rows) and as the number of stitches per row is decreased, my knitting speed increases. I’m down to 198 stitches per row, and that is MUCH faster than the 422 stitches per row at the beginning. My hands and fingers are much less tired at the end of an evening’s work, thankfully.

This baby has quite a wingspan by now, and is getting a bit unwieldy to stuff into my most capacious knitting bag. And as I labor away, I have the creeping suspicion that the finished cardigan will most likely go off to college with my daughter in the fall. She keeps oohing over the yarn colors and patting the soft fabric with a covetous gleam in her eye. C’est la vie!

The Freckled Face of February

With a random but welcome Friday the 13th (the anniversary of my first official date with my husband), Valentine’s day, and my actual wedding anniversary this month, it is difficult to be cowed by the additional month of winter promised by that simple word “February” on the calendar. Add to these red letter days the fact that February is also a big month for family birthdays – my father’s (88 and counting – Go, Herbie!) my youngest sister’s (Ok, so maybe we won’t bandy about any specific numbers for that one), and my aunt’s, and we find ourselves skipping from one celebration to the next all month.

Finally, February is the month when Stitches West happens, and I will most certainly be there.

You expect ME to believe it’s February?!
It’s none too soon to get to work on my February project for NaKniSweMoDo – a resurrection of the Lotus Cardigan I started early last year and then put aside for reasons that seemed perfectly logical at the time but which I can no longer remember. You think that’s bad… this morning on a walk with a friend I blanked – suddenly and totally – on both her husband’s name (Bob), and where I had been just two weeks ago (Washington, DC). Both were momentary lapses, but startling and dismaying nonetheless. But I digress.

I’ve cast on for what the pattern calls the “skirt” of the Lotus Cardigan. Four HUNDRED and twenty-two stitches, knit in K2-P2 ribbing for 1 1/2 inches that I thought would never materialize. On size 9 needles with the bulky Noro Kochoran yarn, you’d think this would go pretty fast, but my fingers were cramping by the time I completed that step and could finally begin the first decreases AND switch over to stockinette. This is what it looks like so far:

I am the Lotus serpent…

I absolutely love the soft blues and greens in this Kochoran yarn, but briefly considered cutting out the runs of gray and brown that streak through the skeins. Then it occurred to me that those cooler, more muted colors have the effect of warming and brightening the blues and greens and making them all the more appealing for the contrast. Take a closer look. See what I mean?


Before I forget (again), allow me to introduce my adorable niece and nephew, Tess (14) and Moses (10), who obligingly modeled the Thorpe hats I made them for Chrismukkah. Thanks, Jen, for sharing the photo. They both look so cute, and their heads look so warm!

Presenting… The January NaKniSweMoDo

Yippee, I finished it! The cabled sweater for my daughter is done (unless, of course, she decides she hates the boat neckline, and asks me to tighten it up into a crewneck). Here are photos and particulars for your viewing pleasure.

Yes, purple is gorgeous on redheads!

The yarn is Lanas Puras Melosa Worsted, 100% merino wool (215 yds per skein). Colorway: Eggplant. Although the label calls for US size 7 – 9 needles, I bumped up to a size 10 in order to make the pattern my daughter desperately wanted in the size that would fit her best. Surprisingly, the cable definition is still springy and has the depth I like.

This yarn is fabulously soft and I suspect will pill a LOT with wear, but for the time being it looks wonderful. The semisolid eggplant colorway is in subtle and muted tones, more muted than suggested by the accompanying photos, which is exactly what my daughter prefers at this stage of her life.

Yes, I modified the original pattern, which used the bramble stitch all the way up the sleeves (quite unflattering to have all those little lumpy stitches traveling up the arm) and had a turtleneck (which would never do for this child of mine who runs hot always). I repeated a slightly narrower version of the front cables up the center of both sleeves, and modified the neckline into the aforementioned boatneck for comfort. In all, I used about 5 1/2 skeins of yarn to make the medium size.


Making its debut a bit early this year is the hardenburgia that grows along our side yard fence:

We are blurry but happy to be in bloom!

The inspiration for one of last year’s knitting projects, the Hardenburgia Shawl (downloaded hundreds of times on Ravelry and also available as a free PDF in the sidebar of this blog), these tiny, precious purple flowers cascade like miniature wisteria along the fence, brightening up an otherwise not-very-interesting spot in the garden.

Remember me?

To Ophelia

Last week for her final “exam” in English class, my daughter and her band of merry actor classmates had to act out a scene from Hamlet. Just to show the Bard what’s what, they decided to stage Ophelia’s mad scene as a Wild, Wild West re-enactment.

Oh, yes, pardner. You read that right.
In addition to listening to my daughter, AKA “Ophelia,” read through her lines, and in addition to evaluating her costume options – she decided in the end to wear little Daisy Duke shorts, a snap-front plaid shirt, and a cowboy hat – I had the pleasure of securing a selection of plants from the garden that could stand in for Ophelia’s “rosemary… rue…” etc. Well, we actually had the rosemary, but the rest I improvised, as demonstrated below.

I wish I’d thought to photograph Ophelia as well!

Introducing Cali

While I was in Washington, DC a long-awaited package arrived for me at home. Upon my return to balmy California, it was the first thing I opened (Who needs to unpack the minute she walks in the door, right? That suitcase will be just as full of dirty clothing if it sits in the corner for an extra hour or two, unless the unpacking fairies whisk it away and magically load the laundry hamper for me… hah!). It was my new Namaste knitting bag, the Cali ZUMA.

The color registered first – a deep, eggplanty purple that is EXACTLY the shade I most love when I think about the incredible range of purples out there. Upon closer examination I was relieved to discover that my new Namaste Cali bag, the ZUMA from Scout’s Swag, has many lovable features in addition to its great color.

For instance, there is the easy-open but quick to seal shut snap clasp. There is the wide interior that will hold a multitude of works in progress without squishing. The handles are long enough to wear comfortably over the shoulder, and the bag is so light that I can cheerfully load it with knitting paraphernalia and not worry that it will give me the dreaded “Slope Shoulder.” There is this amazing, multi-compartment pocket in the front to hold my driver’s license and cash when I don’t want to carry a separate purse.

But best of all, on the underside of that nice, wide, and stable base, there are these:

Feet! And not just four feet, but five, adding a welcome bit of extra stability. You know how when you go to a boutique or department store and find yourself momentarily tempted by some shockingly expensive purse? How – while seeing if you can possibly justify the cost – you do a critical inspection to make sure it has zippers in all the right places, and the right combination of pockets inside for your essentials? How you try it on and check your image in the mirror to see if its shoulder strap or handles hit at the perfect spot? How the overall size of the purse works in proportion to your own size (which for me means that most of the bags in the last few years were so ginormous that while holding one I looked as if I could be running away from home with all my earthly possessions at my side)?

Well, in my opinion the deal-maker or breaker is whether the bag has those little feet. Why would I exchange my hard-earned money for a purse that, without those metal feet, will have to sit either on my lap or on a less-than-spotless floor in some restaurant, BART train, or other venue? Those feet keep the leather or vinyl from scratching, fading, and otherwise showing wear – and good designers should absolutely add them to every purse they make.

So, Namaste Cali? Got ’em. Yippee!

Bare Naked Ladies

Pruning the roses, all fifty of them, is not anybody’s favorite chore come winter. But prune them we must. And in addition to snipping back all those extravagant canes, it’s advisable to strip off any remaining leaves from each plant.

That way, if we wind up with weeks of rain (if only! So far this winter, we are woefully behind our necessary rainfall and the California state government has already declared that this coming summer will see drought conditions and strict water restrictions), the roses won’t be in any danger of succumbing to rust or black spot, two diseases that attack the leaves. So for the foreseeable future, my roses are bare naked and disease-free, and we like it that way.

I’m not completely naked – I’m dressed in thorns!

What a day, what a day!

Like so many of us around the country, I watched President Obama’s inauguration this morning with a group of friends. All of us shedding tears, bursting into spontaneous applause as he took the Oath of Office, and even standing to sing the national anthem in unison at the end of the event. And I didn’t feel a hint of self-consciousness or cynicism. I can’t remember the last time I felt this hopeful, or this optimistic about our country and our planet’s chance of survival.

Although a few members of our party muttered the usual trash talk about Bush, along the lines of “Don’t let the door hit you on your way out…” and “Finally, Dallas gets back its village idiot…” for the most part we were focused on the present and the future. And just for today, I didn’t so much as mention my conviction that Bush, Cheney and their cronies should be tried for war crimes. I just enjoyed the moment. And what a moment it was.

What a day, what a wonderful day!


A week in the frozen tundra of Washington, DC was more than compensated for by the rare opportunity to spend a chunk of time with a dear friend as she recovers (valiantly and with daily signs of progress) from serious surgery. Although our contact in recent years has been limited to phone calls and emails, in person our connection was strong as ever and we found ourselves able to pick up where we had left off with ease. It’s rare to have friendships that transcend time and place as ours has managed to do, and I’m grateful to count her among the few of mine with that kind of history.

Spoiled though I am by mild California winters, I found the bitter cold back east surprisingly refreshing… at least for the week. The finite nature of my exposure was undoubtedly half the charm. Every day I dragged under pathetic, whimpering protest gently coaxed my friend’s dog out for a couple of poop and bolt back home brisk but enjoyable walks around the neighborhood. Though I’m unaccustomed to bundling up in all the layers necessary to keep warm in temperatures that ranged from a balmy 20 to a decidedly less balmy 9 degrees Fahrenheit, it felt good to snuggle into my scarf and knitted hat, gloved hands in my coat pockets and feet toasty in my boots.

Husband and daughter survived nicely without me, thank you very much, though I can take credit only for stocking the refrigerator and freezer with casseroles before my departure. While I could thus be certain they would not starve in my absence, I was not entirely confident they would still be on speaking terms upon my return. Yet they were. Managed just fine. Even had a couple of good talks. Not that I ever doubted their ability to communicate without my mediation skills, but it was nonetheless a relief to learn that they’d gotten along so well.
Meanwhile, upon my return halfway through the weekend, I couldn’t help noticing that early spring developments in the garden continued just as nicely without me. While the white camellias have been in bloom for a few weeks already, this pink one is just starting to unfold:
These little snowflake flowers (leucojum) are among the first bulbs to flower in winter, even earlier than the crocuses. Even after eight years in California, it seems miraculous to be able to walk around the garden in mid-January and see all these signs of spring. I never take it for granted, just as I never fail to admire Mt. Diablo in the distance every single time I drive east through town or on the freeway. These reminders of the natural world remain inspiring beacons for me; lures to follow through on the endless yardwork that might otherwise seem like nothing more than a series of necessary evils.
In addition to the cyclamen, the daphne buds are swelling; sometime in February all the walkways around the house will be scented with their tiny pink blossoms.

And the primroses! There are patches of them all round the house that die down to the ground when it gets too hot in the summer, but at this time of year they spring to life until one day the ground is positively covered with their lavish, colorful clusters. Each year the patches expand, putting out more shoots and flowers and corrugated leaves to admire.


Today I:

  1. pruned our plum trees,
  2. fertilized the azaleas, rhododendron, and camellias,
  3. sprayed an oil spray on the pear and fig trees to protect them from the customary spring aphid infestation,
  4. sprayed the peach tree against the dreaded peach leaf curl,
  5. and folded and stored the tomato cages (we just ate the very last one in our salad last night – hard to believe – it was one of the rock-hard green ones that took three extra weeks to ripen off the vine).

It was a singularly productive morning, reminding me that there is really no such thing as down-time in a garden. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been so sure that nothing much is stirring in the garden, but all that time outside today showed me just how wrong I was. There was this:

And this:

And several of these crocuses just beginning to stir:

With the garden in order, I can focus on other things, such as a week-long trip out of town starting Monday. Though I have the packing for colder weather to plan for, it’s the knitting projects I worry about the most. Which yarn to pack, and how much? How many sets of needles, and in which sizes? There are a couple more hats I’ve promised as gifts for others, and should definitely be able to knock those out.

I could bring yarn to finish the sleeves for my daughter’s cabled pullover, and probably should because it could fulfill my NaKniSweMoDo requirement for January, but for some reason long airplane rides put me in the mood for little somethings closer to instant gratification. Have also been swatching for a couple of secret projects, and might want to get those started.

At least the Drops jacket is complete, finally. That lovely and warm tweedy yarn is from the wonderful Leanne at Beaverslide Dry Goods, and the iridescent buttons are from the amazing notions floor at Britex Fabrics in downtown San Francisco.

The third – and final – collar version works for me (yay!) and looks just fine after the two butt-ugly unsuccessful earlier attempts. It needed a nice curve of short-rowing across the back for better shaping and drape. As difficult as it is to photograph oneself modeling a sweater, I’ve done my best here to catalogue the final version:

And then my husband arrived home in the nick of time to shoot a few more full body shots. If only he wouldn’t keep trying to get me to smile.

That big, obnoxious brooch on the collar was a bargain at Banana Republic not too long ago, and it adds a nicely gaudy and flashy discreetly sparkly finishing touch to the jacket. That’s me in a nutshell: I’m like a magpie. If it’s sparkly, shiny, or otherwise reflective and bright, I want it. Though the mock gemstones are not actually purple but more of a pale mauve that I would not ordinarily find attractive, they pick up the yarn color surprisingly well. The photos below are much more accurate in terms of the true color of the yarn.

Be back in a week, unless I find a moment to blog on the road!