Third Time’s a Charm…?

Oh my god let’s hope so. A while back I finished my version of the simple, A-line Drops jacket I’ve seen all over Ravelry and the blogs. Followed the pattern exactly, which is something I seldom do. While knitting, I thought the collar seemed a bit stingy, and upon completion as I wore it outside around town, that skimpy little collar bothered me more and more. It didn’t lie smoothly or flat, but it didn’t stand or gather cozily around my neck to offer warmth, either. It just wasn’t right, and it quickly became obvious what I needed to do next.

Last night I frogged it after spending half an hour just finding my oh-so-carefully woven-in ends (they were a bit too well buried in the knitting, as it turned out), and reknit the collar larger and longer. Too much larger, and way much too much longer, I discovered as soon as I put it on again. Dorkus maximus.

Yikes! This morning, I ripped it out again and am set to reknit it one more time. I now see that I should not have increased at the edges to create collar points, but I should have done some short-rowing across the center back so the collar would curve out longer there. Although I usually measure and remeasure until I’m sure I have the details well thought out before I start knitting, this time I just went along with the written instructions because the rest of the jacket worked up so easily. But trusting the pattern as written was a big mistake for the collar. I’ll chalk this one up in the “lesson learned” category. Photos of the re-re-finished Drops jacket soon!

Post-Holiday Tinking

Happy 2009! May it be a better year for all of us. Yesterday, after sleeping in scandalously late (for me, 9 am qualifies as scandalously late), the mister and I went to a movie matinee. There’s not much else to do on New Year’s Day, right? Unless you’re a football fan, as is the mister, who recorded the Rose Bowl to watch upon our return. We saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and although it is a romance, I wouldn’t classify it as a chick flick. Even starring Brad Pitt (I just don’t get it: what’s all the fuss about? His Blandness is not what I consider gorgeous, a hunk, or even particularly sexy… I’m more of a George Clooney girl), I still wouldn’t call it a chick flick. It’s a thinking person’s romance, asking but not necessarily answering all sorts of big questions about fate, and timing, and the meaning of family, and the uncertain certainties of enduring love. It left us both in a pensive mood, but not in a bad way.
In that frame of mind, we were ripe for a little indulgence. Fortunately, there was puh-lenty of this decadent chocolate cake left over from New Year’s Eve.
The recipe is from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking book, using a jar of my home-made Black Forest Jam (fresh sweet cherries bathed in semi-sweet chocolate: a 4-oz jar of undiluted bliss) for the filling between layers. The semi-sweet chocolate and sour cream frosting is pretty fabulous, too, and not terribly sweet.

Then I knuckled down to work on my daughter’s crewneck sweater, racing several inches up the back before calling it a night. I’ve just begun the raglan sleeve full-fashioned decreases, so the end of this piece is in sight – finished by this evening.

With all of my holiday knitting projects in their new homes, only this lone chapeau remained behind… too large but also too shallow to fit anyone I know. With a little judicious tinking and remedial knitting of a ribbed band for cuffing, it will go into my gift stockpile for next year.

Today the new washer and dryer are being installed, this time (we pray) with none of the problems we had the last three – yes, THREE – times the installers came out. Two weeks ago, I refused to return to the laundromat again although I was already running short of socks, so you can probably guess what I’ll be doing most of this weekend.

2008, It’s Been Great

Well, 2008 has had its great moments, but I’m still happy to turn the page. 2009 promises to be quite the ride. I’ll be writing a book (see how well I contained my excitement just then?), my daughter will graduate from high school in June and start college in the fall (see how well I avoided the use of superlatives just then?), and my husband’s job will evolve as his firm absorbs the one they acquired this year (see how well I refrained from speculation there?).

And through it all there will be knitting and gardening and cooking. Call me insane, but I signed up for NaKniSweMoDo (National Knit a Sweater a Month Dodecathon). I knew I had to step up when my husband recently entered my beautifully organized, all-cleaned-up-for-the-New-Year office, looked around shaking his head as if in disbelief (he rarely sets foot inside my inner sanctum, so perhaps his shock is not all that surprising), and announced, “You’ve got to stop buying yarn.” If after all my efforts to cram, pummel, and squeeze massage my yarn into baskets and onto shelves, my little corner room still appears that full of yarn to the non-knitter, it’s time to do some serious stash-busting. So, okay, I accept the NaKniSweMoDo challenge.

I’m still mulling over the choices, and so far the definites are Wisteria by Kate Gilbert from Twist Collective, and Hey Teach by Helene Rush, from More decisions to come; I spent some time yesterday organizing my binders filled with individual patterns. Now, instead of one big binder of “Long-Sleeved Sweaters,” I have one for pullovers and a second for cardigans, hoodies, and jackets. Instead of one massive binder for accessories, I now have one for shawls, wraps, and scarves, and another for socks, mitts, hats, and bags. We are talking maybe a little OCD here, I fear. But at least I can find things.

While I work on my daughter’s cabled pullover and have no photos to share, I captured a little Last-Day-of-the-Year beauty in the garden for your viewing pleasure. The very first narcissus is up, and looks none the worse for the wear after already withstanding a couple of hard frosts.

The first helleborus of the season is also in bloom, just barely. How I love that fragile, shell-like shade of pink, tinged with mossy green!

And finally, the front door pots of pansies are still in bloom. These veined rose-colored specimens delight me every time I spot them.

Happy To Be Home

Hope everyone out in the blogosphere had a merry Christmas, happy Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, or whatever other holiday you celebrate at this time of year. Ours was a combination of the usual much-loved family and friends and one particular Scrooge (who shall remain unnamed) thrown into the mix just to remind us that nothing is perfect.

We traveled to Tucson for the big family gathering, cooked up a huge holiday feast that included favorites from all sides of the family, and now we are back home. It was so wonderful to sleep in my own bed again last night. Winter in the desert is austerely beautiful, and in just three days we experienced every extreme from driving rainstorm to balmy sunshine.
The quality of the light is very different from where we live, and I tried to capture a moment of it late in the afternoon of Christmas day. Storm clouds filled the horizon and blotted out the distant mountain range, while just in front of me the sun illuminated the surrounding trees as if they were alight with flames.

The recipients of my hatitude were delighted with their gifts, and outrageous exhibitionists willing models that they are, allowed me to photograph them in their new hats.

These are my brothers-in-law, who live in Ohio and will actually be able to wear these hats a LOT during their long, cold winters. And although they appear to be grown men with lots of responsibilities, living (mostly) sober and serious lives, the truth is they can be very silly when the mood strikes.

The Cat In the Hat

Please don’t turn me in for feline abuse. Shadow loves this combination of yarn: Manos del Uruguay kettle-dyed wool in pale pink, with a strand of matching Anny Blatt Fine Kid carried along. So enamored was she of this project that she couldn’t stop kneading her paws into it as I knit. Some quality in the fiber blend made her unable to resist lying spread-eagled on top of the project any time I put it down for a minute to stir the soup pot. So it seemed only fair that she should model it for me once the hat was complete.

Then my usual model (you know, the one with the bigger head and the fetching camera presence) volunteered her services. Another day, another fifteen seconds of fame on Mom’s dorky blog, right? Still, I appreciate her perfectly hat-sized head, stuffed as it is with everything a high school senior needs to know. Thank you, dear.

This will be a gift for a friend who loves pink. For me it was a break from the Thorpe modification hats I’ve been churning out the last couple of weeks as holiday gifts.

The last hat I knit for the holidays is this red one, using some of my Classic Elite Montera leftovers from last year’s Urban Aran cardigan. So far, it has no definite recipient. Hmmm… and it just happens to fit me pretty well, too.

Montera is a complete joy to knit with, so soft and supple, and that red so gloriously vibrant and saturated, that I’ll have to gift it to someone special. Then if I have enough, I just might have to make one more for me.

Lemony Bucket

This is a tale of divine citrus. A tale of two trees that nearly succumbed, four years ago, to a combination of poor drainage and unskilled gardeners’ good intentions (which sent them at least part way down that road to hell). Two trees that, after a year or so of our tender ministrations, appeared scraggly and leafless – though not entirely so, for the leaves that clung weakly to the shrivelled branches had turned yellow and spotted, curled in upon themselves as if to say, “Just let us die already…” – and which we almost pulled out of the ground to consign to the green waste bin, telling ourselves that the experiment had been a failure. So what if our neighbors had ginormous citrus trees that kept them in lemonade year-round? That was clearly not to be our good fortune.

But then – a reprieve. Better soil. The discovery of citrus fertilizer at the local nursery. These basics made all the difference. New growth appeared and the trees began to flourish. The Meyer lemon tree grew six inches that next year, and the Bearss lime shot up and out a good foot in all directions. Sweetly scented blossoms appeared on the branches, followed by tiny baby lemons and limes. We harvested our first “crop.” And it was good.
This year, I could tell we were going to have a citrus bonanza, but I didn’t quite grasp the enormity of the crop until we had our first series of hard frosts last week. Friends told me to hurry up and pick the citrus – all of it, even if it wasn’t quite ripe yet – or lose it to the cold. Friday I went out with a bucket and a large basket and quickly filled both with lemons.
Then I filled another, even larger, basket, a large cardboard box, and an old wastepaper basket that had been languishing in the garage.

All told, I picked a total of 100 pounds of lemons and limes. Unbelievably, there are still more on the two trees! I simply had no more containers to put them in.

Surveying these riches, I began to map out an ambitious plan of marmalades, Meyer lemon tarts, Bearss lime pies, and lots of lemonade and limeade. It quickly became clear that even I, with my great reluctance to waste anything – especially when I’ve grown it myself – could not possibly make use of all the bounty. So I did what any enterprising domestic goddess/suburban gardener with a serious surplus would do: I called a few of the local restaurants, asking if they were interested in buying some of my locally-grown, pesticide-free citrus. This morning, I boxed up 25 pounds of lemons and 25 pounds of limes, and sold them to the pastry chef at one of the high-powered restaurants in Oakland. She’d like more when I have it. How cool is that?


It got cold last night. Not the California thin-blooded sissy kind of cold, but a true, below-freezing, red-nosed, numb fingers and toes kind of cold. And a hard frost blanketed every surface with a miraculous iced-sugar coating. I crunched my way across the postage stamp “lawn” in our back garden to find the geum leaves crenellated like ruffled Jacobean collars:

And a layer of delicate ice forming at the water’s edge on the surface of the fountain, lending the sunken leaves the melancholy air of Hamlet’s Ophelia drowned in the lake:

And the pansies looking like sugared cake embellishments:

And heart-shaped violet leaves curling in on themselves at the base with a protective whorl, their deep burgundy color muted and hushed under the frost:

Finished another holiday hat, for brother-in-law James. Although the colors are as vibrant as the ones in the last hat (the one I thought I was making for him until voted down by the other family members), this time they are blues and greens (and, okay, yes… I snuck in some purple and teal, but James really does like brights) instead of pinks and reds, and that makes all the difference according to my chief model and kibbitzer:

I like to let the Noro Kureyon colors do the talking, but she knows whereof she speaks:

Who Me? Knitting Fatigue?

It was a productive weekend, followed today by another (perhaps the final?) pre-holiday trip to the post office. There are more items I’d like to make, but the critical ones are finished and that is a great feeling of accomplishment.

The Thorpe above is for my brother-in-law, the pediatrician in Ohio. The colorful beanie below was supposed to be for his partner, who appreciates brighter colors. But I was overruled by my husband and daughter, who insist this is too bright even for him. At least it was a very good use for odds and ends of Noro Kureyon from my stash. So now I have a spare giftable hat, and have to work up another option lickety-split since we will see them for Christmas and I want to be able to hand them both a hat.

Finally, my friend Crissy will be the recipient of this hat and mitts set. I showed the hat last week, and now the set is complete. The kid merino yarn from Chasing Rainbows Dyeworks knits up with a lovely soft haze from the mohair… it is just too delectable.

Soon I’ll be able to get back to work on my daughter’s sweater, the pattern for which is in this booklet by Lana Grossa:

I love this pattern book and want to make nearly every project in it. Progress on the cabled front had been moving along nicely until I realized the holidays were nearly upon us. At that point it was relegated to the bottom of the knitting bag while I attended to all those hats and mitts. I’ll be glad to get back to it, even though R. has no expectation that it will be completed in time for Hannukah. She knows it will eventually be hers, and besides – for this Hannukah she will finally receive the Lizard Ridge Blanket I made her to take to college. I figure she might as well break it in over the next several months, right?

Someday soon, this piece will grow to look like this:

Only my daughter is cuter.

Chocolate Makes the World Go ‘Round…

…especially when you’re knitting lots of little holiday gifts on a deadline (Time and Christmas wait for no one) and although you’ve already made a couple of smug “Oh, I’m so ahead of the crowd!” trips to the post office, you’ve suddenly realized you will have to make at least a couple more of those trips and in all probability the lines will be significantly longer (and the people waiting in them significantly grouchier) by the time you get there with the last of those packages.

So, where was I? Oh, yes. Chocolate. As I always say, a day without chocolate is a day without sunshine. My latest favorite mood enhancers are the dark chocolate covered ginger bites from Trader Joe’s. I dole them out into little dishes, maybe a dozen at a time (they’re small) and savor each one as I knit away. They might not help me knit any faster, but something about that combination of zingy ginger with velvety chocolate always makes me happy.

More festive holiday knitting to share tomorrow after tonight’s marathon. Til then, knit on.

How Do I Know It’s Winter?

Let me count the ways winter is revealing itself here in the Bay area. First of all, it’s getting “cold.” In northern California, that means daytime temperatures in the 50’s, and nighttime temperatures in the high 30’s and low 40’s. I can’t help laughing when I see people running around town zipped into heavy down jackets, and bundled into scarves and hats as if they lived at the North Pole. Of course, in San Francisco one often sees women wearing winter coats and knee-high leather boots in July – and not necessarily on the cool, foggy days, either. I’ve accepted that it’s just a Bay area thing. Meanwhile, here in the wilds of suburbia, in addition to the individuals spotted wearing their winter finery, my garden lets me know it’s winter this way:

and this way:

and then, there’s this way, one of my favorites that I look for anxiously as November rolls into December:

In other words, an entirely new bloom cycle has begun in earnest. Hellebores, cyclamen, paperwhites, lavender, and rosemary. Fragrant, delicate-looking yet hardy, reliable beacons of life visible and tenacious. Oh, my!


Okay, here’s another hat. I’m on a roll. If I’d known how supremely light and soft and warm this yarn would be when knit up, I’d have 1) bought more of it at Stitches West two years ago and/or 2) used the three skeins I have much sooner. It’s by Chasing Rainbows Dyeworks, and the fiber content is Kid Merino. It. Is. Totally. Divine.

I knit this hat on size 9 needles. The resulting hat is so soft that I yanked it off my daughter’s head like a crazed baboon as soon as I’d finished taking these photos am wearing it right now and might never take it off. I might even have to sleep in it. Since I had not decided exactly for whom this hat would be a gift, there’s no law that says I have to part with it. Of course, I do have more of the yarn and could therefore make another hat for myself after I give this one away. That would be the unselfish thing to do and this is, after all, the most unselfish time of year, is it not?

Besides, I had already made up my mind to knit a matching pair of mitts to go with the hat, and the nice thing to do would be to give them all to my friend Crissy. Although she is practically my neighbor, not to mention the fact that she, too, is a knitter, she offered to let me do laundry at her house when our washing machine died last month. That magnanimous gesture (don’t forget – we are still in drought conditions here, and our water bills reflect that fact) should be worth at least a hat and mitts, in my opinion.

Gift-Knitting Race Continued…

In between knitting holiday projects, dinner has to be resentfully thrown together for picky family members who wolf it down in less than one-tenth the time it takes to make it lovingly and carefully prepared for my always appreciative family. But with as many knitted gifts as I hope to make, at this time of year dinner above all has to be a quick proposition. Time to return to that family favorite and one of my favorite stand-bys, Trader Joe’s sausage and lentils.

The ingredients for this dish will get you through the express line at TJ’s – and in and out of the kitchen – in record time. A couple of sliced carrots and one big chopped onion, sauteed together in a large pan with a drizzle of olive oil until soft. One package of chicken sausage (the kind that is seasoned with cilantro gives the meal a bit of a kick), sliced, and added to the pan to brown. At the end add one package of prepared lentils and about 1/2 to 1 cup of chicken broth, and allow it to simmer until the lentils are heated through. This, accompanied by a tossed green salad, is about the quickest and most satisfying meal I know.

Then, appetites satisfied, I can get back to the knitting. Another Kristen Kapur Thorpe hat joins the growing collection, this time for my brother-in-law. On my husband’s side of the family, only my brother-in-law and his partner live in a part of the country where winters get cold enough to wear a warm wool hat without succumbing to Sweaty Scalp Syndrome. For this I am actually rather grateful.

Here is one hat, and I have another to make, with sufficient style variations that they don’t walk around looking like the Thorpe Twins version of Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee. Hmmm… maybe add a pom-pom on the top? Lose the ear flaps? Make a brim deep enough to turn up? There must be endless variations on the Thorpe theme.

And because no doting mother ever tires of fulfilling the super-model fantasies of her teenage daughter, here are a couple more gratuitous photos of my very own super-model wearing the hat intended for my niece (if I can get her to part with it in time to get it into the mail, that is).

Holiday Madness

Yes, it has finally set in. Weeks ago, I perused my patterns in search of the perfect – i.e. quick and easy yet eminently giftable – projects to make as gifts for family and a couple of friends this year. Thinking to myself, “I’ve got Plenty of Time…!” (Famous last words, right?)

Now, here it is the first week of December and already I’m feeling behind the curve. I’ve discovered that much as I admire them, I’m just not one of those bloggers who posts photos of every WIP in each stage from start to completion. I don’t always have my camera at hand to shoot projects every few inches and then discuss the challenges and rewards of each step of the process. Some of the more challenging ones, yes, I do try to document those with slightly more regular updates. But the smaller projects that I crank out this time of year, not so much.

Finished projects – well, those are a different story. And as it happens, I have a couple to share today. Certain people who regularly read this blog should probably stop reading now because this could be a spoiler.

I made the Thorpe hat , designed by the wonderfully talented blogger Kristen Kapur in a couple of hours yesterday afternoon while listening to NPR and pausing every now and then for a sip of hot tea. If there’s any better way to spend a cloudy, raw afternoon, I don’t know what it is…
The hat, slightly modified with a couple of rows of garter stitch at the crown and knit on size 9s out of Noro “Transitions” (from my obscenely seemingly bottomless stash) should keep my niece’s ears nice and warm this winter:

Transitions is one of those Noro yarns into which the designer used almost every luxury plant and animal fiber available. No lie; just consider this ingredients list. Here goes: a single skein of Transitions contains 55% wool, 10% silk, 7% cashmere, 7% alpaca, 7% angora, 7% camel, and – whew! – finally, 7% Kid mohair. What was Mr. Noro thinking?!! I’ll give him credit, though – this baby is one soft, warm, and snuggly hat.

For my sister the pea-soup-green-fan, this Darkside Cowl by Sarah Fama is just the ticket. I knit it in Manos del Uruguay pure wool (yes, also from the stash), also on size 9s:

and then (because I had another skein, so why not?) I made her a pair of mittens to go with it.

It’s the End of the Year As We Know It…

…to borrow and modify a song title from REM. How did it get to be December? I guess I was so wrapped up in election madness that the year flew faster than usual. Thanksgiving with family was wonderful. Everybody got along, the food was delicious, and I felt extremely grateful to be able to make the trip to New York to celebrate with my loved ones. I felt grateful that we have a new president who just may be able to pull our country out of this terrifying tailspin. I felt – and feel – grateful for our warm and safe home, for my beloved family, for our (relatively) good health – all of it.

When I see this:

and lots of these Meyer lemons slowly morphing from green to vivid and fragrant yellow:

and even some of these enormous dahlias still valiantly blooming amid the dried and slightly moldy leaves in the cutting bed:

it makes the end of the year all the more difficult to believe.

And now it has caught up with me; the next few weeks are so busy and then… 2009, here we come, ready or not!

Marilyn’s Bed Jacket

At last… it’s out, finally! I received my Interweave Knits Winter 2008 issue in today’s mail and had my first chance to see my very own Marilyn’s Bed Jacket on the page. So much better than when I tried to model it myself, because as per instructions the size I made is clearly intended for a wearer who is more abundantly endowed than I. As you can see:

Lots of new designers in this issue, which is full of unfamiliar names. Seems that many of the all-stars are publishing in the new issue of Twist Collective, which went live just a few days ago. Personally, though it’s always wonderful to see the names of designers whose work I already know and love, I also enjoy seeing new work by new designers who are not already household names. Keeps things fresh, in my opinion.

Not only is my pattern out for knitters, but my feature interview with Norah Gaughan made it into the issue… four full pages of all things Norah. Truthfully, she has had such an incredible career in the knitting industry that IK could devote an entire issue to her! What a lovely individual she is; interviewing her for the magazine was as big a thrill as having my cardigan design accepted.

Detail above of one very special pewter button, a finishing touch to the rich tweed cardigan.

Talk about perfect timing, and something for which I am most thankful. This issue could not have arrived at a better time, since I’m heading out to visit family for the holiday this week. Happy Thanksgiving, all. Will be back in a few days.