Purple Haze

I knit absolutely nothing last night. Not a single row. Not a single stitch! And night is pretty much when I have time to knit.

I did, however, make six dozen cupcakes with frosting and sprinkles for my daughter to take to school as part of an ongoing cheerleading fundraiser. We’ve already been advised by the new vice principal that there will be no cupcake sales allowed next year, and as soon as I got over my umbrage at the high school’s excuse that they are implementing more “healthy food on campus” strategies (a good thing, don’t get me wrong, but you should see the crap they dish out in the school cafeteria! Somehow they seem unaffected by this new healthful direction)… I was RELIEVED. I mean, I was up until midnight making those cupcakes, donating three hours of my time as well as all the raw ingredients so the cheerleaders could raise, what, maybe $70.00? I should just have written a check.

I can hear you thinking, why don’t you let your daughter bake the cupcakes? But the sad reality is that by the time she got home from her cheerleading practice, and then her tutoring, and then reviewed for both this Saturday’s SAT and her upcoming AP exams, I didn’t have the heart to force her into the kitchen. Although now that I think of it, she did assist with the frosting and judicious distribution of sprinkles just before she toddled off to bed. And only one of those cupcakes toddled off with her.

Coming in from my daily perambulation around the garden, I noticed that these new irises are finally up. Their true color is a dark eggplant, mysterious and with great depth. I’ve christened them “Purple Haze”:

And the Zepherine climbing roses are finally in full enough bloom that I felt only a little greedy about picking enough for a small bouquet to admire in my office. The Eden climber over the back fence is just beginning to take off, but I could not resist adding a couple:

Yum… Tuna

Despite incremental progress on the green shawl, I have no new knitting photos today. I do, however, have a photo of the most fabulous tuna salad I have ever eaten, bar none. I found the recipe on Serious Eats and printed it out on the strength of the reader comments. Otherwise, I have to admit, a recipe by Rachael Ray would not tempt me. Her weirdly Howdy-Doody grin and unimaginative reliance on prepared foods, coupled with the fact that she seems not to know how to spell ‘Rachel’ makes me suspicious. That said, this tuna salad is amazing!

The recipe supposedly makes two servings, but six is more like it. The first time I made this salad, I wound up eating it for lunch every day that week. Which was certainly no hardship, I might add, and I’m not a person who usually gravitates toward the left-overs more than a couple of times unless they contain chocolate. Rather than attempt to pack it into a sandwich (which strikes me as difficult anyway because the salad doesn’t hold together well), I pile it onto a bed of greens and have at it!

Pay No Attention To That Man Behind the Curtain…

My husband was invited to a conference in Cabo last week, and spouses were encouraged to join the attendees. Never one to turn up my nose at a free mini-vacation, I had my passport in hand and my bag packed within seconds of reading the invite. I even did some uncharacteristically girly fussing over appropriate “resort wear,” and almost as much fussing over which knitting project to pack for the three-hour plane ride. Hint: It was this one-

Imagine my horrified disbelief mild surprise when upon our arrival in sunny Mexico we were asked to sign an agreement not to swim in the sea that glittered so temptingly just beyond the resort’s infinity edge pools. Evidently the undertow was deadly and the resort did not want the liability if one of us was to do something inconvenient, like drown. In the next breath the concierge assured us that all the water at the resort – even the ice! – was filtered and purified, and therefore safe to drink. Methinks she doth protest too much! whispered through my mind, but only once and without sufficient foreshadowing to make me limit my water intake to that in the bottles provided to us in our room. Big mistake…

Anyway, our room was lovely. Marble floors. Bed big enough for an entire flock of these:

Whirlpool tub and private balcony with a view out over the water!

A welcome platter of guacamole, salsa, and chips! I entered, dropped my bag, and decided to suspend disbelief for the weekend. What the hell. It wasn’t until the next day that I even noticed, across the highway – literally right across the street from the resort – a vast desert of scrub and cacti as far as the eye could see, which made it obvious to anyone with a brain that our verdant resort paradise, and all the other equally lush resorts that shimmered one after the other up the coastline, were works of utter artifice dependent upon the importation of millions (billions?) of gallons of water, without which they would quickly devolve back to scrub and cacti.

Anyway, suspension of disbelief shakily reinstated, I enjoyed the meet and greet, not to mention the mojitos. The deep sea fishing excursion the next day was kind of fun, mostly because I love being out on the water (with no immediate need to fear the undertow). I’d been led to believe it was a “catch and release” policy, but from the way our crew wrestled those yellowfin tuna and mahi mahi into the hold it seemed pretty obvious to me that he intended to sell them on the dock the minute we were off the boat.

About halfway into the plane ride home, I started to feel suspiciously like I was about to hurl unwell. We actually made it home in time to take photos of my daughter and her date before they headed out to the junior prom (because I insisted that we take only carry-on luggage, if you must know)
and that activity distracted me momentarily from my nausea. Couldn’t eat any dinner, just went to bed early so my poor patient husband wouldn’t have to listen to me moaning. An hour or so into my self-imposed exile, I staggered out of bed and into the bathroom, suddenly jump-started by the need to purge – everything. The only question in my mind was which end would explode first. I’ll provide no further details except to say that by 2 am I was basically empty. Most of yesterday I couldn’t eat, but my legs stopped wobbling and my stomach stopped aching by dinner time. And, mirabile dictu, I got on the scale this morning to discover that I weigh less now than when we left for our trip. So Cabo was good for something after all!

Everything’s Coming Up Roses

I go out of town for three days (but more about that later) and come back to find a veritable rosefest taking over the garden. There’s this:

And this:

And something I’ve been waiting for, these Zepherine Drouhin climbers winding their way up and around the trellis by the back door. They have the most heavenly fragrance, which hits you the minute you step out the door:

Not to mention the Joseph’s Coat bursting out on the back fence:

Getting in among the thorns to dead-head can be a bitch but I learned my lesson last year. It’s gloves and long sleeves for me from now on. Last year I scratched up my arms so badly it looked as if I had some terrible skin disease most of the summer. A friend turned me on to the benefits of those latex medical supply gloves which allow all the sensitivity of bare fingers but protect me from the worst of the scratches and dirt embedded under the nails.

FO Doubled

Hallelujah and pass the clamatis! Although these were planted last year, this is their first bloom season. Well worth the wait they were, too.

The second FO (although requiring no less effort on my part) is this cropped cardi (From an old summer issue of Vogue Knitting magazine) with lace trim, for which I used five and a half skeins of Noro Cash Iroha from my stash (that orange seemed so “Gotta have it” at the time, but it took me how many years to put it to use?).

I completed the project in a couple of weeks on size 6 needles, and that endless lace trim going ALL THE WAY around the body and neck took as long as the rest of the pieces combined. Not that the seven-stitch, four-row repeat was complicated, just that it required a lot of turning. Here’s a detail of both lace and clematis:

One Tomato, Two Tomato, Three Tomato, Four!

Make that twelve tomatoes. Which was not my intention this year. I planned to cut back. Really I did. After growing nine different tomato plants last summer, I restrained myself at the nursery early this week and purchased only seven seedlings, and that was supposed to be the end of it. Then my husband said (in his patented plaintive murmur that I can never resist), “What about paste tomatoes? How are you going to make pasta sauce and roasted tomatoes for winter soups without paste tomatoes?” And you know, he really did have a point. So it’s HIS fault that I went back the nursery and bought three of these:

and two of these:

Of course, by the time I brought them home there was no space left in the vegetable garden to plant them, as you can see:

That left me with only one option. I co-opted a section of the side garden (well out of sight of the roses and other showy flowers that fill the front beds) and stuck them there. My husband, even after his intensive lobbying for paste tomatoes, wasn’t happy about the location, but I really had no other choice. The soil in that section is especially crappy relatively unamended, so they should be very happy and produce prolific quantities of paste tomatoes. And when he gets to eat them, my husband should be very happy, too.


My Swallowtail Shawl in Sundara’s magnificent Fingering Silky Merino yarn (colorway: Autumn Rose from her lovely Seasons Club) finally makes its debut here:

How anybody could complete this project in a single day is beyond me unless she made it doll-sized. Of course I did size mine up a bit, but not that much. There are errors; this is the first true lace project I’ve done and I understand my limitations well enough to know that if I frogged back to the points of the errors, there was no way on earth I’d be able to pick the stitches up again accurately. So it’s not perfect. But I did my best to make it so, and didn’t catch the mistakes until many rows later, hence my reluctance to rip back.

What a gorgeous, but HOT weekend – we’re talking in the 80s – which I spent sweating to prep the vegetable beds in anticipation of getting these into the ground:

Did I mention I’ve decided to plant blueberry shrubs? I found varieties that supposedly do well in our climate, and I hope they live up to their advertising because there’s nothing I love better than blueberry jam spread on my morning toast, unless it’s fresh blueberries stirred into my yogurt or a liberal handful sprinkled over my cereal.

Now the news tells us it’s going to cool down again, and sure enough today I’m back in my wool socks and a sweater. That’s spring for you. More blooms to share as I sign off:

This Bud’s For You

There’s a riot of budding out there. A little tour around the neonatal wing of the garden is in order, don’t you think?

There’s this:

And this, looking disturbingly deformed:

And lots of these on the big Meyer Lemon tree:

Finally, some knitting news! My Swallowtail shawl is on the blocking board! Here’s a detail photo, pre-blocked, with more to come soon. My first lace shawl, and once I got the hang of the repeats it was very much fun to make. I’ll definitely do another, soon!

Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head

Except this:There are several (well, to be precise: three) more ancillary babies. Much smaller than Godzillartichoke here, but undoubtedly just as tasty. And we are having them with dinner tonight because Ms. Instant Gratification can’t bear the thought of waiting another day.

Another of the giant bearded irises unfurled its ruffled petals into the warmth of the sun this afternoon: Banana Flambe. The color reminds me of lemon custard, and its looks remind me of a large poodle all dolled up with one of those outrageously slightly ridiculous show dog cuts. Except this poodle is sticking its tongue out at anyone who dares to mock it.

First Brat, First Rose

It’s official. While out combatting the aphid population explosion, I discovered the first rose in bloom. Although there are hundreds of buds, this is the first actual bloom, but darn the luck it is not a fragrant specimen. Beautiful but vapid. An empty suit, you might say. But oh, what a suit!

While out there doing my duty for the roses, I introduced myself to the contractor in charge of the renovation next door. And learned that contrary to my belief it was a spec house going on the market as soon as the construction is complete, instead the house has already been sold. A family bought it, and evidently they have three or four children. In my mind and in this day and age, that constitutes a rather large family. I like kids as much as the next person, but I admit it put a bit of a damper on my fantasy of quiet residential life once my daughter goes off to college in a year. Then there’s this:

One of the new iris collection, and on the label it says the name is, I swear, “Brat.” Why anyone would name an iris “Brat” is beyond me. It doesn’t throw temper tantrums, or wreck the car, or buy too many clothes. All it asks of life is a little sunshine. And as the mother of a teenager, I appreciate that.

The Faster I Pedal, The Slower I Seem to Go

Spent the entire bloody day running errands… and almost none in the garden. Trolling around the grounds for a few precious minutes this afternoon, I noticed new encroachments of aphids on some of the roses where none had ventured as late as the weekend. Aargh! It seems to be a losing battle, but I won’t give up easily. Tomorrow morning, bright and early, it’s me and the spray bottle of soapy water. Look out, aphids!

These appeared out of nowhere in the front garden, between two rosebushes where I remember there being nothing but nasturtiums last year. They must have gotten turned under when we put in the new flowerbed, and decided to thrill me with their appearance this year!

At least on my BART ride this morning I was able to knit many rows of my little orange creamsicle shrug. There is a tiny, pitiful hope that I will have some Finished Object photos to share within the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, say hello to Miss Ranunculus. I planted her and several cousins last summer, at which time they promptly turned brown and appeared to die. Imagine my surprise when several appeared, refreshed and renewed, over the last couple of weeks. Isn’t she a beauty?

Diggin’ It

Hands in the earth, dirt under the nails, stepping gingerly around the irises and roses trying not to knock buds awry as I weed, pruning suckers (of which there are many this year), and doing my best to assassinate the local aphid population. Aahhh… heaven on earth. And the abundance is beginning… a veritable bloom explosion.

After a week in colder climes, it is so good to be home. And it only took me about five years to begin thinking of the west coast as Home with a capital H after spending the first 40-odd years of my life back east. My CA friends comment that whenever I return from visiting family on the east coast, my speech patterns still change – I speed up, become more emphatic and definitely snarkier. I guess you can take the girl out of NY, but you can’t take the NY out of the girl! Or maybe it’s like that song – more of a recitation, really – in which a man states that everyone should live on the west coast but not long enough to make her soft, and everyone should live on the east coast but not long enough to make her hard.
The pink dogwood, always one of my favorite harbingers of spring when I did live on the east coast, is just beginning to bloom in my CA garden.

Home Sweet Home

After a week on the road back East, where spring is barely visible to the naked eye now that we are so accustomed to being spoiled by bloomiferous northern California, it is great to be back home. The trip really helped us narrow down the type of university our daughter will want to attend for four years. Big state schools are out, small private ones are in… good thing we had no plans to retire anytime in the next half-century.

I got a LOT of knitting done because my dear husband did most of the driving. Okay, he did all the driving. So, I’ve nearly completed my Swallowtail Shawl (photos to come), and made the back and fronts of the little orange shrug. Two tiny short sleeves and that, too, will be finished. Of course, the seven-stitch edging that has to go ALLLLL the way around the body and sleeves might just make it take a little longer.

Meanwhile, the garden continues to develop into what will be its first mature season. The aphids returned to the roses the minute our car pulled out of the driveway, as far as I can tell. I can just hear them whispering to each other as our tail lights dimmed into the distance, “Hey, they’re gone! Let’s get back to gnawing those rosebuds…” Time to get out there with the spray bottle all over again, I’m afraid.

Aphids don’t eat everything, however, as you can see. This is a “Social Graces” bearded iris from Schreiner’s Irises. It has the looks to be sure, but the fragrance is a bit on the stinky side.

We picked the only navel orange our tree produced this year. That little tree is a trooper, though: it is already covered with new growth and flower buds. I keep telling myself if I do a better job with frost protection next winter, it might just produce a respectable harvest. It could happen. Really.

The bleeding hearts are still among my favorites, and this year they seem to be particularly happy in their dense shade bed.

Weed, Spray, Love… the Garden, That Is

Was outside yesterday weeding on my knees until I couldn’t unbend them. This afternoon it was me against the aphids. Armed with a spray bottle of soapy water, I bombarded them until they ran streaming down the stems and onto the ground. A temporary victory at best, no doubt.

But what fascinated me was the discovery that from bush to bush, some of the roses were loaded with aphids and some didn’t have a single one. How does that happen? Do aphids have prejudices? Do they decide that certain roses taste better than others?

On a happier and much more exciting note, all the roses are covered with buds. By the time we return from college visits next week, I suspect there will be a noticeable change… many new plants will be poised to burst into bloom. Some, like these below, will continue to pump out color for another few weeks and then that will be it… the days will quickly grow too hot and they will die off to the ground for another year.

This will be my final posting for the month of March, so it is with pleasure I show the white California poppies I’d mentioned in an earlier post. They’re not really white, but rather a pale buttercream. I ask every visitor to the garden if they have ever seen CA poppies this color, and to a woman they all say no. It’s kind of wonderful to think we might have a one-of-a-kind, aberrant albino hybrid poppy in our garden.

More of the new bearded irises are budding and blooming, including this one I’m calling Swedish Blonde (mainly because I can’t locate the tag that identifies it). It smells deliciously like lemons and has that austere pallid legginess one might associate with certain Northern European types.

More of the Cymbidium orchids are blooming in their pots. My indoor orchids, as I’ve mentioned, only rarely rebloom from year to year, and it does get discouraging to water pots of leaves and nothing but leaves. So it’s a thrill to see that the Cymbidiums seem to have no such rebloom hang-ups, and instead seem determined to reward me with reliable appearances from spring to spring. Plus, I love that shade of green!

Seriously Bummed, or: Who Moved My Peas?

The pea vines have been shooting up, hugging the trellis, bursting forth with flowers and tendrils exactly as they’re supposed to do. So imagine my consternation (other words come to mind, but this is a family blog after all) when the first peas began to ripen, and I noticed them looking different. Looking oddly… flat. Oddly… empty.

Yes, dear readers, these are snow peas. Not the delicious, crispy sugar snaps I’ve been so eagerly anticipating. Someone at the nursery must have mixed up the seedling six-packs, and like a nurseryful of newborns, I couldn’t tell them apart. In future, I will stick to planting the actual dried peas rather than rely on the nursery to sell me the right seedlings. Sigh… not that there’s anything wrong with snow peas, it’s just that I prefer the snaps. Darn it.