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!!

High on a Hill Lived a Lonely Goatherd…

Rachel’s spring recital was this afternoon. Her voice teacher of four years assembles his students twice a year for a formal recital at the Berkeley City Club (a gorgeous Julia Morgan building near the UC Berkeley campus)

so all the parents, friends, and significant others of our favorite singers can hear their progress. It is always an enjoyable event, but today’s was bittersweet because Rachel is heading off to college in the fall and this was most likely her final recital with her teacher, Jonathan Nadel. Although she already had a naturally sweet soprano voice, Jonathan’s instruction has helped her achieve vocal maturity and depth.

Her singing was lovely (not that I’m biased…) and it was a gorgeous afternoon. I won’t make any snarky comments about some of the other performances because although the level of professionalism varied widely, none was downright painful to hear and everyone did his or her best – it showed.
On the way home, we spied these adorable little guys:
munching and scavenging their way around the hills just before the entrance to the Caldecott Tunnel on our way back home. Goats are so darned cute! At first we thought there was just the usual traffic back-up near the tunnel entrance, and then we realized all the rubbernecking was due to the official Weed Control Goats on the job! Keeping the Berkeley hills weeded and the grass short is their raison d’etre, apparently – they all seemed perfectly content to graze their way across the hills in full view of and close proximity to the freeway traffic.

All Things French

I admit to being a francophile, though I have not visited France in several years. But aside from the obvious attractions (the wine, the cheese, the CHOCOLATE…), there is something about driving out of Paris into the countryside and seeing, suddenly, rolling green hills and tidy manicured farms appear where only minutes ago suburban sprawl was everywhere. This is simply by way of preamble to introduce today’s topic: the French Child’s Socks from Knitting Vintage Socks by Nancy Bush.

I’m working my way down the foot of the first one and so far am quite enjoying the process. It has been a long time since I last knitted a pair of socks, and I’d forgotten how wonderful they can be. And giving, generous knitter that I am, I’ve never before knitted a pair for myself – only for others (who shall remain unnamed, because they don’t even wear the socks I slaved over to make for them! Hissss…). These, however, are to be all mine. Between the Signature DPNs in size 2 that make the knitting an absolute pleasure, and Sundara’s delicious sock yarn in Basil Over Buttercup, I am in heaven. The only other thing I need beside me with my cup of afternoon tea is a vase of these:

They’re called Honey Perfume roses, and yes, they are aptly named. The fragrance is strong, spicy, and absolutely intoxicating.

May Day

When I was in college back in the Dark Ages before Ravelry and blogs, when knitting needles were mostly metal or plastic and yarn choices were woefully limited, I had a friend named Harriet who made a sweetly big deal out of May 1st.

She’d tiptoe out of her dorm room at four in the morning with a pair of sharp scissors in her back pack and a basket handle over the crook of her arm. Dressed all in black and padding quietly out of the quad in her sneakers, she’d slink over to the residential neighborhoods that flanked our campus in order to steal liberate armfuls of flowers from the pristine spring gardens that decorated the grounds of those homes. She was never greedy, though – her next stop was a roadside meadow not too far from campus where she could supplement her cultivated treasures with wildflowers that were never part of anybody’s garden scheme, but just as colorful and fragrant.

Back in her dorm room an hour later, she’d fill small glass jars with these unique bouquets, wrap a wire handle around the lip of each jar, and – still before sunrise – quietly hang her May Day floral arrangements over the doorknobs of her friends’ dorm rooms. These utterly charming nosegays were what we’d find when we first opened our doors to greet the day. And I’ve never forgotten them, even years later.

In the spirit of May Day, thought I’d share a few more beauties from my garden. It’s really outdone itself this year.

I’m gonna get you, sucka!!

There’s always an element of magic in the spring garden, where from one day to the next I can watch this:

slowly unfurl itself into this:

and finally, reaching its full glory, into this:

Early response to the Guinevere Evening Cardi has been very positive on Ravelry, inspiring me to get busy writing up the pattern ASAP. I have notes – lots of them – that will be fairly easy to write up into a multi-sized pattern.

What I don’t have yet is a test knitter, and I’m reluctant to put a sweater pattern out there unless it has been ruthlessly examined by other knitters first. If anyone would like to test knit this design, let me know and I’ll send a suitable yarn along with the pattern as it stands.
Just call me Grace – Grace Kelly, that is!
The vintage buttons were such a joy to use – finally. I saved them literally for years, waiting for something special to give them a home. The top one is the enameled turquoise, and the other three are the iridescent blue and green domes. As mentioned elsewhere, I applied large snaps to the inside fronts of the cardi, and stitched the buttons to the outside where they lie nice and flat.



In the annals of NaKniSweMoDo, it can be said that I completed the fourth project in less than four months, ahead of schedule. I present herewith my Guinevere Evening Cardigan, an original design using Sundara Yarn’s Aran Silky Merino in Green Tea from her 2008-09 Sweater Club.

This cardigan, with its visible waist shaping, elbow-length sleeves, two simple stitch patterns, and sparkly vintage buttons from my stash (I’ve talked about the yarn stash, but the button stash not so much. Probably better not to get started on that…) was a pleasure to make from start to finish. Even sewing on the large snaps was a snap, and make the buttons sit so much more neatly on top of the knitted fabric.

The shaping idea was a detail I’d seen in an old issue of Interweave Knits, and the Dot Stitch texture on the bodice is straight out of the Barbara Walker Treasuries. That picot edging around the neckline was a simple but elegant finishing touch where a collar would have been too much. The goal here was feminine, fitted but not too, enough coverage for a cool summer evening. A little romantic. A little dressy. A little old-fashioned. You get the idea.

I’ve already worn it once, and predict that it will hang at the front of the closet for easy access all summer and into the fall. The amazing thing is that I found the sleeveless top that I’m wearing underneath the cardigan at my favorite consignment shop, and the color is a perfect match. Blends in, but the lace detail gives it just enough personality.

Alas, I fear this may be my final NaKniSweMoDo project until the end of the summer. I hate to wimp out, but my left hand in particular has been in terrible shape. It feels as if the fingers are sprained in spite of the cortisone injections I recently had. Work on the computer doesn’t help but – Gasp! Hard to believe – has to be my priority until the end of July when I have a major deadline. Asking me to choose between knitting and writing was like asking me to pick a favorite child, but nonetheless the choice had to be made. It’s a temporary setback, but these hands need a break. I’ll still knit – it’s like breathing, after all – but not at the pace I kept up for the first quarter of this year. I’ll still have show-and-tell, but the going may be slow.

Meanwhile, I’ll write up the pattern for Guinevere as soon as I get a chance, and will put it up on Ravelry in my designer store.

Alcatraz, Sausalito, and Lappert’s, Oh My!

My daughter’s friend Sophie visited from Boston over the weekend, and we took advantage of her presence to be tourists in our own town, showing her the sights of San Francisco. Starting off with dim sum at Yank Sing is never a bad idea, though the girls were a bit flustered when little plates of unrecognizable dumplings appeared on our table within seconds of being seated.

I hate to say this, because fans of the soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai in New York City’s Chinatown will take it as a challenge; BUT the soup dumplings at Yank Sing are as good as, if not better than, the ones at Joe’s. No lie. We ordered seconds!!! And that’s ordinarily something that happens only in New York. We ate like Olympic athletes loading calories before the big race total pigs, but it was all too delicious to stop.

Never having ventured to Alcatraz on our own (well, we’ve lived here only eight almost nine years, after all), we took the cruise ferry over to the island and spent a happy couple of hours touring the prison, reading about all the big name residents such as Al Capone and the Birdman, and enjoying an uncharacteristically gorgeous and sunny San Francisco day.

Without planning it in advance, we crossed all three of the major bridges that lead into and out of San Francisco by deciding to take Sophie up to Sausalito following the Alcatraz tour. It was either that or Ghirardelli Square, and there’s only so much schlocky tourism one can tolerate in a single day without the help of ice cream. And no visit to Sausalito would be complete without a visit to Lappert’s Ice Cream, the rock sculptures at the harbor,

and the Birdman of Sausalito, whose gorgeous feathered friend took a shine to Rachel…

Forget eating out of her hand, I want to nibble her lips! Squawk!

This was no ordinary bird – it could bark like a dog, which was most confusing to the various canines promenading along the pier. Made me wonder what else it could say…

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Knit Blog

Which is that this blog seems to be rather often about gardening as well. And now that I have a new camera which downloads photos differently than my old one (that died a slow death over the last six months), I’ve been “losing” files of knitting photos that were intended to dress up my most recent posts. Quite frustrating, but eventually I’ll figure it out. Hope you’ll stick with me until I get the bugs out of the system.

So yesterday I had a doctor’s appointment to get a referral for physical therapy for my neck and shoulders, which are all knotted up from the amount of time I spend either knitting or at the computer. These are no ordinary knots, either, lest you think I’m just a whiner who wants my HMO to pay for the “luxury” of massages. The deep tissue massage I paid for out-of-pocket a few weeks ago out of desperation left me sore to the touch for three days afterward, but the knots were gone, by golly!

But I digress. Back to the doctor’s office. First, I adore this doctor, and her physician’s assistant is also wonderful. I’ve been a patient of their practice for several years and see no reason to look elsewhere for medical care. However. (You knew that was coming.) Within the last year, my doctor moved to new office space where she evidently has fewer examining rooms. Ever since the move, I – and I assume all her other patients as well – have been kept waiting well beyond the scheduled appointment time before being seen. I don’t mind waiting fifteen minutes past my appointment, but when it drags out to half an hour, forty-five minutes, even an HOUR past the scheduled time, well! That cuts into my other commitments in a big way. My time is worth something, too.

Having come in simply to request a referral for PT, it irked me to pay my insurance plan’s office visit co-payment. It’s like paying a toll to cross a bridge that is not even the bridge you need to cross; but no co-pay, no referral.

This time, I decided to say something about the wait. While I sat cooling my jets in the open reception area, the office reception staff could be heard having (very) personal conversations. One woman in particular discussed her upcoming divorce in such detail you’d have thought the waiting room was full of divorce lawyers and she was trying to persuade one to take her case. Definitely Too Much Information.

When I commented on the long wait, I was greeted with stone-faced silence as if the admin was debating whether to upbraid me for interrupting her soap opera life story. Hmmm… back to my seat and my knitting for another fifteen minutes until I was finally called into an examining room, the Official Limbo of Doctor’s Office Hell. There, I had the pleasure of flipping through a two-year-old copy of National Geographic while waiting still longer to be seen. Finally the nurse bustled in with thermometer and blood pressure gauge at the ready.

“But I’m just here to pick up a referral… I’m not actually sick.”

This was greeted with a frown. What do you mean you’re not actually sick? her look implied. She unfurled the blood pressure cuff as if debating whether to strangle me with it.

Narrowly preventing myself from snarling at her Maintaining my composure with questionable success, I said, “My blood pressure might be the teensiest bit high right now because I’m pissed off about being kept waiting FORTY-FIVE MINUTES PAST MY APPOINTMENT TIME.”

In a supremely passive-aggressive maneuver, she checked my blood pressure, scribbled the numbers in my chart, and declined to enlighten me as to whether my blood pressure was actually elevated or not before slapping my chart shut and leaving the room.

Finally, the physician’s assistant came in. Trained professional that she is, she let me rant about the long wait, the unprofessional office staff, and – oh, yes, let’s not forget the reason for my visit – my aching shoulders. All of this took about two minutes and then, referral for PT in hand, I was on my way out the door. Only to realize that the examining room I had been in backed right up to the reception area, which is hard to figure out because once the reception area door closes behind you, you walk down a hall, and turn left and left again. From the glares and dead silence among the staff in the reception area, it seemed likely that they had heard every word I said to the PA. Guess I’d better stay healthy for the foreseeable future…