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!

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: