Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Off and running

The plan is for this to be my last post before leaving tomorrow, after which I'll be out of touch for a few weeks. My next post, once I get back, will be #300. I'll have to think of something to do about that, I think...

Meanwhile, packing and preparing continues apace. Somehow it feels harder to prep the house to be left in the hands of housesitters than to be left on its own. I think that has to do with the need that I feel to leave things neat and clean, as opposed to simply ensuring that nothing's going to rot and that the garbage is taken out. My list has been run down to the last few items, though, and I'm starting to feel like this is actually going to happen. With a modicum of grace, even.

First, I packed my knitting.
That seems pretty good, no? Here's what's in those little bags:
That's two pairs of socks and half of Hillflowers. I think that should keep me busy enough, and in case it doesn't, I've received excellent walking directions from a local expert telling me how to get from my hotel in Edinburgh to a local yarn store. I like to have a Plan B, just in case.

The girls' suitcases are packed, as are their carry-on backpacks. I'm so glad I checked after them, though. I asked Older Daughter to put her new books -- for reading on the plane, I said, don't start them now! -- into her backpack, which I then double-checked. When I saw it, I was shocked at how full it was and told her that there was no way she could take that much stuff. That was until I looked to see why it was so crammed, and found in her backpack: a) all kinds of papers from her school classes -- But it's my school backpack, Mama! Me: ??; b) her CD case, for reasons which remain unexplained, given that she has an MP3 player with all of her music on it; and c) (most disturbing of all) her wet gym clothes in a plastic bag from the last week of classes when they had a water-play day. You may recall that school's been out for a while now. Eeewww.

My suitcase is also packed. I've squished two weeks' worth of everything (including hiking gear) into a carry-on sized piece of luggage. I'm pretty proud of this, so some of you may have already heard about it. Here's proof:
I'm still wondering whether I wouldn't be wiser to take a backpack instead of the carpet bag, as charming as I find it. My leg's really been bothering me lately, and I don't want to put any more strain on my back than necessary. On the other hand, I won't be carrying it all that much, so... We'll see; I still have almost 24 hours to decide.

This is one of the things I like about a trip like this. It reminds me of how little I actually need to be very well-provided-for, and very happy. I'm guessing that this is going to lead to a huge closet clean-out when I get back, which is a nice side effect, and high time.

So, there it is. We're off. I think Tilly knows we're leaving.
See you on the flip side.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Belling the cat

When we first got Gwilim, these several years ago now, we had some hope of him as a ratter. Well, actually, Rick had some hopes of him as a gopherer, but that doesn't sound as good. We had a gopher problem of epic proportions. As did our neighbors. One neighbor talked regularly about planting things in his garden, only to come out the next day to find out that they'd been pulled down into gopher tunnels from underneath -- slurp, there go the tomatoes! And other neighbors didn't so much have lawns (or heck, even dirt lots) as shelled wastelands. There was much discussion and conferral regarding the best way to get rid of gophers; it was enough to chill the blood. I hate the idea of traps and poison and flares, and tend to be more of the opinion that if one wants a lawn in a desert, one needs to accept that there is going to be a certain amount of attrition.

For the record, and operating under the theory that every pest has its predator, I suggested a king snake.

My suggestion was roundly ignored.

So, when Gwilim came onto the scene, he was pointed in the direction of the gopher holes, with much encouragement and praise, and the suggestion that he could eat as many rodents as he liked (we were willing to throw in the rats because, well, because they're rats), but he was to leave the birds strictly alone.

Those of you who have ever attempted to teach a cat anything are laughing into your knitting right now. I know. I can hear you. And you're right. He did catch and eat (and share with us, alas) myriad gophers and rats. Neighbors (I am not kidding here) approached us regularly to thank us for our cat. Suddenly everyone's lawns were looking much less pitted, and people were harvesting tomatoes by the bushel. But Gwilim didn't stop there. He tried for birds. He was scolded by us, and pecked at by the big birds he hunted (crows don't take kindly to cats); we rescued many birds, and frustrated many a stalk, but he still managed to take a few every year, and we were cranky about it. But we never quite managed to do more than thwart him most of the time.

Well, the birds took care of that problem. They belled the cat.

Last summer, I noticed a mockingbird doing the oddest, most unmockingbirdlike thing I'd ever seen. He hopped around the yard, from tree to tree, squawking. Again and again, one very loud and abrupt chwaaaaak! I worried that Gwilim had killed his mother and he'd never learned to sing, because I hadn't ever heard a mockingbird sound like that before. Then one day I did hear him sing, which shot that theory all to heck.

I was puzzled for some time, until one day I was in my room and heard a conversation: Chwaaaak! Mrroaw. Chwaaak! Mrroaw. And I looked out my window to see one thoroughly harrassed-looking cat, scuttling through the yard, followed by one very loud (and cheerful-looking) bird. Now I can always find Gwilim in the yard by listening for the bird, whose job it appears to be to follow the cat around, singing out loudly whenever he sees Gwilim, to let all the other birds know where he is. Poor Gwilim looks extremely hunted; he makes sad low mrroawing sounds. My sympathy is low; I have suggested to him that I told him so. I may even have uttered the word "karma". Justice is sweet. (If very loud and obnoxious, in this case.)

I tried and tried over the last couple of days to get a picture of this bird for y'all, but only succeeded in getting this close before he squawked, and flew away in search of the cat:
(Can you see him there, sitting in the tree with the big leaves, just to the right of the palm?)

So instead, I'll share some pictures of the Fraggle socks with you, finished just last night.
These were a very fun knit. I still wonder whether I should have just stuck with the bubble motif and ribbing, but I think I'm glad I gave the whole pattern a shot.
The bubbles go right down onto the heel flap, which I like quite a lot.
The transition from the ribbing to the squiggle lace motif is also very nice.
To recap, these are the Fraggle socks (Ravelry link), pattern by JC Briar, from the latest installment of the Rockin' Sock Club, in the colorway Pepe le Plume, which I adore. I'm quite seriously trying to decide whether to get enough of the heavyweight to knit a sweater. I knitted these socks using size one dpns. I like the little bubble motif quite a lot (and it's easy enough to remember); I might use it on an otherwise pair of plain ribbed socks.

On Wednesday, I'll post (if all goes as planned) for the last time before leaving. I have some blocking shots of Shawl That Jazz to share (I did, in the end, soak it and lay it out to dry, and am very happy that I did), as well as the knitting that I'll be taking along with me (why yes, that is all packed up already; and no, I have not packed my clothes yet, why do you ask?). Plus maybe a few shots of elephants.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Shawl That Jazz

Really, the name of this shawl is good enough to be the title of the post, don't you think?

It's finished! I had it mostly done last night (a movie marathon helped; the girls wanted to watch the fifth Harry Potter movie, and then Rick and I watched The International). Then I knitted the last row and cast off early this morning, after being woken at yeurgh-o'clock by a UPS driver calling from the East Coast to ask about delivering Rick's father's birthday present. Seriously. I couldn't make this stuff up.

But it's finished!
I haven't blocked it yet. Do you all block garter-stitch knitwear like this? I suppose I should soak it and lay it out, if only to show it who's boss, but I haven't yet.
Isn't it lovely? I'm very happy with the colors, which remind me of a Monet painting. Maybe I should name it Giverny? (Pictures are all courtesy of Rick and his new camera, which beats the old one all to heck.)
It's got just the right amount of ruffle at the bottom for me. And I think that I used up as much of the yarn as I could have; I definitely did not have another row left in the ball when I was done.
It's like a cozy blanket that's pretty enough to drag around in public. Linus should have had it so good.

To summarize, this is Shawl That Jazz (Rav link), knitted in Blue Moon Fiber Arts Twisted yarn, in the colorway Azure Malachite. I used pretty much all of two skeins, which puts this at about 1120 yards. Knitted on size 9 Knitpicks Harmony Options needles. I'm glad I went up a size, since I don't think I would have wanted the fabric any denser than this (thanks Anne and Kim for working that one out for me ahead of time!).

I'm so happy to have this done well in advance of the trip. I'm going to fool around with the second Fraggle sock until I leave, but I don't feel any pressure to have it done or anything. That leaves me the trip to knit the second half of Hillflower, and then three weeks once I'm home to knit a Twinings scarf for Sock Summit. Both of those goals feel manageable to me, and wait until you see the yarn Chris sent me for the Twinings -- absolutely edible.

Meanwhile, I think I like it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cake, Lud.

A few people asked me for the recipe to the spice cake with butternut squash that I mentioned, so I hunted it up online:

I just finished icing it and putting the candied ginger on it, and I don't know that I'm going to be able to wait until Rick gets home from his birthday mountain bike ride to dig in.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Progress on several fronts

This is a week of lists. Yesterday morning, Older Daughter and I headed out, lists in hand, to visit no less than five different stores, getting supplies for three birthdays, two father's days, a graduation, a trip, and a spinning lesson for second graders. We actually got most of it done, too. And this was after baking two cakes on Monday morning: one for Younger Daughter's birthday snack at school (carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, a favorite of my girls, although most of the kids in the class had apparently never been confronted with carrot cake before and found the whole thing confusing until they tried a bite; then they got on board), and for her birthday dinner that night (chocolate cake with a chocolate frosting that tasted just fine but that I will never make again; can I just say burnt sugar catastrophe?).

Tomorrow morning, I'll be making Rick's birthday cake (a spice cake with grated butternut squash in the batter; I know how it sounds, but all I can say is that no-one has ever not had seconds of this cake, even those appallingly self-controlled "just a sliver" people), and his requested dinner: beef burgundy. While that cooks, the plan is to gather fiber, spindles, and a wheel for my visit with Younger Daughter's second-grade class, where I'll teach seven students about spinning (which fits into the Fundamental Needs of Man unit they did this year, clothes being a Fundamental Need of Man -- women, apparently, not so much). They'll all go home with their own spindles.
To that end, I gathered 16 CDs (we're making an extra spindle to show them ahead of time), 8 cup hooks, 8 rubber grommets, and eight dowels, ends sanded, and a starter hole sunk in one end for the cup hook. Once the prep work is done, they go together really fast (no glue, which was the bonus of this particular spindle recipe, and made the trouble I had finding the rubber grommets worth it), and spin beautifully.
They're even kind of pretty, no? Because each spindle has two CDs, held together with the grommet, you can make them with two silver sides out. If I can remember, I'll bring some sharpies along and the kids can decorate them if they want.

I have to admit that the guys at Lowe's seemed utterly confounded by the whole thing. "What did you say you're making again?" asked one nice man, rather plaintively, after helping me find the grommets. Heh.

I've also been knitting up a storm this week. I finished the first half of Hillflowers, and it's on waste yarn and waiting to be grafted to the second half when that's finished.
My goal was to get one half done now and to bring the other half along on the trip. This pattern is so easily memorized that it can actually be travel knitting, and since I'll only have to knit one half of it, it's not too big to pack easily.
I can't tell you how tempted I was to block the first half once I finished it. But since I'd just have to block the whole thing again after grafting it, that really didn't make sense, and I held off. That gave me more time to work on The Behemoth (AKA Shawl That Jazz), which is big enough that I'm starting to be really glad that I changed my plan to make this my travel knitting (mostly because this trip will be tight on space).
I am into my second skein of yarn, and I have high hopes of finishing this before I leave, or maybe while waiting in the airport at LAX. It's very cozy and warm without being heavy, and I really would love to be able to wear it on the trip. So right now, it's all garter stitch, all the time. I'd keep my fingers crossed, but it'd only slow me down.

Monday, June 15, 2009


We had quite a weekend. On Saturday, I was up early to go swimming and then went straight to Older Daughter's last soccer game. Alas, this was not a winning game for them, which I know was a disappointment to the team after the last several successful weeks. The girls and I went straight home so they could change and then we were off and running to the local Knit In Public event (with a stop on the way to get a gift card for the team mom). As we were driving to the store, we saw three young people walking their sheep down the main street. Not something you see every day, I thought. It turns out that they were on their way to provide some Livestock in Public energy at the knitting event. I completely forgot my camera, but I can tell you, it was a sight to see. (I should also mention that these were the cleanest sheep I've ever seen in my life.) We knitted away merrily on the side of a very busy main drag in San Marcos, with all of our "Honk If You Knit" signs waved by the girls (who declined to knit in public in favor of leading rousing knitting cheers). It was amazing how many honks we got, including a few from some truckers coming by in their semis, and a few cars full of guys. One wonders...

This was all very confusing to the men hanging out at the pub that shares a parking lot with the yarn store. One of them finally stopped me and asked, "What's going on out there? I thought it was a knitting thing, but then the FFA kids showed up with the sheep...?" (I'm not kidding. This is a pretty exact quote.) I said, "It is a knitting event, and the sheep are there because people knit wool." And he said, "Oh! So that's the connection." Well, yes. That, indeed, is the connection.

The girls and I hung out for a few hours and then we were off and running to Older Daughter's soccer team's pizza party. Once all of that was over, we all came home and fell over for the rest of the day.

Which was a good thing, because yesterday, we went to the Wild Animal Park to take Younger Daughter on one of their photo safari tours for her birthday. She decided very firmly that she wanted to do the Asia tour, rather than the Africa tour, which rather surprised all of us, since the Africa tour includes feeding giraffes, which were, for ages, her very favorite animal. But she declared that she wanted to see rhinos, so off to Asia we went. And boy oh boy were we glad we did. For one thing, to get to the big open Asia exhibit, the truck has to first drive through the Africa exhibit, so we got to see giraffes up close and personal in any case. (Do you know that the adults' heads can be some six feet long? And that they can swing them on those necks and do some serious damage? And they look so sweet and gentle with those long eyelashes... Just goes to show.)
The Wild Animal Park is a pretty amazing facility, in that it has hundreds of acres of open range exhibits, where the animals roam free, doing pretty much what they'd normally do. The predators are not placed into the range enclosures (although not for the reasons you'd think; apparently, under conditions like these, the chances are that the bigger hooved herd animals would take down the lions, given half a chance, so it's for the protection of the predators rather than the prey that they're not housed together -- coyotes who try to break into the bit exhibit fare extremely poorly, and do not last long at all), but they are very close by so that the herd animals can hear and smell them, so they show all of the behaviors associated with that environment, including alert circles and so on. It's an amazing exhibit.
They have a fabulously successful breeding program for endangered animals, and yesterday alone we saw a baby elephant (about a week old), some several-month-old giraffes, a day old gazelle, and three very new baby cheetahs.
Those are gaur. Their horns are absolutely gorgeous. They are very big, and apparently also very aggressive.
And then came the part we were all waiting for: the rhinos. We parked the truck, and waited to see if they were hungry for the bucket of apples we were carrying with us. They were.
Everyone kindly let Younger Daughter go first, since it was her birthday.
But we all eventually got our turns.
We even got to reach in and feel their mouths (yes, on the inside) -- did you know that rhinos' upper lips are prehensile? I had no idea.
That one there was about nine feet tall and weighed some 5,000+ pounds. It was good to be on a truck. But he was very sweet and let us touch his horn for good luck. Their skin is incredibly rough, although the guide told us that it's fairly sensitive, which is why they enjoy their mud baths so much, to protect themselves from sun and insects.

And then we had to drive back out again. I think the girls enjoyed themselves.
It was declared an excellent birthday adventure by all.

And then we went home and took a nap.
Even Tilly.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Knit in public!

Today is World Wide Knit in Public day. And, in due course, I will be knitting in public at the event hosted by my very favorite LYS in the whole world, Yarning For You.

I've actually done a ton of knitting this week, one way and another, but have had no time to share it. Most of the knitting has been done at events that have been taking up a lot of my time. It was Older Daughter's last week of school, and she had her big cumulative final presentation on Tuesday (twenty minutes -- that's a long time), and it went very well (whew!). Wednesday night was Knit Night at my LYS, which could have felt like just one more thing to do, but was really exactly what I needed in a busy week. Younger Daughter's school's Spring Concert was on Thursday, which entailed not only the concert itself, but also the driving to and fro for the rehearsal (which lasted nearly four hours), then the return for the concert itself. That was a lot of knitting time. Yesterday was my friend and colleague's baby shower; she got the baby sweater I recently finished plus a pair of booties. And then this morning was Older Daughter's last soccer game; the rest of the day will be taken up with knitting in public, and Older Daughter's soccer team's pizza party. Craziness.

Unfortunately, Rick currently has the camera, but as this will probably be my only chance to post this weekend, I thought it would be better to take some not-so-good photobooth pictures to share than to not post at all. So, without further ado, I give you Hillflowers:
I'm seven repeats into the first half, which should be 15 repeats long, but I'm thinking that 14 will get me to where I need to be, length-wise. This is for the booth at Sock Summit, so I'm knitting it out of Briar Rose Harmony, which Chris dyed up in the most gorgeous stormy blue colorway.
It's currently in full-fledged crumpled-lace mode, but I have faith that blocking will work its usual magic. I love how intuitive this pattern is; for once in my life, I have actually memorized it and don't need a chart. However, I have found in the past that knitting lace in the dark is a sure recipe for disaster (not to mention knitting lace during soccer games), so I also cast on for Shawl That Jazz (Rav link), and made some significant progress during Thursday's 2 1/2 hour performance.
I'm about 1/3 of the way through the short row section, if I'm calculating right (meaning that what you see there should be about a third of the eventual total depth of the shawl, minus edging). I love the construction of this shawl, it's very clever. All of the depth comes from short rows. For knitting in the pitch black of the theater on Thursday (we're talking really dark -- no lights on the steps, even, which strikes me as some kind of violation of some fire code, but there it is), I put stitch markers in after I slipped the first stitch of each short row turn (the slipped stitches don't get wrapped in this pattern), which involved a bit of finagling at the end of each row to move the markers, but which meant I could knit this without having to look to see whether I'd come to the last slipped stitch or not. So I could just come to the marker, turn the work, take the marker out, slip the first stitch, put the marker back in, and merrily knit my way back down the row to the other side. Rinse and repeat.
You can see a little of the short-row shaping there. I'm knitting this out of Blue Moon Fiber Arts Twist, in the Azure Malachite colorway. You all know I was feeling a little dithery about whether I was going to like it or not, but it turns out that I do. The way the colors are working up in the shawl, they remind me a little bit of a Monet painting, which can't be a bad thing, right?

So, that's my week in knitting. I did one other thing this week:
Yup. I cut it all off (forgive the bad picture). I figured I really didn't need any more complications in my life right now, and the only thing I could easily get rid of was the hair. And I tell you, I'm very happy with it this short, especially on the days that I swim.

So, off and running again. Tomorrow we're going to the Wild Animal Park on a special tour for Younger Daughter's big birthday present. Rhinos or bust!

Monday, June 8, 2009


Yesterday I finished Anne's David socks that I'm knitting out of (you guessed it) Grandma's Blessing for Chris over at Briar Rose. I can't tell you how tempted I am to keep them, because they're absolutely beautiful, and so comfortable and squishy, just what socks should be. I have enough yarn to knit a pair for Rick, but I'm kind of thinking that maybe I need them more than he does.

It's amazing what one can do with the fine art of justification these days, isn't it?

These were an extremely quick knit, partly because the pattern is very intuitive, and partly because I was knitting the smallest size, which didn't have a whole lot of stitches.
Aren't they fun? They're definitely man lace -- Rick said he would wear a pair -- but they're not so manly that they're not right for a woman, too.
So, there they are.
A whole pair.

And I even finished them early enough that I was able to get to the end of the first of the Fraggle socks as well. I'll put some pictures of that up next time.

Part of the reason that I was able to knit these up so quickly is because it was a relatively quiet weekend. Saturday was a soccer day, and Older Daughter's team really outdid themselves this time. It was a true nailbiter, 0-0 until the last two minutes of the game, when Older Daughter's team scored. Very intense, lots of knitting time. And the rest of the weekend was devoted to doing things like laundry (loads and loads and loads of it), which includes down time between loads and folding and putting away. So, a row here and a repeat there, and wouldja look at that -- socks.

This week should also have some knitting time, although at least some of it will have to be stockinette or garter stitch -- Younger Daughter's spring concert is Thursday night. These concerts are often interminable (last year it was close to three hours, and people, I adore my girls, but that is seriously way too long for a grade-school spring concert), so I need to be prepared for some serious knitting. This might be the chance I've been waiting for to cast on for Shawl That Jazz to see how I feel about it in the yarn that I ordered. On the other hand, I'll probably be casting on for Hillflower tonight, but I'm afraid it'll be too dark in the theater to work on lace safely. I think it'll be OK to cast on for both; at the moment, the only projects I have OTN are the second Fraggle sock (which isn't even technically on the needles as I haven't cast on yet), and the Interminable Shell, which I'm not in a huge hurry to knit, and will work on at knit night this week. So it's OK to add a couple of things to the list, right?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Wouldja look at that?

It's Friday. How did that happen? I swear it was Monday last time I looked. And don't you think if it were Friday I'd have gotten more done by now?

In knitting news, guess what else you can knit with Briar Rose Grandma's Blessing?

Honestly, what can't you knit with this yarn? And it is so soft, my hands are thanking me. It's a very nice break from the linen yarn I'm using for that shell I'm working away at (right now, it's my don't-have-to-look-at-it knitting, which means that I only pull it out at certain times, so it's moving slowly).
These are Anne's David socks for the booth at Sock Summit. I just started and I'm already halfway through the heel flap on the first one. They're a fast knit. And, as an example of the vagaries of photography in my world, here's the same sock in a picture taken not 12 inches away from the pictures above.
Weird, huh? The colors in the first pictures are much closer to reality.

I'm also making progress on the Fraggle socks from the Rockin' Sock Club. I have a theory that this might be a new base yarn (anyone know for sure?), since it feels even softer than usual. On the other hand, maybe it's just that linen contrast again...
The heel's turned on the first one and I'm working my way down the foot. I'm still truly, madly, deeply in love with this colorway, even though it doesn't show up in these pictures at all (the one in an earlier post is closer); they were taken in the exact same spot as the better photos above. Welcome to my house, the Bermuda Triangle of good photography. Where pictures go to overexpose.
This pattern is fun, but I think I agree with the folks on Ravelry who are saying that the colorway/pattern match isn't the absolutely best. I very tempted to just knit the socks with 2x2 ribbing alternating between regular knit ribs and the "bubble" ribs in the pattern (you can see a line of them there on the right side above), but I decided to give the whole pattern a shot. I'm not regretting it, in spite of my reservations. I also made these a bit longer than usual since I'm having so much fun with them and I've been wanting a slightly longer pair of socks. I'm sure I'll have enough yarn since I always have leftovers.

And I've been spinning a little. I started that roving I posted about a little bit ago, and have spun a tiny bit. It's gorgeous to spin, although I'm not sure I'm going to be able to put enough spin into the singles to ply tightly enough for the sock yarn I was envisioning -- when I try, it gets less fun to spin, and I'm not in the mood to fight it.
When spun like that, it's a joy to work with, so I'm going to take that as a sign.

I've also been slowly plugging away on my Golding at the roving I bought at Twist! Over a thick rug, this time.
Spinning on my spindles is nice in the evening in the main room when the girls are doing homework, or Rick's getting dinner ready or doing the dishes. It feels more social, and our stools are there, so I can spin a full arm's length before winding on. I just need to stay in the habit of doing that regularly.

And, last but not least, my prize came in the mail! This is the Fiona tote that I won in Hip Mountain Mama's blog contest. I absolutely love the green leaves in this fabric.
And talk about capacious! I could fit a small child in there, I think, not to mention a goodly load of knitting projects and accessories.
(Keys included for size reference.) I may even take this as my carry-on to Scotland this summer, since it's a great size for something like that. Thank you, Hip Mountain Mama!