Saturday February 16th 2008, 6:21 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort"

Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park CAIn the world of the independents, Oregon has Powell’s Books, northern California has Kepler’s. I have for twenty years aspired to write a book that Kepler’s would want to have on their shelves. But when I talked to them over the phone a few months ago, they said they would only special order it upon request, which, when a bookstore is dealing with a first-time author they’ve never heard of before, is pretty standard.

Monday, I took a copy of my “Wrapped in Comfort” to show it to them in person. I mentioned the large first printing last June and that it had gone into a second printing last month; I mentioned the September story that talked about a gathering-together at the city hall plaza in Palo Alto. Clark Kepler asked, “A local story?” to confirm.


His bookbuyer took my copy off to an Employees Only area to look it up on the distributor’s site, after I handed it to him with my fingers on the September page. He was courteous and polite as he took it, and when he came back, quite a few minutes later…

…he greeted me with the warmth of an old friend. He told me what a beautiful book it was. He said those shawls were works of art that ought to be hung on the walls like how they were pictured at full spread in the book. He assured me Wrapped would be in stock by the end of the week.

The Peace shawl in redThey had no idea the gift they’d just given me. That they’d just fulfilled a deeply-held aspiration of so many years of my life. They will not only carry it, but the one fellow who has looked it over so far is glad that they will. Now, at last, I can truly say I feel like a real writer.

Thank you, Kepler’s. Long may you prosper.

Jasmin’s gift
Friday February 15th 2008, 2:45 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knit

Jasmin’s handspunMy friend Jasmin was putting in a bulk order for hand dyed roving to Crown Mountain Farms and asked if I wanted to go in on it. My mouth caved in to what my eyes and fingers wanted to play with, no matter what my brain had to say about it, and I told her yes.

She started in on her roving right away when it came. I went ooh, aah, watching her spinning it at Purlescence, and I could only wish; when I spin, which isn’t often anymore, my yarn is never as fine as the stuff I most like to knit up these days. The finer I want it to turn out, the further down my fingertips I hold the fiber at my wheel; with almost no sense of touch left at the tips, spinning like that is a strictly visual task. And one can only stare at a small spot for so long. I could make perfectly lovely yarn out of it, but there was no way this soft merino was going to turn into the lace shawl knitting I so much wished for.

Jasmin had an answer to that. She asked me to bring a half pound of it back to her. I was stunned. I kept asking her, “Are you sure!? Are you serious!” I knew how much work that was! But twist my arm, heck yeah, and I handed over those eight ounces.

That was a week ago. Yesterday (that was a lot of work done fast!) she handed it back to me: in the form of three skeins, three-plied, (three plied! That’s way more work than two-plied!) fingering weight, 794 yards’ worth of that merino, enough for one of my shawls. In absolutely the most gorgeous colorway (well, um, yeah, I picked it out. “Oh Pretty Woman.”) Oh. My. Goodness. Thank you, Jasmin!

I have to add: my friend Nancy came over yesterday, before we saw Jasmin, and I told her, “You have to see this.” She walked into my living room, saw the amaryllises, and gasped out loud over Lene’s: “That one just towers over the others!”

Yeah, my friends tower over me all the time. It’s so cool.

Lene’s amaryllis

And then…
Thursday February 14th 2008, 4:25 pm
Filed under: Family

I posted that and then took off to do the errand I had been going to do when he was getting out of his car and I was about to get in mine: I went to Nordstrom’s and bought him some chocolate truffles (shhh, don’t tell on me yet).

And came home to find out he’d gone to See’s and bought *me* some chocolate truffles and, somewhere else, some Valrhona cocoa for my morning mugs. They were sitting on the table waiting for me when I got home–he’d beaten me back.He beat me to it

I love that man.

(Edited to add up here: I used to tell my husband he didn’t need to do the big-bunch-of-roses-on-Valentine’s thing, I’m not so much a roses person anyway. His reaction was that he was being a good example to his sons of how they ought to treat their future wives.

So I said to him a couple of weeks ago, this will be the first Valentine’s with no kids around; you don’t have to do me the big roses thing.

So he brought me a small roses thing. Knowing I would instantly crack up. And I did.)

Hey, I know you!
Thursday February 14th 2008, 2:43 pm
Filed under: Family

Ten minutes laterTen minutes later, whom should I happen to cross paths with in the driveway..

For my Richard
Thursday February 14th 2008, 2:13 pm
Filed under: Family

With no skunks.

I gave him marshmallows this morning, saying we could toast them over an open fire, ie the gas stove. He laughed.

Twenty-seven years.  Have s’more.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Now for the skunks’ turn
Wednesday February 13th 2008, 11:11 am
Filed under: Family,Life

My husband and I went camping in the Shenandoah Mountains in Virginia on our honeymoon. Borrowed his folks’ trailer for it; we did it civilized style, y’all. Even if his grandmother got his little sisters to sneak open the camper and throw rice inside the sheets beforehand.

We were toasting marshmallows over a campfire one night–I mean, isn’t that one of the reasons people go camping? The marshmallows? You’ve got to find just the right stick for it, you’ve got to get the fire burning down to just so. There’s an art to it. Besides, when you’re learning all about this new person you’re now married to “for time and all eternity,” and he’s 22 and you’re 21 (and a half–don’t forget that half) and you’re just starting your way into life in the first place, really, who knew that he had the patience to hold that stick there like that, waiting and holding his high, turning it slowly like a spit till the entire marshmallow was (for him) just the right shade of medium brown all over and an even temp throughout? But why would you want to do it that way anyway? Isn’t the glory of a campfired marshmallow having it burn to a satisfying crunch on the outside while totally melting on the inside? Heh. I could not only cook but also get to eat half a dozen of mine to the time of his one, easily.

It’s all about the marshmallows.

Yeah, the skunk agreed with that assessment. And also Richard’s way of cooking the things. It sauntered out of the woods, came up between us while we sat there frozen in place in disbelief–reached over, grabbed his perfect marshmallow off his stick from right over that fire , and sat back to savor every last slow bit of it. Taking its time. The way a marshmallow ought to be enjoyed.

With its tail caressing my new husband’s arm.

He had this look on his face, turned towards me, pleading with me with every molecule in his being, Please don’t laugh. PLEASE don’t laugh.

It was all I could do, but I managed not to laugh. Or move, either.

It finished up, it ambled off happily, then it called its friends and threw a party. Bunch of gate crashers. By the time the four skunks we could see were dividing up the rest of the bag on our picnic table, we were well out of range, following their antics with our flashlights.

I’m sure nobody sells skunk-shaped chocolates; I may have to get my sweetie a bag of Campfire marshmallows for Valentine’s. He’ll know why.

Back to you, Rocky
Tuesday February 12th 2008, 11:20 am
Filed under: Family,Life

bump on a logLinda W’s comment about her possums with the bubble-wrap butt bows had me spontaneously bursting out giggling the whole rest of the day. Oh my goodness. I can just see it.

A note first about this picture: I never let my kids hit each other growing up, and no she didn’t; twelve years ago, my kids were play-acting whack-a-mole together on that redwood log. That thing was big enough for a tall 11-year-old boy to stand up in, and as soon as I lifted the camera, his sister gave us a variation on the classic give-your-brother-bunny-ears shot. Ergo the caption.

Now, then.  In those same woods as that picture. On the subject of raccoons…

There’s a state park in the Santa Cruz mountains not far from here, Big Basin, with one of the last local old-growth redwood forests in the area. If you make the mistake of taking the shorter route there, you get there via a long, hilly, insanely twisty lane-and-a-half-wide road, not for the faint of heart nor stomach. (I thought loudly at my husband but did not say, Barf bags in the car are from YOUR side of the family. Dear.)

We noted the “Do not feed the wildlife” signs wryly as we checked in and picked a campsite; good luck with that one. We were unloading the minivan and starting to set things up. A couple of us were putting the food over on the picnic table while others fussed with the tent when a raccoon, bold as you could ask for, came out of the woods and jumped into the back of the van and got shooed away by an indignant child. Another ‘coon snatched the bag of potato chips that had just been put down at the other end of the table from me, as I spluttered, “But I was standing right here!” while it took off with it. I was suddenly glad I’d bought the type I had.

Jalapeno flavored.

The ocean for Lene
Monday February 11th 2008, 7:36 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knit

Lene’s shawlWhen Purlescence got a shipment of Blue Moon’s Silkie merino/silk in last month, I went through their basket and dithered between the turquoise and the purple colorways. Turquoise or purple. I love purple. But, for reasons I couldn’t put my knitting fingers on, the turquoise is what came home with me.

When it was just an unkempt blob of stitches on my blog, Lene commented how much that turquoise reminded her of her beloved ocean that I knew was so much a part of her growing up in Denmark. What she didn’t know, was, I had spent over a year wishing she would let slip somehow what colors she liked best.

She’d sent me that amaryllis and I had her return address. Heh.

Rocky Raccoon
Sunday February 10th 2008, 5:28 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

When I was growing up in a house in Maryland set back in the woods that ran alongside a ten-mile-long watershed preserve, one of the signs of spring was having a pregnant raccoon fairly often at the back door at dinnertime, nosing around the dining room window while we ate a few feet away, ready to saunter inside and swap recipes with Mom.

I remember the ugly rat-nosed possums that fell into the trashcan, and, unlike the raccoons, who had so kindly lifted the lids off for them, couldn’t always hoist themselves back out. Dad would tip the can over, give its metal bottom a good thwack with a broom (we had a genuine Fuller Brush Man model, with a metal handle), and go back inside. You couldn’t scare the thing out, he’d learned, it just faints on you and there it is; you’re certainly not about to stick your hand in and pull it out, either. But you want to teach the thing that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. So, a booming thwack to reverberate in its ears a moment, a retreat, a wait for it to come to, and a hope that you made it a sufficiently unpleasant experience that it leaves.

Maybe after it’s eaten its dinner in there. All in good time, my dear man, all in good time.

We occasionally, somewhat despite our parents’ common sense, opened that back door and tried to feed the mom-coon out of our hands. It was so cute; what we really wanted to do was pet it. But there was a particular one that liked the smells that were behind us better than the stuff we were offering, and tried to slip quickly past the two of us kids sitting on the stoop and zip right on in and help itself. You know how moms are. They’re used to being in charge. We jumped quickly together to block it, and it thought better of it, but only quite reluctantly. It turned back around towards us, ready to make another attempt. That got us an, “Okay, kids–time to close that door!” And that was the last time I remember us trying to do that.

While my computer is being a cat arching its back and hissing at my camera, one of my readers sent me a picture of the friendly animal she’s got in her back yard that comes peering in the window hoping for a meal. Tunie has named him Rupert. Just don’t open the door, ‘k?

Tunie’s friend Rupert Roo

Berry time for Bigfoot
Saturday February 09th 2008, 12:56 pm
Filed under: Knit

Appleblossom amaryllisAfter posting about Bigfoot’s name the other day, I grabbed some Lisa Souza’s baby alpaca/silk in the Berry Poppins colorway and cast on. It has been flying off the needles. I don’t know why, I don’t know who it’s supposed to be for, but there’s this great sense of anticipation that feels like I’m about to find out, and that I have to have it ready for when I do.

Curious. And I would show it to you, too, (it’s about 14″ long so far), except my computer is dissing my camera card. So here’s a close-up of an Appleblossom amaryllis that I shot yesterday.

Diana modeling Bluejay
Friday February 08th 2008, 1:02 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort",Amaryllis,Friends

amaryllis cropLene’s amaryllis still hasn’t quite yawned and stretched all the way open yet. Slowly, slowly. It’s 64 degrees in that room in winter (brrr, and lots of afghans in there), which means the amaryllises grow in slower motion–but they stay blooming longer. A good spot to curl up with a good book.

At Stitches West two years ago, I bought a huge hank of alpaca laceweight from Lisa Souza in her Shade Garden. I knitted it up into two shawls: for the first, I ran it with a strand of merino in lilac for a one-off for my friend Kristine at which you can see me trying on if you click on “My Books” at the top of this page. The other, I ran it with a strand of light blue Baruffa merino fine laceweight and knitted it in the Bluejay pattern. (Lisa has since changed to a finer-micron-count baby alpaca laceweight, and I can’t wait to look over her stock at Stitches again in two weeks.) Lene’s amaryllis and Dad’s Moonlight amaryllis

Diana tried the Bluejay on for me last night. She was going, “This isn’t even fingering weight!” even with the two strands together. True.  It seems to me, the finer the yarn, the more formal-looking the shawl, and that’s the effect I was going for.

See you all at Stitches! I’ll be signing books Friday and Saturday afternoons.

Diana and the Bluejay shawl

An apple for the teacher
Thursday February 07th 2008, 11:07 am
Filed under: Family,Life

Jazz apple on original Bigfoot shawlI was in Trader Joe’s yesterday, and picked up a bag of a type of apple I’d never heard of before, a Jazz apple. Huh. Well, always curious to try a new type, sure.

I ate one in the evening and immediately wanted a lifetime supply on hand. This was *good*! Where do I get me a tree of these to put in the backyard!? Longtime readers will remember my mourning the lack of Spencers in California, but oh my goodness these were what an apple is supposed to be like! Googling the name, I came up with this link.

One tangent danced me straight to another. To remembering Tim, one of the best teachers my kids ever had in school, who taught them to love to play music and to love jazz and to love one another. He taught jazz at both the middle and high schools. His older band participated in a national high school competition at the Monterey Jazz Festival, and did so well that his kids were invited to come back for the main Festival and play as professionals in the fall! Our kids aspired to be in that second band.

So we drove the family to Monterey to hear the juniors and seniors play at that competition. One of the pieces they placed with was written by one of the kids in that group. Another was Bedtime for Bigfoot. I LOVE that piece. And I loved watching those kids having the time of their lives. Tim, bless him, started them on the downbeat, and then, with a huge smile on his face and a nod to his kids, walked off the stage: this was their shining moment, they knew how to do it, and he wanted the glory to all go to them, not him. Bigfoot never had such a good time as they did that day. I can still picture them. Rock on!

They performed it again later in the year at the high school, and an hour after that concert was over, I asked my then-11-year-old son to sing me the first note of that piece. He nailed it dead on. And that’s when I absolutely knew that that child had perfect pitch too, a musician like his mom. More than, definitely–he totally outshines me now, which is a lot of fun. You know the “hum a few bars and I’ll play it?” Outrageously well? That’s him.

Tim left to pursue a doctorate and left a deep gap behind him. We still hear from him from time to time, to our great delight when he checks in. He got married last summer, and I knitted up something new: one of my circular shawls in a laceweight rather than fingering weight, designed just for them, in white, fine enough to go through a wedding ring except for being snug at those reinforced neck stitches. Better make it a man’s size wedding ring.

Bedtime for Bigfoot. As I eat my Jazz apple.

And suddenly–what, three years after I knitted and named the first one?–it hits me. Why I named my feather-and-fan-variant shawl in my book what I did. Yeah, because it’s an expansion of the Rabbit Tracks pattern, but…


And just before Tim moved away, I bought the CD of those kids playing. I play my CDs while I’m sitting knitting. Bedtime for Bigfoot. I just never, ever put it together before.

I want me more of those apples.

On its way
Wednesday February 06th 2008, 2:47 pm
Filed under: Knit,Life

Blue Sky Alpacas AlpacaSilk scarfAnd let me know she did. With great delight on her part, and mine as well. The Blue Sky Alpacas scarf is blocked, bagged, mailed, and on its way to where it rightfully belongs.

The Emily Renzel wetlandsAnd I got to see this

And this

Baylands preserveAnd missed the shot of the pelican flapping its great wings and the snowy egret near it in the marsh, but I can at least give you the context of where I see them on my way to the post office.

I got passed by a late-model black Maserati utterly impatient with the speed limit, flooring it around me when he got to the dotted line in the road. I looked at his rapidly receding car and thought, you take your riches, hon. I’ve got mine. I win.

But gimme my birds back.

Eh. Next time. I’ll be back.

We shall see
Tuesday February 05th 2008, 12:28 pm
Filed under: Life

A couple of days ago, I followed a link to a link to a link when I was trying to rest my hands from knitting for a bit but avoiding picking up a book because then I’d never put it down, and I stumbled across a blog that spoke to me. The writer was a nurse whose house was falling apart and it felt to her like everything else was too. That day’s post was a cri de coeur. The blog was private, and I felt like an intruder for reading it.

Now, nurses hold a close spot in my heart to begin with. I owe a lot to quite a few of them. I could tell you story after story after story of moments they’ve made all the difference in the world to this patient. And so I did what I do, wishing I could help–I went through my stash, thinking, what do you knit for a total stranger you’ve never laid eyes on before? If she’ll let me? White’s pretty safe. Boring to knit after awhile, perhaps, but safe. And I had the best white yarn I know of, that Blue Sky stuff, leftover from the Wanda’s Shawl I knitted my sister for Christmas. (I always buy more than I need, even on my own pattern. You can always use leftovers. You can never replace the hours you spent knitting a project that turned out not to have enough yarn to finish. It’s almost a religion for me. Buy extra.)

I have had just a few times when I’ve been motivated to knit something and then circumstances became such that the person who sparked it (who never knew) never got it; someone else needed it more. I plan, but in the end I just go with the flow of what feels right.

So I sat down and knitted that scarf through the day till it was done. I know who I definitely want it to go to. I posted it yesterday in the context of Louisiana memories, thinking that if that nurse reads it, she’ll understand why. I put a comment on her blog, and if she wants to follow it, she’ll find this, and she’ll have my email address (I think–if not, it’s in my sidebar here.) If not, then, into the FO stash it goes, waiting its turn for serendipity to show up.

But I’m really hoping she reads this. I read her post with memories of when we remodelled 11 years ago, when our previously old-but-sound roof now had 17 buckets and bowls under it after the contractor left. Rain coming through an electric socket over here and a light socket over there–fried that overhead light, too–that was scary, and the contractor did, at least, take responsibility for and fix those. In the end, we had to replace our roof, and since the water, gas, and electrical lines ran across the roof now (the house was built with them under the concrete slab–bad idea in earthquake country), we had to rip them out and have a do-over. At least we could. We were lucky, financially, and we knew it.

A scarf isn’t going to hold the rain off her head–it’s kind of laughable. But…it’s what I know how to do from here. It’s a gesture of we’re all in this life thing together.

And maybe I’ll hear from her so I can send it. I hope so. More importantly, maybe she’ll know that others are pulling for her, whether she lets me know who she is or not.

Adapted from Nina’s Ann Arbor pattern
Monday February 04th 2008, 12:35 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort",Amaryllis,Knit

scarf from Nina’s Ann Arbor shawl patternTechnical stuff first: in “Wrapped in Comfort,” I give the stitch counts in the stitch patterns so that you can downsize and make a scarf out of any of the shawls; cast on so many repeats and go. This is one repeat of Nina’s Ann Arbor Shawl pattern with an extra stitch at each side, so, cast on 23 and knit till you’re done. This isn’t blocked yet, and even when I do, it will stay fluid and drapey in this yarn. This is one skein of Blue Sky Alpacas’ AlpacaSilk yarn, some of the very best baby alpaca out there: silky, shimmery, gorgeous, and durable enough that I couldn’t break the strand with my hands when I was done, I had to go get a pair of scissors.

I named Nina’s shawl for where she went to school at the University of Michigan, as I wrote in the book. But the look of it also reminds me of the climbing bougainvillea that was blooming freely here when we moved to California, in vivid, cheerful colors that were startling compared to the gray/white aging-winter snowscape we were leaving behind.

The first time I remember seeing bougainvillea blooming was on the trip to New Orleans when I was a teenager. We ate at the Commodore Inn, a beautiful old place that Katrina later wiped out (I don’t know if it’s been brought back; my attempts at googling it would suggest it has not, but I’d love to hear differently.) The bougainvillea climbed to the second-story balcony like Romeo impatient to see Juliet, deep green leaves and bright fuschia flowers spilling freely over the balustrade, a grand bouquet tossed at the eyes of the diners below. Gorgeous.

(Update: I thought I’d add in a photo of the current state of my amaryllis crop.  The really tall one waiting to open up?  That’s Lene’s.)

forest of amaryllises