We got creamed
Tuesday September 15th 2009, 8:02 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends

Diana designed a bag to fit my new laptop, and I am ecstatic.  It’s gorgeous and it fits it just so. Thank you, Diana! We are planning a trip to Coupa Cafe with it to celebrate, and anybody who wants the pattern, now you know where to find it. (Coupa Cafe’s hot chocolate: there is nothing anywhere quite like it.)

Speaking of chocolate.  Our local dairy specialty place stopped carrying manufacturing cream a few months ago.  But. But.  How was I supposed to make my signature dessert now?  Nineteen years I’ve been making that, and at church potlucks and on the block party list they always make a point of having the H’s be on the dessert assignment. There was a tradition to be upheld, didn’t they know it?

That lack of that cream is why I didn’t make my chocolate torte for the neighbors for Labor Day–it wouldn’t have been the same without that 40% butterfat, and I didn’t want to bring an inferior version, so I brought those mini cupcakes–here, let the raspberries distract them.

So. Michelle and I went to The Milk Pail today, and lo and behold, there was a sign from the owner saying that serious foodies knew about his manufacturing cream, yadda yadda.  As if it had never (shhh!) been gone.

I guess I’m not the only one who pleaded.

They don’t sell it in small bottles anymore.

My dairy-allergic daughter looked at that half gallon and went, So that means you’re going to make a double batch (ie, four tortes) and put them in the freezer?

Yes, at least that many.

Then you have to make a coconut milk one too. You can’t torture me like that.

Sounds good to me.

So we have some serious bittersweet chocolate buying to do.  And why yes, I was feeling better, can you tell?

(An aside to my old friend Kelly: it was wonderful to run into you there and catch up on your family. It’s hard to believe your toddler is in her senior year of college.

And yes, we had an inquisitive, fearless baby black squirrel exploring the patio today who seemed to be on its first campus tour of the outside world as it checked out everything in sight. It had its big-hair tail fluffed up for the big day as it dined out at the Sunflower Cafe al fresco.

I briefly pictured knitting up a matching big for it to haul its leftovers home in.  But no, squirrels being cheeky little things, it can manage doggybagging it itself.)

Flying high
Monday September 14th 2009, 11:17 am
Filed under: Wildlife

My brother in Colorado had the flu two weeks ago and his fever hit 105, a new definition of Rocky Mountain High.  I didn’t have to go through anything like that, and today is definitely better than the weekend; thank you everybody for your kind notes.

I was filling the birdfeeder a few minutes ago, scaring off the squirrel and the birds as I walked outside with my measuring cup ready to pour sunflower seeds.  I stood on an outside chair to unscrew the top, looked up expecting to see the usual lineup of mourning doves and finches along the telephone wires watching and waiting–and saw, instead, familiar widespread wings riding the thermal up high above, soaring away…

Come closer! I silently begged at it.

And then it banked, turned, and it did.  Down much lower and towards me.  I could hardly breathe. I’d read recently that sometimes birds of prey will stake out birdfeeder territory as their own, so since this was my third sighting from my house, I felt I could claim it: this was my peregrine.

It swooped down low enough to show off.  You wanted to see me, lady? Here I am.

I am definitely better now!

Suture self
Sunday September 13th 2009, 12:27 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

But I did all that, I’m done with all that, months and months of that, just, no! No more of this too tired to walk across the house nonsense.  Nonono.

Okay, whine over.  This is temporary, this is the easy stuff, it’ll be over in days.  My apologies to the Purlescencers I exposed–Thursday night I felt peachy-fine.

Wednesday I had had a follow-up at Stanford because my feral immune system seemed to be revving up against what was left of my dissolvable stitches and I wanted it checked out; I’m not supposed to start bleeding again now. (None today, finally.) But if I’m allergic to that suture material they needed to know.

The new Cancer Center, which is where my surgeons work, has waiting rooms that are quite small and partitioned off from each other, I imagine as a way of cutting down passing germs between immunosuppressed patients.

And so the man who came into Section A clearly feeling miserable had nowhere to sit but quite close to me.   (Dude.  Three words: face mask, reschedule.)  Friday I woke up with the flu.

I took that picture yesterday of the knitting I’d gotten done up till Thursday night partly as a way to try to entice myself to do some more–go, feel productive, work with stuff you love, go!  And then I went back to bed.

Today I might manage it.

Summer is now officially over
Saturday September 12th 2009, 10:15 am
Filed under: Knit,Life

Northern California as seen through a Marylander’s eyes:

It didn’t come with a massive temper tantrum that rips whole houses off their foundations. No lightning strikes, no massive blasts of thunder, no counting the seconds between to see how many miles away the eye of the storm was and how safe one might hope to be from falling poplar limbs a hundred feet above the house.

Just the sky weeping ever so very gently.

I got one, count’em, one, raindrop on me while going to fetch the paper.

Well, now. Can I stand the excitement.

(p.s. Yes, dessert before dinner. The Crown Mountain batt that Jasmin spun up for me just couldn’t wait any longer.)

Yes we can
Friday September 11th 2009, 2:52 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort",Life

I’ve hesitated to post this, because the last thing on earth I want to do is sound in any way like I’m trying to make a buck.  And yet, the whole subject means so much to me: it’s not about the book.

My first thought on waking up this morning:  I’m so glad for the life of my younger brother.

His subway into Manhattan was late.

My second thought was: And for my cousin David’s, who from his office watched the first, then the second. And made the long trek home on foot, with some shopkeepers somehow taking the personal risk to stay on the scene to be able to hand out water to the stranded walkers.

May the heartfelt coming-together of people of many faiths that I wrote about in my book, the experience that propelled me to do that work–all the writing, all the knitting, all the hours and months and even years involved, because I wanted that one particular story in print and out there in the world if I never wrote anything else–grow and be and become the triumph indestructible, a testament to the world.  “May America always be like this!” one man there exclaimed that day.


The father in the Dell
Thursday September 10th 2009, 2:21 pm
Filed under: Family,My Garden

Robin sent me pictures of McCrillis Garden in Bethesda, Maryland, my hometown, sparking this post.

One time back when my children were young, my folks were visiting and we took everybody to see the Conservatory of Flowers at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. It was fascinating having Dad there: various plants would spark memories for him that I knew nothing about and get him talking.

His family had moved a few times while he was growing up, and each time, his father had declared the new place home by planting salpiglossis by the mailbox,  Dad said, pointing out what to me had to that point simply been a random flower.

His father had died when I was maybe three, and any point of reference between Grandfather and me was to be treasured forever.  Salpiglossis it is.

We walked the paths with the kids often running ahead, we admired the lake, we saw the ducks–sorry, no bread here–and we were about to head out of the park, done for the day, when we saw a small sign in front of a narrow break in a long high hedge running by the side of the road.  Hey! We can’t miss out on that!  And so we found ourselves walking into the hidden-away deep shade and quiet peace of the McClaren Rhododendron Dell.  We had it almost completely to ourselves.  It was late in the season for seeing rhododendrons, which were a family favorite–and yet a few were still putting on a good display.  And there were so many other things in full bloom.

Dad and I, talking, found ourselves a little apart from the rest of the family; this was in the days back when the Dell looked like this.  We were exclaiming over how gorgeous it all was–look at that yellow clivia, and that orange one–they’re related to amaryllises!  And that rhodo, and… Dad’s father had taught horticulture at the University of Nevada and was agriculture secretary of that state. (There’s agriculture in Nevada, wonders the East Coast-raised granddaughter? Nevermind.)

There was a gardener there who was trying not to pay too obvious nor too much attention but finally just couldn’t help himself.  He stopped the two of us and told us apologetically, “I don’t usually accost people in the park,” and went on to say how thrilled he was that we appreciated the place.  He held his arms out towards the whole expanse of Monterey Cypress and flourishing undergrowth and declared, “I have the best job on the planet!”

We got to ask him questions; he got to share more of what he does, and I came away eager to come back when the rest of the rhododendrons were on full display.

After we got out of his earshot, Dad turned to me and said, with the proud smile of a father, “We just met a male Alison.”  Someone who loves what he does and loves being able to share it. To which I would say, I’d just found a counterpart to my Dad.  Enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and loves people.

Since that day, a huge storm destroyed much of the Conservatory of Flowers and took out a thousand trees. The shade was gone.  The paths became inaccessible and many of the Dell plants were damaged by too much sunlight and then by a virus.

Over the years, a little progress was made, but not much.  This spring, at last, fourteen years later, San Francisco awarded the contract for a major renovation.  There is a Facebook meet-up group of volunteers to help, too, and things are moving forward.

I can’t wait to go visit the outcome.

The new redwoods replacing the cypresses will take awhile to catch up.  My future grandchildren will love the place.  I’ll tell them to go hunt for the salpiglossis.

The math teacher
Wednesday September 09th 2009, 9:09 am
Filed under: Friends,Life

In his honor, I am going to try to get this to post at 9:09 on 9/9/09.  (Did it!)

At the block party Monday, I was talking to a couple who are exactly at the stage I was a dozen years ago: spending afternoons driving kids to sports, music lessons, you name it, go go go.  I told them, Yeah, I used to put 200 miles a week on my car just driving kids, and the husband nodded, So you get it.

Oh yes.

But one of the things that concerned the mom was, as their first kid headed into high school, how do you stay engaged with the school environment the way you did when they were in elementary?

The short answer, of course, is, you don’t.  You can volunteer here or there, you can be very active on the scene, but you can’t stay involved in everything to the same degree you did when there was just a single teacher in your child’s life.

And yet, I told her. Let me tell you a story.

My oldest had had a friend whom I often dropped off on our way home in the afternoons; no big deal to me, and an easy way to get to know my daughter’s friend a little.  (There are no school buses–Proposition 13 got rid of those in the 70’s.)

One day Sam and Jo were late coming out.   Really late.  There were things to get to, reasons to get uptight.

And yet, somehow that day, I just didn’t.  I told the other kids, who were already in the car since the younger schools let out first, Dunno what the holdup is, but whatever, they’ll show up, they know we’re here.

When they did, I saw Jo a step ahead walking towards our car because Sam had taken a step behind her in order to privately shake her head and wave her arms frantically at me in a silent, fervent plea: Mom! Don’t be mad! (Okay, the fact that she felt she needed to should tell you right there that I was hardly a perfect parent.)

But mad?  Nah.  Totally relaxed.  Good to see you, girls, how ya doin’, isn’t it a beautiful day out today?

They got in, I took Jo home, and then Sam could finally let it out. She told me Jo had had a particularly hard day and that Mr. Hodges, their math teacher, had taken the time after school to let the kid spill her guts and listen to her.  He had made it very clear she mattered to him for those 40 minutes and that she could come talk to him anytime.  And this was a proud new dad who would want to hurry home to his baby, so I knew what it had taken for him to do that.

Okay, for this next part, before you get too impressed, understand that I had wanted to do this for quite some time and had been looking for an excuse.  I made half of these for us.  So.

The next day I made a double batch of cinnamon rolls.  Now, when I make cinnamon rolls, they’re more a pastry than a bread and they are *good*.  I timed them to come out of the oven just so, popped them out of the pan, and drove to the high school and parked. When the kids showed up, I asked where Mr. Hodges’ classroom was, quick, before he goes home!

To say he was blown away does not begin to tell it.  Still-hot cinnamon rolls? Homemade just for him?  For talking to someone else’s kid, even?!

I told him, for my kid too: Sam knows now that if she has a problem and needs an adult to talk to, you’re absolutely someone she can turn to.  That is the greatest gift a parent of a teenager could ask for, and I wanted to make clear how grateful I was for that.  And for Jo’s sake too.

He couldn’t get over it.  He told me  that in his years teaching he had, a few times, had parents send him a fruit basket or some such, but not once–not ever–had a parent actually sought him personally out to thank him in person.

To which I would say, about time!

Raspberries, so they’re healthy. Right.
Tuesday September 08th 2009, 2:36 pm
Filed under: Crohn's flare,Friends,Recipes

The big annual Labor Day block party.

Random Hershey’s cookbook cake recipe–using mini muffin pans, it made three dozen.  (Note to self: fancy schmancy Williams Sonoma one?  The pan looks artsy, the results, not so much. Go for plain and round only next time, like the ones shown here.)  Bake 13 minutes.

Ganache: 1 1/4 to 1 1/3 c heavy cream, ~17 oz good dark chocolate (one Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Bittersweet bar.)  Break chocolate by smashing bar (still wrapped!) to the floor repeatedly.  Thwack.  Melt chocolate in cream, stir; will semi-set fairly quickly.

Raspberries: rinsed, then carefully individually dried off.

Three of my neighbors in this square block work at Stanford Hospital. One is about to start a new job in a different department; I told her the names of my favorite nurses she’d be working with and to tell them hello for me.

I didn’t mention that the last time before this month that I finished a pair of socks, it was six years ago, done as a thank you to the highly empathetic B. for being willing to walk in his patients’ shoes. Earlier this year, I found myself saying to someone at the nurses’ station, “I’d know the back of that head anywhere!” and he turned and we had a delighted reunion, IV pole and all.

Bringing the blessing
Sunday September 06th 2009, 4:35 pm
Filed under: Crohn's flare,Friends,Life

I spoke in church briefly today about a man from a local ward (congregation in Mormon speak), not ours but the next one over, whose volunteer assignment is to offer the Sacrament on the Sabbath to members of our church who are hospitalized at Stanford.

And thus a month ago he found himself with a list of names and room numbers in hand, walking into my room for the fourth time this year, where, there I was, IV and all all over again.  He exclaimed, It’s YOU! How ARE you!

Much better as of right now, and thanks.

Such a simple act: kneeling by my bedside.  The heartfelt prayer.  A little bread.  The second prayer.  A little water.

Such a powerful act: coming to one who cannot come to you.  Declaring by how he lives that there are no strangers now, only friends.  Being with another in their extremity, completely present for them in the moment, offering a shared faith in the light and love of God that surpasses all such circumstances.  He brought to me, in his own way and fulfilling his own part, a healing.

Looking back at all that I went through this past year, I said today, the pain simply falls away: all that is left is the moments of light.  The love.  God’s.  His. The doctors’. The nurses’. Every person who cared.  It is made so visible by their choices in those circumstances.

I still don’t remember that man’s name.  But I will always know that warm smile.

Saturday September 05th 2009, 10:04 pm
Filed under: Knit

1.What’s wrong with this picture?

2. Yes: swatches do lie.  I tried to try on what I had so far.  Not going to fit. Nope.

3. Tink.  Carefully, row after row, needle by needle, back to the end of the heel. To as shown.

4. See #1.

5. Rearranging stitches on the dpns to get the heel exactly aligned with the original first stitch of the sock (tell me why I thought that was important?), ie, ignoring and wrecking the 2×2 ribbing, wasn’t going to matter because it was going to be stockinette from there on down so who cares where it hit in the ribbing?

6. See #2. Ribbing needed.

7. Photo Wrecksock.

8. Spend a lot of time finally finishing designing a new lace shawl idea that had been patiently waiting its time like a good little pattern. Ooh, look, pretty!

9. Frog heel. Forget gentle tinkativity.  Take needles out. Hand sock to daughter.  Walk far away, holding ball. (Ignore gleeful “The sock is going *down!*”  Stupid sock.)

10. Try to come up with an at least somewhat inspiring post, knowing most readers will be reading it on Sunday.  Go for honest one–(note avoidance of sock while writing).

11. Pause.  Go back to beautifully finished 6” cuff, patiently waiting. Hey.  Wait.  Nice yarn.  Look at that!

(12. Ignore #8 and baby alpaca laceweight jumping up and down going Me, me! Little kids always know just how to push your buttons, and remember, little camelids do too.  The sock pair Will Be Done First.  No dessert ahead of dinner.)

An octopus’s darnin’
Friday September 04th 2009, 6:40 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knit,LYS

About an hour ago, I only saw a blur with my glasses off, reading; Michelle saw the falcon swooping by in front of the window in its peregrinations.  She stood there, going, Wow!

I was wishing, More? Please?!

Note that the squirrels have again gone into deep hiding.

Meantime, last night at Purlescence, I said to Jasmin that some of you out there allowed as how you actually *liked* to kitchener.  (She was totally being set up and she knew it.) She said with immediate perkiness and the biggest grin, “*I* like to kitchener!”

And thus my socks took the easy way out, with both of us promising that, next time, I was to do it myself.  But she worked that grafting as easily as casting on a new project. ‘T’ain’t hard.

There will be next times: I started another pair today I’d been planning in Casbah, and DebbieR surprised me by having told the LYSOs from afar to gift me with their Jitterbug (it was a b.o.g.o. on their sale table) to keep me going with this whole sock thing.  Yeah, I know the racket: someone expresses interest knitting-wise, you bombard them with really good yarn, and you know they’re hooked on the spot. It’s insidious, I tell you.

The mail: Michelle’s first reaction to LauraN’s package was, a spider? No–an octopus, ready to get to work on socks: Mrs. Weasley’s airneedles have competition now.

Charlton’s Chariots
Thursday September 03rd 2009, 1:13 pm
Filed under: Family,Knit

And now!  The talon-toed team of Perry Grin Productions brings you:

“Ben Hur: the remake,” starring

Birk N. Stawk

Spike Lead

and the villain,

Ima Heel

See the thrilling chariot scene!

(Richard says it should end with Godzilla in his Doc Martens stomping out the set. I say keep the Poppa-razzi out of it.)

A peregrine!!
Wednesday September 02nd 2009, 1:32 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

We just had a peregrine falcon in our backyard!!! Michelle saw it first and got my attention. I’d seen some kill in the grass earlier today, and the thing came back to snack; it was tugging at black feathers–maybe a crow?  And maybe that’s the predator that made it so we’ve had one black squirrel instead of two since last week. (We saw just a bit of the aftermath…)

We have a good camera on a tripod aimed at the birdfeeder, but the battery seemed to be dead; I grabbed my little point-and-shoot and tried. It’s a terrible picture, and nothing like Eric’s photos from the Peregrine group, but it’s what I could get.  Veer? Is that you?  (Probably not, but…!) I snapped again as it flew past the porch, clearly a peregrine in all its glory, but I missed.

As did, to the relief of the mourning dove and the other black squirrel racing away, the peregrine.

As a matter of graft, I do know how
Tuesday September 01st 2009, 8:45 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort",Knit

Second Sock Syndrome: a good excuse for avoiding sitting down and re-teaching myself (for the umpteenth time) how to do kitchener stitch. (To the non-knitters, that’s the method of grafting the toe stitches together on a well-made pair of socks.)  Rather, dive right on into that second sock, quick!, before you lose your momentum.

STR Sock Gate socksYou know, I reverse-engineered the flower for my Zinnia Scarf so that the coming and going sides would look pretty much the same, even though they would look exactly the same if one were to knit the thing in two pieces and kitchener the middle.

Which is how I originally wrote and made it.

But I didn’t want people to have unfinished scarf halves sitting in their closets…

It’s been six years since I finished a pair of socks, not to mention eight since I started that last pair.  My fingers know how to do that final step: it’s just when my brain butts in and starts asking questions that they throw up their hands and stop.