The audit-city or hope
Thursday April 15th 2010, 10:53 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

When a kid’s first attempt at filing bounces…

…When you realize BYU lets out mid-April so she didn’t quite make it to five months in college for the year, so technically then she’s not a dependent anymore…

…When she doesn’t want to be one anyway because of grad school issues…

That’s when you stifle chuckles while the hubby goes But I just DID that! at the not-helpful tax software chasing itself in circles, just like it did to me for hours before he came home.

And then–we’ve never done this before.  A once-in-a-lifetime chase.  The great American cultural experience of finding an open post office on the night of April 15th.  There are a lot fewer of them than there used to be, and after I looked up the possibilities, I told Richard, It’s a date! We’re going exploring new places! Out into the hinterlands!

This is supposed to be fun?  He wasn’t convinced.  Was I sure there wasn’t one closer?  Uh, Pleasanton and Oakland are your next closest.

Oh. We weren’t sure we needed to get the amends in that fast anyway, since we’d all filed, but better safe.

Forty-five minutes of waiting in line to turn left onto the road it was on, with the usual cut-ins by the cheerful types who like to wave hi while showing you their sore finger for your sympathy.

Big wheeled mailbags at the curb, a tired postal worker who genuinely smiled when I told him “Thank you!” as he took my mail through the car window, lights on inside behind him and people clearly still working on their returns in there. Ouch.

And you know? Really?  Isn’t it wonderful that these are the kinds of problems we’re having this year?

But I gotta say–Sam, this is why your due date was April 11. I tried my best to make that work out, really, I did (hand me that pogo stick…) But the skies were holding a party and throwing sparkly-white confetti on the 15th, and you held out for that. You knew a good thing coming.

So did we, in our anticipation, whenever the day might be, and boy were we right.  Happy Birthday!

Wednesday April 14th 2010, 9:22 pm
Filed under: Family,Non-Knitting,Wildlife

Pictures borrowed from Paul Higgins and Marlene Foard; I couldn’t get the black-headed grosbeak that showed up in my yard today to hold still long enough to shoot my own photos, much though I tried, Richard’s mega-camera in hand. Thanks to Sally for helping me identify the species.

Meantime: does Babelfish come in an OED version?

There’s an online listing for a silk/cashmere laceweight yarn, shipped from China, and where it should mention care instructions it has the rather marvelous sentence, and I quote exactly, “Abstersion explain:handwash in cold water and dry flat”.  I looked up abstersion at and it defines it as to wipe clean or to clean, from Sir Walter Scott.

So Walter Scott made up some random word forever ago, being, you know, novel, and some poor guy in China is trying to use it to communicate?

I told Michelle there was this weird word and she, always up for a vocabulary challenge, looked it up on Merriam-Webster’s site–where they said, well, that’s not in our regular online dictionary, but if you pay for our super-duper advanced version, then we can indeed tell you what it means.  But it is secret knowledge, with initiation writes involved, a real fee-for-all.  (Or words to that effect.  I’m translating.)

She was stunned, going, “I have *never* seen that before on their page! NEVER!” It was like the old Google game where you try to come up with a search that gets you only one result on the page–I won!

So how on earth did this guy in China get a hold of that word and think it was the right one?

And now we’ll just, I guess, absterge that useless word from our vocabularies? (I just made it real easy to, huh?) My computer’s spellcheck Does Not Approve.  That’ll teach it.

Sign it, seal it, deliver it, it’s theirs
Tuesday April 13th 2010, 6:24 pm
Filed under: Life,Wildlife

Tax software: one tab keystroke off on the very first page. It took me two days to track it down. When it claimed suddenly that we had a California refund coming that was more than the value of our old New Hampshire house, uh, no.

I finally found it.  I’m done!

The classic annual elementary-school chant of kids waiting for the schoolbuses to take them home for the summer, morphed into adulthood: No more taxes! No more doing the books! No more giving the paperwork dirty looks!

I got to see a hawk afterwards this afternoon, and it wasn’t even Thursday yet.  I simply sat down and watched, and then pulled out the camera to go notice the rest of Spring.  Pardon me, now, (don’t miss the captions), I’ve got an edging I finally get to go knit.

Monday Monday
Monday April 12th 2010, 11:20 pm
Filed under: Family,Life,Wildlife

Random avoidances of tax forms, which really are done anyway, just print and sign and be done with it, fer cryin’ out loud:

Saw another large hawk, perched on the telephone wires watching the cars, including ours as we were going by during a break in today’s rain rain rain. We came back the other way awhile later, and there he was, still, calmly observing.  The rain was holding off the whole time for all of us during that errand.  Apres nous, le deluge.

Saw a squirrel trying to sneak at the feeder actually slip off the top of the wet awning and fall down to the patio, flipping his tail wildly as the ground jumped up at him. I think he was as surprised as I was. He seemed okay.

We found, next to a large bookcase, the leak in the roof going down the wall of an unused bedroom, the top of the wallboard starting to peel away. My dyepot found a new use.  The warranty on that roof expired in November.  This is Not Good.  At least no squirrels fell in.

Michelle was explaining to a friend from back East yesterday that it doesn’t rain in summer in California and that the rain here is always cold–the idea of a warm summer rain is just “A weirdo thing you guys do back there,” as she put it to me today as the skies did their normal-winter thing.

It never rains in summer, except that it always does just once, and always when it does, people exclaim, But it never rains in summer! This is so bizarre!

Nah, the bizarre part is that it doesn’t and that it’s so ocean-cold when it does.  There are supposed to be summer rains, and they are supposed to be warm, and they are supposed to be enjoyed back home, say, walking along the C&O Canal with old friends watching turtles swimming in the canal as the rain splashes from above and the wide Potomac ripples slowly nearby.

I’m trying to figure out an excuse to go confirm that hypothesis in person this year.

The song “California Dreamin’ ” was written after a 17-year-old from LA joined a band and it landed a gig singing in New York. Her father tried to explain the concept “cold” to her. She bought a wool dress, thinking that should totally do it.


Manhattan, we have a problem.  They “stopped into a church” because it was the closest warm building and she was finding out that maybe her dad did know something after all.

My friend’s handknit wool socks on my feet, gratefully… Because it’s raining, y’know, and that means it’s cold in Northern California. (Cold.  Um.  I assure you my snow shovel remains idle. I am not complaining!)

Weighed my yarn, decided I could do one more pattern repeat before the edging–remember the edging? There was a shawl project, once upon a time–I decided I had been yarn-deprived for nearly a week and that that was way long enough. I knitted that pattern repeat.

I will stop treating my taxes like a manuscript or a house remodel: there is an end and we are there, fer cryin’ out loud.

The weather report is calling for rain Thursday. Maybe I’ll get to see another hawk!

Sunday’s children
Sunday April 11th 2010, 10:55 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

And today we have three new babies.  Happy Spring!  If you go here, at 1:56 you see a tiny white snowball with black eyes and tiny beak, dot dot dot like a child’s drawing, looking wide-eyed and up and seeing its daddy perhaps for the first time in its new life.  Blink.  EC, aka Esteban Colbert, takes off on a grocery store run for pigeon-flavored formula.  The mom, Clara, is still at the nestbox as another chick breaks out the top, and a few seconds later Clara has her head lowered talking to a third, looking satisfied as its egg splits at last and a tiny head suddenly dots its eyes too.

One more egg to go.

When I was growing up, most big birds were nearly gone from the entire planet, their eggs thinned by DDT and breaking at incubation.  I remember my parents’ great joy at seeing, as we drove through the Sierras when I was ten, a bald eagle in a tall pine, free and alive in the wild! The chances of a sighting were so slim then, and their thrilled reaction and teaching us about them made it so that I would never forget their awe.  Nor the eagle.

Now my children and future grandchildren get to see them and other raptors after all, due to the great dedication of the few who were convinced they could make a difference.

Glenn Stewart describes being denied funding on the grounds that the peregrines were already lost.  He and a few peers at UCSC watched eyries with binoculars anyway for hours and days, waiting for hard incubation to commence, the point at which the peregrine parents decide, okay, all the eggs are laid, it’s time now to start seriously sitting.

Then he would rappel down the cliff, replace the eggs with wooden dummies, hatch them in a lab while trying to simulate a parent’s presence, rappel again, and return them to their nest.

Which is why this magnificent bird went from two nesting pairs in all of California and total extinction on the East Coast to an estimated 20-25,000 nesting pairs in California. They are back. I can only imagine the intensity of the satisfaction he and his peers must find in that.

Peregrines mate for life and are so focused on having a territory and a mate of their own that if the male in a breeding pair should die while there are chicks in a nest, another male will move in and adopt them and care for them, defending them from intruders, feeding them and teaching them to fly and hunt as if they were his own, and he will stay with their mother for the rest of his days.

God is a poet, teaching us by all that life offers around us. I’m so glad these are still written in His notebook.

Roaming charges
Saturday April 10th 2010, 9:49 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends

And so, there was a message in my inbox from Sam this morning after his mom, Gigi, read my post: would I like a Sherpa?

Would I?!  I answered with a Yes Please! and immediately started baking chocolate.  Sam is a peach.

And so I got to traverse CNCH in style.  We ran into Gigi and his sister and a few friends at one point, and as we were talking, he started teasing his mom about her haircut, how it went just so at the back now.

I looked up at him and grinned, Well, if she used a hot curling iron for that, you know… Train up a curl in the way it should go, and when it is cold it will not de-part from it.

After I got home I glazed the pair of chocolate tortes I’d pulled out of the oven just before I’d left.  One for Sam. And one for…

That second torte went out the door almost immediately but then came right back in, and I got handed an object.  I had no idea what it could be.  I was told, “Turn it off!” I was absolutely mystified. Turn what off? What are you talking about?

I about died laughing and wanted to take pictures after explanations were made but was told that doing so might not be held in the highest appreciation at just that moment–it would be funny later, but but.

Remember that glaze recipe?

Chocolate-truffled cellphones.  Total Immersion method.  Yum.

(Yeah, we were afraid it was net-working, but it handed over the chocolate and nothing got hurt.)

Hawking its warys
Friday April 09th 2010, 11:48 pm
Filed under: Life,Wildlife

I wanted to go to CNCH today, but it seems I’m going to have to do the conference on my feet, which means I can’t stay very long and I will be totally wiped when I get home.  So.

It seemed the right thing to do to get the taxes finished at last before letting myself get that tired.  Maybe I could wrap it up quickly and scoot right out the door.  (As if!) I do have a neighbor hoping I’ll somehow help her get her Nilus Leclerc loom sold; I’m not a weaver, though, and have no expertise in such things.  (But I’m mentioning.)  Still, a convention center close by filled with yarn and a fair number of friends–even if it’s not knitter-focused, I definitely want to go.

I could add paragraphs of IRS-ings as to what today became instead, but surely you don’t want to hear it any more than I wanted to do it.  I’ll go tomorrow.  But I will say this:

Karen, out of the blue, sent this photo today and told me she’d spent the best five dollars ever:  look what they’d turned into!

I glanced up from “Did we save the ambulance bill” at movement in my peripheral vision, to see what was at best guess a Cooper’s hawk suddenly perching right outside my window on the back of the old windsor chair out there–begging squirrels, take note.  It was *right there.* I gaped, trying to memorize it: gray over the eyes, not quite the fitted-helmet look of a peregrine, although a white chest like one and a speckled pattern below, with a grayish back and then, when I tried to reach slooowly for my camera while calling out softly to Michelle, not wanting her to miss it, it flew off with wide bands of gray and white showing across the bottom of its tail. Wow. Straight towards the bluejays’ nest.

Took awhile for the rest of the backyard crew to wingtip-toe cautiously back.

Happiness is worth the work
Thursday April 08th 2010, 10:48 pm
Filed under: Knit,Life

I wrote that post last night, then put down the computer in determination and went back to that big swatch.  I no longer cared how late it was.

Knit that last part again.

Nope, not that; do it again.

No, not that is not it; do it again. C’mon.

No, let’s try–it shouldn’t, I don’t think it will but let’s–wait–okay, get a little further to make sure the effect holds with other stitches pulling from their own directions–that DOES work! That’s exactly the effect I was trying to get!  That’s IT!!! I was so excited I could hardly stand it. I DID it, I DID it! After all this time, I DID IT!!! No knitting software, just me and my needles and yarn, hard at work trying and raveling and trying again. I did it!

A lace pattern I haven’t seen anywhere else. An edging pattern that, likewise, I haven’t seen anything quite like it anywhere else.  Together they create exactly the effect I’d wanted.  Shel Silverstein with his “Put something new in the world that hasn’t been there before,” definitely knew the feeling: it’s like being a little kid opening the best presents.

The two patterns flow into each other and complete each other utterly perfectly.  As an art dealer’s daughter, my stitches are the paint I draw with.  It dawned on me then, that if I wanted so many of these to represent so many of those, let’s see, how many stitches in the main body would I need on the next shawl for it to work out that way… I sat down with pen and paper and did the math.

It was already there.  It. Is. Perfect.  My first attempt was a year ago, and I’ve been stewing over ideas for how to improve it for some time.

I’ve nailed it.  I was just dancing, jabbering, insufferably gleeful.

That gleefulness was downright contagious around here; it’s a good feeling.

And now, after I finish the taxes I’m still plodding through (almost done!) and actually knit that edging onto this shawl I’m working on, I have to start from the very beginning.

And make real the next pattern that’s been bouncing around in my head.

Swatch your steps there
Wednesday April 07th 2010, 10:14 pm
Filed under: Knit,Wildlife

Richard was up quite early and puttering around and told me later what he’d seen. Unlike me, the squirrels didn’t recognize him as an enforcer and they weren’t afraid of him catching them at it at all:  he said there was the funniest cascade of catapulting furries throwing themselves at the birdfeeder, each one so sure they could show that dimwit who just got off how it’s really done–gimme that thing!

When I appeared awhile later, they were all either not to be found or on their very best aren’t-I-well-behaved demeanor.  My favorite did a reenactment of yesterday’s prim begging.


Bless you!

Meantime, I’m glad I went for the 48-stitch edging swatch on the side rather than diving straight into it on all 400ish stitches on the project: it worked okay on paper. In real life? I wanted to be impressed. I was not.

I briefly considered how it might be more entertaining to frog a project by tying a walnut to the end of it and throwing it outside, with a good foot stomp or handclap added for effect… (It must be admitted here: some yarns and some projects thoroughly deserve being squirreled away like that.)

Stranded on a dessert aisle. Send cashmere.
Tuesday April 06th 2010, 10:46 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life,Wildlife

Let’s see, (taking notes) I need this and this and I can’t do a thing about them right now–nope, the taxes aren’t going to be finished today after all.

Too many hours of all that and I was off to Trader Joe’s and bought chocolate hazelnut gelato immediately before closing (adding in berry sorbet in case of guilt).  Escape!

Meantime, Don, having no idea that that’s what I was immersing myself in and that I was being seriously knitting- and reading-deprived, sent his son Cliff over with a CD they’d burned, of what I think of as knitting music: the perfect thing to turn on and let the ears pay attention to while the fingers glide along, knowing their part of the duet by heart.  A relief for a day like today, something to look forward to; thank you, Don and Cliff!

It was fun to watch, though, that the squirrels had figured out, every single one of them before I even woke up this morning, that the game was up.  The birds seemed to know it, too;  they were flocking to the feeder all day in great numbers.  Here, *we* get all the sunflowers now, but you down there, *ptooie*, you can have the leftover millet.  Neener.

The runt of last year’s black squirrel litter who’d acted nearly tame for awhile was suddenly on his best behavior again.  Scrambling up the back of a chair, not too close since he wasn’t allowed to, keeping away from the amaryllises, standing and begging and staring long and longingly at me through the window.   When I laughed, it knew it had won and scrambled down to where it knew I would throw to, just like old times.  Nuts to the squirrels!

Nope, don’t see a line for claiming them all as an aggregate dependent…

Pointed wings, sharp angles
Monday April 05th 2010, 9:38 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

Thing the first: I walked into the Bird Center in Los Gatos for more seed, having been going through it very fast lately–just as someone was washing a caged Brome Squirrel Buster feeder identical to mine.

We talked.  She explained; I asked; she showed. This this and this, all three, have to be just so.  Make sure this covers this wire and that and that are lined up.  Lifetime warranty says it works, period.  My feeder shouldn’t be only closing down for the bigger gray squirrels, and it shouldn’t be staying closed till I get to it to open it up again, nor should the small squirrels be able to hang down and frantically swish half the contents out onto the ground with their paws.  This part should be like this, and we have spare parts if it isn’t.  Go check.

A few seconds with seed spilling over me and it was all solved.   Boy, that was easy! Once I knew.  Sproingy sproing!  I must have misaligned the top tab from the groove when I cleaned it.  Now, I don’t at all mind the squirrels getting a bite; I find them inquisitive and curious and highly entertaining. But it’s got to be on my terms.

Thing the second:  (squirrels, you might want to cover your ears for this one.) I had a second errand to run.  I found myself stopped at a long red light in the late afternoon a block from where, last summer, I’d seen a peregrine falcon overhead as I’d come out of my pre-op appointment.  The sight of it had changed everything for me that day.

My wish was its command: looking up, I suddenly saw a very wide and familiar set of wings doing a gentle swoop across the road overhead, low enough down that at first I thought, surely, it couldn’t be…  It flew from near the large billboard trumpeting the Stanford University basketball season on the right, then, after a casual flap, landed on the topmost part of the highest tree to the left, swaying slightly at first, surveying our cross-town rival high school’s campus.

Then it lazily stretched its wings out just so like a teenage athlete surveying his pecs:  see me? See those angles on those wings?  Are they not just the most raptor-ous things you ever saw?

It spoke in pigeoned English but straight to my heart. Wow. I so much love that we have peregrine falcons nesting in our town.

Just for fun, if you go here, check out the two maps showing the difference in migration routes between them and Swainson’s hawks: it makes clear how the word “peregrination” came to be: they just mosey on everywhere and anywhere they feel like, no distance too short nor too long.

Including from one side of El Camino Real to the other at the right moment to brighten a random Monday afternoon.  Glorious.

Happy Easter!
Sunday April 04th 2010, 6:08 pm
Filed under: Amaryllis,Friends,Life

Last winter, while my husband, my mother, my friends and readers, my doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, a housekeeper at Stanford–everybody played a part and everybody played it well in taking good care of me, strengthening me, being there for me, and I am so grateful–I, of course, could take no care whatsoever of my collection of prized amaryllises. They were the least of our worries.  They were outside under an awning, up high on an old picnic table so as to be out of reach of the snails that would devour them.

But that also meant the winter rains couldn’t reach them. And when I came home, I could not lift the weight of a water jug as my long incision healed ever so slowly.  The others remembered to once or twice each over the months.

When at last I could do my part, the pots just sat there with the bulbs desiccated. I was sure most of them were dead.

A few were.  But the others, I could feel that the bulbs still had some heft left between my fingers, enough for hope’s sake.  So I kept on watering those pots long past the point that leaves should have started to show already.  They did not. I watered anyway.  Throw in a little Monty Python: “I’m not dead yet!”  I hadn’t been, so they weren’t allowed to be either–have faith in that heft and keep trying.

This went on for months.

I finally got a few leaves here and there.  I figured that was the most one could ask for, really; if they could produce four, the chances were high they’d bloom next year, and that would be wonderful, but if it had to be the year after that, then so be it.

This bulb produced only two.  And yet–I glanced outside two weeks ago and was very surprised to see a bud.  I brought it inside. Eventually, I found six pots with buds so far, and not wanting the wildlife to develop a taste for the flowers, brought them inside and out of their squirrelly little reach.

I really had wondered if they were dead after all.  It had just been so long with no response I could see.

The first one opened today, is opening today, the flower smiling wider and wider in slow motion as I type this.

It is standing there reminding me what I so easily forget, how much Life is a gift, beautiful and powerful beyond all understanding.  It is not limited, no matter what our expectations may be at any one time.  The life force is strongest when we hear its call to cheer someone else’s day–as so many brightened mine when I was in dire need.

Pouring water into flowerpots.  Typing an email to someone lying in a hospital bed, sending up a prayer, Thinking Good Thoughts.  A small moment to each patient bulb, and then another, and then another, adding up.

To pure joy.

Thank you, everybody.

And remembering, as I write this, the One who endured all, rose above all, and loves all, Happy Easter!

A pun for her thoughts on her birthday
Saturday April 03rd 2010, 6:49 pm
Filed under: Family,Wildlife

Just for fun.  Wow.  Anyone handy with paper?  Six pages of instruction on that origami, but people are flocking to the site.

A childhood friend of my dad’s lives in the hills above here, and I was admiring her koi pond once.  She lamented that the cranes and the great blue herons loved their fast-food sushi snacks, standing by the side of the little pond, waiting for the captive fish to come out from under their covered area.  Sure. They could wait.

We do live between the Bay and the ocean, and one will occasionally see a brilliantly white great crane standing in the green grass above the freeway in the spring, nowhere particularly near the waterways, simply showing off the fact that they’re gorgeous. (Do the cars passing below look like fish in a stream at a distance?  Are they carwindow-shopping?)

So. If a sea-diving bird were to fly over and decide it wanted a little lemon juice to go with its fish, and it got caught in the thorns, would I pull my auks out of the Meyer?

Or de-murre?

(Waiting for the angel food cake in the oven to finish.  Oh–there it goes.)

Happy birthday, Michelle!

Good Friday concert
Friday April 02nd 2010, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

There was a choir concert at the church in Menlo Park tonight.  I was the only one here able to go, but our friend Jim was playing the organ and I wouldn’t miss for anything being there in memory of what his family went through a few years ago:  to cherish and celebrate with him by my simple presence the life of his son, remembering the joy in Jim‘s playing as he got the news, right there at the organ at a Good Friday concert, that Nicholas was being released from the hospital.

And to remember God’s Son most of all.

“Two shall be working in the field; one shall be taken, the other left.”  I think I get that obscure phrase better than I used to. Life simply is what it is.

I was two minutes late and the place was packed. Looking in the doorway, I saw one open seat only.  Taking it, I found myself sitting next to Alma. Alma!! We threw our arms around each other in silent exclamations of surprised delight.

We lived near each other and saw each other every Sunday when her first two and my younger two children were babies; her Nicole was a preschooler and Nathan a toddler when they moved away.

About ten years later, my friend Michelle, for whom I knitted the original Monterey Shawl, had her young daughter admitted to Children’s Hospital, and I went to visit her with a toy to cheer her up.

Only, the parents had forgotten to add the detail that when they’d moved here, they’d kept their old insurance, meaning she was in Oakland Children’s Hospital over an hour away, not at the Lucile Packard one at Stanford right nearby. Oops.  She wasn’t there.

Well, that didn’t work!  I was walking back down the sidewalk towards my car, wondering why why why–when Alma and I saw each other. After all those years.



Only–I knew if I were seeing her there, of all places…

Her son Nathan had had a childhood cancer treated, one that no child had ever survived that rare type of tumor if it were larger than so many centimeters.

His had been the size of a watermelon.

And now it was back and so was he and there we both were.  We grieved together, and I absolutely knew that that was why Michelle and her husband hadn’t thought to mention which hospital; their daughter recovered quickly from a temporary thing, and I needed to be in that spot on that day for Alma to receive that comfort.

Nathan had wanted to be a fireman when he grew up.  A firehouse near where they lived took him into their hearts as he fought the good fight, so much so that when he passed, they came with their big red trucks to the funeral in his honor and to comfort his family.

And of course I came too.  I remembered Nicole and Nathan, the big sister holding carefully onto her little brother’s hand, the two of them inseparable, always; what would she do without him?  Alma told me they’d stayed close like that as they’d gotten bigger, too.

That was all, again, about a dozen years ago.  And there she was tonight.  I’d come to celebrate that Jim’s son had survived his fall from the ski lift over that Spring Break–and found myself there beside a woman who, as the music went on, was wiping tears, particularly, it seemed to me afterwards, during Mary’s Song.

And I knew. Oh, honey, I knew.  You don’t get over the loss of a child; you only get through it.

I can only hope that knowing that someone else was there who knew and who somehow ended up, again, right there, helped.

A pumped kin muffing it
Thursday April 01st 2010, 10:07 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

You know who’s on your side when the chips are down…

“You want *WHAT*?!”

“If you could make just one of your pumpkin muffins without any chocolate in it…”

She stared. I used to read her that “Are You My Mother?” book with the little bird in it when she was little.

“Heathen,” she declared, turning abruptly back into the kitchen.

(She was right. They’re better with.)