Somehow I got 3996 stitches of knitting done today too
Wednesday August 31st 2011, 11:22 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Life

You know those crazy last two days before a kid leaves for university when you have to run every last errand, she’s got to wash her laundry, we need to pick up the drycleaning, and your friend Catherine recommended the Vanilla Queen (a gallon of bourbon vanilla, fair trade! Bring on the hot cocoa!) but that was just too far but that Indian grocery in Sunnyvale, let’s try that, and it had every spice you ever heard of (Michelle loves to cook Indian style: so many flavors, so dairy free), and then a dash to Trader Joe’s and Safeway too and Dad my hard drive failed! and pack pack pack and hey, one last chance to see one of her best friends?

And yes. That would indeed be when the plumbing sputters and today finally fails again. Just like last time. Right on cue.

So. (Picking up the baby alpaca.) Tell me why Indian names of things always seem to need an h after the d and an i after the a. And ghee, what was that bright (and I mean bright!) green yam-shaped plant part that had more spikes than an ’80’s punkrocker’s head?

“Are you all together?”


Michelle noted that she was buying spices and I was buying shelf-stable ready-t0-heats.

They had pretty pictures on the boxes. I figured that potential earthquake supplies might as well be tasty, but what I said out loud was, “The difference between your choices and mine is that you know what yours are.”

The clerk cracked up.

Tuesday August 30th 2011, 11:31 pm
Filed under: Family,LYS

My daughter in Vermont is fine, but after looking around at the videos people shot and posted here, I was going, wow. It’s almost like they had an inland tsunami. Given the 11″ of rain they had, the mountains everywhere, the already-saturated ground and the fact that the people mostly live in the valley areas…

We drove through some of the state two years ago. It’s a lovely, lovely place of fog and pine and views and people who look out for each other and, according to Mr. Ben and Mr. Jerry, colorful cows.

I hope Jill’s shop came out of it okay, but more importantly Jill and everyone else out there.

Meanwhile, we have the much tamer whirlwind here of getting Michelle ready to go back out to grad school. Ordinary life. It’s a blessed thing to be able to have.

Baby alpaca
Monday August 29th 2011, 11:19 pm
Filed under: History,Knit

Triggered by Stephanie’s very kind post, this is how my baby alpaca fixation got started. (With a half-a-pie photo for Don that I took this morning.)

Years ago, a shop owner showed me some very soft yarn new to her stock that she was quite excited about.

“Baby alpaca” as one of the fiber components was something I had never heard of, but I definitely liked it: all the scratchiness and guard hairs I associated with the word alpaca, gone.

It was about time someone did this. I’d always wondered why there were alpaca rugs that were just the softest fur you could hope to snuggle your toes into, but somehow alpaca yarns and sweaters, alpaca for wearing, were always a weird combination of soft and ick, keep that away from me!

I later read an article by a man who helped change the market. He had flown to Peru to try to convince the local mill owners  that paying alpaca farmers by the pound was resulting in the worst quality fiber going to market, because coarser hairs weighed more, while (he didn’t quite put it this way) the softer-haired animals were being Darwin-ed out by being turned into rugs.

First World knitters would pay a premium to be able to have those softer fibers to work with.

Many didn’t believe him. One mill finally took the leap and gave the idea a chance and did so well that others followed their lead, and in the end, one man and the people who listened to him changed the fiber world.

I must have found some of the very earliest out there. I looked for more over the next year or two and didn’t find it. The one had been a baby alpaca/angora/merino blend; was it possible to find pure baby alpaca? And if I did, how would the fabric I made with it behave?

The younger knitters may not remember when we had a list of web searchers to choose from and had to guess which one would be best at answering a particular type of question. Ask Jeeves?

Google was still new, but we had switched over to it entirely. It didn’t have a lot of pages out there online to search from yet, but my techie husband was sure this one was going to beat the others out totally, he said they’d done their homework with their algorithm.

“Baby alpaca yarn”. Two results. Hard to imagine now. One was not helpful, but the other: a link to a wholesaler who had imported a lot of cones of the stuff in fingering weight and I guess since nobody had heard of it, nobody bought it, and they were selling it on sale, eventually down to at or near cost and closing down their shop altogether.

I bought, I was quite surprised to count up later, over month after month while they sold it at $20, then $15, and even $8 I think on one of the colors PER POUND, three dozen pounds. It was cheaper than any good wool I could find.

As I bought it while I knew I could get it I was also knitting as fast as my needles could fly. I had found the yarn of my dreams. My four tall (or eventually tall) children all got soft afghans knit triple-stranded, long enough to pull up to their chins and curl around their reclining toes and down to the floor, the way my mother says an afghan should be. I made dozens of shawls.

And the light blue baby alpaca, of which there was much and it was cheap, I overdyed into a number of other colors. There’s a picture in my book of a stack of balls of yarn, the original light blue those others all came from at front and center to encourage others to look at the yarns in the closeout bins in a new way: if it’s soft, if it’s animal or silk fiber, if you love the feel but the color, not so much, you can go play with watercolors and do something about it. You will make it all the more uniquely your own in the process.

I was quite surprised to find, while stash diving last week, that I still had a little of that light blue left after all this time. It grabbed my eyes and my memories. I cast on. I’m 2/3 of the way through a lace stole.

I had long forgotten I had gifted Stephanie with some.

Pie and the sky
Sunday August 28th 2011, 11:30 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Recipes

A thank you to all who checked in as to how things are where you are; it’s good to hear you all did okay. Hurricanes are random acts of velocity.

Here, the baking binge continued, and as I chopped and sliced and got out the cheater store-bought no-dairy crust from the back of the freezer (uh oh, I’ve disillusioned Scott‘s whole family now) I thought of how my mother always thought of dessert as one last attempt to get good nutrition into her kids.

So enough with the chocolate for a moment. It’s all about the fruit. We were on our second helpings of rhubarb  strawberry pie when suddenly I looked up at my husband and said, “Oh. I was going to photograph this for the blog.”

The general consensus here is that I could always, definitely go make another one.


This took less than five minutes to get into the oven.

Recipe: Have a bottom crust ready.

Slice rhubarb (I had three+ cups’ worth) and strawberries to bring it to four cups. Mix 1/3 c flour with 1 1/3 c sugar and 1/2 tsp cinnamon; pour in the fruit, add to crust. (And yes, Scott, I forgot to prick it again. Must have been the strawberries. Some things never change.)

Halfway through you might want to open the oven quickly and dunk the top fruit down so that any flour mixture sitting exposed goes in the goo.

I baked it at 425 for 40 minutes, and then because it was a cheap shiny store-bought throwaway tin had to add another five at 350. Next time I might turn it down after the first ten min like another of my cookbooks says so the outer edges won’t burn; personally, I chuckled at being able to toss some of the empty-calories part of the pie, just enough to free it from guilt. And the rest of the crust had the most perfect crunch.

Irene out
Saturday August 27th 2011, 11:26 pm
Filed under: Food

Baked four chocolate tortes and one lemon chiffon cake today. Got rescued by friends when I ran out of Trader Joe’s Pound Plus bars for the ganache. (Note to self: make sure you’re not buying the “with almonds” ones next time–duh), sent the friends home with tortes and thanks and went back to the oven. Made the lemon chiffon to have something dairy-free/Michelle-friendly as the third dishwasher load ran. Handwashed Don’s and Cliff’s pans again.

As if, knitting being too slow, I could somehow crank out enough chocolate goodness to comfort and feed all the people in the path of the storm back East. Y’all take care of yourselves out there for me.

Of quartz she could do it
Friday August 26th 2011, 10:41 pm
Filed under: History

Some people have just the most perfect names… Lilly Stone wouldn’t take That’s gneiss, dear for an answer when she was between a rock and a hard place.

Tina at Blue Moon, this link is for you: a little of back home for us both and, for me, the memory of once, just once as a kid, letting the older neighbor kids’ peer pressure goad me into crossing over the fence (completely forbidden by both my parents and the signs) to come just close enough to the top of that quarry way over there to see some of the brown dirt of the rough sides and to know that no way was I going to get one inch nearer that drop off. Get me out of here!

My in-laws’ house in Kensington, MD had a beautiful stone hearth and fireplace, and the house I grew up in a half mile up Seven Locks from that scary cliff had a sturdy slate entryway in shades of gray, hewn just close enough to evenness to satisfy but that no snowman-building mud on the boots could ever make it past. The rocks for both surely came from Lilly’s quarry.

But I especially like that it was a woman born in 1862 who, beginning when she was 60, dug deep in the earth and crafted in stone.

Now there’s your original Earth Mother type.

Skeleton staff
Thursday August 25th 2011, 10:30 pm
Filed under: Knit,Lupus

Don wrote about having to wait from 3:00 to 4:20 for a doctor to show up for his appointment, which I imagine is a long wait when you don’t knit.

The one time I got stuck waiting for an hour and a half, years ago, I knew going in that I was going to be one of the last patients of the day; I imagined all those extra moments adding up throughout the shift as that good doctor would have been taking his time not so much by the clock but as each patient needed him. I knew from experience that he would do so for me, so I certainly didn’t mind if he did it for others. I came prepared.

And so I sat in the exam room in my paper gown, yarn in hand, and waited.  And waited and waited. And waited some more. You know, it was getting to be a bit much, though, especially since I hadn’t heard any voices going past in a goodly while.

Finally, I peeked out into the hall and all the lights were turned off! Except the emergency nighttime ones! (It was winter.)

I knew it had been awhile, but– ! I called out loudly into the dark, empty hallway, feeling foolish. No response. Finally, I ducked back in the room and pushed the emergency call-nurse button, figuring if anybody answered, great, if not, well, they’re sure not charging me for this appointment!

A nurse came rushing in about 15 seconds later, very apologetic. The doctor had been held up at the hospital, hadn’t they told me? No, but I could imagine a cardiologist could end up spending a lot more time with a patient there than he had planned on.

The doctor himself finally came in about two minutes after that, embarrassed as all get-out. I was just relieved that I hadn’t been entirely stupid sitting there alone unknowing as the building had emptied for the day, quietly knitting away, glad to have an excuse to get some progress made on the thing instead of anything else needing doing just then. I showed him the work in my hands, tiny needles and fine laceweight, and nodded to the pound cone of soft merino (a gift from Karin, thank you!) that I was working from: see? Thousands of yards left on that. I had a long, long way to go before I ran out of things to do.

You know that if I ever bring a cone to his office again he’s going to burst out laughing and start teasing me that I hadn’t had to wait *that* long this time!

Knitting the clear blue sky
Wednesday August 24th 2011, 11:19 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knit

Jury duty: still doing the check in at 11 am/check back at 5 pm thing. Almost done.

May I just say that, re the instructions on the summons, requiring people who need to ask for closed captions in the court to request it not online but rather to call for it is, um, kinda missing something there. Yo?

Meantime, my childhood friend corrected herself as new messages got through: her son’s house near the epicenter in Virginia is standing, it’s his neighbor’s around the corner that’s down. He’s waiting for a structural report to find out if his is safe to go in.

I needed something intense to work on. I printed out some lace instructions I’d worked out on paper a year ago but had never spent the hours to actually knit through it and make sure it worked.

Hey.  So I grabbed some baby alpaca that had been in the stash for quite awhile, not quite my shade of blue–and yet somehow the moment I saw it it was the most beautiful one ever to my eyes. Oooh, that one! Yes!

Curious. That has always come to mean that it’s needing to go somewhere in particular that I don’t know about yet. Every color is someone’s favorite.

And on a side note: when you have a complicated pattern you’re trying for the first time? A solid color helps the eyes read the stitches a whole lot easier. And so (having learned that, and ignoring that beseeching handpaint over there), this is.

Tent-ative steps forward
Tuesday August 23rd 2011, 10:47 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends,Life

(And one last picture of us holding Parker while he was here.)

Just a week ago my husband reminded me that our old family-size tent had given up the ghost a number of years ago, the fabric aged and damaged and the thing unusable. It was bothering him that we weren’t prepared. He was thinking we should replace it in case we might, as we eventually will, have another big earthquake.

We looked at models, prices, talked budget. He knew I’d like an Ipad, which is a total toy (Don you old sweetheart don’t you even THINK about it!) A tent, on the other hand, we would hopefully never need to use (my camping days are over), but if we did need one, it would be so far from a frivolous thing. Got to keep those ravenous squirrels away from my millet-hull pillow.

Tent wins.

One thing that I read today said, “East Coast freaks, West Coast rolls its eyes”; 5.9 didn’t sound like all that much over here.

Different geological structures have different effects, though; ask anyone living in a liquifaction zone in California–we’re close to one but I think we’re okay, knock on rock.

Someone I grew up with, (Mom and Dad, that’s Ky), has a son living in Louisa, Virginia. His house is gone. Reading her note today, I was at first quite surprised–that’s real damage, not just a traffic jam.

But then I remembered that when we had our big earthquake, no news came out of the mountainous epicenter area for days because reporters couldn’t get in and phones there were down. The only mention of the Loma Prieta area in the news was from the USGS’s reports that gave the quake its name.

My husband’s aunt–who knew Ky as a small child–lived a half mile from that epicenter and her house was heavily damaged; her neighbor pulled into his driveway in time to see his three-story home collapse before his eyes, with, as it turned out, the two inside escaping harm because when the mom had called the teen moments earlier to come help cook dinner, the kid had come–joining her in the only room that turned out to be safe.

Do what your mom tells you.

I wonder what news reports will start trickling out of Louisa now, too.

But we had no way to know back then how the aunt’s family was, and her aged mother in Washington DC, dialing all night, called at 4 am our time to ask if we knew anything: she’d finally gotten through at least to us, but we too had heard nothing yet. (It was quite the experience, but they were okay.)

That did it. He’d been thinking of it for some time. My husband got his ham radio license right after that.  He has ever since volunteered with the city, the county, and the Red Cross doing disaster services and emergency communications drills. He’s done a lot of good with it: because, once upon a time, there was an earthquake and people we loved were unaccounted for and maybe hurt.

And he never again wanted to be unable to know and unable to help.

News at 11:00
Monday August 22nd 2011, 11:08 pm
Filed under: Lupus,Politics

I’m willing to do my civic responsibility if I can. I woke up one day in the last few weeks with my blood pressure so low I couldn’t walk upright for the first little bit, much less drive a car. It threw me; I haven’t had the brainstem lupus flare up like that in quite awhile. But I had been exposed to a cold and that first day especially, my immune system was on the attack.

Jury duty, day one: instructions to check online at 11:00.

Instructions at 11:00: check for instructions at 5:00.

Instructions at 5:00: check for instructions at 11:00. (I’m sure a lot of you know the drill.)

They could require me to show up five cities away in the morning rush hour. Technically, though, I’m already out of there because I asked and was told parking at San Jose would be several city blocks’ walk in the sun and impossible to do in under two minutes. Exactly the thing that would set off inflammation in my brain, eyes, and heart.

I mentioned about the parking to my doctor and he offered me a note faster than I could request it.

The courts are underfunded like everything else and the paperwork appears not to have been processed yet. Part of me hopes, moreover, to be able to play my part in the process of granting someone their fair trial. And so I check my juror number, my pocket scissors already off my keychain.

And wait.

Little boy blue, come blow your horn
Sunday August 21st 2011, 10:54 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

Church was long when you’re not quite two and the usually very cheerful little guy had had enough. It was over but his parents were still busy talking to their friends.

After he ran halfway across the foyer, I’m not quite sure whether he tripped or threw himself on the floor; I caught the motion out of my peripheral vision.

He let out a loud yowl of declaration for extra effect.

I went over to him from his oncoming direction, got down on all fours, and leaned my head down towards him with a curious grin. He was turned away but suddenly he bounced his up high like a sphinx, he grinned the biggest grin at me as if glad someone was in on the joke with him, then he leaped into the air with a happy dance and ran to his mommy.

I guess church turned out not quite so long after all.

Interior designing
Saturday August 20th 2011, 10:56 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

There has been a juvenile Cooper’s hawk in view several times this past week, the first time I’ve seen one all year and after I had reconciled myself to the thought that no fledglings had succeeded from the nest above the house.  I guess one did!

Two days ago I saw it swoop from the fence, spread its striped tail in a circle and do a tight U-turn to line itself up just so to come up from behind a squirrel on the ground, which froze. It started to reach for it–and then I, trying to get a better look, apparently spooked it away from its lunch. (Sorry!)  But what a sight!

Meantime. I mentioned to a friend just yesterday that in our temperate climate the songbirds will often brood twice if conditions are good. (I didn’t say I thought that was roughly at the spring and summer solstices.)

When Kathy was here a few weeks ago, she brought me a bagful of fur brushed from her dog to scare the squirrels away from my amaryllises. It was pretty well mashed together; this was good, it had enough heft it wouldn’t easily blow away. I spread it around the pots with the biggest fistful closest to my daughter-in-law’s birdfeeder.

It’s been long enough now that I can definitely say, it worked! And the stuff stayed put, too!

Today I did a doubletake: there was a small clump of it, quite loosened up and now in a round-to-oval shape (or at least the part that I could see), peeking out from under the wooden box on the patio. Moving. With one sunflower seed stuck in it as if to mimic an eye.

Wait, what?

I looked at the amaryllis table and there was a big gouge facing me taken out of that big clump,  but I had no idea how it had come off after all this time. The wind was still catching at the loosened fuzz, meantime, which was going up, down, up, down–but wait–what wind?

As I puzzled over it, a little Bewick’s wren popped out from under the box and looked up at me as if to say hi. Or maybe, duh. (The clump had stopped moving.)

And then the fur and the bird were gone. Poof!

It was at least a half hour, maybe an hour later that I looked out again and saw this small amount. (It was much lighter in the sun’s direct light than the camera’s. Note the new shape.)

The most white part of the fur had been separated out and rejected. Beige only, thank you. We like to keep the lights down low, shhhh now, our babies will be sleeping.

Torte-ally unexpected
Friday August 19th 2011, 9:54 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends

The doorbell rang. Huh, too early for the mailman, I ran to open it to see–Cliff! Don’s son, with Don sitting on the passenger side of his car at the curb in front of the house waving a happy hello. Cliff, meantime, was pulling a really nice nonstick springform pan out of a bag, grinning as I about died with laughter, my jaw on the ground at the same time with a speechless, you didn’t…! And then he pulled out another.

I gave him a hug and a heartfelt thank you, then ran to Don and he got his hug too and I told him, “You’re wonderful, you’re terrible!,” laughing.

“Well, I have to have my cake!” he laughed back.

Much nicer pans than my old ones, and let’s see, we’re out of butter, fix that, okay, and I put them right to use and emailed Don that I hoped I wasn’t jinxing it again, but…

Right. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

But it worked, because of course new pans deserve that and so do Don and Cliff. Who now have two chocolate tortes by way of a thank you; the pans almost handwashed themselves, they were that easy, not that you have to but I’m going to. I want them to stay as perfect as the gift they are.

An aside to them: I didn’t put plastic wrap over the tortes because they were too new and the glaze hadn’t finished setting in the fridge yet (but it was getting late); the plastic can pull and mar the surface when you take it off if it’s put on too soon, before it completely sets.

Like anyone would mind. Thank you! Enjoy!

I’m sure going to!

This takes the cake
Thursday August 18th 2011, 11:18 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends

I saw the dermatologist again: two new spots on my head. They looked to her like an autoimmune reaction to the surgery, but she made sure I did indeed have an appointment for four months post-op on the skin cancer. I do. Meantime, though, she was relieved and I was too.

She mentioned that a friend of hers had knit baby blankets for her two children when they were born and they loved them; she marveled that her five-year-old was still so latched onto his.

I loved hearing that some other knitter’s work was so prized by that good woman’s children.  What better could one ask for?

And so I came home wanting to celebrate all around. Hey. I’d found some manufacturing cream actually in stock yesterday and bought it; I owed Don a chocolate torte, I could drop one off at his house on my way to Knit Night if I hurried.


The original incarnation of my recipe is dated June 1991. My pair of 8″ springform pans has been well used for a long time.

And they’re showing it. The latch on one is a little loose, the other, more than a little and it’s leaked a bit a few times; I try to make sure the foil lining on the bottom comes up and covers that join.

Nuts, I forgot to do that this time, I thought a little later as I started to smell smoke; I really should spring for those new pans. Oh well, open the oven a crack for a moment to keep the cakes from tasting smokey and hope it burns off fast.

Okay, this is where I’m glad I had my hair pulled back.

Waiiiit… Try that again…

Slam it shut.

NOW what do I do?!! The one torte, if I had an oven free that I could… Are the neighbors home? Right, ‘scuse me, could I borrow a cup of 350 degrees for 25 minutes?

Take a deep breath. (No don’t.) Turn the oven off.  Be glad the smoke alarm system has a timer so you can turn it off for 25 minutes. Hope the mailman going by doesn’t call 911. Take the good cake out. Move the racks. Acknowledge to myself that yes, I really did do that: I put a springform pan in the oven without closing the latch.

And yet half that torte was still somehow in the pan. I poured the unset part of the batter into bowls and nuked its sorry remains. The other torte had to sit on the counter and cool its heels while I scraped and scraped the oven out with a metal spatula (no don’t reach for the nylon one!) and then reheated it, opening it again and again to let more smoke out, waited some more, okay, try again.

I sent up a silent ‘Thank you Larrick Hill’, our architect on the remodel 16 years ago, for the screened open-able skylight he put in this kitchen that even when it’s opened still keeps most of the direct sun away from me. Up, smoke, up. No, mailman…

It was a total guess how long to bake the behaved one.  Note that neither of us who can eat dairy have ventured to cut into it yet, much less waste a ganache glaze on it.

But that happy email to Don in between baking steps around the kitchen about dropping off a torte on my way to Knit Night? That was a half-baked idea. Maybe next round?

And a bird puzzle
Wednesday August 17th 2011, 11:02 pm
Filed under: Family,Knit,Wildlife

My hands have needed me to take it a little easier than I would like, so I set myself a goal: knit one hour, stop. Knit one hour after dinner, stop. Knit in snatches in between but don’t overdo.

Somehow that created enough progress to keep me happy; I’m halfway through the skein so far, doing three repeats of the Constance lace from “Wrapped in Comfort” plus edging.

Meantime, I tried to identify a new bird: very white and long tail, medium gray covert, very nearly white wings and head in direct sunlight deepening to a very light gray in the shade. Feathers smooth, body and head very slender, eyes red, a lot smaller than any dove I’ve ever seen but looking like one and walking with bobbing head motions. It came right up to the window and turned around, so I got a good look. No spots, no ring to its neck, and (looking at Inca doves in Sibley afterwards) I didn’t see square feather ends but I wasn’t looking for them, either; it was sleek, not ruffled-up-looking. Maybe a very very light almost-albino morph of an Inca? Beautiful, petite bird, glowing in the sun.

I’ve never seen anything like it before. I love that it came right up to me.

(Note re the pattern: Martingale says they will be releasing their out-of-prints as e-books, available from them directly; some titles already are. Meantime, Purlescence has the real thing in stock.)