It measures up
Saturday March 31st 2012, 11:37 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Wildlife

A little leftover pie crust just sitting there.

A big bag of frozen berries.

A memory triggered. Of the intense comfort food that it was when I was given a single-person berry pie in a restaurant in Federal Way, Washington when I was far from my home, my husband, and my young kids.

When I was growing up, my mother often made homemade pies, a way to get more fruit into her kids and baked I’m sure with memories of her grandmother, who had a pie shelf built right into her kitchen: it was just expected that one would have pies on hand for whoever might show up on a random day, especially if there were young men to meet who might be courting one’s daughter. One could greet them most sweetly.

We picked fruit at pick-your-own farms, most often Catoctin Mountain Orchards in western Maryland. And so, strawberry pies, peach, berries, pear and lime, grape pistachio, it was always the best dinner ever when there was pie coming afterwards.

Then came the day I was in the Seattle area for my niece’s wedding and my brother, parents and I found ourselves with some time on our own and stumbled across that restaurant.

It was a great deal of mixed berries with just enough crust to hold them, not too sweet, just right, the way such things should be but that I had never seen from a commercial establishment before.  As close to mine or my Mom’s as it could have been.  It was so good that we went back and bought more to have for breakfast before our flights home.

A ten inch mixed berry pie just came out of the oven. Biggest pie tin I could find.

But the only thing that fit that leftover crust was a stainless steel 8 oz measuring cup, designed with a handle curving down at the end to steady the thing from flipping over as you fill it. Works on an oven rack too.

Its interior is now bubbly and cinnamony and just sweet enough and it is just right.

And on another note. This afternoon, Richard turned and exclaimed and got me to look up in time to see the second half as the female Cooper’s hawk (ie the bigger one) did a complete figure-8 around the two support poles to the awning and away.  “So fast. SO fast!” he told me. I so love our front-row seats!

And then it worked out right
Friday March 30th 2012, 10:52 pm
Filed under: Family,Knit

Our grandson Parker and his cousin.

Lace:  I had eight going into a large almost-prime number, intending to fan out at the larger repeat but not too much of an increase, and after much scribbling and mathing and wondering if it could even be done, figured out how to get the two lace patterns to come out lined up just so with each other.

If only.

So I showed Richard what I’d done and why and how I’d made a visual representation of what I was doing and why it clearly should come out right–shouldn’t it?

He puzzled over it. I explained it again. He puzzled some more and finally offered that it seemed right to him; maybe it needed tweaking at the boundaries?

I laughed. A seamstress would have said selvedges. A knitter would say edges. A photographer would say frames. A carpenter would say corners. Someone remodeling their house would say there’s a beginning to it but there’s never ever an end. And someone like me who (due to a brain injury, I’ve tried for years, it just is what it is) struggles with knitting charts, can say this.

Spaces: the final frontier.

When I need it
Thursday March 29th 2012, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends,Life,Wildlife

An older friend who doesn’t drive anymore needed a lift. As we drove the main road coming home, I was keeping an eye out: I’d seen one around there several times before, and then–Ooooh, look! as I grabbed my eyes back to the road, hoping she would see what I meant before we passed it. It was sitting on the telephone wire, being anything but their usual stealthy.

“That’s *beautiful*!” she exclaimed, her head turning to follow it as the car continued on.

“That’s a Cooper’s hawk,” and I wondered if it was one that might have fledged from our nest two miles away. I was so delighted that she was as thrilled as I was; thank you, Gail.

Dropped her off, came home to my own quiet house, had a hard time getting myself to relax and sit down and accomplish some knitting. There’s a lot going on. Cancer surgery for the wife of someone we know, Richard covering some of their job at work just like they did for him when I was sick, and cancer treatment outcome tests this week for a relative of ours.

Our daughter Sam is doing better and for that, and for all those who have reached out to help her in any way, we are infinitely grateful.

I sat down at the computer.

It’s nesting season. He always seems to be more sociable during nesting season, and so, with a feeling of someone’s eyes, I looked up to see my male Cooper’s standing on the box just the other side of the window, looking in at me. People watching. Beautiful, beautiful, big bird, and I birdwatched back at him. He opened his beak and spoke in hawk talk that I wished I could understand, and then, having said hello, flew.

Maybe an hour and a half later, there he was again. Right there. Getting my attention and posing for the camera I wished I had in my hands. Looking at the look of wonder in my face.

And he came back again! But that time I didn’t see him behind me till I laughed at a Frazz comic, I think the one where one of the elementary kids asks why the Thanksgiving people dressed like color blind leprechauns?

And with that, a swoop of the wings and there he was, on his way by. His work here was done for today.

I can cope with anything now. And I went off to Purlescence, where, surrounded by good friends, I knitted towards making someone happy.

Flight plan
Wednesday March 28th 2012, 11:33 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Wildlife

This one‘s for DebbieR especially.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been pregnant, which means it’s been a long time since I had to monitor sugar intake for diabetes. I’m out of practice. I spent today cleaning, shopping, baking, pricing slicing dicing hoping.

I think I did okay by the folks who enjoyed my dinner.

And in the middle of all that prepping I sat down a moment and looked up in time to see the incoming hawk: a quick turnaround at the feeder, back to the telephone wires to get a good look in all directions as it shifted its feet to turn here, then here, then back across the yard towards me again, across my roof and away.

All in definitely under ten seconds. Blink. Wow.

Did you see the video Sherry linked to in the last post? This one, and thank you, Sherry. I have a birding friend who has seen robins fledging and she’s sure that’s what that was: a baby robin at first flight, playing air guitar. (I love how the little bird cranes her head up at the singer as he sings to her.)

Its momma expected it to land in the lawn but it wanted bluegrass, for sure.

Bird possum
Tuesday March 27th 2012, 11:06 pm
Filed under: Knit,Wildlife

As I knit some ice rose dk silk from Colourmart (if they have any colors left at all on that page tomorrow. US postage is included.) Oh, and if you want some really nice shawl patterns, Purlescence has my book in stock. Just sayin’.

I made a mistake on this new pattern and I knew what I’d done. It was easy to fudge; the instructions I wrote were correct, it was just me that wasn’t. Just lift a strand between stitches and call it a yarnover and no one could ever tell–but the moment I made that decision rather than rip back, it wasn’t book knitting. Book knitting has to be done perfectly, checking every stitch and counting across on every row; this one’s the learning-as-I-go version, then.

And a really really pretty learning-as-I-go shawl. But it’s only fair anyway; there’s no point in dangling a yarn that’s an industry remnant that may or may not be repeated (and I knew that from the start). Truth is, I was simply knitting this, for the moment, to make me happy, while wondering where it will end up.

Sea Silk next time. I have some waiting its turn.

Birds. Scene: suet cake in a green wire cage, hanging down in the middle of the patio where there’s nothing for a squirrel to jump from to get at it. A house finch pecking away at it–or trying to.

Except that finches have this profound need to be at the top and the top half of that cake was already gone. She’d landed at the bottom, where there was plenty, but climbed up to where there was none no matter how many times she jabbed her head hard in there as far as she could reach. She did it again and again, straining as if she could squeeze her shoulders inside the cage too.

Air headed.

Later, I had someone working in my yard today (that branch gouging the side of the house after the storms had to go) and I had to stop and go out and explain to him why I was looking out the window and laughing: not at him.

One of my fearless little chickadees had flown to that wire cage and then realized late that there was an intruder, it was big, and it was quite close. And coming closer. Bigfoot!

And so it froze. There was no escape without giving its position away. It froze so perfectly and for so very long that I wondered if it was okay–I’ve been watching my birds for three years and I’ve never seen that behavior before. I’ve assumed it, after they’ve scattered from a hawk and melted into the trees, but I’ve never seen it up close.

Having caught on too late to zoom towards safety, the little bird was playing possum; if it couldn’t get away, at least it could blend in and become one with half a suet cake, the top of its head bowed to it as if in reverence.

The man was delighted. Seldom does wildlife stick around to be admired when he’s at work. I loved that he loved that it did.

Tailing it out of there
Monday March 26th 2012, 10:57 pm
Filed under: Family,Knit,Wildlife

Found another Frazz comic that made me laugh. (Well, they all do, but hey. Birds.)

Saw something new today: a squirrel with its nose pressing hard against the wooden box, squeezing its pointy little face as far as it could go underneath, right next to one of the 2x2s the box is resting on (ie as far from me as it could get while trying this). Two inch space: the final frontier.

That’s where I occasionally toss food for my wrens when they’re being shut out by the bigger, more assertive birds: only the Bewick’s will dash into that tight, dark space, and even they have to duck their tails down. Not even the chickadees explore there. Perfect.

As I’ve mentioned before, northern California is the only area left where those wrens have a healthy population and I am determined to take good care of mine. They are the tiniest birds with the biggest burst of song, many songs.

That left black paw was just about to sweep and grab to try to finish the job. I’d seen dog fur already shaped into a circle vigorously disappearing under there before with a wren going at it; there might well be an active nest and I didn’t know how far back it was.

Ooh, tasty nestlings!

Boundaries clearly needed to be reestablished and my initial foot stomp and loud GIT! wasn’t going to cut it. Time to bring out the big guns.

I have a bright red shopping bag, about as tall as an inquisitive big Fox squirrel, with twine tied to its handle at one end, and I set it up coming in at the side of the glass door with the twine tied to a cardboard tube at my end for a nice handle. I put some beat up store-bought pie crust tins and random broken ceramic bits in it for a nice noisemaker effect and to keep it anchored in the breeze.

(I know. What would Scott say. I bought the pie crusts.)

The door was closed. I was inside, innocent as could be.  Waited.

Took awhile. A black one and a clearly pregnant gray (yeah, I saw what you two were doing the other day, so do we get to see speckled squirrels? Palominos? As close as I’ll get to my childhood wish for a pony.) They took turns on the patio for awhile, and finally both were there at once and it was getting a bit crowded under the feeder. So one sniffed, then took cautious, tentative steps where it knew that peanut-suet crumble was hiding….

BAM! That bag was outside right there close to them–it came flying and crashing and those two marauders nearly risked a sonic boom. Just missed crashing into each other, too.

If I had to spend all afternoon working out the math on a pattern I’d thought was already ready to go (well, it is now), a bit of squirrel fishing certainly brightened the day.

But I would love to be able to do what a member of the peregrine forum told me she does: she buys mealworms at Los Gatos Birdwatcher, then throws them in the air and the waiting phoebes see her and catch them! Wow.

And you know who the cleanup crew would be.  It’s only fair.

A flight well taken
Sunday March 25th 2012, 9:39 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

A friend spoke at church today: at the last minute, he’d decided to fly to a family get-together.

When he had been a child, his parents had had to take business trips and a friend of theirs (let’s call her Betty) would take care of the kids. Betty became practically a member of the family.

He, now a father of four young children himself, decided at the last minute to fly to an extended family get-together to see a relative giving his farewell talk at church before leaving on a two-year Mormon mission.

And it turns out that his aunt and uncle had decided to invite Betty to drive the hundreds of miles with them to come be a part of the family again.

Betty and and my friend, who had no idea she would be there, saw each other coming in at separate doors at the same time: she threw her arms high and called out his name and the former child and his former almost-a-second-mom ran to each other.  She hugged me like Betty always did, he said.

They sat next to each other during the meeting. She asked him, Do you have any children? and he happily pulled out his phone and showed off pictures. Wonderful! She beamed.

A few minutes later, she leaned over to him again with the biggest smile, and asked, Are you married? Do you have any children?

He pulled out his phone and showed her, wondering…

A few minutes later, again. And it made her happy all over again to exclaim over those beautiful children and his lovely wife.

Relating the story later, he admitted he didn’t get much out of the meeting, but…! And afterward, she remembered all these tales of him as a child and delighted in regaling him with them.

It was just the new memories that weren’t sinking in. But he had come, and she–

–someone struggling now with old age and a failing memory and all the worry that comes with those circumstances–

–had found connection and love from the past coming back to confirm her and she knew that she mattered forever.

And to think he almost hadn’t gone. He was so glad he did.

Come back!
Saturday March 24th 2012, 8:02 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends

Richard glanced out the window and remarked on how loud those birds were being.

Singing? Or just chirpy?

He considered that a moment, still looking at the feeder. Chirpy.

Went to two farewell parties today, brought a blueberry cake to each and coconut cream truffles as well to the second: the first was for someone who will be coming back next year, but the second was for a young family where the husband’s new job is near Denver.

If chocolate and blueberry cake can’t make that family stay, it can at least make them want to come back to visit. Even if I gave them the recipes.

The eagle has landed
Friday March 23rd 2012, 10:22 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends

I blocked the Findley shawl this morning and that fine yarn was dry in hours. It’s different. I like it.

I have two blueberry cakes in the oven and a timer on my Iphone loud enough to wake the deaf. Perfect.

There’s a Frazz comic written totally for me, even if the author didn’t know it. Cool!

Oh and, just because. The eagle doing the breast stroke at about the 1:20 mark. I have never seen a bird swim like this.

Wheel of fortune
Thursday March 22nd 2012, 11:22 pm
Filed under: Friends,LYS,Spinning

My mother once gave me some 100s Bradford-count wool for Christmas for spinning (after she asked and I pointed to a catalog entry). I expected a pound; she gave me five, which I gleefully dove into.

I have never seen that fine a merino roving available anywhere ever again, including that supplier.  (Although I would say that Malabrigo’s new Finito probably matches it.) To quote from Clara Parkes in the Twist Collective: “The average fiber diameter of an 80s wool, for example, is 17.70–19.14 microns, while that of a 56s wool corresponds to an average fiber diameter of 26.40–27.84 microns.”

So 100s would be… Soft. VERY soft. And I do love a good handspun yarn. It’s like nothing else.

My friend Mary has a spare spinning wheel that she loans out to whoever needs it just then.

I once read that a wheel in good condition can continue 100 cycles after you stop treadling if you do it just as hard as you can and then let go.

Mine does 12 if you’re lucky. It’s been dropped out of a car, it’s been tripped over by a big teenage foot and the flier and handmaiden have both had to be replaced. It wobbles since that last time and has been hard to work with.

Mary surprised me with the offer to lend her spare to me; it’s been wonderful to have.

But I decided recently that I really needed to get going again on my own, though, because I do have it and there are surely others out there who need hers more; I know when I was first starting spinning how much I would have loved to have had that loan. So I told Mary thank you and that I’d be bringing her wheel back. The good women of Purlescence told me I could bring it there for her to take home.

And every week for the last month I would get there and kick myself that I had forgotten it yet again.

Last Thursday I put it where it was in my way so I wouldn’t forget–but it was raining that night. Nope.

Tonight was the night.

And then I got a note from Kaye at the shop, and yes, tonight was definitely the night!

Richard helped me lift it into the car.

Sandi and Kaye told me quietly tonight why someone needed that wheel now. That story isn’t mine to tell, but I said to them, You know, I’ve been kicking myself all those times I forgot it. But if I had… It would have been loaned out to someone else, whereas… And that would have been good too! But I think this is the more important place for it to go. Clearly.

Maybe my forgetting wasn’t just me being such an idiot after all.

Truffles and a chickadee with a beard
Wednesday March 21st 2012, 10:07 pm
Filed under: Food,Recipes,Wildlife

First, the chocolate.

About 25 years ago, when we’d just moved here, some friends dragged us over to a new shop at Stanford Mall with, You’ve got to try this!

That was the first time we heard the word truffles being used to describe something that was most definitely not a mushroom.

Cocolat was wildly popular, several other shops followed, and then a fire at the central bakery shut the business down, a still-lamented loss.

Alice Medrich, the owner, wrote several dessert books after that; Cocolat‘s  photos were an immediate delight to the locals–oooh, I remember that! And that!

She mentioned in her writing that when she’d first opened up, she’d started off making the truffles far too big but by the time she realized that, her customers were used to buying them that way and so, big they’d stayed.

I well remember that. That was what we’d been told we had to try and what we’d come back for for special occasions.

After Steve finished his first truffle last night, he mentioned (clearly not minding overly) that they were too big.

He couldn’t know I was thrilled nor why.

But he and she were both right: because a chocolate truffle should be small enough that you don’t have to hold it melting in your hand as you take several bites to get through the whole thing; too messy. Small is good.

I thought of that today as I decided to experiment with Michelle’s coconut cream. Could I make good dairy-free truffles?

One 6.8 oz box of that cream, a small one for the learning experience. I melted in 300 g of dark chocolate (I was determined to measure carefully this time.)

I just finished rolling small (!) balls of that now-chilled coconut ganache in my Bergenfield cocoa. The coconut taste is very minor in the background; the chocolate totally rules. The texture is just right. Nailed it.

There you go–I found it. That’s a bigger box than mine but a much better price than Amazon’s. Note that the shipping price is the same for one or ten and one of those big boxes is the right size for making two chocolate tortes. Just sayin’.

And the chickadee? You’re looking at the top of its head straight on at the camera at the bottom of the picture.

Last year my friend Kathy gave me a bagfull of soft fur combed from her dog and I set some out where the birds could take it for their nests. The Bewick’s wren appropriated an impressive amount at the Fall equinox: as Glenn Stewart of SCPBRG explains, bird behaviors at that time often somewhat mimic those of the Spring equinox, when the number of daylight hours vs dark is again equal.

So. There was a little dog fur left, and I had tufts of it set out among my amaryllis pots.

I looked up today to see what looked like a chickadee with a very furry blonde beard. She was diving into the fluff again and again, trying to get as much as her beak could hold.

And then she was off.

I went and got my hairbrush and pulled the last two days’ hair out of it; I was curious to see if I might be as acceptable as the dog. I went back to the patio, gathered up all the dog fluff in one amaryllis pot and put the hair with it.

More ! All in one place! Cool! She came back and her bill dove into it again and again, each time looking up and around to be safe in her surroundings: down, quickly up and left, right, down, peck, quickly up, left, right.

It took her a minute or two to be satisfied with her haul. She took to the air.

She seemed to have felted the dog fur into my long curled hairs with all those bobbings up and down: she flew in an uncertain wobble, as if the wind against her treasure was almost too much.

That little chickadee had a streamer of blond fur three chickadees wide and three chickadees long flowing proudly along behind her, like a small plane with a particularly large banner for the cheering crowd below.

Steve from Milk Pail
Tuesday March 20th 2012, 10:07 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends

There was a birthday celebration tonight of the Mormon Church’s Relief Society, the oldest women’s group in the world. Dinner was served.

And not only that. As it happened, we had Steve Rasmussen, the owner of Milk Pail, bringing cheeses for everybody to sample and rave over. (And believe me, we did.)

Steve carved open a huge wheel and set a gadget to it that I had never seen the like of: it was about the width and height of the wheel, and, as he explained to me in an aside, it was a descendant of an antique iron heated at the fireplace. It warmed that cheese right inside its rind and then Steve scooped the melting goodness out and handed it out on small slices of french bread. Bliss.

I told him I had gotten a call from my daughter in Michigan this very afternoon–she had run out of Milk Pail’s vanilla and nobody else’s came close. Help!

Remember when I was making all those tortes? I had enough cream left for one last pair, but six was kind of enough. So. By that point I had crushed together some bittersweet and a fairly dark bittersweet chocolate, and improvising a bit on the ratio with the amount of cream left over, I melted them into it and hoped. I mean, you can’t go too wrong there, even if it ends up as just chocolate sauce.

It was a bit thicker than the usual ganache. Good. Into the fridge. Then I rolled balls of it in Bergenfield cocoa and froze the truffles: manufacturing cream, dark chocolate, the best cocoa on the outside. That was it.

I took some with me tonight and offered some to Steve to thank him for making that cream available and just to say how much I loved what he’s done with his life with that business. He absolutely swooned over the first truffle and asked for a second. Did my heart good. Thank you, Steve!

And I will never wonder again what to do with any extra of that cream. Wow. That really really really worked.

Monday March 19th 2012, 11:22 pm
Filed under: Knit,Wildlife


I heard the incoming email and put my knitting down to come to the computer, where there is a better view out the window, to see who’d written; breaks to rest the hands are always a good thing.

Which is the only reason I saw.

In mid-reply, typing away, something made me look to the left just in time. By size I’m guessing it was the male.

There is the translucent awning with the birdfeeder hanging from the wooden beams it rests on. We have seen a hawk from time to time doing a steep V-dive, appearing suddenly from above and then veering straight back up again for the chase as everybody panics. (And if it hears a window strike, I get treated to a super close-up.)

Today was a first: I saw the Cooper’s just as it came in from a low flight, trying to stay out of view, and pulling straight up at the last second to catch I think a dove on top of that awning. The doves like to walk all around up there and the smaller birds never seem to.

I went looking for a picture to describe it, and this one is the closest–only, picture the bird entirely upright mid-air and facing you. At fifteen feet away.

Last week I saw one way to the left, carefully half-hidden by a tree trunk and perched on the fence. I was curious to know if she was stalking an oblivious finch on the other side of the smaller feeder to my far right. Knowing how fast they move, I consciously blinked left then back to the right as fast as I could make my eyes go–and in that real time, she lifted her wings, spread her tail wide and was halfway across my backyard. They are that fast.

Now if I could only teach them to knit. You’d need rope to survive those claws… We could have a hammock fence to fence in a blink.

Celebrating the stages
Sunday March 18th 2012, 11:21 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends

Another Parker picture.

Went to the main meeting at church, then bugged out and drove to Santa Cruz an hour away where Richard’s cousin was baptizing his son.

In the Mormon Church this is done at age eight. That is when children are beginning to really get the concepts of right and wrong for themselves and to understand cause and effect in their behavior, to be able to actively choose how they’ll react. Beginning to. We spend our whole lives from there on out working on that.

And so we call it the “age of accountability,” with baptism opening the way for repentance and a return to joy when we mess up, surrounded by people who know that we all make mistakes and that it’s okay to be human; just keep trying to be a better person. The habit begins of turning to Christ again and again to see us through by His patience, that we may learn to live His example of unshakable love.

We’re all in it together.

Okay, so that’s the background. What we did not know was that Jonathan’s brother and two sisters were coming, too, as well as Aunt Mary Lynn and Uncle Nate, and some of Jonathan’s in-laws with their little ones. People we love but seldom get to see.

We had a grand reunion. We got to meet babies we hadn’t seen, to exclaim like old people over how much the kids had grown. Alexander is ten? How did that happen!

They served an early dinner; there was at least one plane to catch. We were done there in time to get back up here and meet Marguerite’s future son-in-law. There was our second chocolate torte of the day, gee, how did that happen.

Her daughter’s fiance grew up in a ward in Boston where my cousin Grant was bishop, and so we had an instant connection there.

Friends showed up whom we hadn’t seen in ages and, again, hadn’t expected to.

I’m not sure how one day grabbed so much joy all in itself, but I’m selfishly asking for more like that.

(Oh, and the other part of that post in the link? I asked tonight, wanting it to be just right for her. Red, she answered, delighted. And so the next project shall happily be.)

An aid for an aid, bluetooth and forsooth
Saturday March 17th 2012, 10:11 pm
Filed under: Friends

My friend Andrea came over tonight: she’s the one whose hearing went from normal to far worse than mine in a very few short years and no one knows why. She got a cochlear implant a few months ago and has done so well with it that her other ear is about to be operated on, too.

She had an Icom receiver for her old hearing aids she would never use again, incompatible with her new set-up. It is designed to convey the sounds of my phone or the microphone at church via bluetooth straight to my hearing aids. With no ambient noise.

I did not even know there was such a thing.

Richard got it synced to my phone, but so far it doesn’t sync with my aids. I’m going to have to go to my audiologist and see if it can be done; I really hope so. It would work for Skyping, too, bypassing the crummy computer speakers: I would finally be able to make out clearly what everybody’s saying.

Whether it works out or not, it was very, very kind of Andrea and I am thrilled. (And hoping really really hard.)