At the edge of the polar vortex
Thursday January 31st 2019, 10:50 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knitting a Gift,Life

Yay for tracking numbers. Yay for the post office. That sweet little girl got her baby blanket back Wednesday, cold weather or no.

Sending flowers, too
Wednesday January 30th 2019, 11:28 pm
Filed under: Garden

Sending oxalis flowers towards everybody hunkering down in the record cold going on across so much of the country.

The Tropic Snow peach continues to defy my efforts to get a good picture. The camera wants the lemons.


Around 4 pm
Tuesday January 29th 2019, 11:09 pm
Filed under: Friends

The doorbell?


It was from B & N. 

Post haste
Monday January 28th 2019, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Knit,Life

I went looking for a box the right size and realized I might as well use the post office’s priority mail one; it’s usually cheaper anyway. I got something ready and packed for my niece as long as I was going there, set it down, went to address the next…

It hit me. Wait a minute. I’ve known my daughter’s friends for years–but it hadn’t occurred to me that I didn’t actually know their last name. They’d forever simply been B. & N. and since the baby blanket was going 1100+ miles away to a town they don’t normally live in, in the middle of nowhere, there had sure better be a last name on that box for that postmaster if I want that baby to get her blankie for sure.

It took a few hours for the text to get seen, but it was, and it was a relief when I got it–she wasn’t going to have to wait an extra day after all. And for the parents’ sakes: I’d so wanted the postmark to read today, the first day it could possibly have been. I wanted them to know all of us are there for them in their loss of his dad.

Got to the post office an hour before they closed.

And came out of there picturing that small face as she grabs her beloved blanket out of that box with all the exuberance of an 18-month-old, making the adults around her happy for her.

Hold on, little one, it’s coming!

Monday January 28th 2019, 12:09 am
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Life,Mango tree

Church. Then Dani and his beloved and our mutual friend Lee, whose birthday party it was where the conversation happened that led to my tree arriving.

I offered the not very large mango to Dani and he inhaled its essence, remembering the Alphonsos of his childhood back yard. I had my good Mel and Kris stoneware set out and we went to it. Mango pieces, homemade chocolate, juice I’d squeezed the night before after the neighbors gave us a boxful from their orange tree.

The mango might have been even better with one more day to ripen, but still: I could honestly say, and did, that he’d been right: that that was the best mango I had ever eaten in my life. Such a depth of flavor. The perfume! So much to that tiny bit of fruit the five of us each had. I did not know they could be like that. Wow.

Dani asked for the seed and the skin: the scent of home, and to prove to a fellow ex-pat friend of his that yes you can grow them here–you just have to want to badly enough.

His SO teased him that she was sure he was going to grow his own tree from it. They’ve told me their condo doesn’t have enough sun, but hey, if he wanted to badly enough. Right?

They headed out after a bit and I got a message from my daughter: could I bring…

She’d been spending all her free time of late helping some friends pack up their house. Their moving van arrives tomorrow bright and early, and they were glad they had that one last weekend to finish everything up.

Except that yesterday morning the guy’s father, a farmer, dropped dead, utterly unexpected, and they dropped everything and ran for the airport knowing how much his mom would need immediate help. There were still two baby bottles in the sink. Michelle was trying to finish what they no longer could and needed something to package some of their papers that they hadn’t intended for the movers to touch.

Sure, I can do that, and I headed off to San Jose with the requested bin.

I took one look around when I got there and knew that this was where I needed to be for the next little while.

I washed all the dishes, by hand so they would be seen on the drying rack and not forgotten in the dishwasher, I folded the clothes that had been washed, I sorted all the socks of all the sizes. I did not find the key to the firesafe that the toddler had run off with, but we were all in each other’s good company on that one. I remembered the days of one child of mine in particular who was always finding what squeezed into what and the hairpins we shook out of a ride-on toy years ago.

We’d been working for some time when…

The baby blanket! This is the couple I’d knitted a cashmere/cotton 50/50 afghan for, and it was their now-toddler’s favorite blankie. It was there. Michelle called them: I was offering to mail it to them tomorrow if they wanted. (Their stuff was going straight to storage given the new circumstances and it might be months.) Or I could keep it at my house till they were ready, free of moths or loss.

Her friend burst into tears: yes please send it?!

First thing, honey, first thing. That, at least, is something I can do.

(And hey, now I know: after 18 months of it going through their high-end washer and dryer, it’s still so very soft, the excess fluff is gone, and it has shrunk only a little. I pre-shrank that yarn hard before knitting it up and it basically held, while the essence of the cashmere endures. And it is THE beloved blankie. I’m quite pleased.)

Tempered right this time. I think.
Sunday January 27th 2019, 12:36 am
Filed under: Family,Food

A quick late post: I found this site about chocolate tempering, and even though her writing’s not entirely clear re when to do what on dark chocolate, we did the temps at her 3. (93F) and after 4. (88F) to see if maybe we’d been adding the cocoa butter when things were still too warm for the proper crystallization. And maybe we needed to stir and let it cool still more after that while the crystals formed.

We have one of those laser pointer thermometers for instant gratification readings.

The result? No more little points of light in the front, although some color variation on the back, still. I promise a photo before we eat it all.

This was Chocolate Alchemy’s Esmeraldas variety, and the others pronounced the results the best so far.

January fruit
Saturday January 26th 2019, 12:11 am
Filed under: Friends,Garden,Mango tree

Hey, DANI! This is all your fault! Thank you!

Wondering if it was ripe yet, I just barely touched it and to my great surprise it fell right off in my hand.

My first. Alphonso. Mango. Ever! Already, six hours of being inside the warm house and the fragrance has started to bloom.

Aftobered back
Friday January 25th 2019, 12:02 am
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Life

The stump. The concrete floor of the shed and the roots below it: he came, he quoted, he said they could do it all, and then he said wait, the crew could probably do that–today, actually, if you want, let me check and I’ll give you a call.

And so they did! (The white stripe is a shaft of sunlight on the now-dirt floor and they have to come back in the morning to collect the mulch.)

I’m still trying to grok the idea that I don’t have to worry about that anymore and that it didn’t cost near what I thought it would, it’s just plain done.


The day I discovered that such a thing as a melanger exists I happened to be in the middle of an email stream with my friend Afton. At the height of being giddy over finding out that not only did such a thing exist but that my husband wanted to use our points to buy one too, I sent her the link.

To which she answered, quite reasonably,





And with that a plan began to hatch.

Afton is someone who wholeheartedly befriends every person she meets, both in person and online. She is a born comforter. She flew to Wisconsin to be there for a member of our knitting chat group who was losing her fight to cancer. She drove a long distance several times to another friend in her illness. She drove from New Jersey to Maryland to meet me when I was in town.

And she is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.

Humor and empathy together are a powerful force for good in this world.

She’s also the instigator of Aftober, the KnitTalk tradition of her cheering us on to learn something new and to finish a project before the end of October, before the holiday stress sets in–and if you do she would mail you the Prize of Insignificant Worth ™. A different thing from year to year, some small fiber-related thing tucked in an envelope decorated with a drawing of and allegedly by her cats that is always so perfect that many of us have saved those envelopes for any time we want cheering up.

This last fall saw the deaths of those two woman she’d cared for and the Prize turned out to be something that she spent a great deal of time and expense to create and share with us in order to bless more people going forward, in their names.

Everybody was, as always, to be quiet about what we got until everybody had gotten theirs.

And then this happened: her beloved boy cat took sick, so much so that she rushed him to the vet instead of going to synagogue that Saturday in Pittsburgh. Yes that synagogue.

Her cat’s final act was saving her life as his slipped away in her arms. If only he could have saved her friends’ lives, too.

At last we of her online longtime knitting group had something to quietly work together on to give to her in thanks for all she is and for all she does and all she gives. So many people chipped in. Someone volunteered to handle the logistics. Nobody told.

Today her mail came. I got an email: Beans (they were nibs) and book? Were these misdelivered? Weren’t they supposed to go to me? Should she send them on? (My daughter, husband and I had gone to Dandelion Chocolate specifically to get her a signed copy of their open-sourcing DIY book for her.)

I checked the tracking numbers, grinned, and quietly waited.

It took UPS a couple more hours (and a bajillion page refreshes on my part as concrete smashing sounds went on in the background, then a, YES!)

My phone suddenly blew up in stunned thrilled capital letters, and I told her happily, You’ve been KnitTalked.

Because it wasn’t all just from me, not by a very long shot. Margo Lynn has the names.

Nibs, book, molds, melanger: only the cocoa butter didn’t quite make it there in time for her to start right away.

My fervent, heartfelt thanks to all those who helped make this happen for her. And just like knitting: every time you start a new chocolate batch, you learn something you didn’t know before.

But I don’t think there’ll be any problem finishing off any of those kinds of projects before the end of October.

And the bars are so easy to share.

Wednesday January 23rd 2019, 11:52 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends,Life,Lupus

I didn’t think I could do that.

Somebody had to do that, and he of the formerly broken back has a hard time bending. I told myself that having raised four kids, I knew how to be the mom when I had to be and to go just get it done. Time was running short.

Well, good thing it’s January and not June, UV-wise, and at 4:00 I started in on clearing out the shed that the redwood tree had been trying to grow through. Turns out the neighbor’s trees had punctured the roof at the back and there was a great accumulation of needles and twigs and downright compost growing behind our yard stuff that we hadn’t used in ages.

Good thing that broken elbow’s had a month’s healing at this point. The push broom was beyond me but I could scoop stuff up and bin it. Go figure.

Do you know how much an ailing towering redwood can do?

Well let me tell you a story, and maybe I have before, but, my friend Kevin once told me of growing up in Humboldt County and climbing redwoods for fun as a kid. At twelve and a little too adventurous he found himself higher up than he had any business being and while assessing his situation–he lost his grip and he fell.

While I sat there bug-eyed at the telling, fully aware that he had done this and he was here to tell me he had.

“So this is how I die,” was his instant thought, a surprisingly calm thought, and he spread his arms wide as he went down down down.

And suddenly bounced hard and found himself upright, staggering a few steps forward from the momentum.

There had been a barbed-wire fence laid out there about a hundred years earlier, it turned out. He hadn’t seen it. He hadn’t known it was there. It had had so many years of redwood needles and redwood dust raining peacefully down on it that it had been totally obscured and he had landed with his back immediately lined up to that wiring and it had gone sproing. The barbs had bitten him but basically he was fine.

I was agog. “How did Darwin MISS you?!!!” Probably not the most polite blurt I’ve ever blurted, but he laughed, agreeing with me.

So. No idea how many years our shed was open to the above, but clearly, redwoods shed like Samoyeds in spring. And this one had had a lot of brown, falling needles for some time.

I did it.

Tomorrow morning the guy comes to give a quote on taking out the enormous stump. Whether he’s going to try to do anything where the roots raised our concrete floor a foot in that shed, whether he’ll tell me we have to jackhammer it all out of his way first, whether he’ll walk away from that part, I don’t know, but either way I had to be ready for him to see it.

Not just parroting her speech
Tuesday January 22nd 2019, 11:00 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

My late friend RobinM told me of a book she’d loved and thought I would, too.

I finally did. “Alex and Me,” by Irene Pepperberg, a researcher who has studied the intellectual capabilities of birds, most notably one named Alex.

To quote from page 68: “My proposal was simple: I said I wanted to replicate the linguistic and cognitive skills that had previously been achieved in chimps in a Gray parrot, an animal with a brain the size of a shelled walnut, but one that could talk.”

Grays flock in the wild and are highly social, and the typical animal research of the day was to isolate the animal when you weren’t running experiments. Her take was that socializing was the point of communication–and that previous failures in research could be attributed to a failure to meet that part of the parrots’ needs. They need interaction. They need stimulation. They demand attention.

So she does it her way, and boy does she succeed. Like the time she was trying to demonstrate to a visitor that he could count small numbers. She wanted him to say two, but he kept switching between one and four. She knew full well he could do this. Without giving away the answer she tried again.

One four!


He gave her that insouciant look she knew so well when he was going to do things his way right now, thankyouverymuch. He liked being the boss of the lab. It wasn’t till she told him he needed a timeout and started to take him out of the room and away from this brand new interesting person to people-watch that he pleaded, Two! Two two two two…! to their great amusement. He was a character.

I’d say skip the first chapter, which gets a bit maudlin re his death when the reader hasn’t even met him yet, and get on with the story. But I found the story was well worth the read. Alex kept me laughing.

And hey, Constance? Your dad’s name’s in that book. Who knew?! You get my copy.

Pattern matching
Monday January 21st 2019, 11:33 pm
Filed under: Food,Life

You know you’re doing this a lot when…

So there’s this office building that part of me has idly wondered in passing for thirty-some years now why it was plunked where it was, surrounded by strip malls and a shopping center and zero other offices. I don’t recall ever seeing an identifying sign, it’s just there. Most of what was around it has since been redeveloped or renamed (the Trader Joe’s was once a Crown Books and the mall behind it was bulldozed) but the anonymous office building lives on.

Today it hit me. It’s the chocolate bar molds building.

A monument to greatness.

It was going to be 70% till I put in an extra spoonful of sugar
Monday January 21st 2019, 12:03 am
Filed under: Food

Some friends stopped by yesterday and I apologized that I couldn’t turn off the noise in the background that, while not overly loud, was pretty low pitched, ie it tended to make it a bit harder for me to hear. Knowing that I would see them today, I did not tell them what all that was about.

Today I gave them samples of the source of those sounds.

Clearly we need to make bigger batches.

A factory reject, such a shame
Sunday January 20th 2019, 12:05 am
Filed under: Food

He got his really dark dark batch a few days ago; I wanted one a little less so.

Today’s lesson learned: trying to get every last drop of chocolate out of there and into the mold while it’s already starting to set up, and then trying to twirl it in so you don’t get one big plop on the back gets you, well, this. I think I Picasso’d the back of that last one.

Green, two days ago
Friday January 18th 2019, 11:47 pm
Filed under: Mango tree

It was warmer today, in the upper 60s.

This afternoon I found this.

Potty like there’s no tomorrow
Thursday January 17th 2019, 11:20 pm
Filed under: Family,History,Life

And on a completely random note, I have a question: did any of you grow up with a Pittsburgh Potty? I didn’t even know there was a name for such a thing, much less that anybody else had one. The house I grew up in had one and it was the weirdest thing. How could you have that and not a sink for washing your hands afterwards? Did the builder’s mother know they got away with that? I think each of us kids clandestinely used it at least once just to prove it really worked (I remember asking Mom first if it did, but I didn’t tell her why I was asking. BYOTP.)

It was inside a built-in bomb shelter in the basement, and I always figured it was part of that particular Cold War trend. Since there were no walls around it, just that big empty room with cinder block walls built into the hillside and always cold in there, it was a good place for storing food and Mom and Dad put shelving in front of the thing and cans and jars to give it everything but a door behind there.

That room had its own part-walled-off hallway to get in, a faint attempt at a maze, to help protect you from, I dunno, nuclear fallout?

Here’s the link to what I’m talking about.

The potty part, anyway. There was actually a reason for them. Who knew?