Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I do not know what happened, yesterday. I did the grocery shopping and watched 2 hours of the TV shows I had recorded while I was gone (we don't have cable or satellite in Oregon), and the day was over. Seriously, where did it go?

Today is also almost gone, but I have a little more to show for it. I'm back to working on a scarf I started last summer, Lucy Neatby's "Sea Lettuce" in Gothic Lolita (sorry, I don't know the manufacturer), a brilliant pink and black handpaint. I know the design well enough, by now, that I didn't have to locate the pattern to continue. I hope I can find it in time for the finish, since I don't know how that's done and I'd hate to have to reinvent it. With that, and some chores, I can say I didn't waste the day.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I'm home ahead of schedule.

This morning, while accompanying the dog outside, I saw the most charming sight: double blossoms of the palest pink in a dormant apple tree. I looked closely, to see whether I had inadvertently planted an apple tree that sports double blooms, but saw that it was a rose, the Stanwell Perpetual, which had thrown some delicate branches into the apple tree. Lovely.

That, of course was after I had seen the full spring display my yard puts out: a wall of fragrance from orange and lime trees near the house (the lemons and grapefruits are farther away), and, of course, the jasmine. The climbing Cecil Brunners, pale pink roses not quite as full as the Stanwell Perpetual, were in glorious bridal-bower mode. I love this time of year.

The trip: I started out by heading east into the desert, and then north through Death Valley. I had no idea what to expect; what I found was concentrated essence of California desert. All the features I had grown up seeing, salt flats, tilted strata of multi-colored stone, arid mountains, boulder fields, vast plains of creosote bush, were on display over a few tens of miles of badly rutted road.

Rather than double back to the 395, I continued east and north through the high desert in Nevada. I drove through cold, dry regions where I saw herds of wild horses and tame bison, sapphire lakes set in sand, resurrected mining towns fitted out for the tourist trade, and a mysterious, strangely-sited naval submarine warfare base. I spent the first night in Fallon.

I only got a little lost on the second morning, looking for the 80 west, from which I would catch the 395 north of Reno. On that highway, I saw a coyote stalking a herd of camellids (sorry, I don't know whether they were llamas or alpacas), and wondered whether one coyote could bring down such a large animal by itself, or whether the camellid could defend itself. I looked for guard dogs, but didn't see any. I was just regretting that I wouldn't see Mount Shasta on this trip, when a snow-covered triangle appeared on the horizon, near a sign indicating a left turn, with the caption "Mount Shasta, 89 miles." I looked over my shoulder after entering Oregon, and found that I could still see Shasta.It really does dominate the horizon for a hundred miles around!

I don't remember whether it was in Oregon or California (and I'm too lazy to look at a map) that I saw a pair of juvenile bald eagles sitting on the side of a lake, and moments later saw a sign reading "Eagle Lake Wildlife Viewing Area." Good timing. I kept going northward through Klamath Falls, skirting Crater Lake to the east on the 197. I turned left on the 57 across the Cascades, oohing and aahing at the mountains, forests, and lakes along the way. As with the high desert, winter was on the way out, but spring hadn't quite arrived yet. Spring had arrived in Eugene. There, I met the 5, and zoomed the rest of the way to Astoria at freeway speeds. Uncharacteristically for Oregon at this time of year, it was so clear I could see Mt. Hood from the freeway, and Mt. St. Helens from the 26. Characteristically, the fields were very green, and the sheep were accompanied by new lambs.

The next day continued glorious. Since the TV and radio forecasts both agreed that this would be the only dry day for the duration of my trip, I forced myself to finish painting the patio. While I was finishing that up, I spotted 6 deer in the vacant lot next to my yard.

I don't remember the exact timing and order of the events of the rest of the week, but somehow I found the time to finish the cabled socks I had started for Tom in January, make curtains for the rest of the house, fertilize the lawn, plant wildflowers, weed the gravel terrace and driveway, visit with the neighbors on all sides, eat a lot of fish, shop locally, and spot 8 deer in my own back yard.

I had finished everything I meant to accomplish by Saturday night, so I packed the car and told Tom to expect me home in two or three days. I got out by first light, in order to have time to visit the aquarium in Newport on the way home. Since we're members, admittance is free. Since the gift shop is first rate, it was the most expensive stop of the trip. Much of the indoor space was closed to change exhibits, but enough was open to make the stop well worthwhile. Meanwhile, the view of the ocean was spectacular. It wasn't raining hard, but there was enough wind to make the surf crash in a most decorative manner.

Spring was more well-advanced in California, where I drove home past blooming fruit orchards, emerald hills, and vast swaths of lupine. Other flowers were in evidence, too: poppies and several kinds of sunflowers, most notably. I enjoyed dawn in Richardson Grove, a stand of old-growth redwoods I consider the center of the universe, and reached home by dinnertime.

It occurred to me that I had spent most of my time in our "vacation" home working, while the hard drive (12 hours/day, on average) in both directions was, for me, pure fun. Nothing beats a long drive in open country.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Sometimes, total strangers who hear me speak tell me I have the best life in the world. Today was one of the days I'd be inclined to agree. Tom and I, with another friend, went whale watching out of Ventura, on Island Packers.

We saw the first marine mammals, some California sea lions, before we were out of the harbor. I was the first to spot a whale, a grey, only a few minutes out. The naturalist traveling with the tour expressed surprise at seeing one so soon; they usually travel in deeper water than what we were passing over, there. That whale showed himself to both sides of the boat, and then went on his way. Past the line of oil rigs, I again spotted a whale, this time a humpback. There were two, which swam under and around the boat for an hour. We were close enough to count their freckles and smell their breath-- the latter was not so good. They exhibited all the photographers' favorite behaviors: breaching, spy-hopping, tail-slapping, until a California sea lion distracted them by executing multiple leaps and flips in front of them, tempting them to play. In the distance, more humpbacks gave the full Sea World show.

Our boat had been idling while the humpbacks were so close, as required by law. When the humpbacks left, we sped up, to see what was on the far side of Anacapa Island (hint: hundreds more California sea lions). As soon as we sped up, a pod of common dolphins caught and rode our bow wave, giving us a splendid view both in the water and above it.

By the time we headed back to port, the wind was coming up and we were getting seriously cold. We were very glad that the boat had an enclosed cabin with plenty of seating, and even more glad that the cabin had windows all around, as more dolphins joined us near the harbor. Having that much fun is tiring, and I may have slept part of the way back. I'll never tell.

I won't be posting for the next 10 days or so, as I'm heading to Oregon, and I don't travel with a computer. If any potential burglars are reading, note that Tom and the dogs are staying home, this trip.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sometime last year, I sat down to watch a movie I had DVR'd, which I thought was "Dim Sum." It opened with a scene of slicing a fish, in which the knife work was so dazzling I decided to save the movie until I could give it my full attention-- no knitting, no reading, no conversation, just watch the movie.

As is natural, the DVR failed, erasing all my saved movies, before I made time to view "Dim Sum." I was disappointed, the more so as I also had several Greta Garbo movies in the queue. Several months later, DVR replaced, I chanced upon a listing for "Dim Sum." I recorded it, and again waited for a propitious time to view it.

That time came this morning. I woke up early; I could reasonably expect Tom to sleep for a couple more hours. I didn't have a deadline on my knitting, nor guests expected, nor any other pressing commitments. I settled in in front of the TV, metaphorical popcorn in hand, to view "Dim Sum."

There's no fish-slicing scene. It's a good movie, if you like that sort of thing (slow-moving, slice-of-life), but the food was strictly take-out. I was also surprised, when I saw the credits, that it was a Wayne Wang movie. Wayne Wang? I thought I was watching an Ang Lee movie. I looked on IMDB, under both Wayne Wang and Ang Lee. I think I have the identity of the fish-slicing movie narrowed down to one of four, two from each of the aforenamed directors.

If my back holds out and I don't catch another cold (knock wood), I'm going to Oregon next week. Maybe I'll rent those four movies, and watch them up there. Yeah, I really want to see that fish-slicing scene.

Sharon sent me a link to a blog telling about making timpano, the Italian celebratory pie. I responded by raving about "Big Night," in which the making of a timpano is a major plot point. While I spend more hours in a day knitting than cooking, I've spent more years of my life cooking than knitting, and it is my first and greatest love.

I did finish the first cabled sock last night-- first of the pair, not first in my life. I started the second, and woke this morning with my right hand swollen and aching. Funny, I spent five weeks on the blanket without any hand pain. Maybe I shouldn't devote too much of my life to knitting socks in fine yarn on size 1 needles. They work up so much faster in medium-weight on size 3s, anyway. All I'll need is bigger shoes to accommodate the thicker socks. I'll get right on it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The jasmine is in full bloom, causing the yard to smell as if a 55-gallon drum of perfume had been spilled. I'm digging it. Rationally, I should pull down half the jasmine, as all the overgrown vines give the yard a cave-like feel. They're blocking out the sky! Emotionally, I'll wait until they're done blooming.

I did pull down some more honeysuckle and passion vine. I had mixed feelings about doing so. On the one hand, honeysuckle attracts hummingbirds, and passion vine attracts butterflies. On the other, they smother and kill the plants they grow over. In this case, it's an apple tree and several rose bushes. Must defend the apples and roses!

The sock is coming along. I started it in early January. Aside from having lain it aside to make a king-sized blanket, I can't imagine why it's taking so long.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

To my great surprise, I finished weaving in the ends early in the afternoon, in spite of having a week's worth of chores waiting for me. To my even greater surprise, I did everything on my over-ambitious to-to list. Well, everything except washing the car, but I didn't seriously think I'd wash the car. Usually, I wait until it needs to be serviced. Then, the garage washes it as a courtesy. Since I still have 3,000 miles before service is due, I might have to rethink this technique.

I haven't blocked the blanket, yet, as I have company coming tonight. I don't think it would be politic to have them sit on a wet blanket; the sofa is the only spot where I can spread it out in front of a heater and a fan to facilitate drying. It looks good, though.

I'm back to work on Tom's blue cabled sock. After the glory that was the blanket, a mere sock (and a fairly plain one at that) doesn't have the old zing.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What a wonderful time in San Simeon! The weather was perfect (it was too hot in LA), flowers were blooming everywhere, and I saw dozens of whales.

I did finish knitting the blanket. I like to cast off using a larger needle than I used for the knitting, in order to have a nice, loose edge. I hadn't brought any extra needles with me (I don't think I really believed I would finish), so I ended up casting off with a pen. Appropriately, it was a pen that had been a promotional gift from the yarn store in Cambria, where I shop whenever I'm in San Simeon. Now, all I have to do is weave in about a million ends, and block it. That shouldn't take more than two days, so I'll still meet my previous estimate that I'll finish Friday. I should have followed my initial impulse to weave in the ends as I went.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

We had a busy day. We went to the Farmers' Market in the morning, and Disneyland in the afternoon, so I didn't get to any knitting until evening. Counting up rows at the end of the day, I still have two full days' work ahead of me, not counting weaving in ends (all those stripes!) and blocking. I packed the blanket to take with me, to knit on after work in San Simeon.

We blundered upon a new show at D-land, "Princess Tiana's Mardi Gras Celebration." It's very entertaining; the young woman who plays Tiana is very pretty, and has a wonderful voice. Tom is predicting a big career in her future.

The cat is bereft at losing the blanket as a comfy bed in the living room. I may have to knit her one of her own. She enjoys my hand knits more than anyone else does.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I'm feeling much better today. I still took it easy, and worked on the blanket. I have two full days of work left to do on it, but it's going to be sometime between one and three weeks from now before I have two full days free to devote to knitting. If I take it to San Simeon with me, I might be able to finish it there, and I'd have it to sleep under while on the road. The idea of sleeping under a blanket while it's still on the needles amuses me.

I don't like the idea of getting up in the dark to water the yard Monday before leaving for San Simeon, which daylight saving will have me doing. I would have thought that being retired means never having to get up before dawn-- not to work, anyway.

I have to say, one of the delightful things about Astoria in the winter is that I can enjoy rosy-fingered dawn from my living room window at 8 am.

Friday, March 12, 2010

I was down sick today: flu-like symptoms. Tom picked up soup for lunch, and I got a lot of knitting done.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Have you ever noticed that, the shorter a to-do list is, the longer it takes to accomplish? Yesterday, all I had to do was wash the dishes. That takes ten minutes; I didn't get to it until bedtime. Today, the list said I had to water the yard, do the laundry, and buy groceries. Watering the yard takes about an hour and a half. Two loads of laundry take about two and a half hours. Grocery shopping takes about an hour. Through the miracle of double tasking, I finished it all by 9:30 am. Now I can get back to work on the blanket with a clean conscience.

The cat seriously likes the blanket. As it's now too large to hold on my lap, or in front of me, it is draped over the end tables to the left of my spot in the living room. I can work on the live end without moving the vast bulk of the blanket as a whole. JuJu has chosen a spot on the blanket as her own; she spent about 7 hours there yesterday, without moving. I almost forgot she was there a couple of times. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her as a brown area in the pattern of the blanket. I got her out of my hair this morning by leaving the door to the laundry closet ajar. If there's anything a cat likes more than a hand-knit mohair blanket, it's a basket of warm, clean, vibrating laundry.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

So, how does one keep from getting bored with a project that takes several weeks, a project without shaping, or variations in stitch, even?

First, this blanket is made in several colors, with stripes of varying width. While doing the first half, I was constantly working at keeping the color balance harmonious. While doing the second, the challenge is to make it perfectly match the first.

In addition, the yarns, while all mohair, are not all the same. Some are 100% mohair, while others are blends-- mohair and wool, mohair and nylon, mohair and acrylic, even mohair and metallic. Some are thin, making for a lacy fabric, while others are fluffy, making a pillowy mass. Some are mostly halo, while others have hardly any halo.

There's also the factor that adventures *happen.* I was five rows beyond the point at which I had accidentally added a pattern row in the wrong place, by the time I noticed the error. Fixing it then would have meant undoing a couple of hours work. I didn't fix it, but I still think about it, wondering just how visible the error would be to the eye of a non-knitter. I don't think a non-knitter would notice the error at all, but it's something to keep the mind busy, anyway.

The sheer bulk and expanse of the blanket create drama, as well. At 10 feet wide and 8 feet long, it is becoming unwieldy. An hour ago, I accidentally looped the 60-inch circular needle around my mug o' water, dumping it onto the blanket and into the bag of yarn waiting to be used. While I was lucky enough that the mug landed upright, it did spill about half its contents. (I guess I should thank my lucky stars that I've mostly given up sodas in favor of water.) After mopping up most of the spillage, I emptied the contents of the bag onto a table and set up a fan to dry it all. Since I had already taken out the yarn for the next stripe, what did get wet should be dry by the time I need it.

Far from being bored, I can hardly stand the excitement this blanket is giving me.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Because my back was still sore from having tweaked it last Saturday, I almost didn't go outside to work in the garden. I convinced myself by arguing that, since Wednesday is trash day, Tuesday is the deadline for anything that involves making trash.

As soon as I was outside, I was glad I had gone. It was the kind of day for which people move to California in the first place. Not just that it was sunny; the air also carried the scents of jasmine and lemon balm, and something that smelled like hope and happiness.

In three hours, I filled all three green barrels, and removed most of the overgrown bougainvillea and honeysuckle, along with the dead roses. No, I didn't remove any of the living roses, and left enough honeysuckle to keep attracting hummingbirds. I'd like to get rid of the bougainvillea, as it's a dull orange color I don't care for, but I lack the strength of will to destroy something so vigorous.

I should note that my apple trees are blooming, along with the climbing Cecile Brunner roses, and the white callas. There weren't many birds around; I'm trying to get the pruning and cleanup jobs finished before they start nesting.

And my back hurt less after the hard physical work than it had before.

I measured the blanket before putting it up last night: 7 feet, so far. I'm wondering whether, when finished, it will be too big to use. I'll find a use for it. It's wonderfully soft and squishy; I can hardly keep the cat off it. I'm coming into the home stretch, now. I'm trying to decide whether to keep in here, or take it to Oregon to live.

Speaking of which, I can't find a couple of my hand-knit sweaters. I wonder whether I left them in Oregon?

Monday, March 08, 2010

I'm far enough into the second half of the blanket that it has become inconvenient to glance at the first half, in order to get my colors mirrored. Hence, I took a few minutes to write down each stripe as it occurs, going backwards to the point of origin, as in, "Black, 6 rows. Beige, 4 rows. Aqua, 2 rows." I'm still a long way from finished.

I decided not to go to Oregon this week, as I have duty in San Simeon in less than a week. It was a good decision; a letter from the City of Astoria arrived today, inviting local residents to help with a reforestation project behind my back yard. The forest there was knocked down by a severe storm in December of 2007, just a month before I bought the property. I think I can be there for planting day, and still be home by Easter.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Sandra Bullock won a Razzie last night, and an Oscar tonight. Is there a special award for Most Improved?

Tom and I saw "Alice in Wonderland," the Tim Burton version, today. My apprehensions proved to be wrong-- the movie is very, very good. It's not Lewis Carroll's "Alice," but something like a dream one would have if one took the wrong drugs at bedtime, after reading Carroll's "Alice," if one were Tim Burton. Tom hit the nail on the head, saying this movie bore the same relationship with "Alice" that "Hook" bears to "Peter Pan."

I was disturbed that the characters in the movie kept calling the monster the "Jabberwocky." No, "Jabberwocky" was a poem about a monster known as the Jabberwock.

As for the party last night: As I was expecting 20 people, I cooked for 30. Due to the rain, and a cold/flu epidemic, only a dozen showed. The party was pleasant enough. I'm sure most of the guests had a good time. Tom got high honors, for holding an umbrella over the coals while they caught, so we could still barbecue in spite of the rain.

The tri-tip came out delicious. I followed a recipe I found online-- rub the meat with French's mustard, sprinkle liberally with kosher salt, and cook over direct heat for 20 minutes/side. After the first twenty minutes, I was shocked to find that the pit had become an inferno. Not only had the fat dripping on the coals caught fire, but the roasts themselves were blazing. I raked the coals out from directly under the meat, turned the roasts over, and slapped out the flames. Then I covered the pit up again, and let them finish cooking by indirect heat. Having set them on fire didn't hurt them any more than it hurts crepes Suzette. The finished product was not only good, it was even rare.

I should pause for a minute to describe my barbecue set-up. I use an above-ground pit, of a design I found online a few years ago. No, make that several years ago. It consists of cinder blocks, stacked three high, outlining a space the size of a coffin. Two thirds of the space holds two repurposed oven racks, set between the second and third ranks of cinder blocks. It is covered with sheet metal, bent to fit over all. For indirect cooking, I pile my burning coals at the end of the pit without the oven racks. For direct heat, as with the tri-tips I cooked last night, I rake the coals under the racks, after the fire is well-established. A turkey of any size, brined and butterflied, cooks in 2 1/2 hours on the rack nearest the fire. On the farther rack, I might put something that I want to serve rare, like a rib roast, or something that's already cooked, like sausages, to heat them up and give them some smoke. I use lump mesquite, mostly, with briquets to start the fire only because lump charcoal is hard to light in a chimney.

So endeth the lesson.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

It's nice to know that the laws of nature have not been repealed. With 20 people coming for barbecue tonight, it's pouring down rain.

And, on the way home from the grocery store, I tweaked my back, ever so slightly. It I were to sit in a comfy chair all day, knitting, I would be entirely cured by tomorrow, but that's not happening.

I'm off to the kitchen, to make three or more desserts.
I got most of my chores done, and was congratulating myself, when, late in the afternoon, I realized that I hadn't gone to the grocery store. Seeing how I'm having 20 people to dinner tomorrow, picking up groceries should have been a priority. At least the house is clean. Mostly.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

You know the saying, "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans"? I mopped the kitchen floor yesterday, thinking to save myself some trouble on the day of the party. Yep, you guessed it; a dozen eggs leapt out of the refrigerator. Only four broke, but four broken eggs make enough of a mess.

I continued knitting on the blanket; it's getting big.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

I found some Band-Aids, but spent most of the day knitting on a sock of Tom's, anyway. I reached the place where the embellishment begins-- I always knit the feet of men's socks plain, since they live inside shoes-- and decided that a wee cable running up each side of the sock would be nice. That was a nice change from the blanket, to which I did return in the evening.

We're in the middle of a totally unpredicted rainstorm, as I type. Nice.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

I blocked the half-blanket today, to verify that it would grow as expected. Once done, I measured it. It had achieved 60 linear inches, exactly as I'd hoped. Once it had dried, I resumed knitting on it. Alas, two and a half weeks of knitting mohair several hours per day seems to be my limit-- I wore a hole in my right index finger, putting me on the disabled list for a few days, or until I get some band-aids.

It occured to me, when I was blotting the wet blanket with an armful of towels, that one of those old-fashioned cotton "thermal" blankets would be the right thing with which to blot a big ol' woolen blanket. I don't have any; I've never liked them, as blankets. They're neither warm nor soft, but they would be suitably absorbent, and large, when one must hand-wash things too large to be blotted in a towel.

Monday, March 01, 2010

I got some good yard clean-up done today. It's too bad our yard is so big; by the time I get it all done, the weeds will have grown back on the first spots I cleaned up.

I'm beginning to think that anything that grows as a vine is bad news. Kudzu in the South; ivy in the North. Here in LA, I do constant battle with passion vine, honeysuckle, and moonflower. I don't want to eradicate them entirely. The passion vine attracts butterflies, the honeysuckle, hummingbirds, the moonflower... well, the moonflower was a mistake. I got a lot of honeysuckle reduced today, along with some... can't spell it, the thorny vines that eat houses. Bougainvillea. I also removed some dead roses, and dead branches of a dying apricot tree. I love apricots, but the trees are short-lived around here, as are cherries and plums.

I'm officially at the halfway point of the blanket. Go, me!