Thursday, November 29, 2007

don't be discouraged

don't be discouraged

After we came back from vacation, it was hard to pick up the newspaper or turn on the radio again. After a two-week news diet, I was overwhelmed by how relentlessly bad all the news was. And what passes for good news these days is usually just product placement.

This week, there is lots of bad news. Bad news at work, bad news at home, bad news on the radio. Lately every time someone shares a bit of news with me, they end it with "but don't be discouraged!"

I am discouraged.

I want to crawl under my desk and knit a sweater, but all the yarn is at home. I want to curl up with my kitties and forget about the rest of the world for a day or two. I want to enjoy the good news, because of course, there is plenty of it. It's right there behind that big looming sense of impending doom.

But I can't do those things. In the face of all this discouraging stuff, the only option is to grit your teeth and find a way forward, so that's what I will do. I am trying to enjoy the snippets of beauty that are all around in late November - in leaf piles, and in those brilliant cold flashes of sky we keep getting in the afternoons, and in the warmth of home.

november leaves

hot tea
good books
purring kitties
wooly yarn
lists of crafts to make
phone calls with friends
chocolate
crisp, sweet apples
bright red and yellow leaves
pie

It helps to make lists of good things.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

meet the lewisis

Here they are, external gills and all...

Nectorus lewisi, the Neuse River Waterdog, in actual size:

lewisi4

And in size jumbo:

lewisi6

These are the new hot critters around these parts.

In case you don't remember why I was knitting a Neuse River Waterdog, what they look like in real life, or how they speak with a downeast North Carolina accent, flip back to this guest post by Les to learn all about them. But in brief, Neuse River Waterdog is a threatened amphibian species here in North Carolina. I knitted two of them; the first was actual size, and I also made a jumbo version - just to be more huggable.

They're both made from Manos del Uruguay, except for their external gills, which I made with locally-grown and dyed roving from Three Waters Farm. I really appreciated everyone's encouragement on the needle-felting. It was so much fun! It is a lot like drawing with yarn, and I am totally hooked. I want to poke needles into all the yarn I see!

The waterdogs are spending most of their time hiding under leaf litter in the backyard, looking for slugs and other tasty bits to munch on, and writing letters to the Environmental Management Commission about the water quality in their native streams. The big one is considering becoming a Riverkeeper, and the small one prefers to stay home and read decorating magazines.

Mr. and Mr. Lewisi both thank you for your interest in their species, and for not pouring grease down the sink.

lewisi3
off to a public hearing on sediment control

Thursday, November 22, 2007

happy thanksgiving, friends!

fallcolor1

Thanks.

For Peace and Liberty, for Food and Raiment, for Corn and Wine, and Milk, and every kind of Healthful Nourishment...

For the Common Benefits of Air and Light, for useful Fire and delicious Water...

For Knowledge and Literature and every useful Art; for my Friends and their Prosperity, and for the fewness of my Enemies...

For all thy innumerable Benefits; for Life and Reason, and the Use of Speech, for Health and Joy and every Pleasant Hour,

my Good God, I thank thee.

Benjamin Franklin
Articles of Belief, November 20, 1728


postcard

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

making treats

Is anyone else excited for Thanksgiving?

We always have a Thanksgiving potluck at our house. HWWLLB makes the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, and I get to coordinate with the guests on what else to make. I can't wait! Here's what I think I'm making this year:

mashed potatoes
vegetarian mushroom gravy
pumpkin & black bean chili
pumpkin pie
pecan pie

I love making pie crust - maybe because it has so much butter in it? I tend to be of the opinion that anything with lots of butter is inherently good.

This never works out for me, because I always run out of time, but I also really want to make some decorations. I am imagining orange and brown and gold place cards, a table centerpiece with Indian corn and a turkey made of paper-bag paper, and in general a festive fall atmosphere that looks something like this.

Do any of you actually do this? If I believed it were doable and not just some Martha Stewart craziness, I might actually find the time...

Friday, November 16, 2007

birds, bears and sequoia trees

This is some more belated writing about our recent trip to Yosemite and Sequoia. I kept a little journal while we were traveling, so this post about Sequoia is adapted from the journal entries that I wrote there.

sequoia1

birds!
There is no way we will be able to identify all these different birds, although I optimistically bought a birdwatching checklist at the Giant Trees Museum today. The only ones we've been able to positively identify so far are the same ones we have at home: Red-tailed hawk, Cooper's hawk, pileated woodpecker. The rest of them are a vaguely familiar, twittering blur. Sounds like a thrush. Reminiscent of a pine warbler. Seems like a flicker. But which kind? Who knows.

The ravens are huge and curious. The reliable raven has been our constant hiking companion.

birds from our checklist
great blue heron
common merganser
turkey vulture
bald eagle
northern harrier
cooper's hawk
red-tailed hawk
belted kingfisher
white-headed woodpecker
pileated woodpecker
steller's jay
common raven
mountain chickadee
red-breasted nuthatch
dark-eyed junco

kings canyon
The walk today was gorgeous. We parked at the very end of the long road that drops down to the floor of Kings Canyon, and walked up to a lovely waterfall along the South Fork of the Kings River, called Misty Falls. We both marvelled at the color of the water flowing over the rocks - it was incredibly clear, even in the deepest pools, with a sparkling blue-green color that I don't think I've ever seen before.

For the first part of the walk we were sort of nervous about bears, because of a warning sign posted in the parking lot. It said that some people had been feeding a yearling bear at Misty Falls, and that the bear had become fearless. The sign gave the usual exhortations to guard your food and act noisy and aggressive if a bear comes around. It also suggested throwing pine cones at the bear, and as we started the walk I noticed HWWLLB loading some pine cones into his pockets.

We self-consciously talked in louder-than-usual voices and clapped our hands once in a while, but all we startled were a lot of mule deer.

When we got to the base of the falls, we ran into a man who told us what had happened to the fearless bear. It had been euthanized by park rangers two weeks before. The young bear had been harassing lots of people, and had even bitten a guy on the leg who was taking a nap at the top of the falls. Poor guy probably had a granola bar in his pocket. It was a sad story and made us feel sheepish for having been nervous about it. We were both sorry that some well-meaning nit-wits with more snacks than sense had ruined a poor bear's life.

Later that evening, on the drive back out of the canyon, we passed a young bear who was intently sniffing around the side of the road. He was wary and jumped back from our slow-moving car, which made me happy. Hopefully he won't get interested in breaking into cars like some of his wayward cousins.

sequoia
As we were walking through the grove of giant trees in Sequoia National Forest and gaping open-mouthed, we heard a terrible ruckus across the meadow. Some steller's jays were going absolutely nuts about something. As we came around a bend in the trail, we could see why - as we approached, a cooper's hawk took off with a jay in its talons!

Just a moment later, we noticed a coyote creeping through the big meadow. Suddenly it jumped straight into the air like a springbok, bouncing up and down, either playing or chasing something. It bounced and jumped about a dozen times. As a noisy group came around the meadow bend, the coyote laid down to hide in the long shadow of a tree, and just disappeared completely.

The animals here are extremely good at hiding. Once that coyote decided not to be seen, we couldn't find it again in the meadow, though we knew he was there. A while later, we were walking up the Bear Hill trail and walked right past a big buck deer with huge antlers, without noticing it. We didn't see it at all until HWWLLB stopped to take off his jacket and we noticed him on the hillside where we'd just been. Amazing. We keep wondering how many other animals we've walked right by today.

I feel like I ought to write about the giant sequoias and how big and awe-inspiring they are. They are really, really big! They're the largest living things on earth. The coastal redwoods are tall and lanky compared to these trees, which are not as tall, but are much larger around and bigger by volume. The Sentinel Tree, outside the Giant Trees Museum, weighs 70 tons. The trees are adapted to fire, which burns out smaller, competing trees. They can only grow in this narrow band between 5,000 feet and 7,500 feet elevation in the Sierra Nevada range.

I need some of John Muir's Victorian prose to describe how inspiring these trees are. Each time we rounded a bend and came upon the base of another towering giant, we'd gasp or involuntarily say "woowwwwww...." In each one you can see different marks of their trials over the last twenty or thirty centuries - fire scars, galls, bird nests, holes, huge splits and cracks. Some of the fallen trees here fell 2,000 years ago or more. We walked out onto a fallen tree to eat lunch in Crescent Meadow, and it was as wide as a broad sidewalk.

sequoia2

Reading back over these entries, what strikes me most is the memory of stillness on those walks. The birds and animals we saw - we only saw them at times when for some reason we stopped and were absolutely still. Then suddenly, birdsong and tails swishing and someone hunting a mouse became obvious all around us. It is so rarely quiet in our everyday lives. Inspired partly by the silence in Sequoia, I've been turning off the radio a lot more lately. Vanessa recently wrote about conserving quiet as a daily green act. I have found these cherished new moments of quiet to be more than relaxing - just like in the forest, I keep noticing things I didn't know were there: inspiration, new ideas, rest. It is easier to rest than I might have realized.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

yosemite

This is a bit of belated writing about our recent trip to Yosemite and Sequoia. I kept a little journal while we were traveling, so this post about Yosemite is adapted from the journal entries that I wrote there.

yosemite1

Sunday
By the time we arrived in the Yosemite Valley, everything was suffused with a warm, golden afternoon light. The trees are all blazing with fall colors, and leaves are gently falling all around as you gape up at the incredibly majestic rocks. This is the first time that I've seen this place, and I'm so grateful that my first views of Half Dome and El Capitan are bathed in this gorgeous golden light of autumn.

We are staying at the Wawona, which is such a throwback to the 1920's that I am smitten with it despite the very creaky floors and doors. The walls are paper-thin, so you hear everyone coming and going, and laughing in a dozen different languages. Our room is over-decorated with prints of big floppy cabbage roses and matching d├ęcor, and cocktails are served in the parlor from 5:00 to 9:30. It's great.

Monday
Tuolomne Meadows
October is a great time to come to Yosemite. The valley reminds me a bit of Vermont in the fall, with blazing, saturated colors, deep green trees covered in moss, and dark, cold rocky creeks twisting through all of it. But when you look up, instead of gentle green slopes, there are towering rock faces that soar thousands of feet straight up. It's indescribable, awesome, and beautiful.

Today we drove up to Tuolomne Meadows to have a hike in the high Sierras. It took ages to get there because we kept stopping to gape and take pictures at all the overlooks. When we arrived it was getting cloudy, and at 8,000 feet, it was fairly chilly in the meadow, but we were ready and dove in. It was only about a 3.5 mile hike, but we struggled with the altitude and moved pretty slowly. Our first day hiking at that altitude felt like trying to run underwater. It rained on us just a bit, and something kept falling on us that HWWLLB called graupel, which was like tiny spherical bits of snow.

It was a gorgeous walk. We climbed to the top of Lembert Dome and got an amazing 360-degree view, with brilliant sun on one side, and billowy rain clouds blowing in from the other.

After hiking down we sat for a while at a beautiful creek crossing, with ducks and a great blue heron keeping us company while we watched some rock climbers coming down Lembert Dome the hard way. Finally the rain started in earnest and we headed for the car. The rain turned to snow as we drove updwards, and to rain again when we dropped down. The snowy views were wonderful.

Later that evening as the storms rolled along the peaks, thunder and lightning made the whole thing more dramatic. We stopped at one overlook where the Yosemite Valley floor falls away below, and it was completely black except for the stars overhead. Every few moments, lightning would light up the peaks, and you could see the silhouettes of El Capitan, Cloud's Rest and Half Dome surrounding the valley like giants sitting around a flickering campfire.

yosemite3

Friday, November 09, 2007

free pattern friday: pumpkin vine socks

pumpkinvinesocks2

Oh, how I wanted to post this pattern during Socktoberfest! But pumpkins are a central item in Thanksgiving as well, so I think these socks will hold up just as nicely in November.

I've had a ball making these lacy, comfortable socks and thought you might like them too. You will need to use a stitch counter and a little cheat sheet to keep up with the 12-row lace repeat, so sorry, no knitting these socks on the sly at a meeting or in class. But on your couch with a cup of tea, they are divine.

The lace pattern came from the Bible Barbara Walker's Treasury of Knitting Patterns. It's called "traveling vine," and it reminds me so much of a pumpkin vine with its zig-zag spreading. Use a solid green or orange yarn, especially one that's hand dyed and has some variation in the color saturation, to show off your lace stitches.

[Correction to traveling vine pattern added Jan 4 09]

size: Womens' XS/Youth L (Women's M, Women's XL)

* A note on sizing: the basic template for this sock is the women's M, with a circumference of about 8 inches. Because of the lace pattern's 8-stitch repeat, the XS and the XL are truly much smaller (larger) than the mediums. The circumference for the XS is about 7 inches, and the XL is 9 inches. If you need them just a bit more snug or roomy, just knit the mediums and go down (or up) a needle size.

gauge: 7 st/inch in stockinette. 8 st/inch in lace pattern.

materials
  • 2 skeins Shibui Sock (100% merino, 50 g / 191 yd). Shown in color #7498
  • US size 1 DPN's (2.5 mm)
  • stitch markers in 2 colors
  • stitch counter
  • tapestry needle

traveling vine pattern

Row 1: *YO, K1-b, YO, SSK, K5, repeat from * to end.
Row 2: K3, *SSK, K7, repeat from * til 6 st rem. SSK, K4.
Row 3: *YO, K1-b, YO, K2, SSK, K3, repeat from * to end.
Row 4: K5, *SSK, K7, repeat from * til 4 st rem. SSK, K2.
Row 5: *K1-b, YO, K4, SSK, K1, YO, repeat from * to end.
Row 6: K6. *SSK, K7, repeat from * til 3 st rem. SSK, K1
Row 7: *K5, K2tog, YO, K1-b, YO, repeat from * to end.
Row 8: K4. *K2tog, K7, repeat from * til 5 st rem. K2tog, K3
Row 9: *K3, K2tog, K2, YO, K1-b, YO, repeat from * to end.
Row 10: K2. *K2tog, K7, repeat from * til 7 st rem. K2tog, K5
Row 11: *YO, K1, K2tog, K4, YO, K1-b, repeat from * to end.
Row 12: K1. *K2tog, K7, repeat from * til 8 st rem. K2tog, K6.

note: K1-b = Knit one into the back of the stitch.

pumpkinvinesocks1
vining lace close-up

This lace pattern feels like a set of Beethoven's variations on a theme. Each of the odd rows contains the same elements, rearranged. For the first half of the rows, all the decreases slant one direction (SSK), and for the second half of the rows, all the decreases slant the other direction (K2tog). This makes the ziz-zag vine. The even rows are all basically the same, but they start at a different point each time.

starting at the top
CO 56, (64, 72) st using 2 needles held together. Distribute stitches evenly among 3 (single) needles, PM and join to K in rnd.
K in K2P2 rib for 1.5 in.
K 1 row st st.
Change to lace pattern. K until sock measures 6.5 in (about 5 lace repeats), ending after row 12.

heel flap
K across 14 (16, 18) st. Turn work, slip the first st and P 28 (32, 36). Keep the st you have just knit on one needle, and transfer the remaining st onto a second needle. The st you have just purled across make the heel; the rest make the instep, which will just hang out on that needle for a bit while you work on the heel. Turn work.

Row 1: *Sl 1, K1. Repeat from * to end of needle. Turn work.
Row 2: Sl 1, P to end, turn work.
Repeat these two rows for 28 (32, 36) total rows. There will be 14 (16, 18) selvedge st.

turn the heel
K across 16 (18, 20) st, SSK, K1, turn.
Slip 1 P-wise, P5, P2tog, P1, turn.
K to 1 st before gap. SSK, K1, turn.
Slip 1 P-wise, P to 1 st before gap. P2tog, turn.
Continue in this manner until all heel st have been activated.

heel gusset - size XS only
Row 1: Sl 1, K across all heel st, pick up 14 st along selvedge, PM. K2, PM.
Beg lace row 1. Patt to 2 st before end of held instep stitches (this will be three lace repeats). PM. K2, PM. Pick up 14 st along selvedge, K half the heel st. This point marks the start of the row.
Row 2: K to 3 st before first M, K2tog, K1. Sl M, K2. Sl second M. Patt to third M, sl M. K2, sl final M. K1, SSK, K to end.

heel gusset - size M only
Row 1: Sl 1, K across all heel st, pick up 16 st along selvedge, PM. Beg lace row 1. Patt to end of held instep stitches (this will be four lace repeats), PM. Pick up 16 st along selvedge, K half the heel st. This point marks the start of the row.
Row 2: K to 3 st before M, K2tog, K1. Sl M. Patt to next M, sl M. K1, SSK, K to end.

heel gusset - size XL only
Row 1: Sl 1, K across all heel st, pick up 18 st along selvedge, PM. K6, PM. Beg lace row 1. Patt to 6 st before end of held instep stitches (this will be three lace repeats), PM. K6, PM. Pick up 18 st along selvedge, K half the heel st. This point marks the start of the row.
Row 2: K to 3 st before first M, K2tog, K1. Sl M, K6. Sl second M. Patt to third M, sl M. K6, sl final M. K1, SSK, K to end.

all sizes
Continue in this manner, following the lace pattern between the inner markers (across the instep) and knitting the heel and gusset st in stockinette. Size XS (XL) has 2 (6) extra stockinette st between the decrease M and the start of the lace pattern.

You will cont to dec 2 st in this manner on every even row until there are 26 (30, 34) total st in the stockinette section. 54 (62, 70) st rem.

Maintain the lace pattern across the top of the foot and st st on the underside of the foot. K until the foot measures 6.5 (7.5, 8) in (or about 2 in less than desired overall length).

pumpkinvine_progress

toe
Set-up row: K to first M, Slip M, K1, SSK. K to 3 st before second decrease M, removing the extra markers of sizes XS and XL as you go. K2tog, K to end. 52 (60, 68) st rem.
K 1 rnd even (st st).

Dec row 1: K to 3 st before 1st M, K2tog, K1. Slip M, K1, SSK. K to 3 st before second M, K2tog, K1. Slip M, K1, SSK. K to end.
Row 2: Knit.
Continue dec every other row until 28 (32, 36) st rem.
Dec every row until 8 st rem.

Graft toe closed using Kitchener Stitch. Weave in all loose ends.

Now make another one!

important notice: This is a free pattern and you are welcome to use it for all the non-commercial purposes you like. However, you may not reproduce this pattern to sell, and you may not sell what you make with it. You may donate what you make with it to charity, and you may use it for charity fundraisers only if 100% of the proceeds are donated to the charity (and by charity I don't mean your kid's college fund). Thanks for understanding!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

knitting weather

When we returned from the west coast to North Carolina, the weather had changed dramatically. The day we left, it was sunny, breezy and about 75 degrees. Two weeks later, it is twenty degrees cooler, and Daylight Savings has made it much darker. It's like we went from Indian Summer to late fall overnight! Though I know it took two whole weeks.

Of course, chilly mornings and dark evenings mean one important thing: knitting! Knitting and all the requisite red wine, hot chocolate, and lounging on the couch that go with it. HOORAY! Knitting weather, how I have longed for you. The real Southerners are going around whining about the cold, and while I pretend to sympathize with them and even fake little shivers in solidarity, I am loving this brisk, cool weather.

I love the dogwood trees turning deep burgundy outside my office window. I love to look into the sky and see a rainfall of bright yellow leaves blowing towards me. I love to ride my bike to work in the morning and breathe bright, cold air that wakes me up and makes me glad for the scarf I made last year. This is how you know I am no Southerner (that and the Jersey Girl twang that pops out after I've been on the phone with family).

Okay, so what's everybody knitting? As per usual for this time of year, I'm plugging away on Christmas gifts, including a desperate attempt at a sweater for HWWLLB, which feels like miles and miles of very boring stockinette. But Amisha re-inspired me with her beautiful man-sweater stitchery, and so I'm working dilligently on it.

I'm also needle-felting the external gills for the Neuse River Waterdog - finally! This is my first attempt at needle-felting, and I love it! You get so much control over shape and dimension - once I got the hang of it, it became almost like drawing with yarn. Hopefully the waterdog will get wrapped up this weekend so that he can make an appearance here some time soon.

Tomorrow, there will be a new pattern -- the sock pattern that I meant to post during October for Socktoberfest. Oh, well. Things get away from you sometimes. But I am really happy with how these socks turned out - they really are the perfect cold-weather couch-surfing project for fall.

Some couch-surfing sounds like just what I need right now. Time to make some cocoa.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

you guessed it

We got hitched. Thanks for all the happy wishes!

sequoia2
morning clouds at Tokopeh Falls, Sequoia National Park

And congratulations to Sarah and to J, who will both be receiving some sock yarn - Sarah for being first (but cagey), and J for being explicit (and for guessing on her own what HWWLLB stands for - impressive!). Please email me your mailing addresses, Sarah and J! Yarn is coming your way... f.pea [at] airpost.net

We had a really small, quiet, wonderful ceremony with our parents and siblings, and a little potluck with a few friends at our house afterwards. It was one of those glorious October Saturdays when the sky is brilliant blue and the leaves are dazzling orange, and there is a light breeze, and everything you taste seems like the best you've ever had. It still feels like it all might have a been a very pleasant dream, except that there are all these reminders around - some big, like the rings on our fingers, and some small, like the dried flower petals I keep finding here and there.

We spent about a month planning the day, exactly what we'd say to each other, which poems to read and what kind of iced tea to make, and it was just great. We had a month to look forward to it, and no extra time to fuss about much (despite the temptation to fuss).

I've already posted To the Unseeable Animal, which was one of the poems that we chose, and which was beautifully read by my sister. There was also this poem, also by Wendell Berry, which bugheart read (and made me cry):

WHAT WE NEED IS HERE

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

- Wendell Berry


sequoia1
obligatory romantic photo

Monday, November 05, 2007

home! and a big hint

It's good to be home. HWWLLB and I had a wonderful trip to the West Coast, where we did artsy-fun things in San Francisco and outdoorsy-fun things in Yosemite and Sequoia, as well as visiting with some wonderful friends that we don't see often enough. I will post some pictures and reflections about the trip over the next week or two. I can't say enough about how beautiful Yosemite is in the fall. It was my first time there, and I'm so glad that I got to see it for the first time in October.

I have always loved the fall, but October is by far my favorite month. I love the colors, the first crisp mornings of fall, the new crop of veggies in the garden, and of course Socktoberfest. But HWWLLB and I have a new reason to celebrate in October. This is your big hint about what happened this month, since none of you guessed the right answer to last week's post... if you can guess what happened on October 20th, you'll get this:

meilenweit2
100 g of Lana Grossa Meilenweit Fantasy, one of my most favorite machine-washable, durable self-striping sock yarns, in great fall colors. Click here to see how it knits up.

And now the big hint: a big promise.

Everyone's guesses from last week were so great. It definitely had nothing to do with work or school, or with Halloween, though I love the image that IrishGirl conjured, of being so immersed in a Halloween costume that all else fell by the wayside. It wasn't knitting-related, though I would love to go to Rhinebeck next year! No unexpected visitors, or meetings with publishers (though that sounds really cool - thanks Danielle!), but I think my favorite guess was Stacie's: overindulgence in Oktoberfest due to Germanic ancestry. I think I may try that next year!

Good luck guessing...