A View from Sierra County

Small town life and politics, lots of knitting, and travels with and without my five burros

My Photo
Location: In the Sierra Nevadas, United States

I blog about rural living and social issues, and the creativity that comes from knitting, as well as post random pictures of the Sierras and my burros. "In order to be an artist, one must be deeply rooted in the society" - Simone de Beauvoir


Friday, December 30, 2005

The Year in Review

I have been thinking all week about what kind of "year in review" post I wanted to write. Many things have happened, not all of them fun. I have had a great creative burst of energy, which helped me through some of the rougher times. Then again, why would anyone else care? Of course, that last thought is the kind that might run through my mind while lying awake at 3:00 AM, hoping I can keep all the loose ends of daily life together, and finding the negative surface, while hoping it will pass on through.

I will share first of all the list of "landmarks in 2005" that we sent out with our photo-letter instead of a Christmas card this year. I used to be very faithful about sending out a stack of cards. My mother used to send out between 100 and 200 cards each season, and kept in touch with many friends simply through the act of letter-writing that accompanied these cards. When I faced my first Christmas without her, back in 1995, a very dear friend, Sharrie, offered to take on the task of helping me write a letter to explain to all those far-flung friends why they would no longer be hearing from my mother each holiday season. She took care of all the "office tasks", including the printing, labeling and mailing, that had me overwhelmed with grief, fresh in the light of going through a holiday season alone (even though my DH reminded me I had him and a houseful of children, it still came out of my heart that way).

I treasured having such a friend, and never wrote the usual holiday letter again, preferring to create a photo gallery with a brief message. I missed a year here and there, as the time came and went before I could get to this task. This year, however, I was able to sit down last week and quickly assemble the photos and brief list and get most in the mail before Christmas, and the rest (a total of about 60 friends and relatives) out this week. Here is what boiled down to the most critical landmarks in our lives in the past year:

Jan. First grandchild, Mia, born Jan. 11
Mar. Rex graduates from the Interagency Fire Academy (one of our three sons)
April Jesse (youngest son) moves to Sacramento
Cody (oldest son) breaks his femur in 3 places requiring a rod, plates and screws
May Rex starts on Helitack with Forest Service, rappelling to fires
June Pliocene Ridge High School (where I had taught for 8 years) closes and Birdsong starts work at Western Sierra Medical Clinic
Aug. Nikki moves to Chico to continue her child development studies; Cody moves from Tahoe to be her roommate and return to school
Birdsong takes over as Director at Good Years Childrens Center
Oct. Glenn leaves for 5 weeks of hurricane relief work in Texas and Miss.; gets to visit daughter Amy, husband Eliot, and baby Mia for first time
Dec. Rex learns he has permanent slot on Helitack

These sparse details, just enough to fit into a text box amongst the photos, represent several major changes in our lives this past year. For the first time in almost 27 years, there are not children living with me. I still have lived more years with my daughter (22) than with my husband (12), but now we have a large, old and rambling house to ourselves. We actually still like each other. My son and daughter have turned out to have awesome roommates in each other, and the other two sibs are doing well too.

The traumas of losing a job I loved, and going through a major accident/crisis with my eldest son both turned out to be great lessons with happy outcomes. If I could always be so lucky! At least I am now old enough and wise enough to recognize how very possible it is for things to turn out far worse... we never do know. Going through my son's trauma allowed me the grace to see what a wonderful human being I had raised, as caring for those treating him as for himself, and full of laughter and optimism, in spite of the frightening circumstances. And, he walks without a limp, and was able to snowboard again at the start of this winter.

Changing jobs showed me my own resilience, and forced me to stretch and change, and recognize that I was better for it than remaining stagnant. This process has helped make me a more creative person. While attempting to unravel some yarn this evening in the process of winding three different types of yarn together, I finally realized that insisting on untangling rather than cutting and running over the years had taught me something very important: to see the big picture. If I stepped back a bit and looked at the tangling process, I usually ended up finding the solution, and the same has been true in my daily life as I approached these life changes... being able to step back a bit and look at the big picture has allowed me to remain (mostly) unruffled and to look for the good in the situation and build a better one.

I didn't include in my annual photo letter just how significant the friendships I have made through my virtual knitting buddies have become in the past year. I feel fortunate, after having lived almost twenty years in a rural place where finding kindred spirits can be pretty tough, to have nurtured connections with several wonderful new friends and to have met scores of others. What a great thing to happen!

I also didn't include a list of my FOs for 2005, and I have decided not to bore you with that list, either. Suffice it to say that I was especially pleased with making a prayer shawl for a friend, and then later hearing that her husband is in the recovery stage from his cancer, with being able to contribute washcloths to Cloths for Katrina, and a few hats and scarves to other charities, and with finishing a baby sweater and blanket for Mia.

I was happy to total up my creative sales (mostly felted purses that I loved, each and every one) and discover that they were larger than I thought (although I spent so much more, my business would still be considered a hobby, I have a few more years to "prove up"). I was thrilled to get and begin to learn to use, a circular sock machine, even though I still don't have a finished sock to show yet. I was happiest with some of the objects I finished as gifts, and wore the pink tank top more than any other item I made for myself this past year. I will be intrigued to see what my summary looks like next year.

It looks like I am moving towards bigger projects in the next year, although I am exploring some new, quickie items to put in the crafts coop when we re-open in early spring. I have two shawlettes on the needles, a fancier tank top to make in late spring, a large shawl and a Bohus cardigan in the planning stages, as well as hoping to make a few stuffed animals for Mia.

This version of the Versatile Scarf is much more rustic than the eyelet one I finished last week; the pink yarn has a very nice nubbly (is that really a word?) texture that the garter shows off, and the eyelet trim helps it lie flat while jazzing up the design a bit. I am almost ready to bind off the back neck and add the side ties.

This is the violet Ruffled Shawl, much further away from completion... I have it pinned to the rug to highlight the progress and show off the pattern, but it is actually upside-down, as in the end the first three cast on stitches, and the sides being built up by each row will form the neck edge. This is either my last chance to stretch the work out on my 24-inch ebony circular, or the moment when I go and order a 36 inch... not sure yet, as the yarn is fine enough to go a long ways further before needing a longer cable.

Detail of the Bee Hive pattern stitch

I do hope to be able to get in lots of knitting in the coming year, as well as a bit more reading... waiting for me to finish are The Knitter's Gift, ed. by Bernadette Murphy, The Knitting Way, by Linda Skolnik and Janice McDaniels, Sweeping Changes, by Gary Thorp and Change of Heart: The Bodhisattva Peace Training of Chagdud Tulku, two Buddhist texts, and Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?, The Carter Family & Their Legacy in American Music, by Mark Zwonitzer. I have become much the same sort of reader as I am a knitter, with several books going at one time. Each has its place in the scheme of things, just as different knitting projects do, but much the same way I have decided not to start reading any other books till I finish a few of these. The two zen books require slow reading, much thought and referring back, and I am finding The Knitting Way affects me in much the same way. Maybe I should take a break and read a mystery!

My parting shot - this chicken, which was my favorite Christmas gift, from youngest son, Jesse. It joins a similar, smaller version that was a gift from bestest friend Laura a few years back, and a very large wood, articulated folk chicken that Rex gave me last year.

Wishing you a new year of change, growth, and process in your knitting.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Starting a Shawl (or Two)

First, I want to give you a link to study in photos how to do Emily Ocher's circular cast-on, as it is the beginning of Elizabeth Zimmerman's Pi Shawl. I can never hope to adequately explain such a wonderful, stretchy way to cast on a circular garment from the very middle, but truly admire the knitting genius of a mind (Emily's) that "unvented" it, as well as the brilliant EZ, who put this cast on together with the Pi principle, to come up with a shawl that is complex, easy, and a teaching tool all at the same time.

Elaine Harvey, who hosts the EZAsPi list on Yahoo, wrote a lovely encouragement last week to a novice shawl knitter, explaining that through this expanse of yardage (it takes about 1,000 to 2,000 yards to make a shawl, depending on weight of yarn and finished size), the knitter learns something new, then builds on it, then learns something a bit harder, but then has a greater expanse to practice it in, and so forth, till coming to the wonderful edging, picked up sideways along the circle of the mostly-completed shawl (well, actually, one thinks the shawl is completed until starting the edging and comprehending how much additional time this is going to take!), which is the crowning achievement. There is no rigid cast-on edge and no unyielding bound-off one either, making this a very soft and stretchy garment, great as a blanket when trying to catch some sleep on a train or plane, and glamorous when wanting to vamp it up a bit.

All of which is why I decided to join the Anniversary Pi knitalong coming up in January. Not that I really expect to get a whole shawl done in a month or so, not unless I were able to quit work for the month and simply knit on it! I have successfully made this shawl before, but realized that not only would I enjoy feeling the beautiful Iris-colored alpaca laceweight I selected slide through my fingers, and later enjoy wearing a lighter-weight version of the shawl, but that I would also learn/re-learn much about knitting as well.

The Anniversary portion is the first anniversary of the Pi list, so the event will begin on January 22, 2006. You have plenty of time yet to search out stitch patterns, beg or borrow a copy of EZ's Knitters Almanac, with the basic "recipe", and order some scrumpious yarn, if Santa didn't bring it.

Alternatively, you could also decide to make a PiR2 shawl, which is circular to start, then has "wings" which drape over your shoulders much like the Andean ruana... this might be my final choice, since it wears so easily and doesn't slide off, but I could also happily use a shawl pin to hold whichever one I make in place. The PiR2 shawl pattern is in EZ's book Knitting Around, which I don't actually have, but could easily get in time .... decisions, decisions.

I started a second (well, really, first in order of construction, although not in order of intention) shawl on Christmas Day, a smaller "shawlette" that I am happily knitting away on... it is easy to be deceived while steadily increasing on a triangular shawl, and say to oneself, "Oh, goodie, I already have 1/3 of the stitches I need..." without dwelling on how much longer those last rows will be from the initial ones, LOL. I am also looking forward to the construction of the ruffled edging, which uses short-row shaping to make each point, but that will be awhile. It is getting almost large enough to be worthy of a photo...

Shawls are very comforting winter knitting, requiring enough concentration to overlook the pounding rain and hail outside, and providing enough motivation to get yet another bit done that I don't miss the daylight as much. Eventually, I will also have a warm, knitted pile in my lap, adding to the cozy factor, and I even aspire to have both shawls done in time to wear them before the weather gets too warm (a far-off prospect at this point). If you are knitting a shawl too, let me know and we can share the process.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Product Review: Bling Bling


Yarn name: Bling Bling
Weight: Worsted
Manufacture: Berroco
Size: Worsted: 92 yds/50 gm (1.75 oz) ball
Fibers: 60% cotton, 38% acrylic, 2% metallic
MSRP: $15.00 per skein

This yarn is a little pricey, but adds a lot of glitz when used for accessories. The aluminum looks like bright sequins, without the trouble of knitting them in! The yarn is classified as a worsted, and knits up to a worsted gauge, but feels a little looser, a little limp, without the same body of a worsted wool. However, that would make it very drapey if you decided to splurge on enough yarn for a metallic tank top, for example. I know I won't, being the jeans type, but it did make a great little cap for my DD:

As you can see, she chose black, with silver sparkles. This yarn comes in a narrower color range, and my personal favorite was cream with gold sparkles, but this is a close second, and would make a very glamorous top or wrap. A warp would benefit from larger needles and a tank top or tiny sweater from a denser gauge. Just in time for New Years... see if it turns up at an after-Christmas sale today and make a party outfit.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Our immediate family and my DH's brother, David, had a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner last night, complete with lots of laughter and the traditional roast turkey, stuffing (cooked in the bird, as opposed to dressing, cooked out of it), cranberry sauce, green bean casserole (which I really dislike but make for my two sons each year), smashed potatoes and gravy (the gravy turned out better than usual this year), pies, beer, sparkling apple cider, etc. It is hard to get a grouping of my family together without a lot of good-natured pranks and jokes, so we had a very lively evening.

We opened our presents late in the evening, as David had to depart very early this morning. Here is Nikki, surrounded by clothes, still one of her favorite presents.
She later had to use that box to fend off her brothers, who all received toy air pistols (don't ask me why!), Rex from his girlfriend, Scarlett, and Cody and Jesse from Rex, who somehow thought this would be a good idea... when I caught them having accidentally blasted an ornament on the tree, and accused them of being redneck changeling children, they hung their heads in shame, and put the things away - for about ten minutes...

Every mother's nightmare

Everyone was so happy to see each other that the night ran into morning.

Getting together with our family is fun but exhausting!

We still had to get up early, as we wanted to have coffee with David before he departed... at about 6 AM. Reminded me of the old days, when my tots would be clamoring to see what Santa had brought... Santa did leave candy for David as well as toys for not-so-good little boys and girl, who managed to all head out by mid-morning to other relatives, even though they would have preferred to sleep in at their mid-twenties age, rather than awaken early as they would have over a decade ago!

Glenn and I had a very quiet afternoon, as the predicted showers turned into a heavy downpour and hiking with the burros became out of the question.

Glenn got out his model paint and assembled a "hobo jungle" for his train layout... which has become a consuming interest of late, since wet weather has forced us indoors. This little shack actually looks an awful lot like a shed we have...

Here is another one of the buildings.

I managed to finally conquer the two hats that had given me so much woe in the past few weeks... I finished Nikki's hat last night, and tomorrow's Product Review will feature a photo, as I will fill you in on Berroco's Bling Bling, which I used at her request. I decided to make a simple K2P2 rib the entire hat, in order to get the stretch/cling factor that would keep this hat on their heads, while still being low-profile, and was happy enough with Nikki's to cast on right away for Cody's in Rowan Cashsoft Aran (a Product Review a few weeks ago). I actually used up every bit of one skein, down to about a four-inch tail, and sure hope he likes it! We all agreed that these were "casual" beanies, not ones you would actually depend upon in cold weather on ski lifts... so I still plan to make some "better" hats later this winter.

However, I was ready to go on to something different, and have this small stash of the most wonderful violet yarn that has been calling to me the past few months. It occurred to me while wrapping the final presents in my studio yesterday afternoon (yes, I even set up the quintessential "Martha Stewart" wrapping station for my family, since I have this great space now), that I should use this yarn and some bright red mohair I have, and come up with a Red Hat shawlette for myself! I pulled out the Ruffled Shawl pattern I had gotten just after Thanksgiving from Windy Valley Muskox and dug in, favorite ebony needles in hand. Well, I ran into obstacles with the pattern, as written, right away.

The shawl is triangular, working with increases at the beginning and end of every other row, and on either side of a center stitch, from the neck cast on of three stitches... now that part was simple enough, and I dutifully pulled out some markers. It was when I had enough stitches on the needle to start the pattern stitch on either side of that central stitch that I ran afoul of the instructions.

Now, I am a clever enough knitter, and knew that I would need to keep track of the additions I was making and expand the pattern stitch as I went along. And, it didn't take but a few rows to figure out that there must be a typo or two in the description of the Bee Hive Stitch, which is the pattern for the main body. Luckily, with the stressful part of Christmas behind me, my brain could come up with a plan.

I pulled out a nice, thick yarn and another circ and made up a sample of the pattern, sans increasing, to see what it was supposed to be doing.

The stitch pattern is a nice, puckery honeycomb effect- much easier to figure out on a square sample. I quickly determined where there were a couple of typos, and returned to the shawl. With minimal ripping, I was on track, armed with more markers, and getting the first 12-row repeat in place.

I also typed the basics and the tips for myself I had picked up over the first twenty rows or so, into Knitable, which appears to be pretty useful software for my PDA, to help me keep track of patterns more complicated than a beanie or washcloth. I am heading back to leftover turkey and a nice, new shawl pattern to keep me inspired. My best gift has been to have family to share great laughs with this season, and some quiet time to explore a new knitting project. I hope you are enjoying your Christmas as much as I am.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Gifts and Revelations

I was able to work a shorter day yesterday, and still do a lot of catching up, since so few other people were working... on my way home, my ususal stop at the post office yielded a wonderful gift for me to open early!

My dear Better Pal, Betsy Ross, sent this beautiful handpainted yarn from a local (to her) farm. I appreciate her being sensible to how important supporting local endeavors is to me, and I just LOVE the beautiful array of colors... I will have to open out the skein and hang it where I can look at it frequently in the next few days in order to decide what to make of it!

She also made this darling little sweater ornament, to add to my collection on my feather tree... from leftover sock yarn. I sure would love to see those socks!

I spent the next few hours busy cooking, and was able to offer up a killer Cal-Mex dinner to my chicks returning to the nest for the holidays. I have promised Carole that my recipe for Chicken Mole will appear in the next few days, once holiday hubbub settles.

I also spent a bit of time looking at the photos my young ones have collected on their My Spaces... if you haven't discovered My Space yet, take a look, as the teens and 20-somethings have found it to be the easier way to blog.... I joined so that I can put up pictures for them, but I will stick with a knitting blog. I thought it was funny that we could track down their cousins and old school friends so easily this way.

I discovered that my children have actually taken to the outdoors as much as I do, that they are funny people (not really a surprise) and that I still really hate horror movies (I went into another room rather than hang out while my DH watched one last night).

I also confirmed that family is the most important thing to oldest son and only daughter, something they must have picked up from me while I was too busy raising them to notice... my DH tried to convince them that their presence here with us was really far more important than their bringing us presents, but the impoverished college students still felt self-conscious that they couldn't contribute much this year, as they have in past years, since giving back to those who have given to you all year long is also a passed-along trait.

Tradition and keeping in touch with old friends is just as important to them as to me, so they went off to Downieville for awhile this afternoon to visit the friends and their parents who hosted them in their homes during the high school years when living in the remoter part of the school district led to becoming other peoples' additional children, as they stayed over for school activities. They have always returned the hospitality shown by going round for holiday visits. This is also why My Space is so popular with them; they have been able to keep up with a few dozen former classmates. Growing up in a small town has made all of those young people treasure their past connections, even while moving out into the big, big world.

Some of my readers have asked for "all donkeys, all of the time", so for those I offer up a Christmas-appropriate photo of our last "babe in a manger", Assteroid, just one day old, when he was born here in May, 2004:

Merry Christmas Eve to all... and to all a good night!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Typhoons and Indoor Trees

More Than Just a Little Rain

As you may well imagine from my name, I am quite fond of birds. We put out feeders, have birdbaths scattered about, and even have a tree for the birds some years. This will not be one of those, as we have had some of the wettest weather in a long spate of winters (at least all at one time!). The rain has been torrential for more than two days now, with the snow level very high, around 8,000 feet. This means that what snow was up there is washing away rapidly, and of course the river out my back door at work rose steadily all day.

View from office door

When heading to work in the morning, I noticed that the North Yuba was lapping at the low-lying campsites in Lower Carlton Campgrounds; when returning around 5 PM this evening, most all of the sites were full of fast-moving river.

When the river gets REALLY high like this, there is a different smell to the air. It changes from the moist, herbish smell of rainstorms to a deep, wet, earthy smell, of uprooted trees and washed out banks. Rivulets of water drop off the hillsides in all kinds of places, and seasonal, flash-flood type streams appear and thread their whitewater way down the steep mountains to reach the river and continue to swell its stretched out banks. It never ceases to render me awestruck, with the roiling, brown, fast-moving water inspiring a good bit of self-protective fear in me as well.

This is what highwater looked like along my commute this afternoon.

The rain has tapered off somewhat, and one of the rivers to the northeast of us, the Susan River running through Susanville, has already crested just a half foot below flood stage... I am hoping that what I saw this evening was the cresting for the North Yuba, with water levels diminishing overnight... I have seen the area flooded, back in 1997, and don't want to ever see such high water and the resulting damage again. There is still an avalanche warning in effect in the high country just to the east, as the rain destabilizes the snow in place; I was really hoping for snow and the chance to go snowboarding instead of wet and muck.

An Alternative Tree for the Birds

Since the weather has not been conducive to setting up an outdoor tree for the birds, I decided to fish out my reproduction feather tree and create an indoor tribute on Solstice Night. I have collected many bird ornaments over the years, more than could fit on this tiny tree, which is designed to mimic the indoor trees of the Victorian era, which were actually made of real feathers bound onto sticks. I have also collected some birdhouses and tiny knitted sweaters and mittens to embellish my annual "Woodland Tree", as well as a few ornaments for outdoor sports, such as a tiny fishing creel, skis, and an outdoor cooking tripod complete with miniature enamel cups and coffee pot. Not all the ornaments would fit, but the display is very festive, and adorns the sitting table in my studio.

Would You Like Some Pi With That?

I am feeling much better this evening, and now that my cold is abating and Christmas appears to be mostly under control (with the exception of the upcoming two-day cooking marathon), I decided to give some thought to whether I would participate in the Anniversary Pi knitalong on the EZasPi list. Now, I really don't need any new projects, but have been eyeing lace designs longingly for the past three months, and this could well be the impetus to get started. I have already decided to save my spring-colors handpainted alpaca for the Ruffled Shawl pattern (actually a shawlette) that Margene and Susan directed me to... so it doesn't count any longer, as I won't think about making it till February or March, when I get the desire to wear pastels once again.

I only have little projects waiting in the queue, and couldn't locate the yarn I had been considering for the blouse in Knitscene I favor... that search will probably have to wait a bit, too. Online ordering has made impulse project-starting so much easier, but didn't help me locate the substitute I wanted, nor did it make my Christmas gift from my DH arrive any sooner... the Bohus kit we both liked, Wild Apple from Kimmet Croft, is on backorder, so I have no idea when I will be able to start it. I also had the excuse of needing to order yarn for a felted purse order I received last week, so off to Knitpicks I happily keyed my way this evening.

I have been coveting this lovely Alpaca Cloud for a long time, and even though I haven't chosen my design as yet, decided to order enough yardage in Iris to make the Feather and Fan shawl in A Gathering of Lace, if I decide that I would prefer that design to the Shetland Tea Shawl from the same sumptuous book.

Now, I have made a Pi Shawl in the past, simply using the "recipe" in Knitters Almanac, and patterns of my own choosing.

This version was made from sport weight alpaca from Indiecita, at least a decade ago, with trim in light blue zephyr, mainly because I ran out of the brown yarn. From the center medallion, I primarily used the Old Shale stitch, which is remarkably similar to Feather and Fan, which makes me wonder why I wouldn't be choosing something completely different!

However, because of the heavier weight, this shawl is more an everyday one, not the fancy, lighter-than-air shawl I aspire to make, so I will be pondering designs, and re-reading EZ's chapters on Pi in the next week or so, while awaiting my laceweight yarn... I think I vaguely remember how to do the circular cast-on, but am sure grateful it's written down in several of my books.

I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, as I probably won't be posting again till then... in our blended family, Christmas actually starts morrow night, as our adult children gather to spend time with us. I will be cooking chicken mole and other Mexican delights (after all, we are native Californios around here), then we will have a family Christmas Eve dinner. Our children have departed on Christmas morning to see other parts of their respective large, extended families the entire time we have been married (going on twelve years now), and so we will have a quiet time of catching our breath on Christmas Day, and if the weather permits, might even be able to take a stroll with a few burros.

Many blessings to all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Happy Winter Solstice

For many, many years we have celebrated the Winter Solstice, usually with a gathering of friends, but also some years with sledding to candlelight, provided by pillar candles stuck in the banks. This year, there are torrential rains, the burros are drenched, even with their barn and shelter, and I am sick. Lucky for me, I wasn't quite ill yet when we had our party on Saturday night!

Why is the Winter Solstice important to a girl who grew up Catholic? Well, it is the foundation for all of the winter holiday traditions, if you look at culture through the eyes of an anthropologist (such as my DH). The earliest winter celebrations predating Judiaism and Christianity were based on the turning of the year, as noticed through observations of the heavens. This is the night that precludes the day when the sun begins to return... the longest night of the year. The jubilation was really over the fact that the sun wouldn't continue to diminish, with ever-shorter days plunging us into darkness, but that the light would gradually return, and spring would come again. The coldest days often still lie ahead, and winter may seem to drag on interminably, even to those who love to wear wool, but the day length will be noticeably longer in less than a month.

To me, it is also symbolic of the fact that light can always be returned to a situation, that we can open our eyes wider, see things in a new light, and transform our lives and our world, if we choose. Many tragedies cannot be reversed, but how our hearts move forward can. Candlelight in particular has always symbolized light from outside of a situation or person to me, moving light, illuminating that which was in shadow before.

I grew up and away from the Church traditions over the years, and embraced many ways of seeing that would be considered pagan and buddhist, but each and every tradition sees this pause before the earth turns back towards longer days to be a significant and deeply holy time. My favorite Solstice nights have been those when I could walk out into the starlight of this longest night, crunching over deep snowpack, and feeling that silence that accompanies the pause. It has always helped to ground me in the chaos that often accompanied frenetic holiday activities. Although I love my family and friends, I also treasure those quiet moments alone when I can feel close to the Divine.

This year I have a serious cold and won't be doing any traipsing about in the night chill, but I will still manage to light most of the candles in the house, always symbolic to me of bringing new light to a situation, and create my own moment of silence in the roar of holiday celebration. I wish you the same peace.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

We Have A Winner, and some Knitting

As promised, I had my folded-up pieces of paper with the names of the chenille pillow contest entrants ready by 8:00 P.M. last night, and drew the winner, Tactless Wonder, Mary, the knitting bilingual librarian from Tahoe! I felt like Santa letting her know, as her most recent post was about hauling all the family packages, including hand-made stockings, off to the post office to be mailed (did you know that yesterday was the U.S. Post Office's busiest day ever?). Now, she can look forward to a gift coming her way.

Speaking of gifts, I sent off my Better Pal package last week, hoping that my recipient won't feel too inspired to play Nancy Drew.... I mean, I had to mail it from within the same state, and one of my goofier moments of December was not noticing how much personal information was revealed in the new (supposedly secret) hotmail account I created for this endeavor. I have changed that, but she may know who I am and just be too polite to address it. Anyway, she can expect some lovely, knitterly holiday giftie-thingies and, of course, yarn! It has been great fun trying to figure out what to give someone I don't know, but at least I have had some good ideas trying.

As for other gifts, I received the most wondrous little present from Sallee, the famous Knit Nana. She sent these darling little knitter notecards:

This is one of a series of six different very trendy knitting designs... it will be great fun using them in the coming months.

I also managed to dampen and pin out my eyelet Versatile Scarf this afternoon. Here, you can see that, somehow, when making one of the tie ends, I got off track, wove around a bit, and ended up further from the center than the other... a design innovation.
That's my story, and I sticking to it!

I took this close-up so that you could admire the beautiful colors in the handpainted alpaca... thanks again, Margene.

Margene was also the one who pointed the way to this pattern, which includes three variations (and yes, it's true, none of the variations have uneven tie ends - like I said, a design innovation). Blocking makes the design appear more like a little shawlette than a scarf, but I do really like how it can be worn several different ways, and started the triple-eyelet version in the Cestari yarn reviewed in yesterday's entry. I probably won't need to block it and the design, color and weight are all different, so it will "wear" in a different way... fun!

I have come to the conclusion that Fiber Trends is my favorite source of patterns, from the unique lacy shawls through all sorts of other items to the felted clogs and ballet slippers. If only there were enough time to make all of their fabulous designs (and the myriad others on my list).

Monday, December 19, 2005

Product Review: Cestari


Yarn name: Cestari
Weight: DK
Manufacture: Chester Farms
Size: Worsted: 290 yds/4 oz per skein
Bulky: 125 yds/4 oz skein
Fibers: 75% cotton; 25 % wool
MSRP: $7.99 per skein

I have hesitated to review a yarn that you, dear reader, might not ever be able to find, not wanting to discourage a fellow knitter. However, I stumbled across the one skein of this yarn I purchased at Black Sheep Gathering last summer, fully intending to use it to make a little purse, just as I was finishing up my lacy scarf, and decided that the color and texture would be wonderful to show off in another version of the Fiber Trends pattern (actually, these scarves are more like little, drapey shawlettes than scarves, and hug the neck wonderfully this time of year).

This is the tip of my triple eyelet garter stitch scarf in Cestari.

Cestari is a DK weight yarn that combines the best qualities of both wool and cotton. There is the crisp texture of cotton married to the warmth of wool, and the "scrunch in and snuggle" factor of cotton, enhanced by the way that wool takes the heathered dye. All of the colors in this line are very soft, almost faded away, and have names such as burgundy heather (shown above), mint, lilac heather, and raspberry.

The yarn is made by Chester Farms, a family operation (Cestari is the ancestral version of their family name) which also offers sheepskin items and animal toys through their website. It is important to connect with the producers of all of the items we choose to consume, and I was very pleased with how much their website told of the family farm heritage involved in producing this yarn. Chester Farm also offers several other unique combinations, including a yak/cestari wool blend, and a mohair/cotton/cestari wool blend. You can even purchase lamb from them. They are located in Churchville, Virginia, and their yarns are available in 137 yarn shops across the country, so they may not be as hard to track down these days as in the pre-Internet knitting vacuum. I will be keeping them in mind when planning one of my next sweaters!

Check back tomorrow to find out who won the chenille pillow kit; I haven't drawn a name yet as there is still 20 minutes to go. Good luck to all who entered!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Season of Merriment

While I am not an easy person to gift-shop for, I AM easy to please - just come and hang around and have fun with me for the holidays. Last night, the Forest City Historical Association hosted the Board of Directors' Christmas dinner, which grew into "and family and friends" over the last week. Almost half of the attendees were members of our extended family, related in one way or another to someone in our blender family. I was delighted.

A few extended family members: l. to r. we have youngest son Jesse, oldest son Cody, Aunt Robi, and cousin Sarah.

I had purchased two twenty pound turkeys (and defrosted them, thanks to the advice a few of you provided awhile back), and enlisted fellow Board members, Cheryl and Tim to cook them in their ovens here in town, as our mountain home oven has always been too small for even one huge turkey. I baked cookies and made the stuffing, while Cheryl finished up the gravy just in perfect time to eat, and Tim, the mashed potatoes. Many of the guests brought side dishes and beverages, and our table was loaded down with abundance, including peach and blackberry cobblers that Cheryl produced from last summer's local bounty (We tried closing our eyes and visualizing that it was really ninety degrees and we were hanging around in the shade at the river eating blackberries, but it didn't work - the temps were hovering just above freezing and it was spitting snow as we started dinner).

Nikki hates this photo, but we thought she looked so contented with our dinner!

Two of my sons share my love of photography, so Cody and I had to get the obligatory "bloggers taking photos" shot... I am wearing a real Dale of Norway sweater picked up at a secondhand shop several years back.

I always have the best time when I get together with my family... here, Nikki and I model scarves I have made in the past year while smiling for the camera.

Cody had us laughing so hard that we had everyone else staring... what started as an innocent statement that when he got married, he might go for formal Scottish attire, including a kilt, led to an offer on the part of his doting mother to make him kilt hose for the occasion (yes, I actually have the patterns and did a sampler of stitches several years ago). His response was "why would you bring kilt 'hos to my wedding, that's totally inappropriate..." and just degenerated from there into fits of giggling for the next ten minutes.

We had caught our breath by the time this photo was taken... from l. to r. Nikki, me, Jesse, and Cody.

Our friend, Bill, who played at the Apple Harvest Celebration back in October, had offered to come back for this party. He brought three other musicians this time, and they regaled us with rock 'n roll tunes from the '60s, '70s and '80s.

Cody particularly got into the spirit, and knows the words to all kinds of oldies; we all sang along to "Brown-Eyed Girl" and I realized that taking him to see Queen Ida when he was two had led to a life-long love of Zydeco.

Nikki caught us singing and dancing together.

The evening really put me back into the holiday spirit after a stressful, disheartening week of work, and reminded me how immensely grateful I am for the wonderful life I have had so far... full of loving people, really good kids (my best F.Os by far!), a dear, sweet husband, and lots of good times over the years. There really isn't anything more I need, but it is nice to get a few extras along the way all the same.

I have made some knitting progress while taking it easy today (hiding out inside from torrential rains). I am mad at hats right now, as the Cashsoft hat for Cody is STILL not right (although the pattern fits Nikki just right and her Bling Bling hat will be on the needles tomorrow, Cody's needs to be an inch longer, so must be ripped and redone). I switched back to the Versatile Scarf using Margene's gift alpaca, and finished the second tie, only to discover that I must have lost count on the first one, as it is an inch longer! I need to pin and steam it so the lacy eyelet stitch will look nicer and the edges lie flat as intended, but I doubt blocking will fix this, and decided that it was a "design innovation" and not a mistake (meaning, I can live with the difference and move on). I do like this Fiber Trends pattern and started another version, the triple-eyelet garter stitch version, which is very similar to making a washcloth with drapey ties attached; soothing knitting. Good for a dreary, low-energy day.

I hope that each of you is finding time for family and lots of laughter during this holiday season. It's not about the gifts or whether you managed to make the perfect pie (read, cake, turkey, stuffing, etc.), but about cheering each other on through the darkest nights of the year, reaffirming your love for each other and the blessings and good fortune you have been given. A happy Winter Solstice to all...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Winter Tales

The Long Moon

Those of you fortunate enough to be out in the evening or early morning, have probably already noticed that the full moon tonight (well, actually, tomorrow AM) is especially larger and brighter than most months. The cause is scientific, having to do with the angle between moon and earth at mid-winter, but the results are fantastic, ethereal, and deeply reassuring at a time when light is so scarce. The hours of moonlight dominate the 24-hour day this month, with approxiamately 15-17 hours of moonlight, depending on how far north you are here in the U.S., compared with 9 to 7 hours of sunlight (and considerably less up in Alaska); an amazing thought.

Gift of a Dream

I have always been a sleeper aware of the stages of the moon, so this particular moon had a powerful affect on my dreams last night, including bringing me a knitting dream. The couple who lives up the (dirt) road from our childrens center appeared in my dream, with the wife nursing the husband at home (he passed away five days ago, and services were held at our local cemetery on Monday afternoon, while I was waiting my turn to be questioned for jury duty). She knitted a spiral like the one featured on the cover of The Knitting Way, and he tenderly wrapped it around her shoulders. Bill was a very kind and friendly neighbor, and we are saddened for Anne to have to go on without him.

A Finished Object

While sitting through jury questioning Monday, I finished the last of the three strips of this very soft, very pretty pale lavender boucle (probably rayon-polyester blend). Braiding together was quick and easy and this is a very wearable scarf, lightweight, non-itchy and cozy. Good thing, as the mornings have been quite frosty, and hoar frost coated the trees forty feet up to their tips at the top of Yuba Pass as I crossed over this morning AND early afternoon.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A Glimpse Into the Justice System

Yesterday, both my DH and self spent the day inside the courtroom (yes, there is only ONE) of the Sierra County Courthouse, waiting to learn if either or both of us would be selected for jury duty. Now, I have discovered, living in a rural area, that this is a very common experience amongst my friends and acquaintances, but an uncommon one in the United States at large, so I thought I would enlighten you.

The courts in California have a policy allowing a person who reports for jury duty, even if not chosen, to be exempt from summons for twelve months, but in such a small county that is about the only "break" we get. The pool of registered voters here is just over 1,000, and even though the numbers of trials scheduled per year is small, we each have received several summons over the twenty years we have lived here, and both had already had the experience of going through the voir doir, or instruction, questioning, and selection process, only to be "excused", a polite word for being rejected by one side or the other as a person who possibly would not be objective, or who had too much expert knowledge in a given area.

I have also watched the process several times, and find it fascinating to try to predict which people will be excused and which side of the case will consider them as unfavorable jury candidates. Although I could have pled hardship, as getting a substitute for myself for a four to five day trial would not be easy, I decided to go through the whole process and see if I would be selected, even though I was pretty sure in advance that I would not be (I had previously been employed for seven years for the attorney now sitting as the judge for the case).

Once all the jurors were checked in by the court clerk, and the potential jurors present were sworn in, the judge gave initial instructions and asked for a show of hands of those who considered it a true hardship to serve on a week-long trial. He held a brief recess to discuss this with those requesting release, and about 15% of those who had reported were excused, some for health hardships, others for economic. This process is done "in chambers", away from the main courtroom to ensure privacy for each juror.

Then, a computer random generator program pulled the first 18 names, to be seated and questioned. Neither of us were in the first round, so I knew it would be a long day. At least I had knitting (in fact, there will be a FO in tomorrow's post).

The questioning process is very lengthy, and should certainly be thorough in the interest of fairness to both sides. The trial I was called for three years ago was a criminal case, in which a fleeing jail escapee from Reno, driving into our county in a stolen vehicle at high speeds, crashed into another car, killing two occupants. Yesterday's case was a civil case, also involving an auto accident which happened in our county in 1998.

The burden of proof is significantly different between criminal and civil: in a criminal case, the prosecution must be able to prove to the jury that the defendant is guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt", whereas in a civil case there only needs to be a "preponderance of evidence" (or a majority) that the defendant was responsible for the events under scrutiny. Many of the questions centered on the potential jurors' past experiences with accidents, being either a plaintiff or defendant, serving on a prior jury and being able to distinguish between a civil and criminal standard of proof, and with the stretch of highway in question.

By the time lunchtime (and my accompanying stomach growling) rolled around, we were not even close to the point that the judge had suggested to start with - that of having a jury impaneled, so I told my husband over lunch that I could pretty much predict at least four in the jury box who would be excused in the first set of challenges. Each side gets six peremptory challenges, not having to reveal why but merely excusing someone they would not rather have hear their case. Following lunch, each side used three of their challenges, and the four persons I had pegged were amongst those sent home... two were a brother and sister who had been injured in an accident when young, and the most educated and least educated persons were also let go. I had remembered something statistical about those selecting jurors wanting a cross-section of Americans, and not those at either end of the spectrum, so guessed right on these.

Another round of seven names needed to be randomly drawn at this point, and I was the second pulled. I already had a hunch this would happen, but was a little dismayed to hear my husband called as the seventh; I knew he was dreading the possibility of giving up four days of good outside weather, with lots of repair projects looming, as they always do during his off-season. Our questioning went much more briskly (the judge and lawyers assumed we had all been listening, and not napping, which I had done, especially when I ran out of knitting project).

The judge had to disclose that I had worked for him in the past, and I stated the stretch of years, quipping that I did indeed know at least one judge. The plaintiff's attorney also pointed out that since it appeared that my husband and I might both end up on this jury, he wanted to know if that would be a "problem". I was thinking to myself that it would be hard not to talk about the case with him, as we discuss everything, and was obviously on a different train of thought than the questioner, for when I answered "My husband would agree that I am an independent thinker and would definitely make up my own mind without consulting him", I got a confused look from the attorney and a round of laughter from the courtroom, including my former boss!

As I had already foreseen, the attorneys eliminated me and another friend who had also worked for an attorney in the past, as well as the wife of a highway patrolman, and my husband, in light of his role responding to and reporting on traffic accidents in his job as a law enforcement officer for the Forest Service. That is another interesting observation about jury selection: those familiar with the law in any way are pretty much automatically excluded from the jury process. When I related my story to my dear friend Wit last night, who has been through law school, he stated that he was glad to have served on a jury before getting his degree, for he realized he will never be seated on a jury again.

I do believe in the good of this process - carefully screening a jury of one's peers to determine if they can objectively look at the facts presented by both sides and come to a conclusion based upon the laws in effect as to the appropriate outcome... but what would I have said in another situation?

I already know that I would have difficulty maintaining the same sense of objectivity in every situation, for instance, I would have to insist on being excluded from a death penalty case, as I am opposed to this on moral grounds. My beliefs, particularly as influenced by Buddhism, are that choosing death, even to punish another who may well warrant severe punishment, is even more harmful to my karma, than the actions that led them to such a dire position.

I would not be able to maintain the same sense of objectivity if the parties were close to me as I could yesterday, when both parties were strangers. That sense of distance has altered in me over time, as I have worked to develop compassion for all beings; dispassionate compassion is the ultimate goal, but I am a long ways from that point yet.

It took much thought and a night of dreaming, then a day of plunging back into my workaday world to shake some of the images that arose from this experience. Although I will probably never shake the past that has precluded me from serving on a jury, it is a strong formative experience to go through the selection process and face the possibility of influencing someone else's fate in such a way all the same. I would be very interested in hearing anyone elses experiences.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Product Review: Cascade 220


Yarn name: Cascade 220
Weight: worsted
Size: Worsted: 220 yds/100 gm skein
Bulky: 125 yds/4 oz skein
Fibers: 100 % wool
MSRP: $6.60 per skein

I have already featured Lambs Pride as one of my favorite yarns to make an item to felt, but I have to say that Cascade 220 is the nicest one to knit with for the pre-felting process. It has the softest hand sliding through the fingers, doubled as I usually do to produce a thickly felted fabric post-washing, and comes in heathered colors, which also makes it extra-special. The felted fabric produced is crisper than that with the added mohair content, so a lot depends on the final effect you desire. This is also a workhorse of a worsted, and would be especially nice for childrens' sweaters, as it isn't as "scratchy" as some of the other wool choices while every bit as warming.

It is a great deal, offering more yards for less money than Lamb's Pride worsted at the standard retail price, while still being a high quality wool. The wool is from Peru, where Elann's Peruvian Highland and Knitpicks Wool of the Andes come from, and while all three are similar in knitted or felted appearance, I would prefer this one overall for an all wool, handwash garment.

In other news, thanks for the comments on my knitted skirt. I have also decided to extend the deadline for the chenille contest for one more week, as I was too busy to post the details to the knitting lists I am on (or should I say behind on?), so there is still time to either email me or comment and let me know to add you to the drawing, to be held next Monday, December 19th at 8:00 P.M.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Party Time!

One of the holiday parties I try not to miss each year is my quilt guild, Mountain Star Quilters' annual bash. Not only are these ladies great seamstresses and designers, they are also terrific cooks, so even though we focus on salads and desserts, we all end up completely stuffed and have the special treats that each of us only bring out for holidays. This year, we held our party at Helm's St Charles Inn, a bed and breakfast owned by member, Tammy Helm and her husband, Mark.

Our quilt club does a Yankee swap ornament exchange every year at our Christmas party. Our rules are that the swapping is done before the gifts get opened, so the packages are often much fancier than the ornaments within! That is the lively part of our gathering, with lots of banter and swapping till the last person's turn ends the chaos, then we get to see what hand-made delights the ornaments turn out to be.

I wore this skirt, which I made about a decade ago, inspired by Kaffee Fassett's work (I have his book, Kaffee's Classics, but have never made anything from it, daunted by the extensive intarsia work involved).

My dear friend Beatyanne, a fellow MSQ member, first met me by stopping me on the street in awe of my skirt... she didn't even introduce herself, simply mobbed me with questions. It's been a continued joke between us ever since. She was delighted to see me wear it, and I was delighted that I fit in it again!

No, I did not make this stole! In fact, I found it on sale yesterday while Christmas shopping.... but I have been unsuccessfully looking for the pattern for over a year. Please let me know if you have the pattern... although I plan to count out the rows, measure, etc. and work out the pattern myself so I can duplicate it.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Shopping Season

I am one who has always had a lot of trouble with the over-commercialization of Christmas, the crowded stores, the traffic snarls, the pressure to buy for "everyone on your list", however I have always loved surprising someone with a great gift, making festive holiday foods, wrapping presents, decorating the tree, even setting out candles or attending services.... all of which involve consuming SOMETHING, even if just a warm coat and the yarn for a hat to protect me while heading off to Midnight Mass (which occupied almost every Christmas of my youth and young adulthood).

Therefore, I joined the masses, heading over to Chico this morning with my DH, and youngest son, who came up to visit and "hang out" with us, as he put it. We really do have a few special people that we love and want to give presents to, and we also have several parties to attend in the next week, and a gathering of our own family on Christmas Eve, to prepare for. We picked up DD at her apartment, and grabbed some lunch, then we were on the run the rest of the afternoon.

On our list were several stops, including Heartstrings, to get a gift for my Better Pal (which, of course, I can't reveal the details - but it is a great match!), and Toys R' Us, to order an outdoor climbing structure.

You see, taking over as Director of The Good Years Children and Families Center last August, has turned out to be one of the most heart-opening events in my life. I had been on the Board of Directors for three years, and we had done a lot of fund-raising activity, but being the day-to-day person in charge has put me in much more direct contact with the huge amount of support our tiny community, with a steady year-round population of less than 300, has provided. At least once a month, I open an envelope with an unexpected contribution from an individual, and twice in as many months, these contributions have also been unexpectedly larger than I thought possible for our mainly working- and middle-class population. However, the fundraising efforts have allowed us to purchase a piece of outdoor play equipment.

This is what Santa is bringing to the Childrens Center for Christmas. Nikki, while she was at our center as Head Teacher, spearheaded a fundraiser last summer to go towards improving the outdoor play area, so I was pleased that she could help me pick something out, and take charge of picking it up when it arrives and bringing it to us. The kids will be delighted.

We also managed to get beer and chocolate at Cost Plus World Market, although not the gift for SIL Erika that we went there for, and to get a gift for Glenn's Dad at Home Depot, as well as an ornament for my Mountain Star Quilters Christmas party tomorrow.

The group there is ruthless, doing an ornament exchange based on the system of selecting a package under the tree, and enforced trading, until everyone has a gift... this has led to outdoing each other in decorating the packages. My methodology this year was to employ a Wrapsack, since they are more ecological than many forms of gift-wrapping, and the recipient can help send the sack around the world.

I discovered this great idea about a year and a half ago, but never pre-registered one before giving it before... now I can check in and see where the "Sierra Snowflake" has gone on its journey. You might want to check these out if you still need to come up with gift wrap options. The idea is that each sack is numbered, and can be registered online, then passed along to someone else, and you can check back later and see where your sack goes next.

Hope your holiday season is going well... rich with the love of family and friends and good, relaxing times.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Technology Marries Knitting

My Birthday Gift, Finally

My dear, sympathetic readers already know that my sweetie was away on hurricane relief duty when my birthday rolled around on October 11th. I had kinda hoped he would return with a gift, but the longer we are married, the more he seems to agonize over what would be appropriate. Once every now and then, he will turn up (usually out of sync with any known holiday) with the perfect surprise, but usually we discuss and pick out something for me together. This year, it took much longer than usual... there just wasn't anything I wanted that I hadn't gone and taken care of myself. I did start hankering for a Palm after reading posts on the EZAsPi list (Elaine is really to blame here). Apparently, lots of knitters use PDAs to keep track of their knitting as well as other responsibilities (such as information about your Secret Pal:). As you can see by this photo, I am a scrap-of-paper type, one of those people who carries around a planner, drops it periodically and scatters personal detritus everywhere. I have decided to reform!

I needed to make a presentation at a meeting in Sacramento yesterday, and used it as an excuse to also drag along my husband and get some of our Christmas shopping done. We had a lot of fun at REI, and he loved the visit to Home Depot (he drew his dad this year, the person he learned his own tool mania from, so it was the perfect excuse to roam around glassy-eyed, drooling over tools the same way we approach yarn shops. We will be doing more shopping tomorrow over in Chico, with my DD.

We also managed a stop at the Dollar Tree in Auburn to stock up on art supplies for the preschool children. My staff and I decided to use our winnings from our decorated tree (picture posted below) for Holiday on Main to buy art kits for all of the preschoolers and throw ourselves a party next Thursday, one teacher's last day working for us.

Our last stop was Staples, where I picked up the white device shown next to the keyboard, which promises to be my next best friend in helping me keep track of everything, including my stash and wish list! Looks like I will be busy entering information in it this weekend.

More On Better Pal

I know you are all dying to know what I listed in my Better Pal questionnaire (actually, I am really hoping Santa will read this).

What are your favorite fibers?

Alpaca, mohair, cotton, rayon... what don't I like? Actually, I love most wool too, but just can't wear it right next to my skin, except as socks.

What fibers would end up sitting in your stash until you cleaned house and then be gifted to someone else?

Nasty acrylics, such as Red Heart... then I would be forced to gift them to those charities that insist they only want items made from non-shrinking, washable material (hey, what's wrong with cotton, then?).

Favorite brands?

I guess I am not that picky to insist on only using certain brands; I love Brown Sheep, but am equally fond of similar yarns from regional producers. It's more how the yarn feels and what I want to make with it that determines my choice.

Brands you wouldn't touch if they were the last fibers on earth?

Hmmm... Caron and Red Heart come to mind.

Name a brand or fiber that you've never tried but are dying to try.

Cashmere, Quivit - they have always been out of my price range.

Favorite colors? Least favorite?

Favorites are violets, greens, blues and pink, and also deep garnet red. I despise orange.

What range of yarn weights do you prefer?

Fingering weight through worsted... seldom use aran, bulky, chunky, etc. and have not worked with laceweight much, although I love lace patterns and have a few shawls patterns "in the queue".

What are your favorite needles?

My ebony circulars... I should be honest and admit here that I refuse to knit with straight needles. I use either DPs or circulars for everything I make.

Any yarn/fiber allergies? Any other allergies your pal should know about?

I mentioned not being able to wear wool for items close to delicate skin. I also am allergic to milk products and wheat. I discovered I was also allergic to lanolin when nursing my first child and the midwife gave me lanolin cream for cracked nipples; I had a bad allergic reaction.

What's your favorite thing to knit?

This is a tough one... what don't I like?! I do love lace. I also love the process of felting, although I sometimes get a little distracted or bored trying to get the large item made that will felt into a much smaller one.

What are you knitting now?

I knit pretty rapidly and work on several things at once... have been making hats and washcloths for charity in November, a beanie for myself, DH, son and daughter, two scarves for myself, one lacy and one which is three narrow ribbed tubes that will be braided together in the end, and am rounding up the proper yarn to start a little Norah Gaughan sweater for myself, and that isn't even addressing some of the WIPs lying around. I also just ordered a ruffled lace shawlette pattern I hope to make up in December or January.

Do you spin? If yes, do you use a spindle or a wheel? Do you have the tools to process locks or do you only work with prepared fiber?

I know how to spin, but it takes too much time away from knitting... JMHO

Are you involved in any other crafts?

I make quilts occasionally, know how to crochet, and am plodding away on some scrapbooks for my kiddos. I also spend a fair amount of time with photography and blogging, so have been resisting taking up any new crafts.

Do you celebrate any specific winter holidays?

Christmas and Valentine's Day are the two biggies...

Name your #1 style icon, dead or alive. What is it about him or her that attracts you?

I am going with Robert Redford here, because he is both classic and rustic. Does that make any sense? I can be elegant, maybe about once a year or so, but my lifestyle just doesn't require it much. I prefer the denim and wool (or lace) sort of style, with cowboy boots of course. And, I admire how well he is aging:)

Name something that you want, but just can't get where you live.

Peet's coffee

What is your preferred knitting soundtrack?


Who are your favorite knitting designers?

Meg Swanson, Teva Durham, Deborah Newton, Norah Gaughan

Describe your vision of the perfect knitting publication -- the target audience, the cover, the type of designs featured, etc.

Interweave Knits comes pretty close.. low-key, classy photography, aimed at intermediate to experienced knitters, classic designs, but maybe with trendy details or colors. The cover would feature a thoroughly modern design and list the many wonderful articles I could expect to find inside. There would be a great photo-essay on a cool technique to make knitting go faster/smoother/differently, an article or two on knitwear designers and current fashion, as well as a piece or two on fiber history, along with a couple dozen new designs, since there is usually only one or two I will end up making from a magazine. The design time frame to completion would be from fast to long-term commitment, but no easy beginner stuff.

Do you have a sweet tooth? Name your favorite indulgence.

Very dark chocolate. I do try to avoid all other sugar.

Coffee, tea or no caffeine, please?

I drink decaf most of the time but appreciate really good coffee.

Do you collect anything?

Tiny ceramic pincushions.

Describe a perfect day, from the moment you wake up until you hit the sheets.

I would wake up after it was light, and have plenty of time to do my yoga, feed and love on my burros, then maybe cook up some whole-grain blueberry pancakes with maple syrup, luscious coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice for breakfast. I would be able to fit in a little knitting time over a second cup of coffee, while chatting with my DH, then take a leisurely shower (after which my hair would magically dry and straighten itself instantly, without any effort on my part).

Then, I might take a pleasant part-day hike with the burros, packing a lovely picnic lunch and a small knitting project. I could lounge in the shade (of course the weather would be temperate and not extremely hot, as it usually is around here in summer) and knit while they grazed on grass for an hour or so before returning home (all downhill both directions, of course :)

Upon returning home, I would work a few hours on a more complex lace shawl, while sitting on my porch (I really have one, but here am imagining a large, Southern veranda complete with rocking chairs). I would be able to chat with my sweetie while I knit. As the afternooon wound down, I would think about dinner, perhaps going out to eat someone else's gourmet cooking, perhaps preparing a feast at home. If I decided to dine out, we might take a leisurely backcountry drive that would end at a romantic restaurant with excellent food and ten ales on tap.

I would make time in the evening to read and to knit, and then head off to bed with my honey... the rest is a secret.

Are you open to having your Better Pal interpret your questionnaire answers or would having them stick to what you specifically mentioned make you happier?

I am happy to have my Better Pal use the questinnaire and any other detective work they want to attempt to come up with their own splendid ideas.

Anything else your pal should know about you?

I am casual, have a quirky sense of humor and four twenties kids... love to snowboard in winter, and can't let a day go by without spending at least part of it outdoors, no matter the weather. I usually wear jeans, solid colors and clogs (well, or snowboots or cowboy boots) all winter and spend a lot of my recreational time (which is a pretty tiny percent, really) visiting museums and checking out historic stuff with my sweetie. I work directing a daycare center, and also do grant-writing for our local medical clinic. There are only just over 3,000 people in my whole county. These are some of the unique things about me.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

My Better Pals

The Better The Pal You Know winterfest got our assignments last Monday, and since I can't tell you what I have learned about my new giftee so far, as then (s)he would know too, I decided to give you a brief tour of all of them!

There's 28 of us in total: Amy is a wool grrl, who has a professional pottery business and also spins (glad to hear I'm not the only sweet tooth trying to give up sugar once and for all.. .let's stick together)
Ande lives with rescued greyhounds, bless her heart, and she just finishing making Lacey, the shrug I have been drooling over this winter, but haven't gotten round to yet.
Anne has bunnies! therefore, she spins, or was it the other way around?
Beth has a darling son and has made socks, mini-sweaters and ruffled scarves lately.
Cara is a New Years baby, so she is hosting a month-long contest extravaganza on her blog, with cool prizes for answering questions all about her.
Carole loves the same chocolate cake recipe as me and was one of the mamas for Knit Unto Others last month, along with Margene.
Cate just bought a loom and had her two very cute kids model her charity hats on her blog last week. She's also trying to destash...
Dana is from Chicago and is swamped in holiday gift knitting. Maybe her Better Pal could send over a few elves...
Dave (yup, there's a guy among us) spins as well as knits and is looking for a pattern proofreader.
Emma was familiar to me as the mother of Oliver, a delightful boy that many knitters helped her get more mobile earlier this year... I think she must be the furthest away, in the U.K.
Gaile lives up in northern Washington and writes a very entertaining blog.
Jan quilts and collects amazing molas besides knitting.
Kim lives in Idaho, where her 12 year old son just broke some fingers skateboarding, and she just spun up some awesome hot pink and orange yarn for mittens.
Liz has a blog named the Dalai Mama and loves the color "lipstick"; she is a witty knitter with a three year old.
Lori is some kind of superhero - she just finished a Flower Basket shawl AND reupholstered her couch.
Margene is already a dear friend and got me into this whole thing in the first place; I am really glad she ISN'T my Better Pal, because it would be next to impossible to keep it a secret....although great fun to get her gifts.
Nicole is an excellent seamstress as well, and made a very cute set of beer cozies for her sis' 21st birthday (why didn't I get a big sis this time around?).
Norma is near-famous in the blog world as she is both a prolific and a witty knitter - it's always worth dropping by.
Patti is from the Seattle area and wants to visit Prague - shall I send you my husband's pictures... my brother-in-law lived there three years, but I had to work and didn't get to go on the family visit last year (am I sniveling enough yet?).
Rebecca has a purple blog, but that's all I can tell you about her, because her blog won't load for me - maybe it's the turtle speed that things run in these backwaters...
Risa is on the EZAsPi list with me (actually, I bet she was there first) and just won a prize in the Shetland Lace Workshop contest; go by and congratulate her. She is also the mother of twins and deserves our adulation for getting ANY knitting done at all.
Sandy's mama was just diagnosed with unterine cancer, so please keep them in your prayers, meditations or whatever it is you do.
Shannita's blog sent me over to the Anticraft... you will have to find out for yourself.
Shetha made some fabulous accessories over Thanksgiving, but is suffering her way through some tangly yarn right now... I feel your pain, grrl.
Suzy just took a spin on the Polar Express! I am totally envious. She is also busy making socks.
Teresa is also a prolific sock knitter (are you seeing a theme here, or is it just me?) and the proud mama of a rockin', singin' 18 year old daughter. Go take some notes, so we can all say we knew her when...
Terri is away on vacation, and dreaming of knitting a cashmere twinset... and is glam enough to pull it off. Check out the pix of her at a gala party last week on her blog.

It was tough getting through the entire list, and now I better go and learn more about my own, personal Pal (who actually has several things in common with me!). I wish I had the time to visit all of you lovely people every day, but I'd have to give up knitting....

And in closing ... a little something extra about me:

Arty Kid

Whether you were a drama freak or an emo poet, you definitely were expressive and unique.

You're probably a little less weird these days - but even more talented!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Product Review: Knitscene


Yarn name: Knitscene, a special issue
Manufacture:Interweave Press
MSRP: $7.99

I was kind of excited when I stumbled upon this issue last week over at Jimmy Beans Wool in Truckee. I thought it was special that Interweave loved us knitters so much, they put out an "extra" edition. Well, it looks more like they are trying to re-invent a part of themselves in hopes of capturing as much attention as Knitty has been getting. This is the first pattern magazine I have EVER purchased where I had to go online to get some of the patterns!

What gives here? I just bought the 'zine thinking I had within my hands the needed information to make any of the fashionista designs within (they are a lot more on the high-fashion side than Interweave Knits items and in the intermediate skill range mainly, but not as dorky as Vogue Knitting's spin-off last year, Knit One), only to be thumbing through a design trying to figure out if I wanted to make it, and came upon the directions to go to their website and download the rest! I sure hope this isn't a concept that catches on! What happens when the company gets bored with tying up their webspace with dated patterns? Will they just vanish into cyberspace?

That said, I like the smaller size better than a full-size 'zine for fitting into your knitting bag, and I did find a few designs that I want to make.. but I don't think I'll bother to buy it if they do this again. It was just to tide me over till the winter issue of Interweave Knits was out on December 13th anyway!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Holiday Activities Amping Up Already and A Contest

Local Events

Downieville's holiday event always comes the first weekend in December, in order to encourage visitors before winter gets to settled in. The past few years, the weather has been dreary anyway, snowing and raining both on the same day. However, this weekend, although seasonally cold, was clear and dry. Mid-way through the week, our preschool program decided to enter the tree-decorating contest, and spent two days crafting ornaments for our tree. Friday afternoon, we were installing our decorations.

We posed with our decorated tree... hiding most of it. Our theme was "A tree for the birds" and we included pine cones rolled in peanut butter and birdseed along with other hand-crafted (by the kids) ornaments. I have not heard that we won a prize.... I am the adult on the left-hand side in blue, instead of behind the camera lens this time.

I went up to Downieville Saturday to meet many of the same children as we had agreed to carol as part of the event. We had been practicing two holiday songs, "Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer" and "Jingle Bells" accompanying ourselves with hand bells and would meet up with the younger elementary children, who share the music teacher with us. When I arrived, I learned that the event organizers wanted us onstage, and I groaned inwardly, knowing that children under five would be overwhelmed on a stage, looking at the crowd of about 75 people filling the seats (a magic show and Santa's visit were set to follow). Luckily, we rounded up all the older kids we could out of the audience, and had a crowd of about 25 onstage, helping the littlest through what turned into four songs, including a few others that the older kids wanted to sing. The crowd loved it, and the tykes survived to face less stage fright another day... best laid plans and all that.

There is always a crafts fair, and I found some nice gifts and got to visit with my friend Lisa, who makes body care products as Seminole Herbs... go check out her site. There was a booth with lots of felted knit hats, and another with knitted and crocheted hats and scarves... the boom continues.

After Holiday On Main, I rushed home to get into cocktail party-type clothes (yes, only once or twice a year, and I even wear heels, but I don't have any photos of myself to post). We joined lots of friends from Glenn's black powder parade unit, the Devil Mountain Brigade (named after Mt. Diablo in the San Francisco Bay area) for the annual Christmas Dinner, held at the National Hotel in Nevada City, where the Victorian decor is always beautiful, but especially during the Christmas season. They put together a fancy sit-down dinner for us, including wine and dessert, although that part of the event has been better in past years.

My dear friends Danna and Debbie have just discovered that they are both wearing the same necklace. We had a great evening; the crowd was a wonderful as ever.

A Holiday Contest

I have spent the weekend "getting into the holiday spirit", and will be holding a week-long contest, ending next Monday, December 12th at 5:00 P.M. PST. You can enter by either emailing me or leaving a comment, and I will draw the winning name and post it that night.

What am I giving away? A kit to make a Victorian-style pillow in Christmas red chenille.

I started this project a few years back, planning to make it for my sweetie. I was kind of sporadically knitting it to keep it a secret. However, the real reason I didn't get around to finishing it was that I didn't enjoy working with the yarn. Even though my gauge is correct, the fabric feels loose and slippery. There is enough yarn here to make a child's dress or glam adult top, though, and the Vogue Knitting Pillows book comes with the package. The back (which is plain stockinette) is almost done, so you might feel differently about the whole thing and decide to finish up the pillow.

This is what my pillow was supposed to look like when completed.

Tomorrow's Product Review will diverge from yarn, this week only, into a diffrent knitting product.... stay tuned.

Friday, December 02, 2005

December 1st


December 1st is a holiday with multiple meanings in my life.... the one that has been the longest-running is the fact that it is my sweet husband's birthday. This year marks his 52nd on the planet. He was the recipient of another of the fabulous cabled toques, this time in Ironstone "New Wool" yarn that was a thank you gift from Jenny Gaus, who won my sock kit contest at the end of June.

The smiling birthday boy, in his new hat.

This photo highlights the detail of the beautiful Ironstone "New Wool" yarn ... the colorway doesn't have a name but deserves to be called "Beautiful Mountain Stream", in my opinion.

Glenn's son Rex and girlfriend Scarlett took us to dinner last night to celebrate this momentous occasion; they continued partying long after I went to bed, and he had a great birthday.

World AIDS Day

The other special day marked each year on December 1st is World AIDS Day. About nine years ago, while serving as the advisor of the Downieville High Teen AIDS Task Force, I purchased an Until There's A Cure bracelet that I have worn all the time since... as you know, there still is NO cure for AIDS, and an immense problem still exists. Those who contract HIV in North America live longer than two decades ago, when the first people were dying here, but those in Africa, where the disease is most rampant, aren't. The epidemic has touched my life in many ways over the years, from losing friends, to helping a student who lost her uncle and brought a portion of the AIDS Memorial Quilt to our area, to visiting the AIDS Memorial Garden in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. I don't have any magic insight as to when we will get a handle on this enormous crisis, but spend a few moments each year making a special point to meditate for those lost to it.

Charity Knitting

Lastly, December 1st this year means that the Knit Unto Others KAL is over... the site will remain up all winter providing sources and links to help us continue to knit for others whose situations are less fortunate than our own (to get there click on the button above). Although there is still a month left of 2005, and it's really too early to write a year-end reflection, I can say that to me it seems there have been far more huge tragic events this year than in others I remember. That said, there is also still lots and lots of unfilled, everyday human need for food, shelter, warmth and love. That is why I put the Rad Bad Beanies button to the side. This loosely constructed organization is collecting hand made hats for Big City Mountaineers, a non-profit whose mission is to help urban youth build self-confidence through outdoor experience.

Those of you who have known me any length of time are aware that I held a similar job, working with rural youth, for eight years, taking them hiking, backpacking, kayaking and climbing in summer and snowboarding in winter, so this is a mission close to my heart, and one that I can testify has true life-changing value to these youth. I have decided to continue to make hats over the course of the winter to send to the Beanies in spring, for the trips planning next season. I am also going to make up several more childrens scarves to send off to the Chinese children who benefited from my knitting during the KAL... and somewhere in there, I plan to make this sweater for myself! Stay tuned for my review of Interweave's Knitscene, which features this design and several others, on Monday.

Have a great weekend.