Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Non-Scratchy Scarf for Steve

I hope everyone had a fun and festive Thanksgiving celebration. Steve and I had a wonderful time visiting his family in Napa Valley (California Wine Country). Whilst there, I took the opportunity of snapping a few pictures of Steve in his new scarf. I think it passed muster.

Which is a relief because he's a fussy one. Nothing "scratchy" or "fancy" for him. He's actually not much one for wearing a scarf, period. But as I observed to a good friend who remarked on having never seen Steve wear scarf, "he's going to wear this one," spoken with more confidence than I felt. But now having seen him wearing it I'm pretty sure he does like the scarf.

Particulars: Basic Scarf pattern, Ann Budd's The Knitters Handy Book of Patterns (and handy it is); 5 skeins Elsebeth Lavold's Silky Cashmere; US 10 needles. This is a simple "mistake rib" scarf where I cast on 27 stitches and knit until I ran out of yarn. I like a mistake rib scarf because it gives a nice drape to the fabric and in a solid color creates a nice no-frills manly scarf. If you are interested in mistake rib, this link will take you to a website that explains the simple stitch pattern.

As I mentioned, we spent Thanksgiving with Steve's family and this year we had time to pop in and visit his cousin Gerry at her pottery shop, P& G Art Studio, in Sebastopol, California.

Steve comes from a very artistic family and his mother and aunt are wonderful painters and his cousin Gerry is wonderfully creative too, as you will see. Actually, Steve's not too shabby an artist himself having studied at the Art Institute of Chicago while in medical school and he takes most of the pictures that you see here on the blog.

His cousin's shop is mainly pottery although she also sells a few fabric items such as scarfs, hats and pillows. As of yet they haven't got a shop on-line so you will just have to visit the shop the next time you are in the Napa area.

I love pottery hanging from a wall. It gives a California mission feel to architecture. Growing up I was fortunate to live near the beautiful Santa Barbara Mission which is situated next to a stunning rose garden. I have pleasant memories of sitting by it's fountain and wandering through its cool dark hallways feeling an eerie connection to the past.

Gerry whimsically describes her wall pieces as follows:

Vignettes: It is their pleasure to delight, beautify, adorn, furbish, decorate, and garnish as well as smarten, spruce up, embellish, and detail, festoon, or amuse.

As I've previously mentioned, growing flowers is not a talent of mine. It's ideal when a couple compliment each other's weaknesses and it would have been nice if Steve had a passion for gardening. But I had a sinking feeling that was not to be when I had to tactfully point out early in our relationship that he was smelling and admiring flowers that were plastic, and not real. Sigh.

Do you think I could fool people into thinking I have a green thumb if I scattered some of Gerry's flowers about in my pots? Maybe from a distance?

Have a great week everyone ~ and make time to put your feet up and enjoy a cup of tea while flipping through your favorite knitting magazine!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Holiday Survival Tip

We are at that time of year when the holidays are in full swing but I'm not going to talk not about preparing for the holidays but rather how to survive the holidays. The holidays are a stressful time of year for everyone with all the activities and gift preparation. It's easy to get caught up with all the hubbub and forget to take care of yourself at this time of year. That's why instead of focusing on all that could or should be done in preparation for the holidays, I'm offering a Holiday Survival Tip.

Mr Puffy's Holiday Survival tip:

My holiday survival tip is to escape to the bathroom for a luxurious bath. It's amazing how time to yourself having a long soak in the tub can improve one's patience and lagging spirits. The beauty of this holiday survival tip is that one can have a bath whether you have company in your home or you are a visitor in someone else's home.

I like to play relaxing music during my bath and a couple of CDs I like to listen to are Time to Say Goodbye by Sarah Brightman or Isn't it Romantic by Michael Feinstein. Adding bubbles is not strictly necessary, but bubbles are nice and I strongly recommend them. My favorite bubble bath is Clarin's Relax Bath and Shower Concentrate and ~ may I say ~ it does indeed create a relaxing bath experience. Back when I used to work long stressful days as a lawyer I discovered the restorative properties of this product and have been a devote ever since. Fluffy bathrobe with happy clouds, purely optional.

Knitting impacts virtually every aspect of my life, and bath time is no exception. It goes without saying that a handknit washcloth adds a luxurious element to your bath ritual. I like to make washcloths from the super duper extra fluffy worsted weight cotton chenille that I find at Dancing Leaf Farm. This yarn knits into a washcloth oh, in about 20 minutes, at a guess.

Simple Washcloth Pattern: 1 skein Oh-So-Fat Chenille; US 11 Needles. Cast on 14 stitches and knit every row until you have a square. You can make several washcloths from a skein and that, along with a nice bar of soap, makes a quick and easy small gift.

Back when we lived in the Midwest Mr Puffy would often enjoy a bath and sometimes he didn't wait for you to get out! The first time he hopped into the tub I was so astonished that he was in the tub before I could get out - that was a surprise I'll tell you! I learned that he particularly enjoyed a bath when it was cold and snowy outside, I think, because it seemed to warm him right through on a cold night. Unfortunately, because we now have a sunken tub and it is too hard for him to get in and out of, he no longer takes baths. I did manage to find this old picture, though, that was taken about 10 years ago during bath time while we still lived in South Bend, Indiana.

Even though Mr Puffy no longer takes baths he still enjoys a relaxing spa experience with his own special shower set by Happy Tails (Spa On the Go). He says a shower isn't the same as taking a bath, it's still very nice.

We are heading up North to spend the holiday with Steve's family and will be staying in the quaint town of Healdsburg, California.

That's all for now. Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving everyone ~ and take time to enjoy a bubble bath over the holiday!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Your Gloves, Ma'am

A few weeks back Southern California had a blast of unseasonably cool weather which caused to me wonder ~ why ~ had I not spent all Summer knitting fingerless gloves?

So I got busy and knit myself a pair of Lace-Up Fingerless Gloves from Alterknits. This is a simple and fun pattern to knit and the only modification I made was at the behest of my knitting group who (to a one) felt the ribbons were much too Medival for their taste and suggested I try using a lacing made from the matching yarn. Thank heavens for friends who prevent you from going out looking ridiculous! Not that there's anything wrong with looking Medieval, mind you. Nothing wrong with that at all.

Specs: Alterknits; Tilli Tomas Aspen yarn (yarn left over from my Cabled Down Raglan sweater); modifications: dropped down to US 7 needles due to yarn substitution and instead of lacing with ribbon I made a twisted cord with tassel (method explained in Last Minute Knitted Gifts) If you don't have this pattern book, a similar free on-line pattern is Toast (compliments of A Friend to Knit With).

To jazz them up a bit I might (I only said might) try adding a black ribbon.

Speaking of my knitting group, it was my turn to host last week and the roses in the picture below came from Jane's garden. It's a complete mystery to me how my neighbor's gardens thrive whilst I can't seem to grow a single flower on my property. I strongly suspect that I'm experiencing a unique micro-climate of stronger winds and hotter days. It's really too bad as I would love to have a flowering garden and would, if only I could, but obviously I can't, for the aforementioned reasons.

Even amongst the many beautiful gardens in Topanga, Jane's rose garden is a standout. When asked her secret she will hint that it somehow involves a special aphid-killing talent. She might just you her secret if you ask and you can find her on-line at T Ching (a blog about tea, design, and life) where she is one of several contributors of amusing articles on tea and life. Check out her first published article The Moaning After.

Are you a Procrastiknitter?

I am a procrastiknitter. I am calling myself this because I can't seem to get started on my Cabled Riding Jacket (a Teva Durham pattern in Loop-d-Loop ). I love the pattern and I love the yarn (Mostly Merino). The cause of my proscrastiknitting is that the pattern will be difficult to downsize sufficiently to fit me well. I have gotten some helpful suggestions which I'll explain more about if they work out well. This phenomenon takes place when you avoid a project because it will be hard to knit in some fashion or another. As a result, you find yourself knitting on easier projects instead. But this week I am going to conquer my procrastiknitting. Unless I find another excuse to procrastiknit.

In Closing, A little About Beagle Antics

Have you ever wondered how your dog was able to get into something when left alone? This video will explain a lot about how dogs behave when left alone and is a must see video for all dog owners - The Amazing Escape of Sophia the Beagle.

Whenever we leave Mr Puffy alone we implement a procedure called "beagle proofing" the house. Beagle proofing the house involves placing furniture upside down, covering furniture with noise making contraptions (we swear by a sofa scam) and checking that the doors leading to bedrooms or food storage areas are shut. The procedure is pretty quick at home in Topanga but can take much longer at other locations. I, frankly, would be embarrassed if my Mom and Dad had to go to such extraordinary steps to leave me alone. But, that's just me.

In our family, when someone laughs when called on a matter, we call that the laugh of guilt. What's this, is Mr Puffy actually exhibiting the laugh of guilt?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Yarn Whisperer?

I wanted this yarn to be a Cloud Bolero or maybe a Mobius Wrap (see The Joy of Knitting) but it told me it wanted to be a Brulee Scarf. Does that make me a Yarn Whisperer?

I knit this scarf using the yarn that I won a short time back on Theresa's blog, T Does Wool. Rumor has it that she is finishing up some cute mittens that you might find posted on her blog any day now.

This is the first time that I have ever won anything and Theresa included so much in her lovely gift, going well above and beyond the expected, truly if I never win anything ever again I will not feel deprived!

Since I had to play around with this yarn a bit before I settled on a pattern, I thought this might be an opportune time to share the process I go through to match a yarn with a pattern. If you are an experienced knitter you might want to just skip this part and go straight to the tea and cookies.

Knitting Tip #4 ~ The Importance of Swatching

A) Yarn Acquired Without a Particular Pattern in Mind.

Sometimes we acquire yarn without a particular pattern in mind. It can then be a tricky business selecting a pattern that will work well with the yarn. I begin the pattern selection process by reviewing projects that have already been made with the yarn and then branch out and look at patterns that use a similar yarn weight and composition (wool, cotton, or silk). I try and select at least two projects that appeal to me and make a gauge swatch for each so that I can see what the yarn actually looks like when knit using the recommended needle size and pattern stitch. For example, with this yarn I initially thought I wanted to make a Cloud Bolero or Mobius which were both designed to have a drape to the fabric and were therefore knit on larger needles (US 11 needles). However as soon as I dropped down a needle size to US 10 and swatched for the Brulee Scarf I knew the smaller needles with a simple garter stitch combined to make knitting magic.

B) Yarn Acquired to Make a Specific Pattern.

Typically I buy the yarn that a specific pattern recommends. That means the designer has already gone through step (A) above. However, even if the pattern instructions recommend making a gauge swatch in stockinette stitch - I don't do it that way. Instead I always make my gauge swatch in the stitch that is predominately used to knit the garment i.e. a cable pattern, seed stitch, lace, ribbing, etc. This way I believe my gauge swatch is a truer representation of the actual project. I also always wash and dry my gauge swatch before measuring. I have found that virtually all hand knits will relax when washed. Failing to wash your gauge swatch I believe results in an inaccurate gauge.

And that's how I settled on making a Brulee Scarf with vintage buttons.

Specs: Free pattern ~ Brulee Scarf; Noro Blossom yarn; 3 skeins; US 10 needles; vintage fabric buttons; final blocked dimensions 6.5" x 56.5;" Modification: I changed the placement of the buttons to give a pop of color at the neckline and eliminated the scalloped edging.

The seasonal baking has begun.....

I know it must seem as though I live on a diet of cakes, cookies, and pies. However, I do assure you, I actually eat a fairly healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein prepared in what I would loosely describe as Mediterranean style. Because I'm occasionally asked about my diet I'll try and share more recipes that I fondly label here on the blog as "What's For Dinner" in addition to the "Recipes" for tea goodies I so love.

But, today, I want to talk about cookies as we are at the start of the holiday baking season. Each Fall I like to start my seasonal baking with almond crescent cookies. Not because they are wildly spectacular but because they are a nice seasonal cookie I enjoy with my tea.

The almond crescent cookie is a quintessential European style cookie in that it relies on a single flavor as opposed to most American style cookies that are often full of ingredients (see my favorite American style chocolate chip cookie recipe here). Each style of cookie has its place but at this time of year I find myself making more European style cookies.

Almond Crescent Cookies (recipe from The Baking Book by Linda Collister)(makes approximately 2 dozen)


1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2-3 drops of pure almond extract
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
pinch of salt
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, sifted
1 & 1/3 cup ground almonds (I simply use almond meal)
extra confectioner's sugar for dredging


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees / prepare baking sheets.
2. Beat butter and almond extract until light and creamy. Add the sugar and mix slowly until combined, then beat until fluffy. Add remaining ingredients and mix with wooden spoon. Knead in bowl lightly until a dough forms.
3. Take heaping teaspoon sized portion of dough and roll into a sausage about 3 inches long and curve into a crescent. Note: because there is NO rising agent in the ingredients the cookie will not rise during baking. Therefore I like to make my sausages nice and fat so that the cookie will be rounded and not flat.
4. Bake approximately 15-18 minutes. Cookie should still be pale but firm. I sometimes will leave the cookies on the baking sheet for a minute to allow them to firm up.
5. Dredge in confectioner's sugar. Cool on a rack. Store in airtight tin and eat within a week. Flavor develops if the cookies are kept for at least a day after baking.
6. Enjoy with a nice cup of tea!

Have a nice week everyone ~ and take time to enjoy a cup of tea!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

My Mysterious Stole

We all need a little mystery in our lives....

I'm wearing a mysterious stole because I have never met the person for whom it is destined. I knit this at the request of my dear Steve who wanted to give a special gift to a business acquaintance and couldn't think of a nicer gift than something handknit by me for the man's wife. I am touched that he would think so.

I chose to use Rowan Kidsilk Haze because I know it makes a fabulous wrap. I love all the previous shawls that I knit with this yarn (Birch, Dove, and Willow) and didn't even consider using anything else.

Wearing a cobweb stole puts me in a dreamy mood. They are so reminiscent of another time and another place.

Specs: Free Pattern ~ Anisette Stole; 2.5 skeins Rowan Kidsilk Haze; US 9 needles (Pony/rosewood); blocked dimensions: 62" x 23". You will need a very sharp point on your needles to knit this stole comfortably. Modified by only knitting 15 of the 18 repeats.

And Now A Mysterious Trip ~

Steve has business acquaintances all over the world and travels to some very mysterious locations. I won't even tell you where in the world this stole will eventually reside. But, it's safe to say it won't be in the United States.

The pictures below are taken on one of his recent trips to Tripoli Libya. Curiously these pictures remind me of the The Chronicals of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (in particular, The Silver Chair) which is set in a land filled with giants and other strange creatures such as marsh wiggles. I loved these stories as a child. As an adult, I have found his other writings strongly spiritual such as The Screwtape Letters which, although not nearly so delightful a read as his children's stories, does provoke the imagination.

Last week we had a wonderful visit with our friends, Edd and Martha who were visiting us from Seattle Washington. Thank heavens for good friends and may our paths cross again before too long!

I hope you will all have a wonderful week ahead you ~ and with this cooler weather upon us~ make time every day to enjoy a cup of tea!