Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Garden Oddities

I have no idea how other people enjoy their gardens. For some the garden is a practical, hard-working plot of land, meant to produce yummy goods. For others it's a pastoral retreat in which to unwind and/or sunbathe. I, however, enjoy watching the action in the garden--especially its oddities. Last year, for instance, I stood at the back door every morning while brushing my teeth and watched squirrels go freaking bananas on our mammoth sunflower plants. The squirrels' bushy tails stood straight up in the air as they straddled the stalk and bent over the flower head to devour the seeds. They then ran around in fast furious circles until they passed out* or disappeared into a hole. I had never seen such behavior in my life.

And if this year's recent sightings are any indication, I think we're in for a pretty exciting gardening season. And by exciting, I mean weird.

Exhibit A: The Freakshow Double-Daffodil. Observe the daffodil at the top of this page. Do you see something odd about it? Try to compare it to the daffodil behind it and see if you can figure out what's different. Oh, that's right, the daffodil in the front is GIVING BIRTH to another daffodil.

This may well be a common occurrence--I really have no idea--but I had never seen anything like this before and was delighted to spot it the other day. The other daffodils bloomed weeks ago, and this one kind of struggled behind the pack, refusing to open. I thought it was a dud, or a runt at best. But low and behold, it was really just two daffodils in one. A deal!

Exhibit B: The Chopped Tulip. You may be wondering why I am showing you a photo of a headless tulip. I mean, that's not much to look at, right? Well, I didn't think so either until this happened THREE TIMES to different tulip plants. When this kind of stuff happens in my yard, I get a sudden urge to scratch my head and use phrases like "well how in tarnation?". I couldn't figure out for the life of me what creature could be smacking the tops off of the tulips. I mean, they're too tall and flimsy for squirrels to climb, I don't think we have raccoons around here, and birds, well...maybe a hawk?

And then I put it together. Our working theory is that it's the neighborhood cats. Two matching scroungy black-and-white brothers--both of whom, when sitting, are at exact eye-level with a delicately swaying, brightly colored tulip head. And what could be a more tantalizing cat toy than a tulip head bobbing in the breeze? When I pointed this out to Robb, I couldn't help admitting that I'd like to see the cats in the act because it probably looks pretty funny. Robb sagely pointed out, "it would be funnier if it was in the neighbor's yard."

Exhibit C: Bleeding Hearts! Oh, the drama of a plant that is named "bleeding heart"! We found this plant for sale in the front yard of a house that sells lawn art in East Hampton, Connecticut. Robb was smitten wtih the strange little heart-shaped flowers that look, yes, like they are bleeding. How grotesque! How romantic! Five dollars later and it was sitting in the van between us, bobbing its head this way and that along with the bumps on the highway. Me, my man, and our bleeding heart. We must find a very special place to plant this odd little valentine.

Exhibit D: Me looking suspicously like Cloris Leachman in Young Frankenstein as I fondle the double-daffodil. It just doesn't get weirder than that, folks.

*The squirrels did not really pass out.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Knitting 24/7, Part 1

About a week ago, I got my hands on a skein of Véronik Avery's yarn, St.-Denis, and decided I'd have a go at the Cabled Beret pattern from Knitting 24/7. And then I decided that I would blog about it! Now, I must warn you, this is a first for the Knit Yourself Pretty blog--I am actually going to MAKE something from a book that I edited and blog about it in real time. It's like live-blogging, but it's live-blog-knitting. In fact, I am actually knitting while I type this...! (Ok, I'm not.)

The original idea was to just make the hat and write about it. But after one week of some serious knitting, I realized that my #2 needles were going to work at a slightly slower rate. The image above shows exactly 14 rows of knitting. And took...I don't know...about five hours. Here is my disclaimer: this is no fault of the design! I'm just one of those knitters who sometimes gets off on the wrong foot. And when I get off on the wrong foot, it's a long and winding road to get back on track. Allow me to explain.

Like most knitters I know, I had the perfect Sunday experience where I walked to the yarn shop with the intent of buying my needles to start a new project. Oh, the hope and promise of a new project! You see, I had been working on this book for over a year--the photo shoot was last spring--and this hat had been on my knitting "to-do" list ever since the box of garments from the book had shown up in my office. When I arrived at the yarn shop, the nice lady told me that they actually didn't carry 16-inch circular US 2 needles. Hmmm....I debated. Do I just go up to a 3 and fudge it? Nah...I know, I'll do it on double-pointed needles! Like the knitters of 16th century England! So I purchased my tiny little needles and took the still life photo above of my materials--note the Jesus Light glowing behind the ball of yarn--so full of hope, so ready to work some cables.

Well, let me tell you something. The knitters of 16th century England were MISERABLE. I officially do not recommend working on double-pointed needles for a project that has over 200 stitches on the needle at a given time. Okay, okay, the Madonna knitting for Jesus in the photo at top might not be so miserable...but then again, it looks like she's nearing the end of her project--a moment of elation for knitters of all centuries! (Plus she's got that built-in halo that makes concentration seem like a true pleasure.)

I, on the other hand, was just beginning my project. In this photo (pardon the toilet paper...hello allergy season!), I have just cast on to 4 of my tiny double-pointed needles and am ready to join in the round. My face appears confident, with an "I can DO this" kind of facade. That was the last time my face looked like that for the next three hours. I made it through the garter stitch rows with only a few bumps along the way. The first row of the cable pattern was a bit dizzying. And then I realized I had lost count. Or maybe had one too many stitches? And then I needed to reorganize my stitches into groups of 12, so that I would know I had successfully completed a repeat. I had a calculator sitting right next to me and I STILL could not figure out how to do this. An entire episode of Antiques Roadshow played out in front of me and I didn't see a single item appraised. The ends of the needles jabbed into my palms as I worked. I reached the end of my cable row and realized...gulp...I was still off by one. And so I worked backwards, undoing my cables (always a joy), and cursed myself for not having a bottle of wine at home.

The next day I went out and bought a pair of metal 16" circular needles, and my mental health is much MUCH better. I have, since then, knit a few rows on the subway, knit in my finance's bar, and knit while watching Lost--in other words, I have been Knitting 24/7. And here is my result, five days after beginning: one repeat down, five more to go. This may not seem like much of an accomplishment (and perhaps even less of an accomplishment after seeing the hat next to a quarter--which I did so you can really understand how tiny these stitches are). But there is something that happens when you see the first repeat of a cable pattern completed. Up until you see the cables start to take shape, a pattern is all cursing, stomping, and screaming. You hardly understand why one would even take on such a task! But after the stitches start to lean to the right or left and make these undulating ripples of stitches, it becomes like an addiction. You want to see the fabric expand off into the horizon, like you're not just looking out over the ocean--you're creating the ocean. Well, maybe I don't want to knit something as big as the ocean. The size of a beret will do just fine for now.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Crotch Shot (with a Side of Daffodils)

So you know what's a bummer? When you discover that you are wearing a hole into the crotch of your favorite pair of jeans. You know what else is a bummer? When you discover that your second favorite pair of jeans is also getting a hole in the crotch at the exact same rate of deterioration!

This is what I came to discover in a fit of rage and horror a couple of weeks ago. In a panic I ran out and bought another pair of jeans. Which, for the record, I do not like nearly as much as the two pairs that immediately went into ICU (or rather, my mending pile.) The injured jeans then sat there for a while as I pondered my options. How best to repair? Simply tossing them out was NOT an option. I decided to take a traditional path--a good old iron-on denim repair kit.

I suspect that one is supposed to cut out a tiny piece of denim "repair kit" material and iron it onto the outside of the jeans. But how lame is that? I instead opted to apply this stiff, gluey fabric to the inside of my jeans and iron the crap out of it until it stayed firmly in place (no chafing, please!). And here is the montage of how it's done!

About three minutes later, both pairs of jeans were saved! Hallelujah. You can still see the worn down part on the outside of the jeans, but no longer any exposed flesh. (Which I'm sure we're all happy about.)

And most importantly, the patch will keep the worn down area from spreading, giving my jeans at least another six months to live. And maybe, just maybe, giving me enough time to find a new denim love before these pairs leave me to go on to a better place.

I would also like to take a moment to note how weird it is that both pairs of jeans were worn down in the exact same way. I mean, is one of my thighs bigger than the other? Is the flesh of one thigh made of sandpaper or perhaps sharp pebbles? Is my stride really so lopsided that, over time, my repetitive hunker can wear away one of the world's sturdiest fibers much like the Colorado River created the Grand Canyon? Guess so!

Finally, because it is somewhat tasteless to write an entire post about repairing the crotch of my jeans, I thought I'd fancy it up a little bit by sharing some photos of the springtime action in my garden. And so I leave you with some lovely images taken by my man, Robb--daffodils and wild tulips. Enjoy!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Elite Chemistry & Craft Book Models

It all began with the orange juice photo, circa 2001 Benjamin Cummings. I know that it was for a chemistry book. I believe it was for an edition of Russo & Silver's Introductory Chemistry for undergrads. I could not even begin to wonder what edition it was. All I know is that I was an editorial assistant at Pearson Education in San Francisco, and someone told me that if I felt like it, I could spend the day at a photo studio and be a model for a book. Heck yeah, my 23 year-old self said! Hence, I showed up and some very nice photographers sat me down at a table, whereupon they piled fresh citrus, put me against a tropical backdrop, and turned on special lights that would give me a tan. I was instructed to "drink juice from a glass," which seems very easy, but is actually quite difficult to do in an appealing way! Eventually, they told me to just hold it near my mouth and smile. Which, let's face it, worked best for everyone. And voila!--or rather, 2 hours later--we were done. Do I know why a photo of a girl drinking orange juice is needed for a chemistry book? Nope! The point is that it sparked my amateur book modeling career.

Fast forward to 2008. I'm in New York City, editing a book called Sewing Green. Now, it all gets a little fuzzy when I think about how I wound up going from editor to Elite Craft Book Model for this book. Maybe I was needed at the photo shoot and got hoodwinked into it? No no no...it wasn't that shady. But I do know that somehow not one but three of my coworkers wound up taking a train to Rhinebeck, NY that week to model such things as a buckwheat-filled neck compress, pajama bottoms made from recycled sheets, and a tote bag made from recycled tyvek envelopes (and then stamped with bubble wrap). Don't I look elegant holding my tote bag? What I love about this photo is that when we saw the proofs, I noticed all sorts of unfortunate things, like one of my knees was bruised, and my calves had indentations in them from the elastic in my socks because it was winter at the time. I must say, though--it's awfully fun to look at a proof of yourself and circle all of the "problem areas" with a sharpie for the printer to fix.

Just recently, though, I found a way for another one of my dearest oldest friends to also become an amateur book model. Jess P., shown on the cover of Knits Men Want, came through for us in a pinch on one of the hottest, rainiest days that Brooklyn ever saw! Because of a tight schedule, it was sort of a now or never situation. The photographer (Jared Flood) and I looked at the weather report and conferred on the phone--should we go ahead and shoot today, even though the skies are supposed to tear open and dump buckets of rain on us starting at 3pm? Sure! Why not? So Jess and a lovely man named Carter came to Jared's house and were the best sports I've ever seen. They kept their toasty sweaters on in the 90-degree humidity, ready to run outside the moment the rain broke.

The shot used for the cover is a particularly great memory for me. I was the one standing just to side of them (out of view, of course), holding a giant reflector over their heads to A) capture whatever light we could, and B) keep the rain off of them. After this shot was done, Jared and I were soaked to the bone. But hey, we got our cover shot! And Jess got to learn how to hold knitting needles. (Someday we'll get to the actual knitting, too.)

Either way, congratulations, Jess! You are now an Elite Craft Book Model, too!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Last Year's Bonnet

OMG, that is so last year's bonnet...

Have you not heard that phrase?

Well, that's because I made it up. You see, there had to be some catch-phrase to define what happens when you start making something with the intent that you will wear it for the current season, but then all of a sudden the season changes and you're like, wait a minute, I'm not going to wear this until next November. At that moment, the item has become "last year's bonnet." And this is precisely the case with the bonnet shown here.

You see, around early March, I was tired of all 900 hats that I own and decided I needed a new one. A dandy hat--one unlike all the others. I needed one that would allow my trademark double-buns to remain unjostled whilst keeping my ears warm. I also liked the idea of a bow at my chin. Thus, the bonnet was begun!

I grabbed my Knit Yourself Pretty magazine--yes, the very one that spawned the name of this blog--and decided I'd make the Baby Doll Bonnet. I pulled out some special stash yarn I've been saving for a rainy day--Mountain Colors hand-painted yarn, gifted to me by Leslie in SF in her big move-out yarn giveaway (bless you, Leslie!). I cast on and I picked up and I cabled and I admired my handiwork...and then about two seconds later--when I was halfway through the hat--the weather warmed up to about 70 degrees.

All March I kept thinking, but this weather can't last...and it didn't. It definitely got cool again. However, it never really got cool enough to get back to hat weather. And now it's April and we are firmly into blazer season, my old wool coat just about ready to go into retirement.

So it is with some irony that today I sat outside sweating in a tank top, slurping iced coffee, and working away on the second half of last year's bonnet. Well, I suppose it is Easter after all...and if there's ever an appropriate day to do something bonnet-related, this is it.

Happy Easter everyone! I'll be sure to post more about the bonnet next November.