Saturday, March 31, 2007

Good Eats

This will be a quick post, since the parents are up visiting for the weekend. Suffice it to say, there will be a lot of eating happening chez Libran.

We had Brunswick stew, kale, and homemade buttermilk biscuits for dinner last night, with chocolate tapioca pudding for dessert. Tonight's dinner will be black bean soup, pork tenderloin with a blackberry-ancho chili sauce, and assorted roasted root vegetables, with flan for dessert.

Tomorrow I'll once again try making tiramisu. I found the right kind of ladyfingers; they are harder than the ones in grocery store. The grocery store ladyfingers are more like sponge cake and tend to fall apart when dipped in coffee. I'll give a full report later.

Knitting News
Not much knitting has transpired this week. I haven't had the will to get up at 5:30 in the morning and that is my prime knitting time. I need to get back to it, though. Mom says the girls are getting tall, so if the sweaters aren't finished soon, Jenna and Christine will be wearing cropped, 3/4 length sleeve sweaters instead of regular sweaters.

I got home yesterday to find a package on the front porch. What could it be? A surprise from my secret pal? Yarn that I forgot that I ordered? No, it was a copy of the Yarn Harlot's new book! I started reading and was not disappointed. It's a good, easy read.

Spring Has Sprung!
Spring has finally arrived. Our backyard is now looking quite green.

The plum blossomed this week and I fear the blossom time is going to be short. Plum blossoms against the morning sky:

Emma swears there's nothing better than a nap in the afternoon sun:

Eagle Cam
Ever wonder what life is like high atop a tree in an eagle's nest? Take a look. You won't be able to see anything at night, however. It gets a bit dark.
Happy knitting!

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Yesterday I drove up to Baltimore to meet with some distant cousins to discuss the geneology of the O'Connor branch of the family. It was a very informative meeting, although it got a little disorienting at times because there were a few Henrys, Evas, Catherines, and Edwards. Is that Henry my Uncle Henny or someone else? People kept referring to Aunt Kate, who I call "old grandma" (my great-grandmother). But we solved a few mysteries (who did Charles marry and were there children?) and I was even able to produce photographic evidence to put faces to names.

My family (on both sides, actually) saved everything and one boon of that is that we have a ton of photographs dating from the mid-1800s. I've ended up as the trustee of them. We also had the good fortune that despite all of my grandmother's health problems, her long-term memory was very sharp. Mom sat down with Grandma several years ago and they were able to put names and dates to the sometimes ghostly images.

At the end of the gathering, Linda gave everyone a listing of the family tree in its current state. Names, birth and and death dates, wedding's all there. We need to keep it current. And we also need to start digging deeper to solve the mystery of which O'Connors left Ireland and when.

As I was looking at this record of our family, it occurred to me that it wasn't anything but a list of statistics. If you look at the dates closely enough, you can conclude that my great-grandmother's life was filled with tragedy, grief, and hardship. But those stories are missing. We're fortunate that our family is relatively long-lived because the eyewitnesses to those early days are still around and we can capture the stories, at least for some of the family. It will be much more difficult (and probably impossible) to get the stories from the branches of the family that left Baltimore.

I drove home in the early evening. A fine mist was falling and as I drove westward, it became foggier and foggier. The bridge over the Potomac at Point of Rocks was shrouded in fog. Geese emerged the from mist, flying low. The image was primitive and one that has occurred countless times over the millennia. I found it both comforting and heart-wrenching. The mist will continue to rise and shroud and soften the landscape and the geese will continue their flight. Soon, though, this beautiful rural landscape will be populated with developments of McMansions and eventually, the geese will leave. And that will truly be a sad time.

Knitting Progress
Not a lot. I slept crooked or perhaps the bad desk chair at work has finally gotten to me as I've been plagued with headaches all this week. I managed to make some progress on Tom's scarf and have starting working the third ball. The lack of loft doesn't seem to have a negative effect, so I'm knitting on and I will finish it! I think I'll have an extra ball, and that just might turn into a pair of fingerless mitts for me.

I'm beginning to wonder if I'm a "wannabe" knitter, one who dreams more about beautiful handknit items instead of actually knitting them. I think the list of UFOs stands as a testament to that. Perhaps it's the fear of failure with the finished garment. What if I finish it and I don't like it? Or it doesn't fit? Or it shrinks? Or I can't figure out a technique? If I don't finish it, then the beautiful handknit garment can continue to live, unchallenged, in my mind.

Does anyone else struggle with this?

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Even though I have nothing in particular to blog about today, I thought I would, given that I seem to be blogging only on the weekend. Fortunately, we didn't get anymore snow yesterday, but it remained cold and windy. A prodigious amount of sunshine has melted most of the snow as well. So maybe, just maybe, the second half of the month will see us cruising into Spring.

The snow and cold weather hasn't daunted the birds. They are very active and very vocal, especially the starlings. Even though I find these birds to be rather despicable, they have amazing vocalizations. They like to perch on the chimney and their calls echo down into the fireplace in the mornings when I've got a fire going. Emma finds that to be very interesting and a bit disconcerting.

Our little town is blessed with a very fine Italian store, Galletta's. Yesterday they had a wine tasting, so Tom and I met our friend Leigh there. The wines were imported by Michael R. Downey Selections, Inc. and they were very good. I knew Mike a long time ago. Sadly, he died from lung cancer a couple of years ago. It's good to know that his children have taken over and grown the business. Galletta's also had a variety of their food selections out for tasting as well. I'm not a big fan of cold cuts, but they have a porchetta with rosemary that was heavenly. Their tiramisu is to die for. The cheeses are excellent. Yum!

After the tasting, we walked over to our favorite watering hole for a pint of Guinness to select St. Patrick's Day. Strangely enough, we were the only ones drinking Guinness. Everyone else was drinking wine or spirits. I rarely drink beer; it tends to fill me up and suppress my appetite (although there are times when my appetite could stand to be suppressed), so by the time we finished, I wasn't so hungry for dinner.

Last night's dinner was a brown rice pilaf with carmelized onions and toasted pine nuts, steamed broccoli with lemon, and a pan-roasted fillet of rockfish. It was late by the time we ate, so I had just a small portion. Emma was very interested in my dinner, particularly the rice and the fish. Of course, we don't feed her anything but her cat food (and a little bit of vanilla ice cream for dessert). But she still manages to eat some people food.

Like pine nuts.

I woke up around 2:00 this morning, to the sound of Emma bathing. But something didn't sound quite right. She wasn't bathing, she was playing with a balled-up piece of paper. No, that doesn't sound right either. It sounds too...wet. I rolled out of bed to see what it was she had. Imagine my surprise to see that she had the baggie of pine nuts that I had left on the counter last night. One side was chewed away and there were only a couple of pine nuts left. We found some of the others ground up on the kitchen floor this morning. We're learning that we can't leave any food out because Emma will try to eat it. I was surprised that she got the pine nuts because they were in a sealed bag. That cat has one sensitive nose!

Knitting News
I actually managed to get some knitting in this morning and got to the point where I can start working the front of the Christine sweater. Woo hoo! But, I might have to rip back two rows. The pattern calls for knitting 21 cm. and I actually knit 21.5 cm. I need to measure again and decide if that half a centimeter is going to hurt me.

Have you visited Anne's blog lately? She has posted pictures of the sock she's been designing and the colorways intended for it. They're very nice. I can't decide which I like better: River or Sagebrush and Cedars. You can see all of her fine wares at Wooly Wonka Fibers.

There's Nothing Like a Warm Radiator

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Sucker Punch

This week has been full of contrasts. The weather progressively warmed up, reaching close to 80 degrees by mid-week. Once again it was so nice to not have to wear a coat. The crocuses are still blooming and they are now joined by the daffodils. Yes, Spring is here at last! So what if there's a little bit lot of rain in the forecast for the end of the week?

When I left for work on Friday, it was raining. Then the rain started to splat on the windshield. The wet stuff kept up all day. A friend in Front Royal reported that it was snowing like mad there. At 3:30, Tom called me at work to tell me that I might want to leave, since it was sleeting heavily. By 5:00, our backyard looked like this:

After all was said and done, we got about three inches of sleet and snow. Our backyard is once again a winter wonderland. Technically it's still winter, I guess, but I'm finally ready for warmer weather.

Knitting Progress
None. Seriously. I might have knit two rows on the Christine sweater this week. I've been truly slug-like. In addition to continuing my non-exercise program, I've also neglected my 5:30 a.m. knitting sessions. Even though I'm enjoying what I'm knitting (mostly), I get overwhelmed when I think about how much more I have to knit on each of the projects. And then there's the finishing, which when I think about it makes me want to crawl into a hole, whimpering at the potential mind-numbingness of it all. The sweaters are knit with fingering (maybe sport weight at best) cotton. That's pretty fine and makes for a lot of sewing up.

In order to keep from being overwhelmed (which isn't working so well), I'm setting little goals. Knit four rows; knit an entire color band; knit another inch. Don't think about all of the other unfinished projects laying around that are beginning to clamor to be finished. Don't think about all of the yummy yarn in the stash, which is also making itself heard. Add to that the techniques that I want to learn. Where's a Libran to start?

Here's the current state of the Christine sweater:

And here is the state of our daffodils:

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Spring Forward!

Spring is on its way in! The weather is getting warmer; I actually went out yesterday without having to put on a coat, scarf, gloves, and hat. In fact, I didn't wear any outwear! That was quite refreshing. Leaving the house goes a lot faster when you don't have layer on clothes.

The birds also know that winter is almost over. For the last couple of weeks, the birdsong in the morning has changed from the winter calls to actual song. The birds are beginning to stake out their territories and it won't be too much longer before we have birds starting to make their nests around the yard.

The bulbs are coming up, as well. They actually started coming up in January and were stopped in their tracks when the weather finally (thankfully) turned cold. Last week I noticed that the crocuses were blooming...little bits of color in an otherwise brown bed. The daffodils are beginning to bud as well.

And since the weather was fine, Tom persuaded Emma to make her first foray onto the deck. She was very, very cautious, keeping her belly close to the ground. I missed her maiden journey because I was helping a friend move. Emma didn't go out today because we were over at our friend's new house during the warmest part of the day. As the days get warmer, Emma will go out more. Hopefully she'll stay on the deck or in the back garden. The county animal shelter microchips all of the animals that come in for adoption, so if she wanders and gets picked up by Animal Control or someone else, we'll get her back quickly. We need to get her used to wearing a collar, though.

Knitting News
There's not much to report. I'm resisting the siren call of the Socks That Rock yarn. I've completed two repeats of the Fair Isle bands on the Christine sweater. I finally frogged Tom's original scarf and skeined the yarn. When I soaked it to get the kinks out, it lost a lot of the original loft. I'm a bit worried about that, but what's a girl to do? If worse comes to worse, one half of the scarf will be at a slightly different gauge. And maybe the new yarn will flatten out to match the original yarn after I wash and block it. At the very least, I'll learn something new. Hopefully I won't be learning that I messed up yet again.

The knitting group at work is still meeting and mostly everyone is showing up if they are in the office that day. It feels so good to sit and knit with other people. The conversation sort of meanders around in the way that conversation does with knitting groups. Anne is knitting an intarsia sweater for her nephew and she's done a wonderful job. Stephanie is working a sweater. Laura is just getting back to knitting and is using up all of her old yarn trying out different techniques; her next projects will be a sleeveless shell for her daughter and a little coat for a young niece. Jackie decided she didn't like knitting a scarf and is working on a little purse made out of one of yarns that looks and feels like suede. My knitting group projects will be Tom's scarf and then various unfinished sock projects. Everyone's work is very good.

That's about it for now. Time to check on the foccacia dough. Tom's going to make chicken parmigiana for dinner. My contribution will be foccacia with carmelized onions and roasted red peppers, fettucine, and some sort of spinach dish. I can't decide between spinach sauteed with olive oil and garlic or spinach with lemon. Hmmm...maybe creamed spinach... Time to consult my Marcella Hazan cookbooks.

Buon appetito! Have a great week!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Secret Pal 10

I joined SP 10 a while back. I just read the rules again and discovered that I should have posted the answers by the end of February. Oops...

So without further ado, here are the questions and my answers.

1. What is/are your favorite yarn/s to knit with? What fibers do you absolutely *not* like?

I absolutely do not like to knit with acrylic. I find that I like all natural fibers. My most favorite yarn ever was Adrienne Vitadini Martina, which was a combination of merino and silk. Yum!

2. What do you use to store your needles/hooks in?

I use the Ashland Sky needle sacks. They're great and actually hold more needles than you'd think.

3. How long have you been knitting & how did you learn? Would you consider your skill level to be beginner, intermediate or advanced?

I've been knitting seriously for the last 4 or 5 years and would consider my skill level to be intermediate. My mother originally taught me when I was about 9, which was a feat because I'm left-handed and she's right-handed. Unfortunately, it didn't stick and many decades went by before I picked up the needles again. My knitting really took off when I learned how to knit Continental.

4. Do you have an Amazon or other online wish list?

I have a wish list on Amazon; you might be able to access it here.

5. What's your favorite scent?

Vanilla, patchouli, or citrus. I tend to be sensitive to most scents. A lot of scents react poorly with my body chemistry, so I rarely wear perfumes. Patchouli is an exception.

6. Do you have a sweet tooth? Favorite candy?

Dark chocolate and the darker the better! I find that ginger and dark chocolate go really well together.

7. What other crafts or Do-It-Yourself things do you like to do? Do you spin?

I spin, but not as much as I'd like. I used to do counted cross stitch and dabbled with crochet for a while. I made a mosaic once and that was a lot of fun. And I'd love to try beading. Oh, and weave. I have a small 4-harness Harrisville loom that's been neglected for decades.

8. What kind of music do you like? Can your computer/stereo play MP3s? (if your buddy wants to make you a CD)

My music tastes are pretty eclectic. I like most everything from baroque to rap, with the exception of pop country music. I do like bluegrass, however. I suspect my laptop can play MP3s, but have no clue about the stereo.

9. What's your favorite color(s)? Any colors you just can't stand?

I tend towards blues, greens, and reds. I have colors that aren't my favorites, but try to keep an open mind about them. I keep hoping that working with other colors will improve my color sense.

10. What is your family situation? Do you have any pets?

Married, no children. One young cat.

11. Do you wear scarves, hats, mittens or ponchos?

I wear scarves, hats if I can find any that looks good on me, and mittens. I'm not a big poncho fan, but again, I'm willing to change my mind.

12. What is/are your favorite item/s to knit?

Hmmm...that's hard, since I tend to be a process knitter. Socks are fun and so are mittens and hats. I have a love/hate relationship with sweaters, baby blankets, and scarves.

13. What are you knitting right now?

Far too many things! Two sweaters for my nieces, a scarf for my husband, a shell for my sister-in-law, and a couple pairs of socks for me. See the WIPS section in my sidebar for the complete list (and also for the list of UFOs).

14. Do you like to receive handmade gifts?

Absolutely! Those are my favorite kinds of gifts.

15. Do you prefer straight or circular needles? Bamboo, aluminum, plastic?

It depends on the project. I find that I rarely knit with straights these days. I knit socks on DPNs. I use metal or wood/bamboo needles depending on the yarn. My favorite needles are Brittany and Addi turbos, although I've heard good things about Lantern Moon and the Knit Picks Options.

16. Do you own a yarn winder and/or swift?

I own both; I don't think I'd be able to survive without them.

17. How old is your oldest UFO?

You don't want to know. Several years old.

18. What is your favorite holiday?

Sad to say, but I don't really have one. I'd say Christmas, if it weren't for the commercialism and the pressure of buying (and receiving) tons of gifts.

19. Is there anything that you collect?

Yarn? Although my stash is relatively small.

20. Any books, yarns, needles or patterns out there you are dying to get your hands on? What knitting magazine subscriptions do you have?

I subscribe to Interweave Knits, Knitters, and Knitty. See my wish list for other books. I'm particularly enamored with Elizabeth Zimmerman and Barbara Walker's stitch dictionaries.

21. Are there any new techniques you'd like to learn?

I recently learned Swedish twined knitting. I want to work on more lace. I seem to be drawn to ethnic knitting.

22. Are you a sock knitter? What are your foot measurements?

I do knit socks. Measurements are roughly 9" long, 9" around the ball of the foot, and 8" right above the ankle.

23. When is your birthday?

October 14

So, there you have it. I think this exchange is going to be fun. I thoroughly enjoyed the One Skein exchange, even though my secret pal's final package was stolen. (Heidi, if you're reading this, I haven't forgotten about you. I've got new yarn so I can recreate the scarf!)

Now, excuse me. I hear a business plan calling me. (And Emma just placed one of her furry mice on my leg. Clearly she's not hearing the call of the business plan!)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

In Like a Lion

The weather these last two days has been incredible. The saying for March In like a lion, out like a lamb seems to be true, at least the first part. The wind has been roaring like mad. I went out to lunch yesterday to celebrate a coworker's birthday and could barely close the car door! The wind finally subsided this afternoon, and a look at the weather forecast shows no more wind, but about one to two inches of snow tomorrow. Yep, it's definitely March in northern Virginia!

A Surprise!
When I pulled into the driveway last night, I noticed a package snuggled up against the door, desperately trying to get out of the wind and cold. I let it in, thinking I recognized it, but was disappointed to see that it was addressed to Tom. I thought I knew what it was. I quickly scanned the return address. Yes! I was right! The package was mine! I took it to the kitchen and carefully placed it on the counter, and proceeded to complete a few chores, glancing at it longingly. (I like to prolong the feeling of anticipation.)

Finally, I picked it up and ripped it open and pulled out...

Presenting the first shipment of the 2007 Rockin' Sock Club! I opened the binder and inside was a 10% discount card, a welcome letter, an NSK (Notorious Sock Knitter) bumper sticker, a Rockin' Sock Club pin, a skein of sock yarn as well a little tiny skein of emergency sock yarn in what appears to be the same colorway, and a sock pattern. Woo hoo!

The women at Blue Moon Fibers must be super women. After the little debacle with their bank thinking the sock club was fraudulent and changing banks, the sock club membership jumped to 2000! I was pleased when my membership was activated, but now I feel really bad for making these fine women work around the clock to get 2000 notebooks, swag, and skeins of yarn out the door. It boggles my mind (which is pretty easily boggled at this point). I bow before their tenacity and strength. All hail the women from Blue Moon Fiber Arts!

Needless to say, I've been gazing longingly at the yarn and fondling it every now and then. But, these socks cannot, must not, be cast on until I finish knitting (note I did not say "finish") the Jenna and Christine sweaters!

Sunday, March 04, 2007


It's been a rather productive weekend. I spent yesterday cleaning the downstairs, looking at candidates for the yarn shop, grocery shopping, and cooking dinner for some friends. We had a pork loin roasted with herbs, onions, and apples, accompanied by red cabbage with juniper berries and sweet potatoes. Tom made a spicy black bean soup for starters. The soup was followed by a salad of bitter greens with apples, stilton, and pecans, dressed with a sherry-shallot vinaigrette. To finish off the meal, I served a wheat-free apple cranberry crisp with vanilla ice cream. And of course, there was the usual assortment of fine libations. A good time was had by all!

One of our friends has a wheat or gluten allergy, so I'm always looking for wheat-free recipes, especially desserts. With the crisp, I found that substituting 1/2 cup of white rice flour and 1/2 cup of rolled oats whirled in the food processor makes quite an acceptable substitute for the flour measure. In fact, I actually preferred it. Maybe it's my imagination, but the substitution produces a lighter textured topping. Of course, the substitution wouldn't work if gluten was needed.

And I was truly decadent for lunch today. While Tom was munching popcorn and watching Monster's Ball, I whipped up an omelette aux ciboulettes. Along with a little bit of salad left over from dinner last night, some baguette, a small glass of Chardonnay, and listening to Vivaldi's opera, Orlando, I could almost imagine that I was back in gay Paris.

What? You want to know how the yarn shop search went? It too was very productive. I bought a lamp that was marked down almost 50%! No, seriously, it went well. I got a much better sense of what size space I'd like. There are two potential contenders, but one place is for sale and terribly overpriced. If we bought a shop, I wouldn't have any money for inventory. But maybe this place won't sell and the owners would be willing to rent with an option to buy. I think this space would offer the most options for me and support my vision of the shop becoming a place for the knitting community to gather. The other place I looked at was also nice and definitely affordable. A bonus is the that current tenant's wife runs a little day spa in the back. So my clients could not only buy yarn, but they could also get a facial as well! The downside is that the shop is on a small side street with zero parking. So the search will continue.

If you check my sidebar, you'll notice that there are several knit alongs that I joined. I'm notoriously bad at knit alongs, because mostly I never finish anything, despite starting off with good intentions. The most recent along is the Twisted Knitters. I joined in the hopes that I'd force myself to spin more, maybe get a crash course in dyeing, and then knit up the results of my labors. Ha! Other than buying The Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook, a drop spindle and some yummy roving (and trying to learn how to spin with a spindle again), I made zero progress, despite having close to six months to do the work.

So, you'd think I'd learn, eh? Nope. I joined the 2007 Rockin' Sock Club. I have no idea what to expect, other than fabulous yarn that gets shipped to me every other month or so. How great is that?! I think I'm actually supposed to knit the socks, but we'll see. I still have three sweaters and scarf to complete.

And if that isn't enough, I also joined Secret Pal 10. Other than the One Skein Secret Pal exchange, I've never been able to find the "official" secret pal information. (Hint: Do a Google search on "Secret Pal 10." Duh. I'm a computer professional; you'd think that I would have thought of that sooner.) I'm looking forward to this exchange. And after my final One Skein gifts that I sent went missing, you can be quite sure that I'm going to send everything insured and with a tracking number and maybe with return receipt requested!

Gauge Matters
I checked the gauge on the Christine sweater this morning. Alas, it's a little off. The pattern calls for 26 stitches over four inches and I'm counting 27. So, there you have it. My niece is a wee slip of a thing and this sweater is supposed to be a whopping 28-3/4 inches across the chest, so with a gauge of 27 stitches, the final chest measurement would be 27.4. (Of course, that's assuming that I'm doing the math correctly and that's a big assumption.)

Despite the evidence that I'm not getting gauge, I'm going to knit blithely on. The knitting goddess may smite me yet.

Emma is also feeling laissez-faire about gauge.

Friday, March 02, 2007


Looky here!

It's the Sweater of Frustration Christine sweater! Here's a closer view:

That's one of the reasons I didn't post over the weekend. I finally unlocked the Secret of the Chart. The edge stitches are for the entire width of the garment. The size parts of the chart are (I think) for the repeats and edge stitches when working the left and right fronts. There are no side seams. My tension isn't the greatest, but it's passable and I think some of the unevenness will block out. I need to knit a few more rows and then I'll check...gauge. At this point, gauge could become the deal breaker because I didn't knit a gauge swatch. And yes, if the gauge is off, I deserve every bit of the pain and agony of starting over yet again.

There was another reason why I didn't post this weekend:


It was a total surprise. We were supposed to get maybe an inch of snow, followed by a wintry mix of snow and freezing rain, turning to all freezing rain Sunday night and Monday morning. It started snowing early Sunday morning, stopped for a little freezing rain break, then started snowing hard. It didn't stop until about 1:30. Since we haven't been getting that much snow these past few years, I took the opportunity to walk to a friend's house about a mile from here. The walk there was pretty good. The walk back was great because hardly anyone was out. The normal sounds were muted and you could hear the whisper of snow falling. I do so love me a good snowfall!

And Emma does love her new Cosmic Catnip Alpine Scratcher. That's a little bit of catnip on her head. She particularly loves trying to extricate the mouse that's attached to the inside of the scratcher.