Clover vs. buttercups

March 31, 2009

I’ve been kind of assuming that weed that’s been steadily marching across our yard was clover, even though it had a different leaf edge (frilly vs. smooth), root structure (dense with runners vs. fibrous) and flower (yellow petals vs white/pink/red balls). A very short search on the web turned up this website, which made it clear that we are dealing not with clover, but with buttercups. Hmmm.

A little bit more searching, and I’m increasingly impressed at the scale of the problem. Apparently buttercups, with their runners and thick roots that can grow up to 25 cm deep are a nearly unstoppable force. They thrive in damp and acidic soil. (Check and check.) They crowd out all other life forms. And, to top it off, they’re poisonous and you can get bad rashes if you come in contact with them or breathe the leaves’ oil. Super.

It sounds like we have two options:

The first is to give up on the grass and go for a buttercup yard. The advantages: at this rate of growth, the yard will be all buttercup by the end of the summer, the leaves are genuinely attractive and tolerate mowing well, and buttercups appear to be the only thing that can out-compete the moss. Disadvantages: we’d miss the grass, and some sort of containment is needed to keep the buttercups from marching straight into the garden beds (which they’re also taking over).

The second option is to just start spraying immediately with highly potent broadleaf killers, and to repeat frequently until the last of the stuff is dead. (And then to stay on guard because that root structure is dense, deep, and long-lived.) Advantages: cheap, relatively easy, not too time-intensive, more-or-less effective over time. Plus, Kevin gets to use the chemical sprayer, which makes him cheerful. Disadvantages: toxic chemicals.

The third option is to try to dig it out manually, but we’d have to dig a foot down and replace all of the topsoil to be guaranteed success, and the time investment, difficulty, and expense effectively renders this a non-option.

Sounds like we have weed poison in our future?



March 30, 2009

We were finishing breakfast yesterday when the sun came out! Brilliant warm light! We basked for about 30 seconds, and then wonderful Kevin hopped up and headed out into the 42-degree sunshine to clean all of our windows.

It makes such a huge difference. He followed it up with weedwhacking the suddenly 10" tall mess on the top shelf of the yard, blowing all of the sodden, caked-on sawdust off of the patio, and redistributing all of the mulch from when we had the tree stumps ground into the beds along the side of the house.

It looks awesome. He’s a good person. :-) Then he headed out with the macro lens to get photos of the dew on the flowers. (As usual, click for big. The detail he gets with the macro lens is beautiful.)

We have lots of buds on the daffodils:

I keep expecting to wake up to find a riot of flowers, but they’ve been keeping tightly curled. We still have just a few partial blooms, and those are all toppled, like the weight of all the rain and the grey made them just want to lie down. Poor despairing flowers.

It appears that something has been snacking on our primroses.

I love the orange-yellow bleed of color on these white primroses.

And the minidaffodils are still looking dainty and bright. I definitely want to plant more of these for next spring.

I went out to admire his handiwork around noon, and discovered that the sun was actually warming things up! It got up to the mid-fifties, and was so pleasant outside in a sweatshirt. We did a quick hardware store run for gardening supplies (weed and moss killers for the lawn -- post on this tomorrow -- plus new grass seed. We got back and spent the entire rest of the afternoon (until twilight, so after 7) moving from one project to the next. Kevin mowed the lawn (the first time this season!) and then sprayed down the entire yard (front and back, including the top shelf and most of the beds) with broadleaf killer. I put primroses and pansies in the planter by the front walk, and then finally planted the entire 90-bulb bag of sprouting tulips. One of these years I'll do that in October, when you're supposed to. I used the handsnips to deadhead and even out a few of the bushes, including the hydrangea by the kitchen window, and then continued on to remove all of the dead plants, branches and runners from the rock wall. I picked up a full yardwaste bin's worth of downed birch and evergreen branches. Whew. Kevin did a round of moss killing on the driveway, and I potted cilantro for the kitchen window. The yard looks amazing from every window. It's going to be a treat to come home and see it all week!!


Orange is so cheery

March 29, 2009

I seem to be on a green and orange kick this week.

The tulips are tomato colored, with irridescent orange edges. :-) I'm an enormous fan, and they counteract the crummy weather beautifully. Thank goodness for March tulips!

The sweater is my finished Pea Pod. I made the six month size sweater, and the 14½" hat. I love the orange shell buttons (Kevin does too!), and I expect that they’ll make me as happy next February as they do now. :-) I thought the hat as written kept looking way too short on babies’ heads, so I started the decreases at row 9 of the chart instead of row 3. I have no idea if the hat and sweater will fit at the same time – if not, at least it will be easy and quick to whip up a second hat.

And here’s the back:

This was such a great pattern, and I have fun memories of working on it – the Whistler trip, the Costa Rica trip, and sewing on the buttons right after we found out the baby’s gender: we’re having a boy! Any suggestions for boy baby knitting projects? I have a few rows left on the Baby Surprise Jacket, and then my queue is blank!

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Getting closer

March 28, 2009

I've been steadily plugging away on the Baby Surprise Jacket, and I'm finally seeing some real progress. For a few days, my pattern seemed to be that I had to rip and reknit two rows out of every four, because I kept sailing by one of the pairs of increases. When I miss a single increase, I can make it up even a few rows later by crocheting down, but double increases make the tension far too ugly. At least I kept catching the problems quickly (I'm using the row-by-row chart, crossing off rows as I work, and counting regularly), but it's made this project feel like more of a slog than fun. Because of the increases, each row is longer than the last, so that probably doesn't help my sense of progress.

I took photos of the construction so far, but the light here has been horrible and they're all yellow and flashy. Sorry. I tried retaking them, but the March clouds are just too persistent. (We are so ready for summer!)

Here's the unfolded blob on the needles:

I'm at the point where you put the two fronts on holders and just work on the back and bottoms of the front for a while. The cast on edge is the trapezoid at the top – the top edge plus the two sloping edges at the sides. You can see diagonal lines coming in from the top corners – the decreases for the sleeves, and then slanting back out the other way – the increases for the body. Because of the increases and decreases, it's impossible to lie this flat, so there are folds of fabric on the right and left sides.

Now, if you fold the sleeves in half (the cuffs are the sloping cast on edges) so that the seam will run across the top of the arms and shoulders, you get a jacket. Huh.

Here's the back:

It's a cleverly designed pattern and shape. I'm not sure if I'll really knit this again, once might be plenty, but it certainly was a puzzle to work on until my eyes adjusted to the construction.



March 25, 2009

After a decent stretch of keeping things relatively low-key, I seem to be accumulating quite the project backlog all of a sudden. At the top of the list are planting veggie and flower seedlings, whipping up a bed skirt, recovering the two butterfly chairs in the family room, finishing two knitting projects (the baby surprise jacket, and my long-abandonned Sunrise Circle Jacket) and sewing buttons on two sweaters, and reseeding the front and back lawns.

Now, since I clearly have free time to burn, I keep thinking about baby quilts. :-) The leading contender is the Bento Box pattern -- the piecing is quite simple, but some of the fabric combinations are spectacular. I don't have a color scheme in mind yet, and I'm not sure whether the baby pastels or some combination of brighter/starker fabrics would be better. Just starting to ponder the possibilities.

Stealing photos from other people's flickr sites, some notes/thoughts:

These color combinations are great. The muted blues/greens/browns are definitely what I associate most highly with this pattern, but some of the other combos are equally appealing.

Bento Box Close UpBlue Bento Box quiltbento box quilt
Bento Box QuiltBento Box Quilt bento box top 1 quilted

I like the 3 level squares (inner, middle ring, outer) best. The four square ones are still neat but I think you lose some of the power/simplicity.

Quilt # 2364 (Sue's Quilt)

There seem to be three main ways of assembling squares:
Opposites – two colors per set of four blocks, diagonally self-mirroring:
bento-box-quiltbento boxQuilt Pink Show and Tell 04

Random – you see the L’s but somehow they don’t really come together into rings:


Rings – the Ls come together to form a ring that really stands out and provides structure:

bento box - finished!

Each are pretty in their own way, but the rings are the ones that impress me the most. Most quilts seem to end up a mix of the random and the rings – it’s hard to find examples that are purely one or the other. Some blocks just seem to come together more successfully than others. I've been trying to figure out what differentiates the Ring blocks from the Random blocks -- tone of the center fabric compared to the exterior/interior? Using the same fabric for at least two touching center stretches? Color? Pattern texture/density? I haven't figured out the trick yet, but it's definitely something to decode before deciding on fabric.

Finally, the quilting on this one is amazing:


Baby Surprise Jacket

There are some patterns that it feels like everyone must knit (this feeling has only been magnified now that people can track their projects on Ravelry, and you can see the thousands of versions of the same sweater or scarf). Elizabeth Zimmerman's Baby Surprise Jacket is one of those patterns. It's unusual in that it was published in the late 60's (most of the bandwagon projects have been published online in the last few years).

In theory it's a simple knit, because it's all garter stitch. The odd part is the construction – the cardigan-style sweater is knit in one piece – you cast on along the line that runs from the cuffs of the sleeves, along the top of the arms, and across the back of the neck. You strategically decrease for a while, switch to strategically increasing, and then bind off along the line that extends down the middle on one side of the front, around the bottom of the back, and then up the other side of the front. The directions are easy to follow, but trying to envision the finished pattern as you work is truly mind-bending.

Here's my progress at the end of the decreases:

The right and left sides are the completed sleeves. Ultimately, I'll fold the bottom edges of the sleeves up to the top and seam them to make the shoulders and the top of the sleeves. I think I finally understand what I'm doing, but it's very convoluted. Based on other people's gauges and results, I think this will turn out to be a 6-9 month size – perfect for early next spring. I wasn't entirely sure about the purple (I think I'll probably omit it in the next two balls), but otherwise I love the yarn – a very soft washable cotton with interesting and pretty color variation.



March 21, 2009

Our yard is still more wintery and ugly than not, but there are starting to be pockets of Spring. The crocuses are blooming in front of the house.

We have a bunch over on the side as well, where they managed to grow through about 6" of wood chips from the stump grinding in October. I was so discouraged after they were mangled last year that I didn't bother to plant more bulbs, but seeing them persevere this year I'm thinking I'll have to get more in the ground. They're such cheerful things. The hydrangeas are all budding with leaves – it's a treat to see the green nubs on those woody, dead-looking branches. Quite Secret Garden. The daffodils are starting to bud as well – I'm guessing there will be flowers by next weekend?

I was mystified when I saw flashes of yellow at the top of the rock wall yesterday. When I went up to investigate, I found my mini daffodils!

I'd been wondering why so few had come up in my planters – usually I have about a dozen and this year there are only six sprouts. I assumed that the squirrels must have dug up the bulbs (when in doubt, always blame the squirrels). I must have replanted some of them when I was transplanting irises? I really don't remember, but it was a lovely surprise. The mini rhododendron behind them has buds that look like they're about to burst, and when I looked out this morning, the forsythia under the pine trees had bloomed!

Between daylight savings and the natural progression, it's suddenly light past seven in the evenings. Now we just need the weather to break out of the forties and stop raining, and I can start cleaning things up in the yard after work. The big project for the next few weeks is going to be figuring out what to do with the lawn. The winter seems to have encouraged the clover, moss and weeds. We definitely need to reseed the grass. I'm all opposed to spraying the weeds, but haven't yet figured out a better solution than nuking all of the undesirables with chemicals, since the clover (if that is in fact what it is) has a huge network of underground runners and is impossible to pull out. Any ideas?



March 20, 2009

I've been meaning to make a trip to Joann's for months, and finally went last night. I found fabric for several projects (a skirt for the box spring, fleece to wrap up all of our new crèche figurines for the season, properly rigid stuff for baby shoes, etc) but the real success was finding buttons for some of the outstanding baby sweaters!

I spent ages in the button aisle, and came away feeling like I'd found the perfect options. Yay! :-)

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March 19, 2009

Most mornings, we woke up at dawn to the loud groaning/roaring of a howler monkey right above our roof. He was gone by the time we emerged from our room, but I was so delighted to get to see him in the tree above the B&B entrance one of the afternoons.

Our shower was another interesting viewing spot for creatures. It was open to the sky, and one wall held a planter with all sorts of leafy plants.

I was very leery of seeing enormous spiders (we didn't see one all trip – yay), but we saw all sorts of other interesting insect eaters. The first night, there was a gecko chirping away. The second night, I turned on the foot hose to wash off the deet and sand on my legs before bed, and a bright yellow frog used my knee and arm as a launch pad before clinging to the wall. Luckily I saw him before the shock of the motion had fully registered. When I was a teenager, I'd papered the walls of my room with photos from National Geographic, including many tropical frogs. This guy looked exactly the part – bright golden yellow, and he stuck around long enough to be admired before crawling up the wall into a leafy hiding spot.

Our welcome packet warned that crabs find their way into the rooms, especially the showers, but we weren't entirely disappointed that the only ones we saw were on the beach.


March 18, 2009

Me (18½ weeks) and Kevin at the wedding:

We were saved from feeling like this trip was the last pre-baby hurrah by the sheer number of months still left – plenty of time for interesting weekend trips and travel. I enjoyed my first maternity clothes on the trip. We joked that we could practically see the baby growing, since it felt like every time I looked down I'd gotten bigger. We're both amazed by the changes. I've been feeling a lot of movement, especially a few minutes after sitting down and any time I got in the pool (it's the oddest feeling). And it was fun for both of us that our friends were so enthusiastic and interested.

Beach knitting

March 17, 2009

Most of my knitting time was in the airports (I try to sleep on planes) and in the evenings before bed, but I still made a lot of progress on the Peapod Sweater (just need to find buttons! Something in the brown/orange/red spectrum?) and the beginnings of the matching hat!

This picture makes me want to squint it's so bright, and yet it was taken at 9:30 in the morning when the sun was just starting to climb. We both managed to avoid burning (yay, 45 SPF) and came back with tan lines, so it felt like a successful vacation. :-)


Costa Rica

March 16, 2009

Our trip was wonderful. Our bed and breakfast was right on the beach. There were eight rooms arrayed around a courtyard, a covered but open dining area and kitchen next to the pool, a line of trees and plants that provided some very welcome shade, and then the ocean.

The rooms had screened windows and ceiling fans (which kept the temps exceptionally pleasant for the brief moments we spent there), but at sunset we'd close the shutters and turn on the AC to keep the mosquitoes at bay. The first morning I woke up early (7:00) to many bird calls and a horrible groaning sound above our heads – turns out that there's a howler monkey that frequents that shoreline! I decided to get up – not my normal time of day but the morning was crisp and beautiful. The hot shower felt wonderful, since the air was still cold enough for goosebumps, then I went down to the beach with knitting and a book.

I was all excited to finally find a book on baby brain development before we left, and even happier that our delay meant that I could bring it with me on the trip. Unfortunately(?), the beach was too interesting and pretty for much reading. There were crabs everywhere (from half an inch in size all the way up to about 10"). The tide was going out and they dug holes in the wet sand, and then would venture out (to hunt? to sun?). I tried to get photos but couldn't get close enough – they were way more scared of me than I was of them which seemed ideal since they were lightning fast. Out on the water, there were many pelicans fishing. They have the funniest technique of diving straight down into the ocean, and just when you're convinced they must have broken their necks from the impact you realize the bird is now just sitting on the water looking blasé. There was also a steady stream of people and dogs walking by before it got too hot. Here's the view looking north up the beach:

By 8:30 I was too hungry so I went back, woke up Kevin, and we went to breakfast. Each day there were two to three courses. Always a fruit course, sometimes a freshly baked fruit or spice bread, and then a main course. I had trouble finishing. We saw several great butterflies as we ate, birds, and enjoyed watching the hotel cat stalk leaves in the garden.

Each day after breakfast, we'd head back to the room, get all of our things for the day (sunscreen, books, water, towels or sarongs) and head out to meet up with the rest of the crowd.

(You can see the courtyard off to the right. I loved the flowers outside each of the doors. They changed daily.)

The wedding was 106 people, and a full quarter of the crowd was Kevin's fraternity brothers and assorted wives and girlfriends. Most of them were staying in two huge, fancy houses about 30 yards down the beach from us. Marrakech had a particularly lovely infinity pool, so we'd head there to find people.

(You can see the tables being set up for the wedding reception in the background. The reception was held on the beach along the shoreline, with lanterns strung up everywhere and dramatic lighting on the trees once the sun set over the water. It was exquisitely beautiful.) The pool is uncharacteristically empty in this photo – generally there was a crowd enjoying the cool water (the days got hot – pushing 90), reading on the edges, racing the floats, and sunbathing.

We tended to have an afternoon or evening group activity – sailing along the coast on a catamaran, heading to a beach 25 minutes away to surf or body surf, manicures and pedicures, a welcome reception, the rehearsal dinner, or the wedding itself. The surfing beach we went to was impressive. Big waves (a little bit too big to bodysurf, in my opinion, though I got thoroughly tumbled by them a few times and had a good time floating out past the break point), a stretch of sand too long to walk in the heat, and a beach bar with lots of shady tables.

When we could, Kevin and I would go to the beach chairs out in front of our B&B to watch the sun set over the high tide surf.

We made the mistake of not putting on bug spray early enough the first night and learned quickly. We'd sprayed our clothes with DEET before we left and were pretty religious about getting the DEET lotion on by 5 PM or so. It was such a nice feeling to rinse it off before bed when we were finally home in the evening. Dinners were late (usually between 8 and 11 by the time we ate), and Kevin would walk pregnant me home after them before rejoining the gang for a bit more fun. I'd been worried before we left that the group vacation would be hard, but it was wonderful – great company and fun activities, but plenty of companionable relaxing/reading time and where everything was so close, I didn't feel like I had to stay out once I got tired. Such a wonderful getaway.

Enough of Winter

March 09, 2009

The crocus spikes have budded in the last few days, and I've been enjoying the tightly curled petals every time I walk to the car or mailbox.

All of our crocuses were eaten as they appeared last year, by some marauding cat or squirrel, and so each time that they're still there when I walk by seems like something of a gift. I'm guessing that they'll open while we're away, which increases the urge to enjoy them now while I can.

We were supposed to leave on Saturday night for Costa Rica. College friends are getting married on the beach, and there will be a week of hanging out with East Coast friends before the Saturday ceremony. Originally, we'd been thinking of taking a few days at the beginning of the trip to go see volcanoes and tree frogs, but the combination of logistics and pregnancy convinced us to just enjoy our beach time instead. We've been looking forward to the friends and sun. Packing beach clothes was delightful. So when we got to the airport and were refused boarding passes, we were disbelieving, then incredibly depressed. Apparently Costa Rica requires 30 days of validity on your passport, and Kevin only had 28. We took a sad cab ride home.

Luckily, there are a handful of passport offices in the country that do same-day passports and Seattle has one of them, so Kevin made an appointment for first thing Monday morning. We weren't sure until he got there that he would be able to actually renew his passport in time for the rest of the trip to be worth it, and so it was so exciting and such a relief to have the passport in hand by 3 pm. The airlines changed our flights for free and the expedited passport service only cost an additional $35, so in the grand scheme, not too much harm was done.

We spent most of Sunday with the suitcases parked next to the front door, trying to will the passport thing to work out. The weather was dismal, and then on Monday it started to snow.

It should have been a beautiful sight, but we were too much in the mood for hot beaches and so the wintry scene was more frustrating than enjoyable.

We drove into Seattle together to pick up the passport and as we headed back home across the 520 bridge, the weather turned from grey to snow and the headlong rush of frantic commuters outrunning the "storm" appeared. Luckily, they were all going the other direction, and we were grimly amused to see traffic completely stop within minutes. When the first flakes appeared, we were having visions of cancelled flights and airport shutdowns. But seeing the lines of cars all gridlocked on the on-ramps, we started to feel like the traffic jam karma would actually outweigh the trip bad luck. Sure enough, everything had melted and the roads were clear when the airport shuttle arrived at 7:30.

What a weekend of not-skiing will do

March 05, 2009

I finished the body on the Pea Pod sweater last night. As you can see, the back and fronts are knit in one piece, with sleeves and the collar added later. The front is asymmetrical, with the leaf lace panel roughly centered and the closure to the side of it.

I’m thinking buttons somewhere in the brown to orange spectrum will look great. I started the first sleeve, and aside from some mixups in the lace, it’s been flying. (I should know better than to knit the first few rows of lace patterns while reading, it always goes awry.)

I’m debating what to knit next after this. We have friends getting married in Costa Rica, and we’re going to have a beach vacation. (Can’t tell you how much we’re looking forward to the sun!) I’m guessing I’ll run out of things to knit on this within a day or so of arriving, so I need more vacation knitting. My top candidate has been the Baby Surprise Jacket, but I didn’t realize you couldn’t buy the pattern directly from Ravelry. :-( We’ll be going on vacation before the mail-order version could arrive, and I’m opposed to buying any more Elizabeth Zimmermann books. (I keep giving in and buying them based on one pattern that I like, but the two that include the BSJ are quite a bit more expensive and I’m just not that big a fan of the rest of the patterns.) I put a hold on it at the library, but the next book’s due date is the same day our flight leaves, so that seems really unlikely to pan out well. Barring some library miracle, I think I’ll probably give up on the BSJ for now, and instead use the Yarn Harlot’s Daisy sweater as a base and incorporate some sort of fun “interest” out of Knitting on the Edge? And use cotton out of stash, since wool won’t be as nice to knit on the beach? Decisions…


Layette, part one

March 04, 2009

These photos are already two weeks old, but I finally finished and blocked the first baby sweater. Ready? Awww:

I found the pattern on Ravelry, and made some adjustments (changed gauge from Worsted to DK, added the stripes). The construction was completely confusing to me at first (I was having trouble figuring out from the photos how the side slits and ties worked), but I really like the end result.

It took a few tries to get my tension right on the diagonal lace – it wasn't very stretchy, I was knitting in cotton (which is non-elastic), and the color changes complicated the issue – but I finally got the hang of it and it looks great after blocking.
Here's the back:

This set of photos is finally accurate on the color. The vinegar washes appear to have done the trick to prevent bleeding (knock on wood).

The pattern called this a 6 month size but it looks so small. We'll see? Now it can just be tucked away to wait for next fall.