Tuesday, May 31, 2011

There is a certain amount to be said about knitting, none of it of much interest. I’ll stick with vegetable-growing today.

The weather was – and has been – chilly, showery, blowy. “Unsettled”, the forecasters call it. I think it will improve soon:

A wet and windy May
Fills the hay ricks with hay.

There’s a piece of rustic lore for you.

As a result of the cold, there hasn’t been much action in the garden. The soil is in beautiful condition, not too wet, not too dry, ready for action when we get some warm. And, another plus, there has been no frost – it would show on the potato foliage and the apple blossom, and both are fine. Although I didn’t like the sound of last night’s forecast, when we were back in Edinburgh.

So I sort of got started on the Stout System (=mulch everywhere).

I put in some little artichoke plants (I can dream), mulched them with very well-rotted manure, and then covered with long grass cut from around the cultivated bit. There’s lots, and it needs cutting. (We have a strimmer but are both rather afraid of it – I cut on my knees with garden shears.) The Stout System gives me an incentive which makes light work of an otherwise tedious task, so that’s a plus.

The bought-in lettuces from last time are also visible.

Broad beans from the first sowing are making good progress, despite the chill. They were growing in a green sea of chick weed, a relatively small and harmless member of the weed family. So I didn’t pull it out – I smothered it with compost

and then with grass and we’ll see what the chick weed makes of that.

I don’t like Stout’s idea of just flinging kitchen waste on the garden, uncomposted. It sounds as if compost-making is a complicated operation in CT. It’s easy, in Strathardle. I have a bin the county council gave me some years ago – I wish I had made a note of when. They were trying to reduce the amount of rubbish I put out for them to collect.

I put stuff in at the top, and take compost out from a door at the bottom. Sometimes I stir with a garden fork. When Greek Helen is here in the summer, she sometimes tears up cardboard and adds it, and stirs again. I’ll go on with that system. The level is pretty low at the moment.

The fun will start in the fall. I want to begin with a serious layer of manure – Stout says her soil is wonderful because hay has rotted down for 15 years. I don’t have 15 years. Grandchildren will be here soon, and I hope to put them to work wheelbarrow’ing manure from the big heap (we have permission) in the adjacent field. It’s heavy work and they’re not terribly enthusiastic.

Then will come a layer of all the stuff that’s been growing this year –bean stalks and rhubarb leaves and potato halm. Finally, some of the ferns that grow along the burn. I thought they were bracken. My husband says not. But there are lots and lots. They’ll make a great mulch. And we’ll see what things are like in the spring. It will be an interesting change from bare earth covered with weeds and looking as if it’s been out of cultivation for several seasons.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


1) Don’t miss the latest blog post from KristieinBC – she’s one of us. And don’t fail to follow her link to CTV. I could watch it here in Drummond Place, so it ought to be manageable anywhere.

2) The friends who were staying with us last weekend went off to Dunkeld on Sunday and actually saw the nesting osprey through binoculars. The webcam available to all gives a much better view. It’s now time for the eggs to hatch, and nothing is happening. The tone of this morning’s blog entry is less hopeful than before.

I’ve been looking in ever since our friends told us about their day. I have been surprised, every time, by the attitude of Mrs Osprey. I would have expected her to use the time to read a good book, or get some knitting done, but she is constantly restless (as far as one can be, sitting still) and constantly alert.


All went well with the Aran sweater yesterday. Perhaps, after the disaster, I am paying more attention.

When I had it off the needles, I used two different systems to calculate how much yarn I would need altogether. I’ve got enough, although not much to spare. I tried again this morning, with yet another system. I’ve still got enough. I worry, and it’s a good reason to press on as hard as possible.

A serious temptation to deviate:

My madeleinetosh yarn, colourway Cosmos, is here. I need to knit a great big swatch and send the particulars – perhaps, better, the swatch itself – to the cyber friend who is going to write a pattern for me based on the Japanese shirt I so much admire. That is to be the next Strathardle project, once I polish off that final sleeve on the pink Araucania. I bought enough that I don't have to worry -- thus are stashes built.

I think we’re going there today, although my husband made an ominous remark at bedtime last night about a letter on his computer which he just wants to finish and dispatch. Everything takes time in old age, and there is the further complication that our movements are circumscribed by the need to plan ahead for food.

“Ten servants waited upon the household, but in a desultory fashion, for they could spare very little time from the five meat meals which tradition daily allowed them.” [Evelyn Waugh, “Scoop”] There’s only one of me, but the result is much the same.

I am very eager to get started mulching, and I note your comment, Tamar. I am sure, from previous experience of grass cuttings, that I know what you mean about “rot anaerobically”. Mix with sawdust? Wood ash? I have neither straw nor, at this time of year, leaves.

Our friends who stayed recently have a house in France, and I was eager to ask them about sorrel, which is said to be much more common there. Once we had tracked down the word, oseille, they agreed – it is a familiar soup and sauce, not a stand-alone vegetable, and not much found in the market. In the course of my Google’ing I found a recipe for sorrel pesto, and I’m eager to have a go at that, too.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Near disaster, yesterday.

I realised that the diagonals in the current folded ribbons, were going in the wrong direction. I flailed about mentally, as one does in that situation: does it matter? can I take back just the offending ribbons and hook the stitches up correctly? Anss: Yes. No.

Last night I pulled out the needle and frogged and picked up the stitches on a much smaller needle. This morning, during my weekly half-hour of osteoporosis pill-taking, I knit the recovery row. All is well. (The osteoporosis pill has to be taken first thing in the morning. Nil by mouth for the next half hour, and you’re not allowed to go back to bed, either. I often spend the time knitting.)

The stitches were very good, and didn’t try to escape. Lace stitches wouldn’t have behaved like that! For the most part, they didn’t even try to undo the twist they had received in the preceding row. Most of them were sat wrong, as always happens when I pick up stitches; and more than a few were split. EZ says somewhere that that’s the one fatal error in knitting – the one that can’t be turned into a design feature. I dealt with them one by one and, as I have said, all is well.

Two trivial points: EZ does her folded ribbon without a cable needle, “forward twist” and “backward twist”. I noticed that the backward twists, which produce the left-leaning diagonals, were loose and sloppy-looking compared to their fellows, so on the most recent repeat I have started doing them with a cable needle, to their great improvement. Perhaps the earlier diagonals will smooth out a bit with blocking.

EZ claims to have invented her “sheepfold” pattern. There is something very similar in Bavarian twisted-stitchery – but I’ve just looked it up (see page 84 in the Schoolhouse Press translation of Erlbacher) and find that there, the entire ribbon moves left or right on every row. EZ does it by just moving the diagonals which form the upper and lower edges.

Clever woman.

Which brings me to her new book, Knit One Knit All. It’s terrific. Worth the wait. Full of ingenious design, presented in ways that let you pick up the idea and run with it, if so inclined. It has a feature I’ve never seen before – a credit, with every photograph, for the knitter. Many are of EZ’s own construction, which is, of course, worth knowing.


The weather has calmed down, and I hope we’ll go to Strathardle tomorrow to survey the damage. The news last night suggested that a lot of farmers have lost the plastic covers which protect acres of raspberries. Blairgowrie is raspberry country. It is one of my beliefs in life that nothing grown under plastic tastes as good as things grown outdoors, so my sympathies are somewhat divided here. I bought some English strawberries in Tesco last week -- beautiful, ripe, firm. They tasted of nothing but water.

I have started saving a doggy-bag of potato peelings and onion skins to take along to augment my mulches. The man who now cuts our grass (instead of me) tends to make my husband cross by piling it up beside the burn instead of throwing it in. My husband was grumbling about that just last week. I meant to pitch the pile in before we left, but didn't get it done. That means I have a whole nice heap of grass-cuttings to start off with!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Good to be back.

Odds and ends

Nephew Theo, my sister’s son, is to be Chief Operating Officer for the Democratic National Convention next year in Charlotte. Those of us who were lucky enough to be at his and Jenni’s wedding two years ago know that that man can be trusted to organise anything superbly.

That's Theo on the left.

The KnittinginJapan group I belong to, recently posted this link for free translations of Japanese knitting patterns, with more being added at a steady rate.

The link in Annie’s blog to the Knitting Reference Library at Southampton University deserves to be repeated and underlined. Bishop Rutt and Montse Stanley both donated their collections, and many of the Bishop’s books, at least, have been digitised. I can sit here in Drummond Place and turn the pages. Sometimes one forgets for a moment or two how astonishing is technology.

I think in the original programme for KnitNation, Franklin was going to teach a class in Reading Old Patterns on the Sunday morning. If so, it’s morphed into Photographing Your Fabric, which I’ve signed up for. Vintage patterns are now the province of Susan Crawford, who should be brilliant. But I can’t do everything.


I finished the second ball of Starmore yarn yesterday, put the whole thing on waste yarn, and measured it. It’s going to be about 16” across. I then looked that size up in Vicki Square’s “Knit Great Basics”, an invaluable resource. It’s a “Child Large” – perfect. And Square then tells me how long to make it, and gives some possible help with sleeves. It’s a rather upside-down way to design a sweater, but it works if you have enough grandchildren.

Forget the colour. I didn't dare venture out onto the doorstep at that point yesterday, because the wind was blowing so hard.

I’m pleased with the way it’s looking. I think the patterns go well together. Neither is really traditional Aran, although both are from impeccable sources: Starmore’s Aran book, and an EZ Aran pattern from an early Woolgathering. But I don’t care what the judges think. I’m only here [for the beer -- no] to support the Games and swell the number of entries.

Starmore’s yarn is wonderful, I think, for sculptural effects. I’m not entirely enjoying the process. After a long hard day – and they’re all that, these days – twisting heavy yarn into cables is sort of strenuous. I’m sure you know what I mean. The only solution is to press on as fast as possible.


We had hurricane winds yesterday in Scotland, worst, I think, in the west. Alexander rang up in the afternoon to say he had never seen anything like it since they left Hong Kong. Trees down, electricity gone. This is May. We’ll probably do two nights in Strathardle later this week, to check up on everything (and get started mulching). Meanwhile in London and the southeast, the March and April drought has continued. Rachel’s husband Ed despairs of his vegetables.

Maybe the loonie in California was right and the End of the World is in progress – tornado in Missouri? Volcano in Iceland?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sorry for the break.

Old friends from Birmingham are staying – that means having the kitchen reasonably swept and presentable in the morning; plus breakfast on the table – that’s easy; plus sitting and talking of old times – that’s very pleasant. But if I don’t get those prime 40 minutes first thing in the day, there’s no blog.

More soon – Tuesday? Meanwhile all well here. I’m nearing the end of the second ball of Starmore’s Bainin yarn – it’s lasted much longer than I expected, given where the first one pegged out. Soon I will be able – at least, will try – to calculate the future.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Annie, welcome. I hope you’ll stay. The proportion of vegetables to knitting here is perhaps uncharacteristically high, this time of year. I’m rarely as interesting on knitting as you are, however.

[While we’re here, and prompted by Annie’s remarks about famine in Wales, I’d like to say that I’ll be glad when the Queen is safely home this afternoon. I’m glad her visit to Ireland has been a success. It felt kind of phoney, to me. The newspapers we read have touched on grievances on both sides – you’d think the English had constructed phytophthora infestans in their laboratories – but have totally failed to mention the assassination of the British ambassador to Dublin in 1976. I doubt if the Queen has forgotten. Even the most absurd of rogue states, world-wide, tend to hold back from assassinating ambassadors.]


I finished ribbing the Aran sweater yesterday, and have got the patterns set – the scary bit. I thought maybe yesterday that I’d practice EZ’s “sheepfold” pattern before I started – but it turned out to be circular-needles-only, with action on every round. It’s going very well, fortunately.

And that settles the steek question – I’ll have to continue in the round up to the neck.

I surprised myself yesterday by finishing the first ball of yarn. I’ve got seven, meant to be more than enough. The first was diminished by two large swatches, of course. The thing to do is to finish the next ball, take the thing off the needles and measure the circumference carefully, calculate from that what the appropriate total length will be, and from that, with a bit of on-the-safe-side guessing, how much yarn I’ll need.

There should be enough for a pic in a day or two. I am particularly looking forward to seeing a second knit-through of the meandering Celtic pattern stacked on top of the first – but that won’t happen for a while.

That happy morning I spent in Alice Starmore’s class last summer was devoted to just this sort of thing – her unvention of cable patterns that spring up in the middle of anywhere by virtue of major increases in a single stitch. I think she got to it before Lavold. I looked it up, last year.


Thank you for the RHS link, Isabella. I have read with interest and perhaps some enlightenment, clicking on links.

I was most interested to read in Stout ["Gardening Without Work" -- see yesterday] that July is the only month when she was confident of not having frost – snap, sister! She gardened in CT, with which I am at least somewhat acquainted as my sister lives there. The difference (between CT and Strathardle) is that Stout grew all sorts of things which would be impossible for me, sweet corn and squashes, in those precious weeks between the last June frost and the first late-August one.

That steamy American heat being the deciding factor.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I am beginning to feel somewhat recovered, and should perhaps touch on actual knitting.

I did pretty well with the final pink Araucania sleeve while we were away. I had only just cast it on, the time before.

Here, I finished a second swatch of the meandering Celtic pattern last night, liked it better knit with a larger needle, made some calculations – I do hate thinking – and cast on the sweater. I eliminated various patterns from my original draft, but even so, it looks large. (I’m aiming, roughly, at a 30” child-sized circumference.) I considered starting again, and decided against it. The worst case scenario is having to order more yarn. If I press on briskly as intended, there may not even be a dye-lot problem.

And as for ordering yarn, I emailed Loop about what seemed to me continuing gaps in their madeleinetosh sock yarn page. I didn’t entirely understand their reply, which indicated that they hadn’t entirely understood my email and also said something about July. I decided to give up, concentrate on the colour-ways which (a) are illustrated and (b) offer enough skeins for my purposes, and just order. I’ve gone for “Cosmos”.


I am very interested in Ruth Stout’s book, “Gardening Without Work”. The idea can be expressed in a sentence – cover everything with a thick layer of organic mulch. But the book is also delightful, and thought-provoking.

I don’t think my husband is likely to let me order in a load of spoiled hay. But I think I can muster enough compost & manure & grass-cuttings & bracken & what-not to try it on parts of the garden anyway. Stout says, start NOW. I am at the one moment of the year when I can’t do that, because the vegetable seedlings are so tiny. I can at least start throwing stuff at the potatoes, instead of earthing them up, and intend to do so.

She mentions two problems, lime and nitrogen.

I don’t understand lime AT ALL. If what I say below is right, it is only because I have learned it by rote.

We have acid soil, that means low-lime, that means rhododendrons and blueberries are happy and most vegetables not. Lime seems to be a sort of insulin for soil – not itself a nutrient, but necessary in most cases for plants to make full use of what is there. Stout seems to hope that her system keeps things right, without the need for added lime.

I had thought the opposite. I thought adding manure & compost makes soil more acid, even if it wasn’t already. That is, that lime and manure complement and in a sense oppose each other. There is after all that old farmer’s saying, “Lime and lime without manure/ something something something sure”.

And someone told her that her system was short on nitrogen, so she scatters something I have never heard of on top of the hay in the fall. I’m not too worried about that one. Peas and beans fix nitrogen in the soil, to begin with. And I intend to go on, whatever happens, sprinkling blood, hoof and bone meal along the soil when I am about to put seeds in.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Safely back, very tired.

But what a post awaited me! The Summer IK, Ruth Stout’s “Gardening Without Work” – you didn’t tell me she was Rex Stout’s sister; AND “Knit One, Knit All”. Talk about cups running over.

I’ll start in Strathardle, though.

My first impression was deep disappointment (as often). Then I pulled myself together. First of all, we had been away only 10 days, not 2 ½ weeks as I mistakenly thought. Secondly, all my little seedlings are there, and doing nicely, although still miniscule, except for lettuce. Slugs? despite the nematodes? I sowed some more.

Peas lead the way:

These are an early pea called “Oskar” from the Real Seed Company. I have also planted mange touts, as always – this year, a new variety called “Kennedy” (promising) from T&M. I ever search for, and ever fail to find, the taste of the snow peas my father grew in his Victory Garden in Detroit. But I always get a good crop over several weeks. Who’s complaining? Peas like cool, damp weather, the Strathardle norm.

Here are the Mara des Bois strawberries, covered with flowers:

And here, the tout ensemble:

The plastic water bottles protect the runner beans I have been growing here in Edinburgh. It’s a bit soon to plant them out, but they are too big to hold back. They seemed very happy after four nights in Perthshire. They had been thoroughly hardened-off on the doorstep here. The bottles are meant to protect them from rabbits – you will remember that Robin Lane Fox said the other day in the Financial Times that wildlife don’t bother runner beans, but our rabbits may have let their subscription lapse – and also from a touch of frost, if it occurs. Maybe this will be the year when there is no frost at all from mid-May to early September? Maybe.

We read recently in a letter to the Telegraph – it is the sort of thing their letter-writers write about – that teabags soaked in Jeyes Fluid deter pests. We can’t remember now, which pests. But here is the experiment in progress:

We have just learned that the Beijing Mileses will be with us at the end of June and in early July. That’s going to be too soon for my own lettuce – especially as it hasn’t come up – so I bought a tray of plants in Blairgowrie last weekend. Above you see three of them, fully accessible to rabbits except for the impregnated teabags. I planted them on Sunday, they were still there yesterday morning. Watch this space.

We had more sorrel soup, and I have brought rhubarb back. I am keeping a list, this year, of what we actually manage to eat from my efforts, starting with a spectacularly good artichoke soup in February.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

After a fairly droopy day yesterday, I suddenly felt much better in the evening. Today we’ll head for the hills. Back here Wednesday, I should hope, with a full report on the peas. There hasn’t been a similar improvement in the weather.

Alas, Roobeedoo, I don’t think Loop is quite ready for me yet. The new colours are listed at the bottom of the page – without illustrations. I went to the madeleinetosh home page and tried for a while to find the colours, but the range is considerable and they aren’t listed alphabetically and I decided it was a ridiculous waste of time to persevere. Also, there are still a lot of out-of-stocks among the colours they’ve had all along. “Lichen”, “Graphite” and “Duchess” are all high on my Possible list, and all are still out-of-stock.

Admittedly, there are some which are illustrated and available which would do. “Milk” is an interesting one. But is “would do” good enough, when I have waited so long and am going to spend so much? I’ll hold out for a few more days, anyway. That steam-driven computer in Strathardle should be up to this job, just about.

I’ve done a full repeat of what is going to be the central panel of my Aran sweater. It was worth swatching – I think I’ve got the hang of the pattern now, and of Starmore’s chart, but it wasn’t entirely easy. Traditional Aran, like Fair Isle, goes in for simple, memorable rhythms. This meandering Celtic stuff is harder to get to grips with. But I love the result.

Disregard the colour entirely. I posted a picture a few days ago of the whole box of yarn, photographed in the sunshine. That was much better.

The fabric seems a bit stiff. I think I’ll try another half-repeat, at least, with the next size larger needle.

(Having written the paragraph above, I began to wonder about the good old River Maeander, in south-west Turkey. Do the Turks still call it by the name which has given us so pleasant and useful a word? Hard to say, is the answer. It’s called Buyuk Menderes now, and “Menderes” could be “Maeander”. The m and the n and the d and even the r– it must be. I have been much struck, in later life, by how many native American place names there are on the East Coast of America, from Manhattan to Nantucket. The early European settlers must have talked quite a lot to the people who already lived there. I don’t think the Turks had that much truck with the Greeks they displaced.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Here we still are.

I am irritatingly not-quite-well, a sub-flu, I think, such as is suffered by old people who have had their flu injection. A bit ache-y, a bit of sore throat and sore glands, a degree or so of fever. In Strathardle, it’s not just that I need to get more seeds in, and weed of course, and net the gooseberries to keep the caterpillars off – I’ve got to put a heavy apparatus on my back and zap – sorry, with glysophate – the grass and weeds at the edges of our driveway.

My husband did it until he was at least 81, and I only fill the apparatus half-full: I ought to be able to manage for another year or so. But not until I feel perky-er, and meanwhile the weather isn’t too good for the job, blowy and showery where what is needed is calm and dry.

So here we are.

As soon as I had sent yesterday’s blog into the ether, I realised that what had to be done for the Mourning Shawl was that I had to tink the whole row back and turn the work and do it properly. It wasn’t as bad as I feared, and the result isn’t as messy as it might have been. I may attempt a doorstep picture today if the sun shines.

Stitches attempted to escape, showing as much ingenuity as escapees from Colditz. They lie doggo along the diagonals formed by k2togs, and then make a break for freedom when your back is turned. But I think the whole thing is now secure, and certainly the final row of the first chart, row 54, is utterly in order, so that I can pick it up in due course and sweep forward.

But for now, for today, it’s on to Aran. The panel I am going to start swatching is in fact more Starmore-Celtic than traditional Aran. So exciting!

And that’s not all. While I was out shopping yesterday (we’ve got to eat), my husband took a phone call. When he reported it to me, he didn’t need to get past the word “Loop”.

The Madeleinetosh yarn has arrived!

The website, however, is not ready for me yet. The top of the relevant page has been altered to announce the new delivery, but the shades listed below are still out-of-stock, out-of-stock, out-of-stock. I wish I had been here to receive that phone call, but I ought to be able to contain my impatience for a few more days.

Inheritance tax

I am interested to discover that Canada and Australia don’t have it. It is a most unpopular tax here, especially as the increase in property values in the last ten years has caught more and more estates.

Elaine in Canada (a.k.a. “Anonymous”), yes, of course you can remove a couple of pictures from the walls before the valuers come. Our solicitor more or less advised that course when we were doing our wills. Alexander is very law-abiding and probably won’t countenance it, and I won’t be there.

But I really want to know the answer to your question – how is the valuing done? Rachel’s husband Ed dealt with his parents’ estate, and says it is up to you to get a valuation and submit it, rather like a tax return. We had a friend, ages ago now, who discovered that a picture she had inherited from an uncle was worth, not hundreds as she hoped, but many tens of thousands. (Hans Baldung, Adam and Eve: I think it wound up in a Canadian gallery.) Although by then the uncle’s estate had been completely settled, the Inland Revenue moved back in and claimed their pound of flesh.

I’ll keep asking our niece, persistently but I hope not too pressingly.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Inheritance tax

It was really rather funny, Anonymous, when the left-leaning Alexander had his Holy Mackerel! moment a few years ago, when he realised how much tax will eventually have to be paid on our estate. A major problem for our heirs – and for many people, one way and another – is that we have some seriously good furniture, inherited from my husband's family, and some moderately good pictures, bought by him, and if our heirs want to keep them, they’ll have to shell out cash.

One thing we have done is to divide the property in Strathardle, previously in my husband’s sole name, into six parts and give shares in it to me and to our four children. That happened just over seven years ago, the magic number for giving things away. So 5/6’s of that house and those broad acres (20 of them) are now completely out of his estate. I think our heirs will be more concerned about keeping that house, than the furniture here, so that’s good.

The Inland Revenue can look with suspicion on gifts made more shortly before death. I don’t know what the rules are, exactly. I do know you can’t give your house to your children and then just go on living in it: they’re on to that one. C. gave her car to our niece at some point last winter, when she knew she would never use it again. I think they’ll probably be all right with that.

Your husband is right, Shandy, about how husband and wife and civil partners can now accumulate and thus double their tax-free band. It was a recent concession. But it doesn’t help C.’s daughters. Her husband, long dead and even longer gone, contributed nothing to her wealth, such as it was. And he had remarried, anyway.


This is terrible.

Last night I finished row 51 of the mourning shawl border. Instead of starting 52, I just went on knitting the pattern for 51. It was late, I was tired, and perhaps not entirely well. The not-quite-rightness of the stitches I was knitting into revealed the error somewhere in the second pattern repeat, and I tinked back to the beginning of the round and started afresh. The tinking was a bit clumsy but I think we’re more or less all right, galloping-horse-wise.

The irony is, that if there had been any Big Holes in the rows in question, I'd have got it at once -- in the next row after a double YO, one must kb into the second loop. If I'd come across one of those, I'd have known what had happened at once.

But it fact, it was only this morning, walking across the square to get the papers, that I grasped what had really happened (solvitur ambulando, yet again) – I didn’t turn, at the end of 51.

That means that I’m now knitting st st. I have peered at it, and it’s very hard to tell. I am far enough along the first side that to tink now would be a pretty serious operation, risking further mess. What worries me is thoughts of the Wager Welt, Walker Vol. I p. 16. In back-and-forth garter stitch, one row of purl creates three rows of st st. Will that be the case here?

Once, years ago, I tried inserting a life line and found it fully as much work as knitting a round. I’ve never attempted it since.

We’re going to Strathardle today (I think). Will the peas be up? They might be! Back by Monday if not sooner. It gives me time to think about this problem.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Half-way round row 49. If I press hard, I should be able to polish off this first chart (54 rows) in two more sessions. The current row introduces the last of the big holes, thank goodness. The trouble with big holes is that they are worked over four stitches, k2tog, YO, YO, k2tog, and this spoils the symmetry of lace which is based on odd numbers –spoils it, not to the eye of the beholder, but to the knitter.

In row 49 I have seven stitches on one side of the central motif, six on the other. Much anxious peering as I try to remember which is which.

Fizz, thanks, I’ve now joined the Ravelry Knit Nation group, and read with interest the thread about Franklin’s photography classes. One sees at a glance what his problem is: from “I have a camera, no idea what it is! It takes pictures!” to “I have a Canon 40D with its standard kit lens (17-85mm) and a 50mm prime lens that I use for close up plant photography”. I’m sure he has been here before, and will do us all proud.

Life in general

Our niece, C’s daughter, phoned yesterday to say that she and her sisters are planning to lunch together on C’s 80th birthday. Would we like to join them? I had been worrying about that day – my husband is occasionally a bit vague about my birthday, and doesn't know his children’s, but he never forgets June 2. I accepted with joy, and he sounded pleased when I told him.

We’ll go to the new restaurant/tea room at the Botanic Gardens. We can stroll among the flowers afterwards if it’s a nice day.

Our niece said recently that she was thinking of taking up knitting again. She used to knit, and gave it up when her daughters got so big that making-up became seriously tedious. Ahah! thot I, and told Amazon to send her “Knitting Without Tears”. We’ll see.

The problems of probate are something I think about sometimes, although we have seen enough now of Death and his ways that I know I may never have to deal with it. I thought maybe the Inland Revenue would swoop in, having watched the papers for death notices. But our niece says not, nothing has yet been done about C’s estate, it is for her and the lawyer to make the first move. Her daughter Little C. has been sleeping in her grandmother’s house to comfort (and feed) the bereaved cat. But now she has gone back to university for her final term.

Our niece means to get started on all the business soon, so that it doesn’t consume her entire summer.

British law is simple: the first slice of an estate – roughly equivalent to the value of an average house – is tax-free. Everything beyond that, 40%. (Between husbands and wives and between civil partners, everything is tax-free.) I am sure C. had no debts, and she had some savings and investments as well as her unencumbered house and its contents, so there’ll be some tax. But how agonizing the process, and how close the scrutiny?


Here is my windowsill-grown tray, now permanently on the doorstep. Those runner beans need to be planted out soon. We can’t go to Strathardle today, because we’re expecting a delivery. Tomorrow? Wednesday? I don’t feel entirely sprightly, and there’s heavy work to be done when we get there.

There are also two courgettes, as you see, and, to the left in the back, a baby gean tree, prunus avium. We lost a huge one in a storm not last winter but the one before. Last summer, my husband collected seeds and we planted them two or three (I've forgotten) in each of 12 Roottrainer cells. And we've got a baby tree!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The yarn came yesterday. Full marks to Starmore:

I love it, perhaps all the more because I have been abstemious for so long (18 months, now) and because the one thing my stash emphatically lacks is enough yarn in any one shade to knit anything that isn’t striped or speckled. (Not entirely true; the Lace Stash could produce a good few single-coloured projects.) And I love the colour, Ben Wyvis, and I’m glad I chose it.

It is difficult not to cast the shawl aside and get cracking. I think I’ll start with a swatch of what I intend for the central panel, the one in Starmore’s “St Brigid” in the Aran book. For one thing, I don’t entirely understand the chart. EZ’s suggestion of knitting a swatch cap with half the pattern won’t work if I’m on track for a child’s sweater – the cap would be too small for anyone. The result, as well as elucidating the chart, will give me a ballpark idea of what sort of size I’m likely to end up with. As I keep saying, it doesn’t matter, as long as the smallest grandson can squeeze into it.

Mary Lou, belated thanks for the link to your post about your aunt and her steeked Aran sweater. I think I’ll plunge ahead. The fact that the Grandson Sweater, also steeked, has held together in what looks by now like substantial wear, is encouraging.

Meanwhile the shawl border has reached the early stitches of row 47. There are 54 rows to be done before I finish the first chart, when I feel I can decently lay it aside.

I look some pictures on the doorstep yesterday in the sunshine – just think how much better these illustrations will be once I’ve attended Franklin’s class! I wanted to show you how the pattern sweeps around the corners, without the more usual mitred diagonal line. But I fear the full effect of that will have to wait until it is pinned out for blocking on the dining room floor.

The larger marker, a curtain ring, in fact, signifies the corner.

There is one extra stitch at the edges. I thought of eliminating it, since I was knitting continuously around, but didn’t. So there is a heavier line down the centre of that repeat than there is elsewhere. And on the final corner, below, where Fleegle’s system is in operation, the line looks a bit loose, despite anxious tugging every time I turn.

I posted the link to Fleegle’s brilliant idea to the Heirloom Knitting group, thinking they would seize upon it as I did as the best thing since sliced bread if not the wheel. Virtually no response.

Blogger seems to have pulled itself together on the issue of paragraph breaks. An odd episode.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Half-way round row 43 of the border of the Mourning Shawl, struggling with those big holes with increasing irritation. They will be finished and behind me, not to reappear, when I reach the stopping-place and switch to the Aran sweater.

Vegetable-growing & other comments

Hat (comment, two days ago) I will certainly try letting the parsley go to seed. My next door neighbour in Glasgow in the 50’s had a self-generating patch of it.

Tamar, thanks for the suggestion of mulching with hay. Wouldn’t it blow about and make a mess? I just looked Ruth Stout up on Abebooks and went ahead and ordered her “Gardening Without Work: for the Ageing and the Busy and the Indolent”. The subtitle was irresistible. I think I come into all three categories. Further report when it arrives.

And I agree about rhubarb. I’ve probably said this before – I grew up earnestly believing that it was an exotic and expensive treat, like globe artichokes, perhaps. We rarely had it at home, and never that I remember at Oberlin. I was delighted when, at 21, I got to Glasgow and discovered that it was served regularly. I even remember telling people that it was a treat for me, because it was something we couldn’t ordinarily afford in America.

Turns out it was just that my mother didn’t like it. And maybe at Oberlin they thought we would despise it. It still has, to me, that taste of almost-forbidden luxury.

Anna, yes, I got some strawberries from the Mara des Bois last year, and look forward to even more this time. They are beginning to flower. Those are they in the picture on Thursday. They don’t seem to throw out as many runners as an ordinary cultivated strawberry, but they do produce a few and I rooted a couple last summer, to add to my stock and make up for winter losses.

Shandy, I do indeed think that Latinate turns-of-speech are an American characteristic. Let’s try to meet at Knit Nation – I won’t be there on Friday, it’s just Saturday and Sunday for me, and Sunday only if I’m still on my feet.

Elizabeth, it was grand to hear from someone who knows Ben Wyvis – the colour of the Starmore Aran yarn which, from today, I shall expect in every post. I really am ready for a project-switch.

Maureen in Fargo, that’s brilliant news (comment yesterday) that the new EZ book is about to be distributed. I’m pretty sure I pre-ordered. I’ll have to keep an eye on things. It occurred to me yesterday that there might well be something there that I could get yarn for at the Knit Nation marketplace.

Here’s another Strathardle picture, taken one morning probably early this week, showing the frost still on the grass where it lies in the shadow of the dyke at the end of the old kitchen garden.

Beyound the feeble rabbit-protection, you can see the summer pudding bush and the pea support for the mange-touts.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Jenny and I had a fine time yesterday, starting in K1 Yarns where I hadn’t been for a while. There’s nothing to beat a flesh-and-blood LYS, with yarn for fondling. As planned, I bought yarn which I hope will do for both of my Knit Nation classes – Franklin’s Tomten class requires one ball worsted-weight in white or a light colour, and one in a contrasting colour. The Travelling Stitches class requires a ball of light, solid-colour smooth DK yarn.

This is what I got. The weight is unspecified on the ball-band, probably more DK than worsted.

I’ll have to buy something at the Knit Nation marketplace to mark the occasion. Everybody is going to be there. Electric red for the sweater I have promised Thomas-the-Elder? Or go-with-the-flow? I think the thing to do will be to set out with specific requirements for some of the things which have flitted across my consciousness in recent months – and for which, in many cases, I have downloaded and printed the patterns.

After lunch Jenny and I walked back to the National Archives at the east end of Princes St., where she is working. I think we passed Alistair Darling on our way, near the new Missoni Hotel, at the centre of a grim posse of men wearing red rosettes. It’s funny how the mind works – I thought, “That’s Alistair Darling” as we walked past, but it took me a fair while to work out in my head who Alistair Darling was. And maybe it was someone else anyway.

I’ve reached round 41 of the mourning shawl border, in the midst of a particularly boring passage of those big holes you make with two adjacent YO’s. Nothing else. The result looks very nice, but I’m finding it tedious. A new motif will be introduced in round 44. Onward!

No news from Loop – their website still promises a delivery of Madeleinetosh yarn in April. But the Schoolhouse says they hope to have the new EZ book back from the printers next week – we really do seem to be making progress there.

Both my husband and I are suffering from what are technically described, I believe, as “summer colds”. Ache-y, sneeze-y, sore-throat-y. I doubt if there’s any point in seeing a dr, although my husband is old enough and frail enough that I hesitate to neglect symptoms of any sort. I’m worried about getting back to Strathardle. This is May. I haven’t got the kohl rabi in.

There was a bit of gentle rain here yesterday, and the world looks damp. More to come, I hope. Helen says that Athens is unusually cold and rainy for the time of year, and of course we all know that it's been bucketing down in Chicago. Not fair.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Rain is forecast for today – alas, not yet falling.

We have had spring droughts in recent years, followed by summers so soggy that the watering of my vegetables needed no further thought. But this year’s spring drought has been extreme – soil trickles back between the tines of a fork in a most un-Strathardle fashion. Rain is badly needed.


Kristie, I was going to be too modest to mention it until I read your comment yesterday. I wrote to Franklin and told him how I had been too late to sign up for the photography class because of my struggles with a steam-powered computer; could he pull a string? And he has written back to say, sure. I haven’t heard any more yet, but as he said himself, if it’s all right with him it ought to be all right with the Knit Nation organisers.

So whatever happens, the organisers will know that I’m not just any old knitter, I am a knitter for whom Franklin Habit will make room in a class.

All well here. I am halfway around Row 39 of the Mourning Shawl border – a decrease round at last. 5.8% of the stitch count will be removed – not enough, I fear, to create a perceivable increase in speed. My current plan is to finish the first page of the chart, 54 rows, slightly more than half the border. And then stop and knit an Aran sweater for the Games.

I’ve just (gulp) ordered the yarn from Starmore. I decided it was pretty silly to go for “Schiehallion” just because it is a dear local mountain, when I actually preferred a different colour. I’ve ordered “Wyvis”, named after a mountain I’ve never even heard of.

I didn’t get much knitting done in Strathardle. We have embarked on the delicious weeks of the year when there is so much light that it is entirely possibly to spend all of one’s waking hours out of doors. The downside is a state of such total exhaustion that even simple knitting is too much. I finished off the first sleeve of the pink Araucania sweater, and cast on the second. A few rows, in all.

Yesterday’s diabetic appt was, however, very productive of knitting time, and Joe’s 21st birthday sock is in a state where a couple of evenings should polish it off. I’d probably better fit it in in between half-the-shawl border and the Aran sweater.


We ate some rhubarb.

The summer pudding bush promises a good crop – those are tiny flowers, rather than tiny red currants, so it is too soon to net the bush.

The bunching onions (top) are doing fine, although there’s not much bunching going on. I bought the parsley plants – they simply won’t grow from seed for me. We tried eating Good King Henry (right foreground, next to that plastic pot) and still don’t like it much – I’ll try soup next time. The strawberries promise well.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

We’re back, at least for a while. Exhausted to the core. Got a lot done, much remains to be accomplished.

Anonymous, you struck a nerve with your comment. What I meant by “exercise my husband’s franchise” was that he must vote tomorrow, both on the question of whether Britain wants to switch to a system which allows the voter to list second, third, and however-many choices; and on seats in the Scottish parliament. I’m not British so I’m not involved.

The Oxford dictionary defines at least one of the meanings of “franchise” as “the right or privilege of voting at public elections”, derived from the Old French. My tendency to express in Old French or Latin, what might have been said in Anglo Saxon – “he’s got to vote tomorrow” – is one of the many things that annoyed C. about me. The last words she spoke to me on earth were, “I don’t understand”, although all she meant that time, I think, is that I had turned up unexpectedly at her bedside when she thought my husband had made the trip to visit her that day by himself.

Lady Macbeth switches elegantly between the two modes of speech:

“…this my hand
Will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.”

Where to turn from here? Knitting? Vegetables? Knitting.

That rustic computer really isn’t up to the job. There I was at 8pm on Sunday, logged on, fingers poised over the keyboard, ready for Knit Nation registration to go live. I struggled for an hour, and failed. I started again first thing on Monday morning. That time I got all the way to the final hurdle after much further struggle, sun pouring in the window all the while, inviting me out to my vegetables. But then my credit card was rejected, and the “Try Again” button didn’t work.

I sent Rachel a mournful email (the computer will do at least that), as her children would be needed to keep my husband company while I waltzed off that weekend in July. She rang up and said, why don’t I do it on my computer? So we did it that way, and it all went through rapidly and smoothly (including my credit card number) – but it was already too late to get into Franklin’s “photographing your fabric” class on the Sunday morning. I’m on the waiting list.

One serious problem has at least been solved. I am going to meet one of you tomorrow at K1 Yarns for I guess what might be called a Yarn Crawl, although there’s nowhere else to go but there, and then lunch. Can one possibly not buy yarn, on such an occasion? Ahah! I can buy what will be needed for the classes I have signed up for – Franklin’s Tomten class, and a Travelling Stitch class on Sunday afternoon although I probably won’t go to that if I can’t get a place on “Photographing Your Fabric”.

Much else to say, including some breathtaking pictures of vegetables growing and not-growing. But that’s enough for now.