A Sunday Stroll: The California Academy of Sciences

Last Sunday, Melissa and I joined her Sierra Club group for an outing to the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. One of the Sierrans is Curator of Anthropology, so he arranged for group tickets and backdoors tours of his department. For those of you who don’t know, the Academy is a scientific research institute that also runs San Francisco’s natural history museum and aquarium. It’s been undergoing major renovation for years now, and has just reopened in its completely rebuilt original location after years in a much smaller, temporary location.

One of the goals of the renovation was to create a building that would be “green,” a model of some of the best technology currently available. This design includes a green roof, covered with native plants, that helps regulate building temperatures and conserves water.

You can take a staircase up onto a rooftop viewing platform.
Native plants on the green roof

Native plants on the green roof
Those hillocks are the roof, with skylights scattered across it.

The most popular new exhibit if the four-story rain forest. You enter on the ground level and walk up a winding, circular ramp that takes you past a variety of different rain forest habitats. Once you’ve reached the top, you’re not done. You next take an elevator to the basement level, where you can look up through the pond that’s the focus on the ground floor part of the exhibit. If you look carefully here, you’ll see folks who appear to be underwater—they’re getting an underside view of the whole thing, which puts them wonderfully close to the fish.
Looking down into the rainforest
I particularly liked the arapaima—huge, primitive-looking creatures.

One of the other pleasures of the rain forest was the multitude of butterflies. 
Butterfly in the rainforest
Butterfly in the rainforest
Signs at exits from the exhibit remind you to carefully look for butterflies that may have landed on you during your visit.

The aquarium offered delights as well. This vivid and odd-looking creature, who we named “Spot”— 
We shall call him Spot

Fish that look like grass—
In the aquarium

And a fish whose fins were obviously made on a day when Mother Nature was knitting feather and fan stitch—
Nature inspires knitting

Melissa took behind-the-scenes pictures from the Anthropology Department as well, but I’ll save those for a future entry.

Tuesday Mewsday: Waiting for Santa

Penny curled up in her favorite spot

Sweet Penny is still waiting for Santa to bring her a new home. Or perhaps to slip her into his bag and take her to a home of her own. None of the possibilities we’ve encountered so far has come through, but Penny knows there’s someone out there who will love just her.

For some inexplicable reason, both Bea and Sparky insisted on being outside Sunday night, even though it was raining. This meant that lucky Penny got to come upstairs and sleep on the bed. As I’ve mentioned, coming upstairs into Bea-and-Sparky territory makes her nervous, so we had a good twenty minutes of chuffing and patrolling of borders before she settled down. But once she’d decided she was safe, she curled up next to me with a purr so heartfelt it was almost bed-shaking. Every time I rolled over or resettled myself, she cozied back up and doubled the volume on her purr.

Please, please, please, if you can think of anyone who might need a one-pet cat, tell them about Penny. She deserves to be so happy every night—not just on those few occasions when I manage to steal a moment alone with her. If you live at a distance, but are interested, let me know. I’m willing to literally go the extra mile if that will give her the home she needs.

A Completely Biased and Rather Ornery List of Knitting Gadgets, Projects, and Practices I Have No Use For

1. Cup cozies. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Yarn against ceramic—it just seems like an invitation to shard-spewing, coffee-sloshing catastrophe. Yes, I could use them on paper cups, but that would involve being able to keep track of them, and a) I admit to liking my hot beverages lukewarm and b) that would involve keeping track of them in the chaos of my desk and car.

2. 14″ needles. These make me feel awkwardly flappy, rather like an albatross. If I need needles that length, I’ll go with circulars.

3. Knitted swimsuits. Knitted thongs, Knitted bras. Does this really need any explanation?

4. Decorative stitch markers. Yes, they’re pretty, but the metal rings hurt my hands. Give me simple, cushy rubber any day.

5. Lace patterns without charts. These are a sure way to make mistakes that you won’t discover until you’ve knitted five more rows, which leaves one tinking for nearly as long as one knits.

6. Cardigans designed to gap when they’re buttoned. I don’t need any help looking as though I’m outgrowing my clothes.

7. Newsboy caps. Every ten years or so, these become hot again. Every ten years or so, I’m once again completely unimpressed.

8. Knitting magazines that waste page space on crochet patterns. I don’t go looking for knits in crochet mags, why should crocheters get to take over my turf?

9. Knitting instructions that do things like asking you to knit from three charts at once, each with a different row repeat and then tell you to “work left side decreases as right side in pattern stich.” Designers: if it made your brain hurt to figure it out the first time, it’s going to hurt the brain of every knitter who tries to work your pattern unless you explain how you did it.

10. Any yarn with less than 100 yards per skein. It’s just cruel.

I’m sure I’ve omitted all kinds of thing. Feel free to add to the list.

Quick Yarn Porn and Japanese! Stitch! Dictionaries!

See all this yummy yarn?

Prize yarn, Pangea KAL

It’s the prizes from the Pangea KAL, finally getting ready to be shipped.

The past two weeks have been crazy. Partly, it’s the normal end-of-the-quarter business, which in fall is complicated by writing placement tests for over 1,100 students and appeals for another 400+ of them. And, of course, I have been wrestling with the obligatory worst-possible-time-to-get-it head cold—which is, i am glad to report, just a head cold and not the flu that’s going around (huzzah for flu shots!).

I have been doing relatively little knitting: a row here and there on my current shawl design project, but I’m in a long, uninspiring stretch of one identical row after another. The final effect will be lovely, but the knitting is getting a bit tedious.

The bright spot knit-wise has been the arrival of a trio of Japanese stitch dictionaries, which I ordered from the Needle Arts Book Shop in Canada. There’s Knitting Patterns 300, Knitting Patterns 300 Lace, and Knitting Patterns 500.

All I can say is Wow!, Wow!, and Wow! Some of the stitches are familiar, but a great many of them are not. Many of the stitches combine multiple elements, so that a single stitch can actually offer two or three possibilities. What I love most about these books is that they’re entirely charted—and the charting is straightforward enough that most of them are easy to figure out. Both 300 books include a visual glossary in the back that demonstrates the stitch corresponding to each symbol in a very clear step-by-step manner.

Part of me would just like to stay all hush-hush about these books so that I could draw on them and amaze people with the innovative stitches I’m working into my designs, but that wouldn’t be fair. So—if you like playing with stitches and want to break into new territory—hurry and pick up one or more for yourself.

These dictionaries have inspired the little bit of knitting I’ve been doing lately: swatching variations on interesting charted stitches. I’ve tried substituting plain rows into a true-lace design, so as to avoid the challenge of YOs and decreases on every row. I’ve staggered motifs to see how this alters the line of the stitches between the motifs.

I love using a variety of stitches, but up to now I’ve felt limited by those I can find in a dictionary. Playing with these new dictionaries is giving me a tantalizing glimpse into the magical world of stitch design. I’m just at the beginning, but I’m starting to feel deliciously carried away by the possibilities that await.

If you haven’t tried stitch design, give it a go. Take a motif you like and ask yourself,
What if I lengthened it?” “What if I doubled the number of increases and decreases?” “What if I alternated it with another motif checkerboard fashion?” Finding out the answers to such questions is a delight.

Tuesday Mewsday (A Little Early): Penny’s Christmas Wish

Penny in the tree

Sweet Penny has just one wish for Christmas, and, try as I might, I haven’t been able to find it. I’m hoping that one of you can help.

Penny wants a home of her very own. A home with no other cats and no dogs. No quadrupedal pets to worry her and force her to spend her days at terror-level orange.

Over the past year at my house, she’s proven herself to be an exceptional cat: affectionate, playful, always ready to cuddle. Unfortunately, she just hasn’t learned to relax around my cats, and—after a year of trying—I’m accepting that that just isn’t going to happen. Being dumped by her previous owners and forced to scavange for a living has left her afraid of other critters (though she’s clearly forgiven humans for their part in her tragedy).

The poor girl has been forced to live pretty much in one room at my home. When the other cats are outside, I try to bring her into other parts of the house to keep me company, but most of the time she’s too nervous to stay—even with me there to protect her. At night, when I go to bed, I can hear her meowing forlornly before she settles down.

I can give her a home and food and as much affection as possible, but she’s never really going to be happy until she has an all-my-own home. Is there anyone out there (preferably within a few hours’ driving distance of the Monterey Bay) who is ready for a single pet?

Please help me help Penny. Surely there’s someone out there in need of a fiercely monogamous lap cat. Ask friends. Ask family. Talk to neighbors. Penny promises to repay the gift of a loving home and kind hands a thousand times over.

Pangea KAL Prize Winners!

Pangea Gallery

There were seven beautiful entries in the Pangea knit-along prize draw.

By Melanie:
Finished Pangea shawl

By Linda:
Finished Pangea shawl

By Shari:
Finished Pangea shawl

By PugUgly:
Finished Pangea shawl

By Valerie:
Finished Pangea shawl

By Nancy:
Finished Pangea shawl

By Betty (aka Catlady):
Finished Pangea shawl

The lucky draw winner was Nancy, who will be receiving a beautiful skein of hand-dyed fingering weight wool (900+ yards—enough for another shawl!).

For the Test-Knitter’s Choice Award, Chris chose Betty’s red shawl. She was impressed by both the color and the stitch definition. Her prize will be four skeins of Simply Shetland Silk Noil and Lambswool in the Craignish colorway. This is the same fiber I used for the original Pangea Shawl, but a different colorway.

I also decided to add a Best Interpretation of Theme Award, which I gave to Melanie. As she explained in her email to me, “I decided to try and knit a literal translation of the name. The green of the main body represents the large continent, and the dark blue border surrounding it is to be the ocean.” She’ll get two skeins of Blue Sky Alpaca Organic Cotton, one in bone, the other in sage.

I’ll be emailing the winners to arrange prize shipment, so keep your eyes open.

I want to say thank you once more to everyone who participated. You made my fist shawl design experience a delight. I’m hoping I’ll be able to make the shawl knit-along an annual event and would love to have everyone participate again.

Tuesday Mewsday: Little Timmy

Guest post by Melissa.

“Six cats is enough!” we cry. “No, six cats is too many!”
And yet, we keep on finding more. Or rather, I should say, they keep finding us.

The latest to enter the Peyton Place that is the story of our cats is little Timmy. I first noticed him crossing the yard not long after I had moved to Santa Cruz, and I remarked that he was a fine young cat, handsome, sleek, with a grand fluffy tail, and quite full of himself.

This was not good news for Mortimer, who lives next door and is terrorized by his evil sister. Mortimer, also sometimes known as Scaredy Cat or Puff, is very shy, and easily frightened. It had taken Chris weeks to entice him over to eat cat treats, and even longer to eat them with her in the vicinity. (I should point out here that I rent the cottage behind Chris and Peter’s house.) Now along comes Timmy, and Mortimer is back to hiding.

Except now Timmy is hiding too. He seems to have taken up residence under the back porch, where he peers up through the slats, waiting for Chris to put out Mortimer’s treats. As soon as she does, out leaps Timmy, and away runs Mortimer. And Timmy doesn’t seem so sleek any more; he looks thin, and a bit bedraggled, and much more nervous.

“I think Timmy is a stray,” I said.
“Don’t say that!” exclaimed Chris, knowing that as certified crazy cat ladies, she, Sarah-Hope and I would have to do something about it.

So now we are. I’ve been putting out a bowl of food way in the back yard, hoping to lure Timmy away from the porch, Mortimer, and the treats, and am trying to spend time sitting outside so he gets used to me. The plan is to earn his trust, and then catch him in a cage (oops, so much for trust) and take him to our vet. If he is disease-free, they will find a good home for him.

But Timmy is awfully cute.
Seven cats? No, that’s way too many.

On Literacy and Hope

This post isn’t knitting related—but if you’re reading this blog you are a reader, so it definitely is in your sphere of interest.

My romance with books has been life-long. My mom tells stories of reading to me as an infant. Whatever the topic of the book, I’d scan each illustration for butterflies, even tiny little ones that were mere dots in the background. When I spotted one, I’d point at it, crowing “Bubber! Bubber!”

My first conscious experience of “great literature” was with The King, the Mice and the Cheese (sort of a forerunner of the “If you give a mouse a cookie” genre). Normally, I was content to check books out from the library—but the day my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Bonnell, read that book to us, I couldn’t wait to get home so I could explain to my mother why we needed to find our own copy of that book, why it needed to be ours.

As a teenager, I planned to name my children after characters in books I’d loved: Caroline Augusta (the heroine of Caddie Woodlawn), Merricat (from We Have Always Lived in the Castle), Linnet (from The Children of Green Knowe).

When I was in my early twenties, books were central to my impassioned political awakening. I read an array of feminist authors: Cherrie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua, Barbara Smith, Irena Klepfisz, Adrienne Rich, Judy Grahn. Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States enraged and engaged me. Stephen Jay Gould made me think about the political uses of science. And Jonathan Kozol kept reminding me of the gift of reading and the crime of illiteracy.

I’m not at all surprised that I’ve wound up dedicating my life to books, to reading, and to writing. Education is, in a way, my faith. I am deeply convinced that literacy is essential to justice, to political change, to personal empowerment. We need to be able to experience lives beyond our own, to see landscapes we’ll never lay eyes on, to wrestle with wrongs that may never come to knock directly on our own doors.

If I had to choose one cause that matters most to me, I would unhesitatingly choose women’s literacy.

One of the greatest blots on America’s international record is our willingness to support governments that have systematically denied women literacy. Particularly in our historical dealings with Afghanistan and Pakistan, we have been quick to build relations of strategic convenience that condemn women to lives of subservience, marginalization, and ignorance. Recent data from the U.N. places young women’s literacy in Afghanistan at 18% and in Pakistan at 53%. Those are our tax dollars at work.

The good news is that as private citizens we can work to support female literacy in these countries and in other parts of the world. Developments in Literacy is building schools in Pakistan. Women for Afghan Women supports a number of programs in Afghanistan, including women’s literacy programs. For a broader impact, there’s the U.N.’s Girls’ Educational Initiative.

I know money is tight right now. We’re scared about our own futures and scaling back on holiday celebrations and gifts. But take a minute to think of the worlds—both fantastical and real—that books have opened up for you and see if you can’t give a little something to help that magic happen for girls around the globe—many of whom have been victims of our government’s own policies. A week without coffee could cover half a year of schooling for one of these girls. Melissa and I are looking at our daily expenses to see what we can come up with. We’d be delighted to have you join us. We’d also be glad to hear about other literacy programs. Do you have any favorites?

If Money Were No Object

1. Make1’s Year of Lace.

2. 10″ Lantern Moon ebony needles in every size.

3. Addi Lace circulars in every size and length.

4. Three skeins each of Malabrigo Sock in pretty much every colorway.

5. 8 bags of Dream in Color’s Classy in my choice of colors.

6. A honkin’ big order of medium weight Socks that Rock (check out the Raven Clan colorways).

7. A specialist to chart every uncharted stitch in every stitch dictionary I can get my hands on.

8. About six bags each of Elsbeth Lavold silky wool in Bright Turquoise, Vibrant Green, Sunflower, and Pumkin (all on the Spring 06 card 1).

9. About six gross of small, soft rubber stitch markers, unadorned and suitable for lace knitting.

10. Early retirement, so I could enjoy all of the above.

Apparently, I Am Ancient

Monday night, I stopped off at a local diner for dinner by myself. I love sitting down alone with a newspaper at the end of a demanding day and having someone else make food appear in front of me. And this diner in particular has the most delicious walnut and raisin pancakes. Yum-tacular!

So I read the paper, ate my pancakes, paid my bill, and left—then looked at the bill as I slipped it into my purse once I got in the car.

I had been given the senior discount!

Mostly it cracked my up, though I found myself wondering if work had left me looking particularly brow-beaten or something. Yes, I have grey at the temples, yes, I’m overweight—but I’m only just slipping past my mid-forties. Saving $1.10 is nice, but I’m afraid the cost to my self-concept may have been a bit high. (And I didn’t even have any knitting with me on which to blame my perceived old-ladiness.)