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.