Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Perpetual Astonishment

"Every spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment."  - Ellis Peters

It must be true, because I don't remember a more beautiful season.

The beds, of course, are a terrible mess...leaf-choked, overrun with Helleborus seedlings, drooping ferns that need cut back, the works.  I hope I've got time to get my hands in the dirt this weekend. 

I've loved seeing the little creatures return with the increasingly warm weather.  I saw my first daring jumping spider of the season...my very favorite!  What a beauty!!!

These brown marmorated stink bugs have overwintered in our walls (shudder!) and come out, a few at a time.  You'll notice that they have tiny red simple eyes (ocelli), like cicadas, located behind their large compound eyes.

Their bodies are shield-shaped.

Not to be confused with leaf-footed bugs.  Also shield-shaped...

...but with a distinctive leaf-life growth on the hind legs.

Carpenter ants, too, are busy building a nest by the base of a tree in our front yard.  

I knelt down to watch them industriously removing grains of sand from the entrance until they perceived my presence and stopped.

I let them get back to work after a few minutes, but I'll keep track of their progress.

Hope you're seeing some green wherever you live.  Have a great week!

Monday, March 16, 2015

I guess that's why they call it the blue(jay)s...

There's just nothing like spring in the south.  At night, the frog calls from the pond and the trees are almost deafening.  I keep all the windows open as long as I can so we can listen.  During the day, the songbirds are singing.  The sweet strains of the Carolina Wren compete somewhat unsuccessfully with the bombastic TA-WEET!  TA-WEET! of the Eastern Towhee.  Woodpeckers of all sorts chatter from the tree trunks, and a flock of Blue Jays just moved in shakes the earth with their discordant whistles and whines.  Blue  Jays are the playground bullies of the feeder space, I've heard, and they have a reputation for stealing the eggs and young of other birds.  To me they're the most beautiful birds, though, because their feathers remind me of stained glass.  I like their noisy talk, too.

The male Goldfinches are suddenly filling in bright yellow...

...although the females remain a soft, muted yellow.

Woodpeckers are gathering food from sunup to sundown, like this female Downy Woodpecker...

...and this female Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

This Carolina Wren gathers material for a nest.

Meanwhile, this Bluebird keeps an eye on all the activity...

In honor of the season, I do my best to bring the outside in.  Every table has a spring bouquet, picked from the yard.

I brought in this cherry branch.  It was barely blooming at first...

But after a few days...

The camellias are so beautiful right now.

A few years ago I ordered some hand-painted ceramic eggs.  I make little nests out of leaves for them in the spring and scatter them around the house.

The cats are loving the warmer weather, too.  When not sleeping...

...they're outside on our (lamentably filthy!) back deck, lounging in the sun or trying to figure out how to escape into the surrounding woods.

It's a good time to be in South Carolina. 

Have a great week!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

To Frog or NOT To Frog?

Our bulbs are blooming!  I was able to pick a "spring mix" from the yard today.

Spring, too, has brought out some new creatures.  This is Clotilde.

She - or he - is a stray - or a wanderer - who comes by every few days.  She's friendly and seems to be well taken care of. 

She drives our cats crazy.

She makes me think of our old visitor, Clarence.  He belonged to a family a few houses down in Indianapolis, but spent a lot of time with us.

He liked to peek in our screen doors...

...or hang out with me in the garden.

If it wasn't for Todd's cat allergy, I would've approached his owners and tried to buy him.  They seemed indifferent about him at best.  Oh, well.  I hope he's being loved and cared for, wherever he is, and for now I'll just keep an eye on Clotilde for my vicarious cat thrills!

I just finished another knitting project, and unfortunately, that means frogging time.  'Frogging' is a knitting term that means ripping back your work...rip it rip it rip it...see the connection?  It's sad, but I've really lost my knitting mojo lately.  First, the socks.  I started this project recently.  The pattern is a traditional one called "eye of the sheep".  I used a white yarn as the background color and variegated yarn for the sheep eyes.

I finished one sock, but wasn't happy with how the variegated yarn looked.  It was too 'busy' and I ended up frogging that sock and putting away the pattern for a while.

Next, I decided on a more spring-like pattern.  Strategically-placed holes make the pattern of chrysanthemums and their leaves, and I always love spiky picot cuffs.

Normally I start with 64 - 66 stitches for a sock, but pattern notes on Ravelry warned that this was an especially tight pattern with little give.  I decided to go for the next size up, casting on 72 stitches and using a size 2 needle.  The completed first sock bagged around my leg.  Frogged, and re-knitted with 64 stitches and a size 1 needle.  This time the finished sock was too tight to fit over my heel.  Curses!  Sometimes a pattern is just not meant to be, at least in that moment, so I put it away, too.

Next I chose a tried-and-true pattern, Child's First Sock from a mid-1800s magazine, upsized for an adult woman.  I've knitted them before, for a gift, and loved them.  Forget the 600 other socks in my queue...I wanted to knit these again, for myself.

I started knitted with a 'mystery skein' from my stash.  I knew it was high-quality fingering weight yarn, but after I'd put in a couple of hours and was just starting on the pattern repeats...I realized that the yarn didn't seem to contain any nylon.

 Adding nylon to yarn adds 'give' and strength.  You can knit socks with 100% wool yarn, but they'll wear out a lot faster.  I hesitated, but frogged again.  I started over with more sock-appropriate yarn and am plowing through.

I've recently finished two sweaters.  The first was a stranded sweater that was my first steek - that is, the first time I cut through secured yarn to add in a neck.  The steek was easy...the neck was not.  It was an exercise in frustration from beginning to end.  I'm still not sure the neck is done correctly.  It's awfully snug.  And those shoulders....shudder

The second sweater was done with much nicer yarn and an all-over cable motif.

The knitting on the first sweater was basically mindless, but this sweater...it was knitted in 4 pieces and then seamed together.  A front, a back, and two arm panels.  The cables weren't comfortable 'knit 6 rows and then throw in a cable row', either.  Every line was a cable row!  It wasn't easy, even though it was repetitive.  And let's just say that I'm not a fan of seaming ever

The sad thing is that neither of these sweaters fit well.  I knitted them in my goal size, which is a size smaller than I am now (and that I've been maintaining for the past 5 months, unable to get any lower despite my best efforts).  It was meant to be motivating, a fun something to look forward to that would prod me on to greater loss if my willpower sagged.  In the end, though, it felt depressing and somehow debasing to put so much time and effort into something that proved to be tantalizingly out of reach.  I would have to lose an entire cup size for the purple sweater to fit, and I don't think that's going to happen, even if I lose this last 20 pounds.  I hate to say it, but I think that they're both headed for the FROG pile.  The purple sweater is going to hurt, but overall I rarely mind frogging my work.  I will always be knitting, and I can always re-use the yarn.  I think it helps to be somewhat philosophical about these things.  ;)

I'm gearing up to knit some sweaters that fit me now, at my current size.  Both are Kate Davies designs and feature cheerful colors and flower motifs.

I will knit them, wear them, and love them!  And hey, there are lots of projects I can use that other yarn for.