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May 31, 2006

How to Peel Eggs

Peeling hardboiled eggs is a no-brainer, but there's a couple of tricks that will make it go faster.

What you need
— Hardboiled eggs (How to boil eggs)
— Cold water
— Ice cubes (optional)


  1. Put the eggs you've just taken out of the pot in a bowl with cold water (or reuse the pot). You can either use running cold water or add ice cubes. Cooling down the eggs quickly is not only going to speed things up for the dish you are preparing, but will also help prevent the yolks from turning greenish gray. I've read this somewhere, but honestly I've never had an egg turn that color.
  2. After 5-10 minutes, your eggs should be cold enough to peel. Take one egg and tap the wider end against a hard surface (kitchen counter, dish, cutting board…). It's easier to start from the larger end because it has a small air sac underneath. Then tap the rest of the shell gently to create cracks all over its surface.
  3. Put the egg back in the bowl with cold water so the water can start seeping through the crack and later facilitate peeling. Apply the same process to the other eggs until all the shells are lightly cracked.
  4. Now pick the first egg you cracked (you don't have to follow the exact sequence, but it helps if you pick an egg that has been back in the water a while after cracking). Keeping the egg under running cold water, start peeling from the bottom of the egg where the air bubble should have left you enough room to stick the tip of your thumb. By performing this operation under running water, things go much faster.

Make sure you get under the thin film that is between shell and egg.

May 30, 2006

Håndplagg til Bunader og Folkedrakter

It looks like I am going to have to learn a bit of Norwegian since the last book I bought is not only about Norwegian knitting design, but actually in Norwegian. 320 pages of gloves, mittens and wrist warmers (or pulse warmers as I've seen them called). It's a coffe table book and I meant to scan a few pages, but I gave up after some scanning acrobatics — the book does not fit in my scanner — and subsequent Photoshop surgery to stitch the pieces together. So I snapped a few pictures with the digital camera.

Håndplagg til Bunader og Folkedrakter
(Hand Coverings for National and Folk Costumes)
by Heidi Fossnes
ISBN 82-496-0187-4

Most of the models are sumptuous, with ornate embrodery and beads. Some are quite out there for my taste, looking like giant baroque oven mitts, but there are so many that it's hard not to find something you like. I am not a big mitten fan myself, so I prefer the gloves.

Helping out in the office

Memorial Day weekend was mostly a working weekend, although I got half as much done as I had hoped because of a spotty Internet connection. We started losing connection on Friday and it's finally starting to get better, but I am still restarting the cable modem and the router on an hourly basis. Better than 3-4 times an hour, but still bloody annoying. So I got all this work piled up and Kelvin decided to give me a hand. Such a good kitty… I'll catch up in no time.

If I lick the site plan, my mom's job will go faster.

There, I licked it real good.

Now I'll warm up the keyboard. Better?

May 29, 2006

Grand opening

Stick & Stone's grand opening was a success. Really big turnout and not just our guild members. Margarete and Janel did a great job at arranging a variety of products aimed primarily, but not exclusively, at spinners. There were several spinning wheels and a floor loom for people to try, lots of spindles and spinning fiber, books, yarn, dyes, knitting needles, knitting needle cases, baskets and more. And there will be lots of classes.

I have a feeling this store will do very well. For one thing, there is no competition, and then it's located really close to a freeway exit and opening hours are fantastic: 10:30 am to 8:00 pm (closed on Tuesdays).

Congratulations, girls!

Cascabeles spindles

Sari silk

Hiding behind the flowers: hand cards, lavender sachets, silk coccoons, spindles, cards…

These are only some of the various types of spinning fibers.

Stick & Stone Fiberarts is at 6411 Sepulveda Blvd, Van Nuys, CA 91411. Website at www.stick-and-stone.com.

May 28, 2006

Norsk Strikkedesign

This is a gorgeous book that I am probably never going to knit anything from, unless I win the lottery, quit web development and become a full-time knitter. Ha! Wouldn't that be nice?

Seriously, though, this is a great inspiration book and I have actually seen the cover model in person last month when I took a color knitting workshop with Linda Marveng at Loop, in London. It was stunning.

Feast your eyes.

Norsk Strikkedesign: A Collection from Norway's Foremost Knitting Designers
by Margaretha Finseth
ISBN 1893063011

Not to worry. In spite of the Norwegian title, the book is entirely in English. Along with the diagrams and instructions, each model comes with a little history on the inspiration that led to it.

If only I had the figure to go with this beauty, I would be really tempted.

Is this adorable or what?

Sorry, no enlargement of the pattern out of consideration for the author.

May 27, 2006

Slow life in the fast lane

One of the first things I struggled with when I moved to California was the local obsession with speed: fast food, fast lane, speed reading… what's wrong with these people? I thought. Fast food was definitely the most offensive of the various incarnations of speeding; who in their right mind would want to gobble down food in a hurry? Food is a pleasure to be savored slowly, as is reading. No matter the demands on my time, some things just ain't right when they are done wrong. I'd rather not have pasta, if it's not al dente, and I'll happily decline coffee, if it's a "brodino" (watery broth-like drink). In the end, it's not so much a matter of time as a matter of care. Taking the time to do things properly means caring about them. Maybe that's why I like knitting and spinning, two activities that require unhurried attention and reward you with slow progress.

A couple of weeks after landing in LA, I was taken to a fast food place (I refuse to call those things restaurants). Then I understood the necessity to consume food in a hurry, like a foul tasting medicine. Sure, go ahead, call me food snob. From an American point of view, I know I am. From an Italian perspective, though, fourteen years and many a shortcut later, I fear the wrath of the food gods for my adulterated ways.

Yes, we expatriates cling to traditions more than those in the mother land. It's an identity issue. And a comfort issue. Some of the staple food of Italian diet such as olive oil and coffee don't actually have to come from Italy to be good. I use Italian olive oil in part for sentimental reasons, and I like Italian labels in the kitchen. But if Italy declared war on the U.S. and grocery stores suddenly stopped carrying Italian products, I am sure I could substitute with olive oils from France, Spain or Greece.

For some Italian foods, though, there just aren't acceptable substitutes. These are the first that come to mind:
— Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano (Parmesan cheese)
— aceto balsamico tradizionale
— mozzarella di bufala
— prosciutto

I am sure Chinese or Moroccan expats feel the same kind of frustration, only for different ingredients.

At times I go to great lengths to get the right ingredient, because a certain dish will not be the same without it. Other times I am tempted to stuff the freezer with prepared food… yup, I have my weak moments. But I have one sacred rule: no phone calls while we are eating. If it's good news, it can wait. If it's bad news, it can wait, too. When we eat, we eat.

May 26, 2006

Stick & Stone Fiberarts

It took a chemist and a geneticist to finally open a spinning store in Los Angeles.

My guild buddies Janel — editor of Spindlicity and owner of Chameleon Colorworks — and Margarete (officially a geneticist, but we are bringing her to the dark side of fiber) are opening Los Angeles' first spinning store this Sunday. You go, girls!

I am planning to be there for the grand opening; bet most of our guild will show up. Some of our members are also vendors who bring lots of wares to our monthly meetings, but the only store fronts are 2-3 hours away. Spending a day in the car is not my idea of fun, so I am really looking forward to having a local store.

May 25, 2006

More fun than ice cubes

I have visions of the wine police knocking on my door in the middle of the night to deport me. Oh well, I'll take my chances; this is a fun thing to do, parties or not.

What you need
— Fresh raspberries
— Paper towels
— Freezer plastic bags
— Tray (a flat piece of cardboard will do)


  1. Pick the best raspberries
  2. Wash them gently
  3. Lay them on paper towels to dry
  4. Line the tray with two layers of paper towels
  5. One by one, very gently, arrange the raspberries on the tray so they don't touch each other.
  6. Find some room in your freezer where you can place the tray as horizontal as possible.
  7. Put the tray in the freezer for a few hours
  8. When the raspberries are frozen, move them from the tray to the plastic bags and put them back in the freezer.

Now you can use your frozen raspberries in lieu of ice cubes for a cold glass of white or rosé wine. Even just one will turn your glass of wine into a party glass. The raspberries release quite a bit of sweetness in the wine, so this is not for you wine connoisseurs. Yeah, I know… I am going to lose my Italian citizenship over stuff like this.


  • I cannot stress enough the word gently when dealing with raspberries. You look at them: they bruise. Once they are frozen, you can stop worrying.
  • No, it's not the same to buy frozen raspberries. Those are not handpicked, they are processed differently, and they often defrost to a mushy pulp.

Stitch markers

Since I started color knitting, I've been using stitch markers to mark the beginning of new repeats in my pattern. I had never used them before so I experimented with different kinds.

Split rings are great if you need to insert them past the point, as you don't need to tink your way back. The disadvantage is that their pointy ends can get in the way while you are knitting and I find myself keeping my hands in an awkward position to avoid them.

The safety pin markers circumvent that problem because they can be secured just like a safety pin. The downside is that they are too bulky, especially for my small gauge knitting (US needle size 3 = 3.25mm).

The simple rings are the least intrusive for me, but the ones I have come in a combo package and there are only very few of the small ones. All of these models, though, suffer from the same problem: they slide too easily and it's very common for them to fall off the needle when I get to where they are inserted. Maybe I just need more practice, but I'd like to find something that either grabs the needle a little more or has a little pendant to make it easier to stay in place.

I looked around the Web and found that a lot of knitters are making their own stitch markers, as shown in this Stitch marker tutorial. Some of these markers seem too long to me and some knitters complain that they tend to catch the yarn. I guess that depends on how they are finished. I'd like to find something along the line of these little Hearts of glass. They don't have any loose hooks at the bottom so they shouldn't catch the yarn, but I am not sure what size they come in. I realize that small gauge needles are not the most popular. Maybe I should try to make my own, but who needs another hobby?

I just found out that Clover makes some soft (non-slid) ring stich markers, but I haven't seen them in stores yet. I am going to stop at Unravelled later today to see if they carry them. If not, I'll order some online to see how they work out.

  • to tink : to undo your knitting one stitch at a time, as opposed to frogging. ("tink" is "knit" spelled backwards).
  • to frog : to undo your knitting by ripping off the yarn rather enthusiastically, rows at a time, as opposed to tinking.

More sweaters

In addition to a postcard from my secret pal in Japan, yesterday's mail brought More Sweaters, an out-of-print book I purchased on eBay. The cover is disappointingly beaten up, but the content exceeded my expectations. I had only seen pictures of a couple of sweaters and all I expected was the patterns. Instead, the book presents a lot of information on how to chart your own designs and shape your own garments.

More Sweaters: a riot of color, pattern, and form
by Lise Kolstad & Tone Takle
ISBN 0-934026-99-8

Page 11, About Supply and Method

The "design machine" is the authors' name for a charting technique that will get you designing new patterns even when you are lacking inspiration. I like that they are not treating design as an esoteric form of art for initiates.

Page 39, The Design Machine

It'll take some time to read throught the whole book, but I can tell already that it will become a favorite.

May 24, 2006

Kyoto postcard

A package and a postcard within days of each other. My SP is seriously spoiling me, and I really needed a pick-me-up today. Deadlines colliding, a bunch of minor annoyances, and then to top it off, a three-hour Web outage… and of course me waiting for some urgent files from a client either via email or ftp.

But I went to check the mail and found a postcard from my secret pal in Japan. :) I'll worry about those files later.

Happy socks

I've been working on a pair of socks with Regia Miniringel in a very cheerful color palette. I finished the first sock in two days (most of it on the plane back from London) and the second one has been languishing for weeks now because I've been distracted by my Fair Isle sweater that is sucking up all my free time. Not that I am complaining; now that I can keep one color in each hand, I love color knitting. It's actually more relaxing than knitting with one yarn and easier on my hands.

Regia Mini Ringel Color 5217.

Slowly, slowly, but it's growing. Cat hairs lurking here and there courtesy of Kelvin, the lap cat.

This is one of the steeks after I switched to alternating colors, as suggested by a couple of fair isle knitters.

Lap cat strikes again!

I also started spinning for my SP8 pal and I really want to prepare enough fiber for her so I can mail her my first package next Monday.

May 22, 2006

How to cook pasta the Italian way

: pasta all'italiana

What you need
— Good quality pasta
— Condiment of choice
— Rock marine salt
Cold tap water
— Big pot with lid (e.g. a stock pot)
— Large pan
— Long-handle wooden spoon or fork (or other material that will not melt in boiling water)
— Timer


  1. Have everything ready: your pasta measured, your sauce done or 95% done in the pan.
  2. Fill the pot to about two thirds with water and cover with lid.
  3. Bring to a rolling boil (big bubbles), then add the salt.
  4. Wait for the water to start boiling again, throw in the pasta and stir with a wooden spoon.
  5. As soon as the water starts boiling again, reduce the heat a little to keep the water boiling, but less vigorously and without lid. Now you can do things like set the table, grate the Parmesan cheese, open a bottle of wine, just don't go do your laundry and leave the pot unattended.
  6. Every couple of minutes or so, stir the pasta with the wooden spoon.
  7. A couple of minutes before cooking time is over (according to pasta packet instructions or your experience) start testing the pasta.
  8. When the pasta is nearly done, drain it in a pasta drainer in the sink with cold water running on the side, NOT on the pasta. The cold water is meant to protect any plastic trimmings in your sink pipes. Keep a couple of ladles of the pasta water (to add to the sauce pan).
  9. Add the drained pasta to the sauce pan, mix in well with the sauce and cook for another minute. Optional: add a little pasta water to the pan to help bond the pasta to the sauce (the starch in the pasta water will do that).
  10. If your dish calls for it, bring freshly grated Parmesan cheese to the table.


Quality: I recommend good "pasta di grano duro" (hard wheat semolina). Some good brands easily available in the U.S. are De Cecco and Rustichella d'Abruzzo. A good quality pasta will not break while cooking or overcook too easily.
Quantity: 80-100 gr for a first course, more if you are making it the main entrée.

Quantity: Pasta needs a lot of space to move around freely (at least one liter per 100 gr of pasta) so it doesn't stick to itself. Be stingy on the water and your pasta will be a blob of glue. Yum!

Format: coarse rock salt is easier to dose than the powder form.
Kind: marine salt is the one traditionally used in Italy and since we are talking about cooking pasta the Italian way…
Timing: Right after the water reaches boiling point. If you add the salt before, it'll take longer to get to boiling point.
Quantity: A rule of thumb quoted in many recipe books is 10/100/1000 — 10 gr of salt, 100 gr of pasta, 1 liter of water.

Timing If you don't have Italian material in your DNA and you were not brought up in Italy, do not despair. You are starting a little handicapped, but you can do it. Start testing early. How do you know when it's done? Bite a piece and if you see a little white line inside the pasta, it's not entirely done. That might actually be a good time to get the pasta out, before it's done, drain it and add it to the pan with the sauce. Mix it it in and cook for another minute and serve immediately.

What Not to Do

  • Do not use a small pot or small amount of water (you'll end up with an amorphous blob of stickiness)

  • Do not add oil to the water (it's a waste of good oil and it makes the pasta surface slippery so the sauce does not stick to it)

  • Do not add salt after cooking (the taste is in the sauce, Parmesan cheese, etc. and all that salt will end up in your system. Put the salt in the water instead.)

  • Do not throw the pasta against the wall to check for doneness. I couldn't believe this when I first heard it, but I am told by reliable sources that this is so common in the U.S. that it has generated the saying "Let's throw it against the wall and see if it sticks" in the business world to mean "Let's see if it's a good idea". I can only say that it's absurd in relation to pasta.

  • Do not rinse the pasta with cold water. Pasta is to be served hot. Instead of draining it at the last minute and shock it with cold water, get it out of the pot a little earlier.

  • Do not overdress your pasta. There's a reason we call it condiment, instead of sauce. Pasta is not supposed to swim in a sea of sauce. It should be thoroughly coated, but not drenched, just like a good salad.

  • Do not overcook. This is the absolute worst offense you can make in Italian cuisine. Period.

Related Tips

  • If you are having Italian friends over for dinner and you don't cook pasta this way, spare your feelings and theirs by cooking something else. Really.

  • If you are taking the pasta to the table in a big serving bowl (as opposed to serving individual plates right away), heat the bowl in your microwave oven ahead of time.

Rainy Monday

Mondays are usually very busy, but this morning is crazy. At 8am we were already juggling last minute changes and urgent requests on four active projects. And it's pouring down in buckets. Piper is sleeping in my office and Kelvin has finally settled down after roaming the house like a madcat on drugs. Rain does that to him.

I actually like the rain; it's a welcome change from the local boring weather. There, I said it: Southern California weather is boring. People here look I at me like I am crazy when I say that, but I grew up in northern Italy, with real seasons. When it rains, I am reminded of the things I miss.

May 21, 2006

Bread from the oven

The first few years I lived in LA, I would drive half an hour every day just to buy good fresh bread. Now, with the closest grocery store almost four miles away and even less time to go shopping, I do the next best thing: buy parbaked baguettes, cut them in thirds or halves and freeze them. When I want fresh bread (let's see… 2-3 times a day), I defrost a piece in the microwave oven, then cook it in the oven and, voila, quasi fresh bread.

What you need
— parbaked bread (as the name implies = partially baked)
— freezer wrap (we use Glad Press 'n Seal, but any kind that seals properly will do)
— space in the freezer (oh, like you've never done anything stupid…)


  1. Cut your baguette or bread loaf in portions that make sense for you. I find that a combination of baguette thirds and halves works best for our family of two.

  2. Wrap the individual pieces in freezer plastic and seal as well as you can to prevent condensation.

  3. Store the wrapped bread in the freezer

  4. Before you throw away the paper bag that the bread came with, write down the suggested cooking temperature and time. Different kinds have different requirements.

When you want fresh bread

  1. Preheat the oven at 400-425F (approx. 200-220C) and wait at least ten minutes after it has reached the desired temperature before using it.

  2. Put a piece of the frozen bread in the microwave oven at defrost settings for about a minute. The first time you do this, check the bread after 30 seconds to make sure it's not overheating. You want to defrost it, not cook it.

  3. Put in the oven for 7-8 minutes or according to the instructions for the particular bread you are using.


  • The best way to defrost food is to take it out of the freezer well ahead of time and let it defrost on its own. The directions above are meant for those who don't have the luxury of planning their meals hours ahead. I write my food entries for people like me, who want a certain level of quality without going broke, losing sleep or getting stressed. Make sense?
  • You could freeze a whole baguette, but that's a less flexible system and it's also harder to fit in the freezer.
  • I've used this technique even with non parbaked bread and it worked reasonably well. If you want to try it, follow the same steps as for parbaked bread (including freezing), but remember to cook it only for a couple of minutes or you'll have a piece of rock instead of fresh bread. Unless you need a weapon, of course.
  • Experiment with different kinds of bread to find what works best for you.

Related tip
Let the bread cool down a little before cutting. It'll be easier to cut wthat way.

May 20, 2006

My other Secret Pal

I've been thinking about my other SP8 pal trying to figure out what to get her. I just foud out that she prefers 2-3 small packages instead of a larger shipment at the end. She lives in the U.K. and told me something I didn't know: when shipping to the U.K. from outside Europe, the recipient incurs customs fees for anything exceeding a certain value, which kicks in at a very low level. That's crazy, but then, they drive on the left, don't they?

My pal is an accomplished experimental knitter who likes fall colors, er… autumn colours. I have a beautiful pencil roving in a soft mohair blend in just the right hues that I bought last year at the New York Sheep and Wool Festival, a.k.a. Rhinebeck. I am going to spin it for her as both two-ply and singles, in case she wants to experiment with energized singles, à la Kathryn Alexander.

This is the fluff. I hope my handspun will do justice to the fiber.

May 19, 2006

Secret Pal package

私の シクレツパルは 日本に住んでいます.
(katakana spelling いいですか?)

My secret pal sent me a package already! I didn't expect anything yet, so it was a wonderful surprise to open the mailbox and find this colorful envelope with an assortment of stamps and see that I had guessed right: my secret pal lives in Japan. More precisely, the envelope comes from Hokkaido, the northernmost of the main Japanese islands.

The top left corner of the envelope says: "Your SP in the Land of the Rising Sun".

Look at all the stuff!

I love the maneki neko card and the adorable pencil with spare mines. The other object is a white masking tape dispenser. And there are also a cute stationery set and cherry blossom stickers.

At first I thought these were fridge magnets, then realized that they are erasers! Three of them are also containers with an extra eraser inside shaped like noodles.

ありがとうございました secret pal! You made my day. :)


May 18, 2006

How to boil eggs

Oh, you think I'm joking? Nope, you can screw up even just boiling an egg. I know: I've done it. So, here is what I learned from my mistakes.

What you need
— A pot of appropriate size for the number of eggs
— Eggs
— Salt
— White vinegar
— Cold tap water


  1. If you can, take the eggs out of the fridge at least half an hour before you need them.

  2. Arrange the eggs in the pot so they don't move around (that's why you need a pot of appropriate size).
  3. Fill with cold tap water until the eggs are covered by at least an inch of water.
  4. Add salt and a dash of white vinegar to the water. In case the eggs crack, the acidity of the vinegar will cause the albumen to coagulate near the crack and prevent it from spilling into the water. It doesn't have to be white vinegar, but that way it won't stain the eggs.
  5. Bring slowly to the boil. If you set the heat at max level, the eggs may crack, especially if they are coming straight from the fridge.
  6. When the water reaches boiling point, adjust the heat so the water is boiling gently. You are simmering the eggs, more than boiling them.
  7. Let the eggs cook this way for ten minutes.
  8. Set the eggs aside to cool down before using, especially if you need to peel them. To speed up the cooling process, you can put them in a bowl with cold water.
  9. Once the eggs are reasonably cooled off, you can peel them.

Related tip
When you transfer the eggs from the carton to the fridge compartment, you lose the expiration (or packing) date. Tear off the date from the carton and put it with the eggs (see picture above), and you'll always know how old they are.

Now that you can boil eggs, you can make "uova alla diavola" (deviled eggs). We'll do that next.

See How to peel eggs.

Cold Tap Water: Why?

You'll see throughout my food entries that I always start with cold water. It's an old habit I learned in Italy where most people live in houses much older than here in the US and plumbing corrosion is often present. Even if you are living in a new house or have new plumbing, it's still a good habit to stick to, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The reason is that, regardless of the type and age of your water pipes, hot water corrodes pipes faster than cold water so there will always be more lead in your hot water than in your cold one. Why take the risk?

May 17, 2006


Took a quick break from the computer and snapped a few pictures of Kelvin playing with Mister Ping, the latest catnip toy. I especially like this one.

Hmmm… I gotta get more of those Cheeky Squeaky Pets.

First steeks

I got to the part of my Fair Isle sweater where I had to decide how to proceed with the armholes:

  • split the knitting on two needles and start knitting the front and back separately, or
  • create steeks for the armholes and keep knitting in the round.

I opted for the steeks.

Since this is the first time I do steeks, I am not sure I am doing things properly. Hopefully someone will tell me if this looks right or not.

The sweater so far.

To create the armhole steeks, I casted on seven new stitches at each side using the long-tail cast-on. Then, I started knitting the stitches in the darkest color with the center stitch in the lightest color for when I have to cut.

When I took the Fair Isle workshop in London, I focused primarily on the knitting technique and didn't pay enough attention to the steeks. We didn't actually go into how to create steeks, but I saw an almost finished sweater. I remember that either the body or the sleeves had an edge where one line was purled, instead of knitted, to facilitate folding, but I can't remember which part it was. Help!

May 16, 2006

Alice in LawLand

Two knitters' lists I belong to have recently brought up an issue that I would like someone competent to clarify for me (any lawyers who knit out there?). There seems to be a consensus among some laypeople that if a book is out-of-print and unavailable at a reasonable price, then it can be photocopied, even in its entirety. The reason this topic is being hotly debated on knitting lists is the unavailability of certain Alice Starmore books. Works such as Aran Knitting and In the Hebrides have been out-of-print for a while, there doesn't seem to be a plan to reprint them, and only a few copies are available on eBay and specialized bookstores at prices that no one in their right mind would call reasonable. Today, Aran Knitting is listed from $299.85 to $794.95, and In the Hebrides from $337.50 to $1,203.43 (as seen on BookFinder).

While I wait for someone who knows what they are talking about to come to the rescue, I thought I'd look for answers from Stanford University. They ought to know. Here is a quote from the Fair Use section of the Stanford University Libraries website:

  • "Copying a complete work from the library collection is prohibited unless the work is not available at a "fair price." This is generally the case when the work is out of print and used copies are not available at a reasonable price." [Italics are mine]
Ah, don't you like that "generally"? What was I thinking, looking for something specific on a law website, however educational?

So, how "generally" is generally and what are the exceptions? For one thing, this is all within the library confine. What about me making photocopies of an out-of-print book I own and giving them to friends? I may be overcautious, but I don't automatically assume that what is within a library's rights would be ok for poor little me.

Besides, even for libraries the photocopying right doesn't seem so air-tight. On other websites, I found mention of a couple of factors that might affect them, too. One is the use of the photocopied material: strictly private study, scholarship or research. The other is the age of the work in question: how far along its copyright term is the book?

So many questions, so few answers… One thing's for sure: Fair Use is a very gray area of intellectual property law and I am eager to hear from experts. In the meantime, I doubt that Aran Knitting is up for grabs. Good thing I bought my copy when it was in print.

Languages of the world

We just enrolled in a UCLA Extension class on linguistics called "Languages of the World: Variable Topics in Linguistics". It'll be fun to take a class with Ben and we'll finally be able to add some scientific background to our conversations about language.

This is the class description and I can't wait for it to start (June 26):

  • "An introduction to the distribution, classification, and structural characteristics of the world's languages, this course acquaints students with the principles and techniques of language classification and provides a comprehensive view of the linguistic diversity of the world. Topics include elements of areal linguistics, linguistic typology, and comparative and historical linguistics and their relationship to language classification. Other topics include language isolates, the genetic affiliation of contact languages, and the evolution of language".

May 13, 2006

Buon compleanno, nonno!

Today my grandfather turns 95. Happy birthday, grandpa!

This is grandpa with his friend Elsa about nine years ago.

Things from home

A friend of mine recently moved to New Zealand and a post on her blog reminded me of how hard it can be to adjust to a completely new environment when there are no familiar things in sight. She is still waiting for her belongings to arrive after three months.

I never really think about it, but my home is filled with both things new and old, from this life and the one before. And every time I return to Italy, I bring back something new that is actually meant to be old, to remind me of that other time and place. So, alongside the Japanese books and stickers, the spindles, and the web development equipment, I keep around an assortment of things that provide the comfort of what used to be familiar.

Reproduction of an old-style jug from Faenza in the living room.

Glass paperweight from a trip to Venezia.

Hanging on my office wall.

More old-style jugs from Faenza in the kitchen.

These are reproductions of tiles from the "pavimento Vaselli" in San Petronio in Bologna.

May 12, 2006

First contact

My Secret Pal sent me a very nice email last night (insert little spring dance here) and now I am already making conjectures about who she is and where she lives. I can't help myself; I do the same thing when I watch Law & Order or CSI, trying to be three steps ahead figuring things out. It's part of the fun.

From her email I'd say she's either bilingual or English is her first language, and I think she lives in Japan. My blog stats last night showed a steep increase of page views from Japan (don't you love technology?) and she emailed me in the evening (USA Pacific time) after having already read my blog, plus I know from my hostess' blog that she had people from Japan in her group, so I am feeling pretty confident in my guess. Of course I could be dead wrong and my SP is laughing her head off reading this.

Ha! This is fun.

May 11, 2006

Kitty surgery

Piper had his teeth cleaned and scaled yesterday and I was a nervous wreck all day because they do it under general anaesthesia and you never know what can go wrong. He came home last night all doe-eyed, wobbly and bumping into things, purring a lot and generally seeking company.

Today, all back to normal. He's stealing food from Kelvin and eating like there's no tomorrow. If only I had his metabolism.


So I finally got my Secret Pal 8 match and found out who my spoilee is, and… I blew it. I must have set up my anonymous email account on Yahoo late at night when I was tired or otherwise not in the full possession of my faculties, because my emails from that address show my full name. Arrrggghhh. I haven't even started my first Secret Pal and I already screwed up. Grrr, fzzz, grumble and all that!@#$!!

I hope she is not too disappointed that the cat is out of the bag, or perhaps she has great self-control and will refrain from googling my name and putting two and two together. Apart from this, we seem to be a good match and I look forward to getting to know and spoil her.

Still haven't heard from my Secret Pal, the one who's going to spoil me, but she (I think of my SP as a she, but who knows?) might not even have seen her match notification yet since she is most likely in another continent and asleep right now.

May 9, 2006


I finally went to Unraveled, a yarn store in Monrovia (Southern California) that had been highly recommended by a couple of friends. I was not disappointed.

Gleaming hardwood floors, beamed ceiling, good lighting, and lots of space to move around and look at yarns, books, tools and accessories.

The store carries a good variety of brands and a yarn selection that seems targeted primarily at the new and intermediate knitter for the prevalence of thick and novelty yarns. There were thinner yarns, too, including some sock yarn, but not as much as I had hoped. It's really hard to find a good selection of small gauge yarns in physical stores these days.

Helpful staff ready to assist without being pushy: a big plus for me. I've been put off a couple of stores because the owners are either too eager (see Skein in Pasadena) or too stuck-up (see the infamous Knitterie Parisienne in LA). This one is just right.

I particularly enjoyed the book corner, with its two displays and many books and magazines including Rowan, Colinette and even a couple of issues of Rebecca, which you don't see often in stores.

And the place is so airy and inviting. You have your choice of cushy armchairs and sofa in various happy colors and a good size table and chairs, all near natural light: another winning move.

I am definitely going back.

California shorthand

Yesterday, on the BBC website, I read the article "Drowning in France's alphabet soup" on adjusting to the frequency of acronyms, abbreviations and initials in France.

If he thinks things are bad in France, Mr. Schofield should try the US. Moving to California took me some getting used to the local shorthand and hyper-acronymic culture. You'd expect some clarity at least on the road, for safety's sake, but no. How was I supposed to understand words like FWY, CYN, and xing? Maybe you could figure out that FWY stands for freeway if you knew the word in the first place, but those things are called highways or motorways everywhere else I've been. And CYN for Canyon? Who knew that the hillsides in Southern California were called canyons? I thought that word was reserved for the majestic canyons of the Arizona desert. And xing for crossing? Give me a break.

But it's not only California; it's a national obsession that encompasses abbreviations, acronyms and other forms of language shorthand. I am not talking about the specialized jargon of specific groups such as accountants, surfers or geneticists. I am a web designer/developer so in my business environment I discuss XHTML, CSS, AJAX, dpi, png, and to me PMS means Pantone Matching System, not Pre-Menstrual Syndrome.

I am talking everyday, pervasive examples of excessive language reduction that can get in the way of clarity. Now I know that DOB is date of birth, but I had to ask as I was trying to fill out a form at the emergency room, er… ER, while holding the tip of my left thumb in place after slicing it off with a knife. So maybe I am not so smart, but shouldn't things be clear where lack of clarity can cause or aggravate serious problems, as when you are driving or in a medical emergency?

It still bugs me sometimes, even though I am fully integrated now. I even migrated to American English spelling. After all, I am Italian and I should adjust to the local customs. Next time I move to a new country, though, I'll try to adjust ASAP to avoid snafus.

May 8, 2006

Socks, socks, socks

The first time I tried to knit socks, I used a set of five double pointed needles (DPN); I struggled, struggled, struggled some more, cursed, and gave up. I knit for pleasure and all that struggling didn't make sense. A few months later, I ran into a booklet titled Socks Soar on Two Circular Needles and decided to give that a try.

It was night and day. Knitting on two circulars was oh, so easy! I got stuck a couple of times with the pattern and needed a little help from a friend, but that's not because of the technique. I suspect that the book was written for knitters who are already familiar with sock knitting to introduce a new, easier way of doing things, so certain basic things were taken for granted.

I've been knitting socks ever since, using both solid color and self-patterning yarn and love it. Here are some of my socks knitted with a variety of yarns: Jawoll Lang, Regia Patch Antique, Trekking and one I can't remember.

These are knitted with Regia Patch Antique.

And two of these are knitted with Jojoland yarn I bought on eBay. I love the colors, but unlike the other yarns which are specifically for socks and contain about 20% synthetic fiber, these are 100% wool, so they need to be hand washed (sigh) and they pill a lot more. They are warmer, though.

For these, I used a KnitPicks yarn called Essential.

I've tried different kinds and brands of circular needles. Hate plastic, like the look and feel of bamboo, but metal wins hands down for me and my all-time favorites are Addi Turbo, made by German manufacturer Skacel. They come in bamboo and metal and in many lengths, to fit all sorts of projects, from tiny socks to oversized sweaters. The metal ones make your knitting simply glide, which is why I like them. Other people prefer bamboo because they find metal too slippery. It's a matter of personal preference. The brand, though, is a matter of quality. The brands I tried before Addi Turbo – and I admit that I didn't try absolutely everything on the market – sooner or later gave me problems with the flexible part between the needles which tended to stiff and curl in awkward ways. Yes, you can put them in hot water and it makes a difference, but why go to the trouble if you don't have to?

May 7, 2006

Eco-spinning in Namibia

Today's LA Times has an article on spinning in Namibia at page A36. You can also find it online, but I am not sure how long the page will remain in the non-membership area, and couldn't find a permalink. Focus of the article is the Namibian Wild Silk Project (NWSP) also known as Kalahari Wild Silk Project, sponsored by the Centre for Research Information and Action in Africa (CRIAA SA–DC).

The project involved teaching local women to process the cocoons of an African wild silk moth and spin them. It's called eco-spinning because unlike the most common form of cocoon spinning, this one does not kill the pupae to preserve the intactness of the thread. Since the cocoons are allowed to hatch, they get broken at one end causing the final spun silk thread to include some rough thick spots. Depending on the use you want to make of your silk, this can be a decorative element. I am a big fan of wabi-sabi and believe that it's your purpose that makes something appropriate or not.

May 6, 2006

First Fair Isle

I started this sweater in London with a pattern from Scottish Island Knits.

After struggling for more than a week with tangle horrors of galactic proportions, a few friends in my spinning guild helped me frog the whole thing down to the ribbing. Yes, it took four people to rip about twenty rows of unspeakable mess. Then one of them (thanks Kathy) showed me how to weave in the yarn as I knit and I was on my way to do things properly. So I started my pattern again. All went well up to the point where I had to use more than two colors per row and even my new technique was no help. Finally, I asked for help on a Fair Isle knitting list and someone pointed out that I was using a Fair Isle technique on an intarsia pattern. Duh! More frogging, all by myself this time.

Down to the ribbing again, the day before my retreat at Deer Springs where my friend Andrea was going to bring a book by Norwegian designer Solveig Hisdal, so I decided to pick a new pattern from that book. This is what I chose.

I am not sure I can call it Fair Isle, since it's not a traditional Fair Isle pattern, but it only requires two colors per row, which I understand is the basis of the Fair Isle technique. Here is the sweater now, one week later.

And this is the back, with every other stitch weaved in. I don't know if it's overkill, but I like the effect.

I am finally happy with how my sweater is going. The only problem is that now my UFOs have even less chances of getting done.

May 5, 2006

Learning Kanji (Part 2)

Learning kanji (Part 1) reviewed a few books for those interested in learning Kanji. Part 2 reviews a couple more books plus other resources. In these two short articles, I have presented ideas and resources going more for variety than comprehensiveness. In some cases I have provided links to Amazon.com, but you can find the same and more books at other online sources and physical bookstores. Online you can try Amazon.co.jp and www.yesasia.com. If you live close to a Kinokuniya bookstore, I recommend paying a visit. There is nothing like leafing through a book and making your own judgement. Besides, the kind of serendipitous discoveries you can make in a bookstore are different from those you can make online. I like to browse both on- and off-line.

  • Subject Grouped 1016 Kanji in Context, ISBN 4-590-01043-7 This book includes the 1016 kanji taught to Japanese children in their first six years of school, plus several of their compounds. Unlike other books that group kanji by frequency or radical, this one presents them according to topics. Twenty chapters illustrate kanji by topics such as: Geography, Weather and Universe, Food, Drink, Cooking, Body and Health, Transportation, Law and Crime. Each chapter comes with three sections: Reference, Vocabulary, and Reading Excercises.
  • Kanji Fast Finder, ISBN 0-8048-3393-1
    You will love this book. It won't teach you kanji, but it will cut down how long it takes you to locate the 1,945 General Use Kanji in any dictionary, and in a big way. Trust me on this one: if you plan to use a dictionary, buy Kanji Fast Finder.
  • Kanji-a-Day is a website built around the needs of students of Japanese who want to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), but it is just as useful to anyone interested in the language and especially kanji. The site's features include: Kanji of the day, Kanji lists and quizzes, dictionaries (Japanese-English and English-Japanese), personalized kanji and vocabulary lists, and now also a chat room. The Kanji lists are divided into four levels, level four being the lowest. Counterintuitive, perhaps, but consistent with the JLPT classification of proficiency levels.
    The site requires you to become a member to access almost all its features. Membership is free, but they ask for more personal information that seems necessary. I mention this because the site has had a prominent "Website for sale" sign on it for a while, and there is no telling who will get your personal information once the site is sold. This said, I find that the functionality you get access to is worth it and this is definitely the best website of its kind I have found so far.
  • Electronic dictionaries
    There are many brands and models out there and most of them include similar functions: dictionaries (Engligh-Japanese, Japanese-English), Thesaurus, kanji dictionary with search by reading and stroke number, kanji stroke animated sequence and more. When functionality is comparable, choice comes down to look and cost. One word of advice. If you buy from Japan and you are not already proficient in the language, make sure you get your user manual in English. I had a friend of mine buy my Canon WordTank G50 in Japan, which saved me about 40%, but came with a Japanese manual. As a consequence, I got a lot less mileage from my electronic dictionary than I could have.
  • More on this subject at Learning Kanji (Part 1)

May 2, 2006

Secret Pal 8

At my last guild's meeting, four of my friends talked me into signing up for Secret Pal 8, a sort of secret Santa for knitters who blog. Now, that wouldn't have been such a big deal, if I had a blog. This was Saturday April 22 and on Sunday the 23rd I started my blog. Of all the reasons to start a blog this has to be a rather pathetic one, but the crazy things is: I am hooked. I rationalize my twelve entries in ten days with providing enough information to my secret pal, but I am really doing this because I enjoy it, and this has been a big surprise for me. I've never kept a journal and never been interested in one. In fact, if it weren't for Andrea, JoShell, Theresa and Rose (you bad, bad girls), I'd still be happily blogless. Anyway, today I received the SP8 questionnaire, so here are my answers. I can't wait to find out who my secret pal is!

  1. What is/are your favorite yarn/s to knit with? What fibers do you absolutely *not* like?

    LOVE: wool, wool and wool. Oh wait, also wool blended with cashmere, silk, and other such lovely fibers. What can I say, I am spoiled rotten; guess it comes from spinning, since I can usually make luxurious yarn at an affordable price. I do use yarns with partial synthetic content for socks, though; it all depends on the project. And, unlike some spinner friends of mine who sneer at non-handspun (you know who you are), I absolutely adore some commercial yarns.
    CURRENTLY IN LOVE WITH: Rowan Scottish Tweed 4-ply.
    PLANNING TO USE SOON: Jamieson & Smith 2-ply jumper weight yarn.
    FAVORITE YARN WEIGHT: fingering to DK, although I have knitted with lace weight and worsted.
    DISLIKE: synthetics and non-bouncy fibers like cotton and linen. I also don't use novelty or bulky yarns, because I tend to favor projects that require traditional yarn and small gauge needles.

  2. What do you use to store your needles/hooks in?

    A lot of my straight needles are in vases, and some in a fabric wrap. My circulars are a mess and I need to figure out how to organize them, especially since I am getting more and more of them.

  3. How long have you been knitting? Would you consider your skill level to be beginner, intermediate or advanced?

    I've been knitting since I was about ten, with two long inactivity gaps until six years ago, when I started knitting again and got completely hooked. I am an advanced Aran knitter, absolute beginner Fair Isle knitter, kind of lousy at sewing and putting it all together. I am also good with simple socks.

  4. Do you have an Amazon or other online wish list?

    I have two, not entirely up-to-date, but here they are:

  5. What's your favorite scent? (for candles, bath products etc.)

    No scents, please. I have really awful reactions to a lot of scents. Lavender sachets are ok, but that's about it.

  6. Do you have a sweet tooth? Favorite candy?

    I love gelato, but I think that the logistics of mailing ice-cream will keep me safe from this one. :)

  7. What other crafts or Do-It-Yourself things do you like to do? Do you spin?

    I spin and I am getting interested in felting, although it seems so much more work in terms of set-up than knitting or spinning, that I am not sure I'll really get into it.

  8. What kind of music do you like? Can your computer/stereo play MP3s? (if your buddy wants to make you a CD).

    Yes, I can play MP3 on my Mac and iPod. I have rather scattered, er… eclectic, tastes. My all-time favorites are jazz and Brazilian music. I am not very up to speed with the latest stuff, but to give you an idea of other things I like, here are a few: Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, Antony and the Johnsons, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Paolo Conte, medieval, Irish, and more. Please, no rap, country or opera.

  9. What's your favorite color? Or--do you have a color family/season/palette you prefer? Any colors you just can't stand?

    I love spice colors (mustard, saffron, curry, paprika, etc.), fall palettes, earth tones, grays, moss and olive greens, blues; I dislike purples and pinks, and don't have much use for pastels. I also can't knit anything black or near black because I can't see what I am doing.

  10. What is your family situation? Do you have any pets?

    I live with my partner of seven years (Ben) and two adorable British shorthair cats (Kelvin and Piper).

  11. Do you wear scarves, hats, mittens or ponchos?

    Yes to everything but ponchos.

  12. What is/are your favorite item/s to knit?

    Socks, sweaters, wrist warmers.

  13. What are you knitting right now?

    A pair of socks and my first Fair Isle sweater. I also have several UFOs waiting on me.

  14. Do you like to receive handmade gifts?


  15. Do you prefer straight or circular needles? Bamboo, aluminum, plastic?

    Used to knit with 14" straight needles (one needle under my arm as I learned growing up in Italy) but I am now totally in love with circulars. I use my metal Addi Turbos for socks and now also sweaters. I still like to see my wooden straight needles around the house and there is one particular pair of straight needles I've been lusting after.

  16. Do you own a yarn winder and/or swift?

    I have a yarn winder but not a swift.

  17. How did you learn to knit?

    From a friend.

  18. How old is your oldest UFO?

    About five years old.

  19. What is your favorite holiday?


  20. Is there anything that you collect?

    I wouldn't call it collecting, but I do occasionally buy stamps with maps and Japanese stickers.

  21. Any books, yarns, needles or patterns out there you are dying to get your hands on? What knitting magazine subscriptions do you have?

    Let me get back to you on the first question. As for subscriptions, I don't have any, but I just signed up with TKGA so I should start getting Cast-On. I occasionally get Rebecca with English translation.

  22. Are there any new techniques you'd like to learn?

    Color-knitting. I just started my first Fair Isle project. It's not strictly speaking Fair Isle, because it's a Scandinavian pattern from Poetry in Stitches, but it's in FI technique. I have a feeling that I'll want to do more after this. I also like some sweaters that require intarsia technique, but I don't think I can handle the tangle mess of multiple balls of yarn at the same time.

  23. Are you a sock knitter? What are your foot measurements?

    Yes, and I'll get back to you with the measurements.

  24. When is your birthday? (mm/dd)

    September 30.

  25. I should probably throw in some extra information for my secret pal since my blog is only ten days old. I was born in the UK, raised in Italy and moved to Los Angeles in 1992 where I've been a professional web designer and developer since 1995. Some of my interests outside knitting and spinning are: foreing languages, design, technology, maps, good food and wine, cats. I tend to have a short attention span and get interested in new things all the time, but knitting seems to be a constant in my life and I am very much looking forward to my first Secret Pal.

Battle horses on stamps

I love images of horse battles. It all started when I saw Paolo Uccello's battle paintings for the first time. I don't really have that many stamps, but I like the ones I have.

Maps on stamps

Since I can't afford to collect antique maps, I sort of collect stamps with maps. Sort of, because I don't really follow a system; I simply choose stamps that appeal to me and there are some truly beautiful ones out there.