A Deluge

I have written about crazy Texas weather a lot on this site. I know that heat and storms come with the territory, but sometimes the effects reach beyond the mundane.  That happened in October when we had an insane amount of rain -- between 9 and 11 inches in 24 hours, depending on which part of Austin you were in -- the living room flooded and the swimming pool looked like a duck pond.  The whole experienced freaked me out at the time, and my life has not been the same since.

Fortunately I had hired a pool maintenance company only a few weeks before, deciding I'd had enough of managing the pool on my own. They had to vacuum more than an inch of soil off the bottom of the pool and strip down the filter completely, but it was back to normal in less than 10 days.  Less than two weeks later, we had another storm that flooded large sections of downtown. Here, courtesy of CRH photos is a freaky shot of the Stevie Ray Vaughn statues on Auditorium Shores, waist-deep in the river.

End of Summer Rituals

School started today. We moved Lucy into an apartment up near campus on Saturday, though she will need more things brought up this week, and UT's first day of class is Wednesday the 28th.

But we spent the last few days hastily tying up the summer holidays. Last Sunday we had a family outing to an impressive municipal pool complex in Cedar Park, northwest of Austin. It had what I believe is called a "drop slide" and a 3m diving/jumping platform. Fred loved it, and it was a great spot in 100F temperatures.

Veteran's Memorial Park Pool

We also continued a five- or six-year tradition of a summer mural, though without Lucy and Jessica's full attention, I had to step in and help Fred finish it yesterday.

Just the ground to finish

As you can see, this year's theme was a prehistoric scene complete with a Liopleuradon and apocalyptic meteorite. Last year they made a space mural and the year before was - I believe - a kind of carnival or fun fair. This all started in the three summers I was at nursing school - well before Fred was born. While I was in class or working shifts, the girls had a variety of babysitters in the month of August, and the murals became an absorbing project, which took up the best part of a week. Jessica pointed out on Sunday that their favorite part was adding glitter to the whole thing once it was finished. Fred is not bothered about that but did enjoy painting blood dripping off the Tyrannosaurus's teeth.

Less successful, sadly, was our attempt to resurrect another tradition from past years, which we have referred to as Adalia's Place. Adalia was a retired steeplechaser (horse) that I shared for a year or so after Jessica started school. She was stabled out on the edge of the North Downs, in Great Bookham, Surrey, very near a lovely stately home called Polesden Lacey. And here she is:

Adalia in 2000, with Jessica mounted and Lucy walking

And here is a much nicer picture of Polesden Lacey itself.
Polesden Lacy, courtesy of the National Trust
Long after I stopped riding Adalia, we would park on the cul de sac by her old stables and walk for a few minutes along the bridleway to the edge of the downs and have a picnic for a few hours while admiring the view. It became an annual event on the last day before school started, and we would bring lunch and sketch books and, at first a ball and later -- after they started secondary school -- lacrosse sticks to play with. It was always fun and restful and the girls suggested we try it here.

Views of Ranmore Common, behind Polesden Lacey
  Now although we are big fans of Austin and its amenities, one of our private family complaints is that there is "nowhere nice to go".  We don't broadcast this, because Austinites are very proud of the greenbelt and Hamilton Pool and Zilker Park and the creeks. And these places are all very nice if you like cedars and limestone, and they are particularly nice from October to March and when it has been raining. But they don't measure up well to Kew Gardens, or the South Downs or any one of a dozen or more manor houses or castles or 'beauty spots' which were all within an hour or so's drive from us in England. We have been very spoiled.

But as I mentioned in an earlier post, we have really Adapted this summer and are not complaining about the heat, and so we set out after much discussion, for the Walter E. Long metropolitan park, east of Austin. It has a lake and a nice picnic area, and Jessica has run cross-country races there several times and assured us there was acceptable grass, which is an issue in central Texas in August.

A view of Walter E Long park that avoids the power plant!

The lake was very clean and there were only a few families there with us. We found a shady spot and ate our lunch and kept Lulu from running off and bothering the fishermen. But after 15 minutes of playing catch with Fred, we were melting, our end of the lake was thick with reeds, and our picnic sheet (blankets are too hot) was slowly being taken over by ants. I can't identify fire ants but MOST ants in Texas seem to bite in my experience.

So we packed up after at most an hour and consoled Fred, who was crying because we were all so wimpy, with sno-cones from Snow Beach.  Perhaps we could reschedule our Adalia picnic for January...

It was inevitable

So despite my last post, we did get it all in the end.

from my cell phone last week

But we are all dealing with it much better this summer for some reason; possibly by getting up very early in the morning. Phil is training hard for the US Masters Rowing Championships, which for some insane reason are being held in Sarasota, Florida in August.  He has been getting up at 530am most days and is on the water by 6. Jessica has been working part time at Starbucks for much of the summer but now that cross country training has started, she is running on the trail before 7.

Lucy has a wonderful summer job leading the middle school (age 10-13) rowing camps and 'working the dock' at Texas Rowing Center on the lake in Austin. She is at work by 730am and spends all morning outside leading fleets of young rowers, kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders around the lake.

Stand-up paddle boards on Town Lake  (Austin American-Statesman photo)

Fred has been playing soccer at a little local kids camp outdoors from 9am to noon this week at our local park. The temperature is already in the mid-90s when I drop him off but This is a kind of Texas machismo, I have discovered. Plenty of families send their kids to sleepaway camps up in the hill country with no a/c and lots of outdoor activities, and it's true, that once you get used to it, you are ok, as long as you drink plenty of water. Water-based activities are noticeably easier and the soccer coaches do hose the kids down as the temperature climbs towards noon.

Wet Weather

We have had a temperate spring here in Austin. Temperatures have only hit the 90s on a handful of days so far and earlier in the year we had a number of dips back into 40s and 50s, which was very unusual. I kept thinking, "ok, well I'll wear these ** (boots? sweaters? socks even?) one more time because I won't touch them again till November". That happened over and over in February, March and April.

The other unusual fact is that it has been raining.  I always complained that I didn't mind the heat -- even the dozens of days of 100F+ -- what I minded was the drought. All of central Texas is still in a drought, and our suburb has been under Stage 2 water restrictions (which I wrote about in detail here) for over a year. But for the last month or more it has rained fairly regularly, maybe every 5-14 days.

Today, we seem to be having a rainy day. It has been raining gently but steadily since about 8am or earlier and according to the weather radar, there is a slow-moving rain system creeping north from Corpus Christi and these conditions are expected to continue for most of the day. This doesn't happen here very often.  Normally, in my experience, Texas has sunny days and cloudy days and storms; thrilling, flash flood-inducing, dog-distressing storms. Yesterday was typical. The Weather Channel had forecast rain for today, and yesterday it was humid and cloudy. But at 2pm we heard thunder and the rain started shortly after. I met Fred at the bus stop with a spare umbrella and we walked back to the house in a downpour. It rained hard until around 5pm. I went out once to clear debris from the berm where it passes under the fence, and to check on the swimming pool, which was bearing up well.

At 5 pm I checked the rain gauge I had given Phil for his birthday.

Three inches of rain in about 3 hours.  Impressive.


Slow progress on the May Projects List, but I have finished a real sweater. I started this in April 2011 when I became infatuated with the Origami yarn from Berroco. It was new then and was featured in one of their email newsletters. 

Origami is a mixture of acrylic, linen, nylon and cotton and is described by the manufacturers as "an exciting yarn for warm weather months. Many multicolored strands run parallel to each other, wrapped by a black binder and it knits into a remarkably light and crisp finished fabric."

I don't know why I was so besotted by it,  but I bought the pattern book, agonized for a week over which of the colorways to pursue, and visited two knitting stores to fondle the skeins and dither in person.  In the end I went for "sienna" --  a mix of rust, orange, white and a distant purple. And I cast on for Santos, a textured cardigan with asymmetrical panels of seed stitch and a repeated eyelet pattern.

from Berroco pattern book #305

I fear I may have been influenced by the stunning model, but it has been surprisingly fun to knit, and if it took me 2 years, it's because I had a number of diversions on the way.  I quailed a bit after the first few inches when I realized how much of the garment was seed stitch, which requires alternating knit and purl stitches all the time. This can be clumsy and difficult to get into a rhythm, but it's amazing what a few thousand repetitions can do for your small motor skills.   I finished the knitting last week, and then began what in England they refer to as, "the making up"; ie, sewing or grafting the whole thing together. Before you Make it Up, it looks like this:

A 22-row eyelet pattern alternating with seed stitch

The trick is to pin the right sides together

Lots of people HATE  the making up, (right Barbara?). In fact Knitting Guru Elizabeth Zimmerman practically founded a cult around knitting whole sweaters in the round, (in a tube, and dividing at the shoulders for the arms) so that you could avoid not only seaming, but also purling, as you never knit on the wrong side. But I actually like it; it's like creating a little person. And I have to confess that I was a stitcher before I ever learned to knit, and I enjoy hand sewing. 

But I can't do it without my very unstylish Hamlyn Complete Knitting Course, which is the first knitting book I ever bought, back in 1993. Most knitters have one basic bible as reference, and this one has awful 1980s sweater patterns, but wonderfully clear drawings and instructions to remind me how to pick-up-and-knit" 117 stitches for the neckline, whether to join the seams before or after inserting the sleeves, and how to assemble it all right side up. 

The Hamlyn Complete Knitting Course by Eleanor Van Zandt is sadly out of print

My own version is, after all this, a little large on me. But it is a nice weight for Texas (except for the next 4 months) and the eyelet sections are very pretty. It's going to be rare too, because Berroco Yarns has DISCONTINUED Origami already.  Yes, yarn is a cut-throat business...

photo by Lucy Ellis


My semester finishes two weeks today, and it's not been an easy one, so I am already making mental lists of all the nice things I'm going to do when it's all over. I have the entire month of May 'to myself', sort of, as Fred's school will not finish until the end of the month.

On the list are a number of domestic activities, like finally getting proper curtains put up in Fred's room, and finding a contractor to start a landscaping project around the front of the house. But in between advanced pathophysiology, which I only passed by the skin of my teeth, and grading nursing ethics essays, and determining my personal management philosophy, I have been knitting.

And crocheting. Lucy's blanket was finished before Christmas, but I have had some trouble combining photos.  Lucy takes hundreds of photos every time we go anywhere, so her graduation present of a Macbook and a student edition of Adobe photoshop meant that we basically got our family computer back. Consolidating and organizing photos is another May Project for me.

I also finished the Forest Canopy Shawl, by Susan Lawrence, which I cast on last July while we were on vacation in Seattle. It was my first big lace work, and was probably the most satisfying and absorbing thing I have ever made. It didn't hurt that it was made with Blue Sky Alpaca & Silk, which was a dream to handle. I kept stroking my cheek with it when I hoped no one was looking.

I have given it away as a present but did take some arty, Yarn Harlot-style pictures of it first.  If you've ever wondered what possessed people in the past to make anything as ridiculously intricate as lace, I can assure it's fun and fascinating. There are two small mistakes but I'm not about to point them out to you.

For some crazy reason I also have returned to Dishcloths. I swore them off about two years ago but keep coming across witty patterns that look ludicrously easy, and then the Peaches & Cream yarn is about $1.50 per skein and you can buy it at Walmart, which makes a visit there a bit more soothing.

This is Mason-Dixon knitting's Linoleum Dishcloth which I gave away to a friend who bequeathed me her entire stash, including some wonderful handspun yarn from Vermont, after she decided she wasn't going to use it.  These heavy cottons are supposed to be great for polishing glass, and if you make yourself a week's supply I'm sure it makes cleaning the kitchen more fun.  Some days I think I'll make a whole set themed around the holidays of the year, and become a kitschy old woman.

Hard work

I am a TA, or teaching assistant this semester for two undergraduate nursing classes. The first is a standard class on healthcare ethics, and the second is a kind of overview of contemporary issues in nursing for seniors who are almost ready to enter the work force.

My job is basically to grade their essays. I taught one class in January when the professor was away at a conference, and that was great fun. But the rest of the job is boring, and I won't be doing it next semester, despite the tuition credit. My office hours are on Thursday afternoons but no one ever comes to see me.

Today I came prepared with spanish vocabulary to and a little distraction.