Category Archives: diy

Stranger in the Alps

Materials: 5 skeins Valley Yarns Northampton in Natural, 1 skein in Brown Heather, and 1 skein in Charcoal; sizes 4 and 5 needles. Pattern: The Knitter’s Dude.

Time: Two months, or both seasons of Narcos.

Cost: $40, yarn + pattern.

First, a story: back in grad school, I spent a few years working for one of my advisers.   A notoriously conservative figure within our generally liberal department, he never came to campus dressed in anything less than a three-piece-suit, though I can confirm that, when working in his office, he would hang up the jacket and roll up his shirtsleeves.

And, just before I started working for him, he had discovered The Big Lebowski. “It’s brilliant!” he would chuckle to me. “It’s just like a Raymond Chandler novel!” And, to signal the start of office hours, he would flip the cardboard sign hanging from his doorknob that he’d fashioned out of two bumper stickers from THE DUDE IS NOT IN to THE DUDE ABIDES.

Continue reading Stranger in the Alps

Everything but the Yarn

One of the things I love about knitting is that, once you’ve collected some needles in different sizes and a handful of notions, you can direct your time and money towards yarn.  But I’d been spending too much time over the past few years re-gluing the cables of my KnitPicks interchangeable needle set, and ordered some HiyaHiyas (Sharps, sizes 2-8) as a Christmas present.  They have been lovely to work with — perfectly smooth joins, which rotate! Not to mention adorable little knitting-panda needle stops:


On top of that, the little Hello Kitty pouch that I’ve been using to store my notions since the very early 2000s was bursting at the seams.  (Which still probably makes it one of the longest-lasting items ever purchased from a Sanrio store.)  Most retailers sell big zippered pouches or tin pencil cases for storing knitting miscellanea, but I don’t like having my stuff all jumbled together and accidentally pulling out a snarled handful of stitch markers and tangled embroidery floss when all I want is a pair of scissors.  So, I got this cosmetics travel pouch at Target:


… which has two sections.  The front one opens up wide, and holds big, frequently-accessed items like scissors, pen, and a small ruler:


The back section doesn’t open very wide at all, which is perfect for someone like me who has a horror of showering the most crumby crevices of her couch with safety pins.  There’s a few little pockets on the inside which I use for a tape measure, lip balm, and hand lotion:


… and then tins to organize all of the small stuff:


As an organized person who organizes things, you can only imagine what a frisson of satisfaction this gives me.  (Also, I officially have enough stitch markers to survive the apocalypse.)

A few weeks ago I had to unravel almost an entire sweater, thanks to an overinflated faith in my own gauge and being too lazy to try things on as I make them.  This left me with a football-sized ball of yarn to wrangle.  I’ve never used a yarn bowl or yarn organizer before, but this recent article over at Techknitting does a great job of breaking down all of the options and reasons why you might want something to prevent your yarn from rolling all over the floor, the couch, and your cat(s).  So, I went to Target again, and ended up with this three-piece set of vintagey Pyrex bowls:


… which have pretty lousy reviews on Amazon as, y’know, vessels for food prep, and my set from Target didn’t even come with the advertised lids.  But they’re perfect for taming yarn, and have three sizes to choose from.

Check back in another decade or so to see how I’m arranging my knitting notions for 2026!

Removing the Yews

If I were to give you a brief update about what’s been going on around Shandy Hall for the past couple of months, I could accurately summarize it as: outside!  Yard!  Gardening things!

For instance: mulching and landscaping around the back deck, adventures with bareroot plants from Costco, the requisite summer tomatoes and basil, viburnums along the back fence line, (successfully!) dividing a feral mess of irises, and a systematic campaign of exterminating the pokeweed which the previous owner let run rampant for years and years.  Oh, and removing the Bradford pears planted directly beneath a conjunction of low-hanging power lines in our backyard.  Enthusiasm has conquered a certain lack of experience and knowledge.

After renting for so long, it’s thrilling to be able to change the landscape according to my whims and personal tastes.  ($15 Knockout roses at Costco?  Why not!)

Our most high-impact project, however, was cutting down the yews in front of our house, which had been there since it was built 60+ years ago.  They were too big for the space.  It was time.

Here’s the before (and a non-apology for using cell phone photos throughout).  The yews had been flat-topped for so long that they looked thin and puny from the street, but also stretched forward laterally a good 3′.  I’m amazed that they hadn’t gotten crushed by snow buildup.


The first step was borrowing a chainsaw and chopping down everything except for 10-12″ long stumps.  The resulting mess looked impressively scruffy.

The second step was digging out the core of the root ball for each yew — four (very recently) live ones, and three dead ones.  I’d read a lot of anecdata online indicating that this wouldn’t be too tough of a job for a couple of reasonably healthy adults with no history of preexisting back problems.  (You’ll also find plenty of jocular “chain the stump up to the bumper of your pickup, then floor it!” advice, but we wanted to try the shovel method first.  Especially since one of the bushes was growing within 6″ of our water meter and a couple of partially-buried electrical cables of still-uncertain provenance.)  This took three tools: a shovel, a semi-ridiculous digging bar, and loppers.  Dig dig dig, use the digging bar to chip underneath the root structure as you go, and use the loppers to sever large roots as you go along.  Before I began, I pictured the stumps getting leveraged from the ground like a toppling tree, but in reality the roots keep them tightly in place more like a system of high-tension wires.  The loppers were invaluable.

I pried out the dead and rotting stumps, which was easy.  Pete did the live ones, which were… heavy.  But, shockingly, neither of us suffered any residual back or muscle pain.  It ended up being a totally do-able DIY project.


Logistical note: besides a scraggly mass of vinca, those yews were the only thing surrounding the foundation.  I imagine that it’d be much more tedious trying to remove an overgrown shrub while trying to preserve the surrounding landscaping.

The third step was the most fun one: PLANT ALL THE THINGS.  (Preceded by step 2.5: TRANSPORT ALL THE THINGS in your surprisingly roomy compact hatchback.)  (It also helps when one of your local nurseries has free popcorn, a large selection of outdoor play equipment, and golf carts for you to rattle merrily around the tree nursery on.)


(That’s our painter touching up the shutters.)

It’s all pretty standard suburban stuff for our part-sun / part-shade area: some boxwoods, spirea, deutzia, hostas, a rhododendron around the north-facing side of the house, and a coral bark Japanese maple which we have dutifully planted the proper distance away from the house for its full height (which will probably only be realized in, like, 20 years).  Oh, and a dozen bags of mulch.  When the Home Depot lady gives you flack over the number of bags of mulch that you’re buying for your front foundation plantings, do not budge.  You need a lot of mulch.

You might want to reconsider re-routing your gutters away from your newly-revealed dirt, however.