Friday, August 15, 2014

Sands of Summertime

As I look back, I can’t really label this summer as a relaxing one or even refer to it as a “break.”  On the contrary, this has been a season of muddling through a sea of outrageously expensive car repairs, unpleasant medical appointments, sundry unforeseen household expenses, a disappointing children’s school acceptance snafu, and a serious discipline issue with my older son, who, with his own car and summer job, was given enough rope to hang himself (I’m using figurative language here) and did just that.  On top of those activities, in recent weeks I painted and scrubbed in preparation for a house guest and spent weeks working on a job application.  All along, though, I found both solace and novelty in my knitting. 

Evening knitting and its corresponding release of tension came in particularly hardy the last few weeks or so, after I’d made the decision to resign from my former teaching job to accept a new position in a different county.  I walked into my old school, informed my principal that I wouldn’t be back to teach when school opened up, gleefully anticipating having a having a fourteen-day or so break before beginning a new job.  I was, therefore, taken aback by the assertion of this imposing and stolid man (whom I'd never met before this time) that I wasn’t allowed to leave until he’d found a replacement and that by law he could hold me for thirty days (something about a mysterious contract I’d signed twelve years ago).  Anyway, I have moved furniture and boxes, started one school year at my former place of employment (where school begins a couple of weeks earlier than at my new place), spent a little over a week there, had one day “off” to take my older son to a three-hour medical appointment, and the following day attended orientation at my new school. 

Happily, in the next few days, before officially beginning my new teaching position at a large high school in Charlotte, one with an excellent reputation for its strong academic programs, I hope to try to steal a little bit of summer.  A couple of days ago, I finished my Sand Dollar Tunic, made with seasonably appropriate Cascade Ultra Pima Cotton.  Yesterday I put it on and caught a matinee at my local megaplex movie theater.  I might not have been at the beach, but there is still something about sitting in the dark munching popcorn on a hot afternoon that screams summer indulgence. I saw 100 Foot Journey, suitably light and amusing for a summer afternoon.  

I also plan to spend the next few days working on my Stellina Sweater, a Louisa Harding design.  Knit with another warm-weather fiber, I hope to have this item off my needles before August is over.  As it is often in the 80s and 90s through the end of October in my region of North Carolina, I should have plenty of time to wear this garment before winter.  I also plan to finish the novel I am reading, Charles Dickens’s Old Curiosity Shop.  Last summer, a time characterized by a glorious trip to England and little serious consideration of any practical affairs, I spent a week at Oxford University taking part in a seminar dealing with Charles Dickens as a trailblazing mystery writer.  This year the Old Curiosity Shop has me on the edge of my seat regarding the plight of Little Nell, (I should know what her fate is but can only remember that thousands of people in the 19th century stood by the docks in New York—or maybe New England—awaiting shipment of the part of the serialized story that dealt with whether Nell would live or die).   I find this sentimental story another perfect and much needed summertime escape, but hope that in a year or two my feet can once again walk through London and the English countryside, rather than traveling vicariously through Dickens's world. 

Cables and garter stitch create the front of Louisa Harding's Stellina sweater.  

Until that time, I know that I am firmly entrenched in a time of duty and obligation, where I must muster strength and patience.  While a new job is exciting, I will have bigger classes and the new employee’s burden of proving myself.  I must also enforce new rules and regulations with my son.  (Placing a seventeen-year-old under “house arrest” for a month has frazzled every nerve in my body and challenged my already high strung psyche).  But my knitting, along with reading and infrequent get-togethers with friends offer bright spots along the way.  In addition, my local yarn shop is having a big sale this weekend, and while my stash is rapidly encroaching on my family’s living space, I can’t avoid attending this event, so that I connect with fellow fiber enthusiasts and escape by handling and basking in the colors of the store’s wares.  Maybe I’ll break down and buy one of the many Christmas stocking kits the owner has hanging by the cash register.  Summer’s end is almost here and December won’t be far along.  But before casting on Christmas gifts, I have to get back to a silk shell I started months ago.  I might get it done before the first marking period grades are due at my new school. 

I finished this scarf yesterday, an item made with a Louisa Harding pattern and her
Amitola yarn and pattern.  The rosette is fastened  to a pin, so it can be moved.  I should pack
this away for a future Christmas  present  for someone, but I love the colors.  

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Summer Idyll

Artful bloggers display great skill in depicting idealized existences—portraying to-die-for shabby chic studios, displaying spreads of crusty bread and heirloom produce arranged in rustic settings, or presenting the viewer with winsome children frolicking in the grass in vintage outfits.  Magazines serve the same purpose, revealing images that are a fantasy, eye-candy for women like me, who aspire to live a life where style is as important as substance, where aesthetics take center stage. 

This time of year, it would be easy to write little and to craft today's post in such a manner, ignoring the realities of life.  In the midst of the chaos of catching up with a year’s worth of home-and-auto repairs, along with medical and dental appointments and a slew of bureaucratic school-related paperwork (a description of which is certain to kill any attempt of mine at portraying an idyllic summer break), I have been privy to some blog-worthy moments. But I have to say those times--interspersed with cleaning, football laundry, to-do lists, or life--are few and far between.  But maybe their scarcity makes me savor them with greater instensity and enjoyment.    

This Brown-Eyed Susan shawl is from Juju's Loops, a book I purchased at Loop in London last summer, a time when I was far away from mundane summertime duties.  

A friend from college, who now lives in Massachusetts, came for a visit last week.  She’d been slated to arrive the week earlier, but the night before her flight, the plumbing in her old house decided to give way, and decayed pipes spewed water from the walls.  When she cancelled this first trip, I hadn’t expected to see her this summer, especially since the airline reps were only willing to give her a $49.00 credit towards another flight.  But she’s a seasoned teacher and Union representative, possessed of the right mix of moxie and humor to convince even the most-hardened airline supervisors trained to say no to give her a break. She arrived in Charlotte last week. 

We were able to drive down to the Charleston area to spend a night in a cottage owned by a kind woman I met while in the mountains last week.  (I describe our meeting in my last blog post.)  The cottage was stunning—right out of Southern Living.  The fixtures and d├ęcor flowed with a soft, blue-and-tan beach theme.  The shower in the master bathroom, which also had a gorgeous claw-foot tub, was nearly as big as my kitchen at home and had three shower heads, one that was the size of a large cake plate.  (I was pretty impressed, but I guess I don’t get out much!)  While one night may not seem like much of a get-away to some, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to unwind in such a beautiful home and to have a chance to swim in the waves at Folly Beach the following morning.  My friend, Susan, and I also had a leisurely lunch at Poe’s Tavern on Sullivan’s Island before driving home. (Check out the link to find out about Edgar Allen Poe's connection to Sullivan's Island.)

The waves are strong when the tide comes in at Folly Beach, but I braved the water.  

My mismatched outfit and the casual array of food reflect my beach state of mind.  

Susan and I also went up to the Asheville area, making a pit stop at a boutique in Black Mountain along the way.   I try to buy most of my clothes from Goodwill (as all of my spending money seems to go for yarn), but I did buy a dress and matching sweater at this shop.  I suppose I can justify this purchase as a work-related expense, as this new outfit seemed just perfect for school. 

The cottage's atmosphere is serene.  

Along the way, from home to beach to home to mountains, I carted my Brown-Eyed Susan shawl in progress.  The color of this Manos de Uruguay silk-and-wool-blend yarn is appropriately named Deep Sea.  I used seven skeins of this yarn for this project, five of them a generous gift from blogger Mrs. Thomasina Tittlemouse.  I’m happy to show her that the wonderful contents of a package she sent me some time ago have been used to create something that is beautiful.  And this garment, so light and soft, feels spectacular on the skin!

I’m also working on another beach-inspired project, the Sand Dollar Shift.  The pattern for this item has been a source of struggle to me, and I’ve torn out many rows, worked my brain to a frazzle, had some aha moments, and found help with pattern instructions from gifted Lynn, the owner of Cottage Yarn, my LYS.

Speaking of yarn shops . . . I was driving with my husband yesterday in the small town of Matthews, after a morning’s outing to Lowe’s Home Improvement, Goodwill, and a bagel shop, when I saw a tented sign that said, “Yarn, 50% Off.”

“What!” I shouted.  “Stop!”

I discovered a small yarn shop, Leslie’s Loops, tucked away in a small strip mall.  The owner’s husband, who was manning the cash register, informed me, when I inquired about the shop, that it has been open since April.  Everything was 50% off, so I came away with enough purple worsted wool for a sweater and eight skeins of Knitcol, probably for future baby gifts as the need arises.  The eggplant hued worsted wool is making me think of the woolly sweaters of fall and even of Christmas.  But for now, after doing laundry and picking up my car from the shop tomorrow (making the grand total for repairs for this VW this summer a whopping $1600) and then going to eye doctor, I’ll work to capture a few more of summer’s perfect moments.    

I love this pretty island of flowers and trees.  

This artistic display in the cottage reflects the colors of sea glass.  

In the morning, the tide out back was very low.  

We had time for a brief evening stroll through Charleston.  

The real gas lamps appeal to my romantic nature.  

This Sand Dollar Shift is one of my works in progress.  It's hot in the South sometimes until October, so I want to finish this and wear it before 2014 ends.  Summer days are perfect for knitting with Cascade Ultra Pima Cotton.  

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Climb Every Mountain

This medallion will be part of a sleeveless tunic, the Sand Dollar Shift.  I am enjoying using wonderfully soft Cascade Ultra Pima yarn for this project

“Why am I tormenting myself during summer break?"  I asked my husband a couple of days ago.  "Peasant women in third world countries go blind doing this in order to feed their families.”  I'd just spent more than two exasperating hours in an attempt to work the first few rows of a medallion--a component of a sleeveless tunic.  To start this garment, I had to learn to work the circular cast on illustrated on the same page as the pattern in the summer 2014 issue of Knitter's Magazine. This task entails making a loose loop, knitting stitches into it, and then—magically—pulling the tail to create a neat, tight circle.  I did eventually execute the cast-on (after finding an alternate technique on YouTube) and knit the first row, but I then erred on the second one, a row which required left and right increases.  Wielding four little sticks while fumbling with an intrusive loop as I tried to figure out the ins and outs of an increase technique with which I was unfamiliar was overwhelming.  I tore out my work and repeated this process several times.  Tired, I was tempted to quit but soldiered on.

My husband and I had a similar experience yesterday.  Let me note that this hasn’t been a great summer for us.  I am at the point where I feel I’m on the brink, tasting a bit of future freedom and time to reconnect with my husband as my children approach becoming independent.  My older son just turned seventeen, and the youngest is fourteen.  But it seems that it is more difficult now than it was a couple of years ago to bond as a couple.  Dennis and I are hesitant to leave our home together for more than a couple of hours at a time (as teenagers are a bit unpredictable), and the boys are just too big for a babysitter.  In addition, we don’t have any unwitting friends or relatives who might be willing to stay at our house to monitor things and to deal with a cocksure seventeen-year-old and his entourage of buddies. Nor do my spouse and I have any exciting independent trips to distract us this summer, so it's day after day of doing football laundry and cleaning up sticky peanut butter from spoons and plates and counters. (Protein is an athletic staple and peanut butter is a good source.)

But my husband and I made a plan.  We would take a day trip.  We would wake up early (when the boys were still sleeping), drive to a charming mountain hamlet, and there enjoy a pleasant meal and maybe a stroll.  Our older son would wake up and have to go to his life guarding job, so he would be kept occupied, and the younger would be content to stay home alone and play video games for a few hours after his noontime rising.  The first part of the day met our expectations.  We took a two-and-a-half-hour ride to Black Mountain, where we perused shops and galleries and where I was finally able to explore the Black Mountain Yarn Shop (see last blog post for details).  We also ate a meal at a restaurant named Veranda, and I was proud of myself for not overindulging.  The food was fresh and homemade and seasoned well, and, dining al fresco, we enjoyed a pleasant breeze. 

We enjoyed the view from the restaurant.  

I bought this vibrant skein of sock yarn at the Black Mountain Yarn Shop.  It's Jitterbug from Colinette Yarns and is made in Wales. 

After lunch, we went to a used bookstore, where I saw a woman, maybe in her sixties, clutching a Black Mountain Yarn Shop bag and perusing the knitting books.  Naturally, I wanted to look in the same section, but the knitting books were located in a tight corner, so I kept hanging back, waiting, hoping I wasn’t making this individual too uncomfortable.  We finally struck up a conversation, and I asked her if she knew any hiking paths.  She suggested Lookout Trail, located in Montreat.  This retreat center was founded by a Congregationalist minister, but now has a Presbyterian affiliation.  Montreat reminded me a bit a Chatauqua, New York or Ocean Grove, New Jersey—as these places were all 19th century summer colonies affiliated with various Protestant denominations.  Many of the homes in these communities are still owned by descendants of original summer residents. 

After parking the car and entering the trail, I noticed that the few hikers we saw were dressed quit sportily—solid shoes, walking sticks, nylon shorts, backpacks, etc., while my husband was wearing a polo shirt and trousers, and I had on long pants, sandals, and fairly nice cotton shirt.  My husband, who has chronic asthma, had also forgotten to bring his inhaler.  But the lady in the bookstore had told me that the hike was “easy,” although she did caution that it might take us the entire afternoon.  

Most of the trail was much steeper than this section.  

Let’s just say that we never anticipated huffing and puffing and scaling and struggling over steep, uneven terrain.  Nor did we imagine that, at the end of the wooded trail, we found that in order to reach the summit, we would have to clamber up roughly twelve feet of craggy rocks.  Staring up at this intimidating sight, I was ready to turn back, as I was frightened and also concerned about Dennis, who was lagging behind with a red face and sweat-stained shirt.  But two women hikers ahead of us led the way, and I think either their inspiration  or Dennis’s male ego encouraged him to prevail.  I felt a bit guilty, as I am short and, therefore, have a low center of gravity and, despite my initial hesitation, was able to scamper up the final rocky crevice with the diminutive ease of Bilbo Baggins, while lanky Dennis stumbled over his size 13 feet (which were clad in deck shoes unsuitable for hiking).  He made it, though. 

This is the view from the summit.  

At the narrow, rocky expanse on the top, Dennis and I got to know our fellow hikers, Gail, a photographer from Pawley’s Island, and Kit, who owns a house in Montreat along with rental properties in Charleston, SC and its environs.    Gail informed us that her sixteen-year-old daughter, along with her friend, had climbed this same mountain the day before, and, on the spot where we were standing, had come face-to-face with an enormous black bear!   They’d spent thirty hysterical, screaming minutes on the phone with 911, pleading for a helicopter to take them out, as they were afraid to go into the woods again, where they might re-encounter their hairy companion.  (Ultimately rangers walked up the mountain and led the girls down.) Listening to this harrowing account, I was thankful that Dennis and I were not alone on the mountaintop and tried not to think about bears—or copperhead snakes, for that matter. 

While we enjoyed the view, we were joined by an athletic couple with three elementary-school-aged children, two boys and a girl.  The mother informed us that she is a high school principal in Florida and told us that she was a bit preoccupied as she needed to hire a third-grade teacher for the coming school year.  I was impressed by this woman, her relaxed husband, and their well-behaved children.  When my boys  were younger, I would have been panicking if I’d found myself  on the top of a mountain with them, as they would most certainly have displayed hyper, exuberant, daredevil behavior.  I still shudder when I think about trying to reign in Jonathan and James after we'd ascended the steps of a lighthouse in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts.  At the time, I was trying to dodge two dangers—having my children burn themselves on a giant light bulb in the cramped chamber where they frolicked, oblivious to danger, or fall through boy-sized gaps in the rungs of the railing around the ledge outside, a place where they were hankering to go.  I had to force myself not to hyperventilate as I desperately clutched wriggling arms as my boys struggled to get free.    But the children in the family we'd encountered sat quietly.  

The mountain sounds are relaxing.  

A mountaintop is an odd place for socializing, but we all seemed to enjoy chatting.  Next, Dennis and I, led by the two women we'd met, took a different path down the mountain, one that Kit, who was tall and athletic, had discovered the day before.  The terrain was fascinating and gorgeous—and we enjoyed lots of it, probably two hours’ worth.  Rocky lairs, mossy trunks, beds of ferns, water playing over rocks all stimulated our weary senses. 

As we approached the base, we met a young girl, maybe fourteen, who informed us that she has asthma and that she’d started to climb up with her friends, but the walk was too much for her, so she was sitting patiently, catching her breath, waiting for them to come back down.  I have to say that her words gave me a new appreciation for my husband’s efforts.

When we finally emerged from the trail, I exchanged names and contact information with our new friends and hoped that Dennis would recover from this experience unscathed.  His mouth was hanging open, and his eyes wearily looked out of his sweaty red face.  I drove the car to an ice cream shop, where I sat down at a table and devoured a salted caramel ice cream in a waffle cone.  Dennis initially sat in the car but finally staggered in, eliciting some odd looks from the customers.  He drank a root beer and then we headed back home.

We’re a bit achy today, but we can say we accomplished something.  Dennis, who at one time was a youth minister assigned to camp counselor duty, taking teenagers on eleven-mile treks in the mountains, told me  that yesterday’s hike was the most difficult he’d ever experienced.  So he has achieved a personal best.  Me, too.  I managed to execute the tricky circular cast on and now have worked 12 or so rows of the first medallion for my tunic.  (I did use an instructional YouTube video which taught me an easier circular cast-on method using a crochet hook, though.)  I’m also invigorated by yesterday’s climb and anticipating more summer days spent tackling new challenges—knitting and otherwise.  

I have lots more exploring to do in the North Carolina Mountains, as I haven't hit all of
the landmarks on this map.