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.  

Friday, June 27, 2014

Habit Forming



Driving 300 miles last Saturday wasn’t something my achy joints really needed to do.  I’d spent the previous four days painting two rooms in my house, quitting just shy of finishing the entire job, as I was exhausted and frustrated with washing paint out of my hair as well as with picking black dog hairs off the wet baseboards.  But when I’d seen that Friends and Fiberworks in Candler, NC was hosting a Summer Retreat where Franklin Habit would be teaching, I couldn't resist.  Although we have no personal relationship, Habit and I are “friends” on Facebook.  His posts are a treat to read, as his commentary about his experiences is saucy and witty and his photography is engaging and creative.   I also enjoy living vicariously through his tales of his knitting design and teaching career.  So I fought back any reservations I had about signing up for his course, “The Knitted Plaid:  A Color and Pattern Workshop,” and woke up early Saturday and got online to register.  
     Despite any lingering home improvement fatigue, the drive through the lush countryside to the North Carolina Mountains was energizing.  The workshop was held at a middle school in Candler—a typical industrial-looking  institution replete with cinder-block walls (black ones in the cave-like bathroom that must do wonders to the moods of already angst-ridden adolescents) and an air conditioning system that had been shut down for summer break.  As I'd sorted my yarn stash earlier that morning and had been seized with guilt at my sorry excesses and as the temperatures were in the high nineties on Saturday (making me think of bathing suits and cool cotton garments), it was difficult to contemplate purchasing the beautiful hand-dyed wool yarns and fiber that were for sale by Friends and Fiberworks and the other vendors who’d set up in the school’s gymnasium.  I did, however, enjoy chatting with the women manning the booths and found time to sit down for a while before my class to work on a lacy scarf.

The yarn I brought to the class was awfully similar in color.  

      During class, Habit talked over fans whirring in the background, and I had to give this man credit for his flexibility and cheerfulness.  Despite the fact that he’d recently taught lessons on charming Block Island with its nineteenth century seaside ambiance, he seemed unfazed by the heat and factory-like surroundings of his classroom.  He seemed to heartily enjoy sharing information and witty anecdotes with his pupils. 
     Habit began the class with a discussion of his initial forays into knitting plaid, explaining how a vintage knitting pattern was the impetus for his research and experimentation.  The result was his “Princess Franklin Collar,” a free pattern available on Knitty.  He then discussed color harmonies, what he called “the most basic part of the color selection process,” explaining color terminology such as tint, tone shade, temperature, color value.  Shifting gears, Habit then shared information about the sometimes confusing and interchangeable definitions of tartan and plaid and a bit of the history of clan-specific tartans.  My instructor made me smile when he cautioned the class that he hoped that the class's discussion of this subject (a topic about which fiery Scottish folks must be passionate) would not be “equivalent to a copyright or breastfeeding thread on Ravelry.” 
     After the history lesson, students used their new knowledge of color harmonies to select several yarns to use in an experimental swatch and learned a technique to create knitted work that mimics plaid or tartan (depending on one’s definition) cloth.  I won’t give away Habit’s specific method here.  You’ll have to take his class.  You won’t be disappointed, as you’ll emerge with a new technique, a greater understanding of color relationships, and a mood leavened by this personable instructor.    

In the vendor's area, Friends and Fiberworks displayed a scarf inspired by
 the neighboring town of Asheville.  

Knitting Notions had a beautiful array of hand-dyed yarn for sale with samples
displaying how it looks worked up into garments.

Dusty's Vintage had a display of buttons that boggled the mind.

Dusty's Vintage also sold crocheted items.  

Bad Faerie Designs displayed some beautiful hand-painted spinning wheels and
drop spindles.  

These felted scarves were on display at Wild Hare Fiber Studio's booth.  

On the way home from Candler, I stopped at the Black Mountain
Yarn Shop.  I was too utterly exhausted to actually search for yarn but
 must return to this site, as this store is one of the most well-stocked and
aesthetically pleasing yarn shops I have  visited.  The charming town of
Black Mountain beckons me back as well.   

This is a doorway I saw in Black Mountain.  I love the seemingly unintentional shabby chic.  

I found a little time at the Summer Retreat to work on Louisa Harding's Rosette Scarf using the designer's Amitola yarn.  

On a final note,  I also found time to finish my DVD Socks last weekend.  Love the fact that they are custom made to my feet.  

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Hand-Painted Desert

I always find it unsettling when I emerge from the airport in Tucson, Arizona.  The environment is almost surreal--with its expanses of dry earth scattered with Saguaro that look like giants lumbering under the weight of their unwieldy arms.   Other oddly-shaped varieties of cactus and scraggly shrubs dot the landscape and jagged mountains jut up in the distance, adding to my unearthly sense of having traveled to another planet.  My mother, whom I was visiting for 10 days in the 55-plus community of Green Valley south of Tucson, experienced a spiritual sense of amazement and peace when she first saw the Arizona desert decades ago.  A friend of hers recounted a similar experience to me. She was filled with almost religious awe and "knew" she was meant to live in the desert when she first drove across the state line.  

My feelings are mixed.  The desert sun does seem to penetrate one's skin with healing power, and the sky here seems to go on forever, affording breathtaking views of the nearby mountains.  But I have never experienced a desire to live in such an arid climate so far away from the ocean.  While the wildness of the western environment is intriguing, with its romantic and tragic Native American history, I have no sense that Arizona is the place for me.  I don't want a big sky to unsettle me and make me contemplate vast eternities.  I'd rather be planted on the earth in the East--grounded by settled towns, dense green foliage, and a sense of connection to the familiar.  And the current heated immigration battles and border violence in nearby Nogales make this place a bit wild and woolly for me.   The fact that temperatures ranged from 100 to 105 degrees during my visit probably didn't help my hesitation to embrace the notion of life in the desert.  

This is my mother's house.  

However, the desert has does have a magical appeal as a place to visit.  Arizona's vibrant color palette is stunningly beautiful.  The turquoise, deep reds, and bright oranges of southwestern pottery, paintings, clothing, jewelry, etc. pop in startling contrast to the dusty landscape.  And there is a wealth here of creative inspiration for painters, sculptors, writers, and, of course, fiber artists.  

I spent most of my time visiting my mother in her home, but I also ventured out of the house a little bit and took a 30-mile drive up to Tucson one morning in search of yarn shops. As the brutal heat sapped my energy a bit, I didn't attempt to visit more than the first two provided by a Google search. I wasn't disappointed, though, as both offered a selection of yarns that not only included familiar brands such as Rowan, Debbie Bliss, and Malabrigo, but also some somewhat locally produced yarns that were new to me.  I coveted hand painted sock yarn by La Jolla, a California company, that I found at the Tucson Yarn Company, as the turquoise of two skeins was the most vibrant I'd even seen in a fiber product. Unfortunately, I found the color too pretty to use to make socks to hide under shoes and pant legs and didn't want to splurge on two skeins to make a shawl.  I did, however, take a photograph of the label and will order some when my current yarn stash isn't quite so overwhelming.

Ava, one of the shop's owners, was warm and engaging as she showed me the array of lighter-weight yarns that are popular with Arizona knitters who, she informed me, tend to make shawls, as these garments are appropriate for the wildly vacillating temperatures.  (It's not uncommon for a Arizona night to be 40 degrees colder than the temperature of the day that preceded it.)  I did leave Tucson Yarn Company with a small purchase--a gift for a friend.  

Tucson Yarn was well-stocked.  

My photo does not adequately capture the jeweled turquoise tones of this skein.  

I next made a stop at Kiwi Knitting Company, a shop that rambles on through several rooms. The owner Lynn was there and pointed out the vegetarian room, where the yarn's sources are plant-based.  I ended up purchasing one skein of sock yarn at Kiwi (wool not plant based), as, as the day progressed, I'd experienced an uncontrollable urge to cast on a pair of socks.  For some reason, I like to knit socks when I'm on vacation--probably because a sock project is easily portable and the knitting very repetitive in nature.  I cast on these socks and had progressed pretty far on one by the time I left for the airport for my flight home.  I am using a free pattern entitled DVD Socks found on Ravelry.  I made great progress during a three-hour delay in Atlanta, where thunder storms had backed up airport traffic.  

Despite the southern-inspired label, this hand-dyed yarn is from Canada.  Check out this company's informative, cleanly designed website.  

A piece of scrap yarn is knit into these socks.  Later it will be removed and a heel will be added.  

I had brought a work in progress with me to Arizona, one in a rich red--Malibrigo's Ravelry Red.  I finished this over-sized scarf, blocked it, and left it with my mother, as she has been wanting a red scarf or shawl for some time and loved the bobbles that decorate the border of this garment.  I also spent some time frogging a small shrug I'd made for my mother several years ago.  "Small" is the key word here, as, even though I'd knit a size medium, my mother thought I'd sent her a dog sweater when she opened the package I'd mailed to her containing this present.  (This fact was not due so much to gauge errors on my part but, rather, to the fact that the pattern I'd used creates a garment that is probably better suited to a teenager than to a mature woman.)

Here is the diminutive shrug.  

The shrug is now a colorful hank and some small balls of yarn.  

The rich red goes well with southwestern turquoise jewelry.  

Naturally, my new purchases and some clothing and jewelry my mother gave to me made it necessary for me to check a bag at the airport on my return trip.  On the way to Arizona, I'd optimistically brought only a carry-on.  Or course, on the way home, my knitting projects and yarn purchases remained in a small duffel bag I'd borrowed, as they are too valuable to risk getting misplaced by the airlines.   

Maybe I'll return to Arizona in the winter, when the dry air and heat will provide a respite from our rainy Carolina winter.  I'd like to explore some more yarn shops there, especially the Pajolo Alpacas shop in Tubac, a small village with an intriguing collection of galleries and stores a few miles from the Mexican border.  This yarn and clothing shop closes during the hotter months but reopens during the tourist season, when I'm always busy teaching school and am unable to travel.  For now, it's good to be home, where it's rained several times already in the few days, perfect weather for staying in and knitting.   

Many of the shops in Tubac have colorful exteriors.  

I always seem to be wearing this skirt in my blog photos!  Its Indian cotton is perfect for hot
desert days.  

These tissue paper Mexican flowers might be a neat project.