Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Escape to Fair Isle

Last Saturday, I rose early, grabbed my knitting project—a Fair Isle poncho from Vogue Knitting Holiday 2014—and set about finding a movie available on Amazon.  I selected Le Weekend, a film summed up as follows by Rotten Tomatoes: 

“In Mr. Michell's magically buoyant and bittersweet film, Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan play a long-married couple who revisit Paris for a long weekend for the first time since their honeymoon, in hopes of rekindling their relationship-or, perhaps, to bring it to an end.” 

As I plied my needles while the movie unfolded, I had to pause the streaming video at one point to call my husband to come watch a scene that struck me deeply with its dark humor.  On a Parisian street the sixty-plus husband runs into an old friend from Cambridge.  The friend, played by Jeff Goldblum, is a whirlwind in action, an author, with the right artsy and intellectual friends and gamine French wife (number something), May to his December, who adds charm to the soiree he hosts, one to which he invites his old school chum and his wife.  At the dinner table at the party, Goldblum waxes poetic about his old friend Nick, a “college professor” and elaborates on how his chum encouraged him to read good books and to think about the world.  Nick rises to speak, but, rather than gush his thanks, unleashes a litany of woe, how his son is a “pothead” who watches TV all day, how he is a mere teacher at a polytechnic institute that “perpetuates idiocy,” how he is broke, how he has been asked to step down from his job for making an insensitive comment to a student, and how his wife is about to have an assignation with another man later that evening.  Goldblum and the other guests are nonplussed, but Goldblum’s teenaged son, visiting from the States, smiles broadly and says, “Awesome!”

I had to laugh at this scene, as its irony hit awfully close to home.  Since early August, my husband and I have been going through some stressful life situations and disappointments that have left us defeated at times and, at others, struck in wonder by the absurdity that sometimes characterizes human existence.  The son’s insouciant attitude in the scene from Le Weekend also perfectly illustrates the seemingly Teflon exteriors of teenagers (an age group with whom I spend most of my time as I teach high school English and my own sons are 14 and 17), as all too often they seem impervious to the serious nature of what is going on around them—as well as to their parents’ admonitions about the long-term consequences of their actions. 

Nick’s dinner speech also reminded me of a Christmas letter sent out by my father years ago.  A book publisher and bon vivant, my father was an omnivorous reader and consumer of culture with an unquenchable appetite for life's pleasures.  As he reached his seventies, however, he found himself ailing with plenty of time to ruminate.  He began his Christmas correspondence by including Lord Byron’s poem “So We’ll Go No More a Roving,” a work which aptly expresses the sentiments of a man who must forsake satisfying earthly desires as “the sword outwears its sheath,/And the soul wears out the breast.”  Then, like the husband in Le Weekend, my father proceeded to share his host of woes:  his brain tumor, prostate cancer, temporary paralysis due to injuries incurred during a car wreck, detached cornea, etc., finishing off his catalog of complaints by relating how wife number four had recently left him when he was in the hospital!  The note included lots of wry witticisms to break the tension, but I’m sure many of its recipients were as taken aback as the dinner guests in the Paris flat in the movie. 

Sharing personal ailments and upsets in the manner of Nick, or my father, isn't appropriate for a knitting blog, so, instead, I’ll discuss how I’ve found solace.  After a particularly emotionally draining Friday, I woke up at 1:00 a.m. plagued by troubling thoughts, so I reached over to my nightstand for a neglected volume a friend had given me months ago.  I flipped open to a random page of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz (described on the cover as, a “Toltec Wisdom Book”) and proceeded to read the chapter where the author tells the reader, “Don’t take it personally,”  and then elaborates on this concept.  His words were so apt, that I relaxed and went back to sleep.

The following night at my friend Elizabeth's birthday dinner, I recounted to Maria, a woman next to me with whom I’d been chatting, how a co-worker had rebuked me in a harsh tone the day before and how I’d been trying to tell myself not to “take it personally.”  Maria smiled and said, “Have you read Don Miguel Ruiz?”  I had to laugh at another situation with an odd synchronicity and decided I needed to read a bit more of Ruiz’s volume, to see what other wisdom it could offer me.

Elizabeth, Maria, and Me

Aside from Toltec wisdom, I have used another method to navigate recent stormy situations, including one this past week where my Marmaduke-sized hyperactive dog ate half of a ten-dollar bill belonging to my husband, Dennis.  A very frugal person who can find creative ways to serve the same ham four nights running, my spouse was deeply disturbed by the dog’s devil-may-care action and blase attitude towards chastisement.  Dennis had difficulty easing his distress, but I found solace in knitting--Fair Isle in particular (a method with which I was inexperienced until attacking my recent project).  I found that this working using this technique provides excellent stress relief for the following reasons:

The colorful patterns and clear and easy to see, so mistakes don’t go unnoticed and are, therefore, not able to cause major trouble rows down the road;

Only two colors are worked at time on any given row, so the tangled nightmares of Intarsia or other color work are avoided;

The craft has a long history, one with mysterious and romantic origins, so when working Fair Isle patterns it’s easy to forget the everyday routine of cinder-block school, modern sub-division, and surly teenagers in both places and imagine oneself in a flowing gown in a windswept cottage on the rocky coast of Fair Isle;

And, finally, the vibrant colors are mood boosters, and one works with alacrity in anticipation of color changes, in anticipation of seeing how the next hue will play off of the others in the design.

I'm using Cascade 220 Fingering for this project.  

I hope I am done with my Fair Isle poncho by my next blog post and that my future writings are a bit cheerier.  Despite current problems, I am truly grateful for the blessings in my life this Thanksgiving.  Without trials and tribulations I might not appreciate these gifts. 

My Thanksgiving turkeys are enjoying their yearly freedom from the cupboard.  

While I have been trying to be very frugal, this lovely pink colorway named "English Rose" was too pretty to resist.  My cat thought so, too, and had to check out this new addition to a basket he has claimed as his own. I have to hurry and finish my Fair Isle project, so I can cast on with this yarn.   

I finished this cropped sweater about a week ago, using Adriafil Knitcol yarn.  I was eager to get started with real Fair Isle knitting after seeing the colorful results shown here using self-striping yarn.  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Just a Little Patience

I finished this Triangle Tulip Shawl from Brooke Nico's book Lovely Knitted Lace yesterday.  It is made with Malabrigo Worsted.  It is intended to be a Christmas present for my aunt, but now I am in a dilemma as my impatience makes me want to give it to her now.  

“Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience- or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope.” 
-Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

I could never do that.  I don't have the patience."  Every time I hear those words in reference to my knitting, I experience mixed emotions--both an urge to laugh and a sense of frustration that people have such a misconstrued understanding of me and of the nature of my hobby.  I am an impatient person. A person who, when aiming to make a right turn and faced with a long line of cars at a stoplight, will cut through an adjacent parking lot. A person who, when young, quit entry level jobs in publishing (highly coveted by recent college grads), as I was unable to bear the notion of waiting for my turn to rise through the ranks and gain a position where I would make a decent living and have some autonomy.  A person who, in her early-twenties-eagerness to  get life started on a large scale--big house, fine meals--hitched my wagon to a dark horse with an eerie physical resemblance to John Gotti, one whose depths of dysfunctional arrogance and unbridled ambition were worthy of any reality show star.  A person who later still wanted a big house and found herself in a crumbling two-story residence replete with a rotting balcony, squirrels in the walls, and several unusable fireplaces, a domicile that was virtually too dilapidated to inhabit and so financially draining that my husband and I have still not recovered from this early marriage mistake.  

Alas, sometimes in spite of our best efforts to hurry up and reach tomorrow's goals, life forces us to be patient.   And in these very moments of resigned waiting (when I am experiencing sometimes unbearable impatience), knitting fills the void.  I knit in the waiting room of the doctor's office, at my sons' football games, in the wee hours of the morning when I am sometimes itching to get up and begin my to-do list but know that turning on lights and clomping around would be unwelcome by the rest of the household, or at least by my husband (as teenagers sleep so soundly I could run the vacuum with music turned up loud enough to hear over the machine's roar and my sons would probably continue their snoozing).  And while knitting has its rhythmic, relaxing properties, ultimately there is always an element of impatience coupled with any project. The desire to finish spurs me on and either results in a finished item in a few weeks time or works in progress--especially those made with airy light yarn--that rest in bags stuffed into my closet or hanging from hooks in a my knitting nook.  

With the Christmas season suddenly encroaching on my basking in the cooler temperatures and bright colors of fall, I am determined to slow down and not set any goals that will result in my knitting like wildfire in every spare moment.  I need to engage in the moments of knitting--the process over the product.  I also need to bring this same skill to my new job, working each day to grasp the school culture, the expectations, the students' levels of ability, and not focus so much on reaching my goal of being accepted and valued.  Those things take time.  

I also need to focus on waiting patiently for the summer, for a planned trip to England.  In the interim that means fewer meals out and a moratorium on yarn shopping and weekend getaways.  Fortuitously, though, in the heat of summer, some former coworkers and I had planned a weekend trip to the mountains before a generous invitation from my friend in England (blogger Mrs. Thomasina Tittlemouse).  So last weekend, six women and I headed to Black Mountain, North Carolina, for some much-needed rest and for a visit to the Southeaster Fiber Arts Festival (SAFF) in nearby Asheville. 

These felted bobbles were on sale at SAFF.

Tonya, my former roommate at Vogue Knitting Live in New York back in 2013, enjoys her new-found knitting skills picked up our Manhattan trip, and Dawn is a crocheter who is also a talented graphic and visual artist.  The other women who traveled with us weren't fiber artists but enjoyed attending SAFF and seeing the displays and vendors.  And, of course, petting the animals was a highlight of our day. 

I exercised self-restraint on this trip and spent less that eleven dollars on some sock yarn. Of course, I couldn't resist purchasing a handcrafted yarn swirlette, a revolving holder for a ball of yarn. While this contraption might seem gimmicky, I have loved using this.  The yarn ball stays neat and tidy and doesn't end up tangled with pens, paper scraps, loose yarn, etc. in the bottom of a bag.  

My yarn swirlette with one of the two skeins of sock yarn I bought.  

On the Friday evening before our planned day at SAFF, the seven of us attended a haunted tour at In the Oaks, a 1920s mansion built in the style of a Tudor English country manor by Franklin Silas Terry, an industrial magnate.  The house is now the property of Montreat College. Volunteers, some of them descendants of the the original owners,  dressed in period garb reminiscent of Downton Abbey and played the roles of In the Oaks residents.  

Left to Right:  Lisa, Dawn, Darla, and Tonya in the gymnasium of the mansion.

Left to right:  Vicki and Genny.  

The guide tells us about the "Dutch Room" in the Prohibition-era mansion.  This room has
a double-layered door for muffling noise and access to a hidden wine cellar.

On Sunday, our group said and good-byes and went in various directions.  Dawn and I drove to the farmers' market in Asheville to purchase apples and some other seasonal fare and then drove back to Black Mountain for lunch in a German restaurant on the way home.  

I am certain that sharing a house together required a bit of patience on the part of my fellow travelers.  I know that in my exuberance to maximize the opportunity for a weekend away, I'd planned an exhausting schedule of activities and realized (after the fact) that a trip to a vegetarian restaurant with tofu in nearly every recipe wasn't particularly welcomed by the group.  (As Asheville is an artsy city populated by numerous Birkenstock-sporting vegans with unruly hair, I couldn't fight the schoolteacher in me and had to plan a foray to The Laughing Seed to expose my friends to a little local cuisine.)  While I enjoyed my sweet-potato-filled quesadilla, some of the women were a little hesitant to order--although that fact may have been due to the hot dogs I had espied some of them eating at SAFF!

Ultimately, though, whether the weekend required patience, indefatigable energy, or a sense of humor, the time away was enjoyed by all.  So much so, that the seven of us who shared a house are eager to do so again.  But I'm not getting online to look for dates right now.  I am looking forward to my big trip this coming summer, though that time seems so far off.  In the meantime, I'll be patient.  I have plenty of knitting projects to fill the hours.    

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sleeping Beauty

“His mind now misgave him; he began to doubt whether both he and the world around him were not bewitched. Surely this was his native village which he had left but the day before.”
"Rip Van Winkle," 1994 edition, 17

In recent days, Rip Van Winkle seems a kindred spirit.  Like this long-slumbering fellow, I have woken up to find that time has eluded me.  I’ve been jolted from summer-in-the South’s numbing reverie, and suddenly there are cracks in seemingly endless searing days.  Mornings are cooler; some positively brisk.  And when I do find a moment to hang my laundry outside, the shirts and socks have come to life, snapping back and forth in the wind, rather than lolling about listlessly in the summer heat and humidity.  Their merry dance reflects my mood, as I am happy for the end of what is always a long, hot season in North Carolina.  I’m especially pleased that the last few difficult months spent utterly absorbed in navigating the ins and outs of my new job are behind me.  During that time, I did a bit of knitting and had moments of creative design inspiration, but had to do the very grown-up thing and put executing those ideas on hold.  I can’t, however, let fall slip me by without taking a moment to pause from my daily grind to pay homage to its simple pleasures.

While the leaves haven’t turned here yet, mums and pumpkins and Indian corn grace roadside stands, and I am fortunate that there is such a farm market around the corner from my house.  In the past, I stopped here maybe once or twice a year, always too intent on my next goal—pick up children, drive to sports practice, race home to cook dinner and throw in laundry to take the time to drive in, park, and spend a few moments perusing seasonal fare.  But, in the last couple of years—whether a result of more time on my hands as my children get older or a greater appreciation for life’s simple pleasures as I advance in years—I have made frequent stops to buy homemade jams, vine-ripened tomatoes, sweet Silver Queen Corn, and even some okra, an item I can’t recall cooking (but since my southern husband was raised eating this, I assume he cooked it up for the family, and I probably ate some).

Fall is also the time when thoughts turn to knitting cozy winter garments.  The yarn shops gear up, replenishing their stocks of cotton and silk yarn with infusions of woolly fibers.  And, here in the Charlotte area, shop owners join forces for our area Yarn Crawl.  While I didn’t make it to the thirteen or so shops which took part in this event, I did have a great excuse to visit a few, emerging from the experience with a book of mitten-and-glove designs by designer Amy Gunderson (who lives in the Charlotte area and works for nearby Universal Yarns) as well as The Unofficial Downton Abbey Knits and some yarn to craft a roaring twenties inspired Modular Lace Blouse in this magazine.   I hope the final result isn’t too youthful for me, as the text accompanying the pattern describes this garment as suitable for "devil-may-care" flapper Rose, a character who epitomizes the free-spirited mood of the Roaring Twenties.

Waxhaw, NC knitters outdid themselves by yarn bombing numerous lamp posts in honor of
the yarn crawl.  I hear that, for next year, this creative bunch have set their sights on
transforming a trestle bridge  that spans railroad tracks.  

This is the start of the Lady-Rose-inspired Modular Lace Blouse.  
I’ve also been planning a fall weekend getaway to the mountains.  Two former co-workers and I dreamed up this trip over coffee on a hot Saturday morning in August.  We now have seven people going, all former co-workers of mine, some retired now.  We will be staying in a house in Black Mountain (no picturesque mountain cabin, but, rather, a vinyl-sided rental replete with 1980’s d├ęcor with a school-teacher-friendly rental price).  We can still soak up some atmosphere, though, as on Friday night, will be taking part in a haunted tour of the historic Terry Estate, also known as  In-the-Oaks.   And their is a good view from the back porch of our weekend lodgings.  

This shawl is a gift for one of the women going on the the knitting retreat.  The yarn I used
belonged to her mother.  

Of course, I wouldn’t be traveling to the highlands without having some ulterior motive related to knitting in mind.  On Saturday, I, along with others on the trip, will be making a trek to SAFF in nearby Asheville.  This huge event always provides an indulgent fiber fix, and I always make a point to take some time to pet and cuddle at least some of the woolly animals on display there.  I have to show some self-restraint and not arrive home with a fluffy angora bunny  . . . or maybe a llama!

A beautiful fall Sunday merited a walk outside at my mother-in-law's house in the country.  Her pomegranate trees were weighed down with fruit.  

This mocking bird was frantically jumping up and down in front of a window at  my
mother-in-law's.  He must sense a change in the air and has an inkling of winter's impending descent.  

In the South, camellias bloom throughout the fall and winter.  

      The changing season also turns my thoughts to Christmas.  How will I ever finish the numerous projects on my needles and knit up gifts for friends and family?  I will probably have to put the Downton tunic, along with other projects, on hold, and get knitting.  I have, however, almost finished seaming a cute sheep pullover for a Christmas gift for a baby in the family.  And I plan to skip Vogue Knitting Live this year and devote that weekend to my own personal knitting staycation/retreat.  I’m forgoing VKL as I’ve been provided with a wonderful opportunity for my husband and I to travel to England this coming summer, so I need to refrain from shopping and traveling for a bit to save up for lots of yarn shopping (and good eating) abroad.  While my journey to the UK seems far off now, it will invariably creep up on me, much like fall has, and then usher in a frenzy of activity in preparation. 

I'm almost done with this sheep sweater.  I want one for myself!

I'm making progress on my cropped cardigan.  The pink yarn will be used for a hat.  

I certainly didn't need to cast on another project, but this Malabrigo called to me
this morning--perfect for the tulip lace shawl in Brooke Nico's book.