April 8th, 2013

Can you believe it’s been a year?

April 28th, 2011

since I posted!? It’s been quite a busy year and although I continually hope to find time to update this blog, it always seems to fall to the bottom of the list. Again, I’ll say that I wish I could keep up with it daily but will try to publish more often than once a year (LOL).

This past year saw another trip to London, much like the first except with cold, rainy weather and the addition of 2 of my sons. I also visited Kyoto, Japan and Lana’i, Hawaii. I shall make an effort to post some photos from those trips.

Unfortunately, last summer was mostly spent in hospital, so I’m hoping for a better outcome this year, although I have another operation scheduled.

So…speaking of London…tomorrow morning, bright and early, the Royal Wedding tv coverage begins. Guess I should get to bed now!

London Extended

April 28th, 2010

We recently flew to London for a week-long vacation in celebration of my husband’s 60th birthday weekend (during which our sons were supposed to be joining us). However, because of the eruption of Iceland’s E-15 volcano and the resulting drift of its ash cloud over the UK and most of Europe, the boys’ flights were cancelled, so they never made it in; and our flight out was cancelled, so that we were stranded in London for 4 extra days. We missed having them with us but thoroughly enjoyed our extended visit! Below is a revised version of my travel diary, which I originally posted to Facebook.

We arrived in London on Wed., 4/14; I was quite jet lagged, having slept only about 2 hours on the plane, despite my best intentions of sleeping through most of the distance. There was a driver from The Athenaeum waiting for us at Heathrow (one of our special perks)—an awfully nice sight after a long trip. Unfortunately, we arrived early and our apartment wasn’t ready so we waited quite a while in the Garden Room until they at least had a guest room cleaned that we could temporarily use to rest and clean up in until we felt like going out exploring. While we were out, they would move our luggage to our apartment once it was ready. We started out exploring Mayfair near the hotel & went to the inimitable Fortnum & Mason store, purchasing a few snacks in the food shop. We ate a quick lunch at Napket, a carry-out/eat-in fast food restaurant chain with upscale salads and sandwiches. Then we took a taxi to Notting Hill and walked up Portobello Rd. in search of the scene behind its interesting Saturday market, but most stores were either closed on Wednesday or were just touristy junk shops instead of the interesting antique stores that were reputed to be located there.

When we hit a block with an American Apparel store and another well-known chain, we knew there was no point in going any farther, so we took a taxi over to Upper Street in Islington where I wanted to visit Loop, the yarn store. It is such a tiny shop which you would never guess from its website, but the owners (originally from the USA and Canada) were two of the nicest and most accommodating yarn store owners I have ever run across! I had brought with me to London my knitting supplies and the Hiya-Hiya bamboo interchangeable needle kit, as well as several shawl patterns, but I had never had time to pick yarn from my stash and wind it into balls before the airport taxi arrived. Somehow my last-minute packing took too long! So, at Loop, I bought a skein of Handmaiden Lace Silk (which had about the same yardage per 50 grams as the Malabrigo Lace Baby Merino that the pattern calls for) in the color “Stardust” (which must be an older color, as it isn’t shown on their website any longer) to knit the Citron shawl. I wanted to knit in silk for a summer shawl but then had my worries about the silk holding the ruching and ruffles in this particular pattern. This turned out to be a moot point however, as I was so tired each day from all the walking and exploring that I never did get around to knitting while on vacation! The color is scrumptious and the feel of the yarn so elegant; it was irresistible. The owners even wound it into a ball for me, which took quite a while, as it is hard to wind silk (especially fine silk) without it falling out of the ball. I’m sure I will find a suitable pattern for it…and a suitable yarn for Citron out of my stash when I get home! (note 4/28: I just read on Loop’s Facebook page that they are to be moving soon to a larger store—a whole building—on Camden Passage in Islington.)

We then walked a few blocks over to a wonderful gastropub called The Barnsbury Freehouse and Dining Room on Liverpool Road for dinner. I had a glass of wine and Bob a local ale while we waited for the kitchen to open for dinner. Dinner was excellent (a combination of French bistro and British pub food); there were numerous beers, ales and ciders on tap, as well as a good selection of wine; and it was fun watching the other people and feeling part of the “local” crowd at a neighborhood pub.

Thursday, 4/15 We toured the design studios at the OXO tower wharf on London’s south bank and then had lunch at the Harvey Nichols top floor Brasserie with its great view of the city. The food was very eclectic and inventive. We shared a cone of smoked paprika-spiced french fries with smoked chili/lime aioli; I had a cheese plate and some charcoal-grilled flatbread. Bob had an entrée of crispy sage-fried pumpkin gnocchi with pumpkin cream, rocket pesto, olives and parmesan. After, we walked over to the Borough Market (which had been recommended by my friend Jenny) and and had a great time sampling the wares at this fresh farmers’ market. We bought some cheese, nuts and pastries for our apartment and some Burnt Sugar fudge to bring home for gifts. Finally, we walked farther down the bank, past the Globe Theater and Southwark Cathedral, the oldest cathedral church building in London, to visit the very modern Design Museum with its 2010 Brit Insurance Designs of the Year award winners. The exhibit on sustainable ideas for the future was thought-provoking, as was the photographic journey through urban Africa. The museum had a delightful gift shop with lots of interesting design books and creative gifts; we found some presents there. That night we didn’t feel like eating out (our apt. has a tiny kitchenette) so I ran to the food hall at Harrods to buy items we could heat up for dinner. I decided to walk back but got lost around Hyde Park Corner and took a wrong turn. I ended up at Marble Arch somehow, turned around again, and kept wandering. I could not find my way and finally gave up after more than an hour and hailed a taxi! I had a map (but Bob had my cell phone after his had run out of battery) but just couldn’t figure out where I was or how to get back to the hotel. I picked up a lovely Salmon Wellington and some vegetables for Bob’s dinner and some sliced turkey and rolls which I had along with the cheese from the market and some almonds we had brought from home.

Due to Iceland’s volcano spewing its plume of ash, airports all over Northern Europe closed and the boys were unable to make it in to join us this weekend for Bob’s big birthday. It was disappointing but if they had flown in, they most likely would have been unable to fly out again on Sunday in time to return to school! We began to wonder if our flight would get out on Wednesday. Bob was on the phone with one or the other of the boys most of the day until his phone ran out of battery and he had to use mine. I wonder how outrageous that cell phone bill will be!

Friday, 4/16 We went to the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) where there is the most amazing Dale Chihuly sculpture hanging above the ticket booths in the entrance atrium:

I was able to see the special exhibit: Quilts 1700-2010. It was quite interesting, mixing traditional quilts from the 1700′s with all sorts of quilts through the centuries along with very avant garde quilts from the present.

We also toured my favorites: fashion, jewelry and glass.

Axel Russmeyer (German, beaded ball necklaces) has a necklace in the permanent jewelry collection at the V&A! My friend Michelle and I met him some 15 years ago in DC when he first brought his work to the US. The fashion exhibit was lovely but I unfortunately couldn’t see the special exhibit of Grace Kelly clothing—”Grace Kelly, Style Icon,” as it didn’t open to the public until the next day. The gift shop at the V&A was a wealth of jewelry and accessories however!

Afterwards, we spent time at the Science Museum where Bob wanted to see the exhibits on math, computing, clocks, and astronomy. There were some great gadgets there! Remember the plastic Kenner Spirograph you had as a kid? At The Science Museum, they had the original invention–about 2 ft. high with stacks of heavy brass gears—brass wheels and all the different disks connected to a stylus on a platform where the small square of drawing paper was laid out.

We also saw an amazing collection of glass Klein bottles:

all sorts of interesting polyhedron shapes:

and a Pegasus Computer—the last surviving vacuum tube computer in working order:

as well as an original Babbage Analytical Engine computing machine from 1834:

We had planned a dinner at an Indian restaurant with the boys but decided to cancel it, as we weren’t in the mood for Indian and just ate at a little Italian restaurant up the street from the hotel.

Saturday, 4/17 was Bob’s birthday and his special day to do as he wanted. We walked up Piccadilly and Charing Cross to The British Museum, which was a delight, as always. We had lunch in the beautifully relaxing 3rd floor restaurant in the atrium there.

Bob tried a special spicy African stew (a special because of their special exhibit on Africa: Kingdom of Ife, Sculptures from West Africa):

while I stuck with a chicken Caesar salad, which came in a deconstructed style:

I decided on a glass of wine as well as one of Diet Coke! We people watched and relaxed, then wandered around the museum, lingering over Mesopotamia (deciding the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago has a better collection) and and pre-Roman Britain, which proved to be fascinating because of the quality of the craftsmanship of the early Celts.

Forged armbands, Middle Bronze Age, 1400-1250 B.C., Sussex:

The Battersea Shield, one of the finest examples of Celtic Art in Britain, 350-50 B.C., River Thames:

Gold alloy torc (neck-ring), 75 B. C., Staffordshire:

Irish silver brooches with bosses, 9thC A.D., Ireland:

Penrith Brooch, Irish-Viking type, 10thC A.D., Cumbria:

Of course, we spent a long time examining the clock exhibits, but were somewhat disappointed at the lack of orreries. After the museum, we walked through Bloomsbury to Gordon Square, where [Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa once lived, then to the new building housing the British Library. It is a stunning building and has such treasures on display!—the Magna Carta, the Gutenberg Bible, the earliest surviving manuscript (handwritten, of course) of Beowulf; original manuscripts by Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Wordsworth, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Hardy, Harold Pinter, Sylvia Plath, and others; the original handwritten score by Handel of The Messiah, as well as other original sheet music folios; letters by Charles Darwin (“I know you disagree but I really do believe in my idea”), and Ada Lovelace (with the first idea for a computer programming machine), and notes about dreams penned by Sigmund Freud. It was fascinating to see them all.

That night we went for Bob’s birthday dinner to Scott’s, a seafood restaurant. Bob had a red leaf & beetroot salad with goat cheese while I tried the recommended soup—nettle & herb with goat cheese dumplings. My soup was awful, like some healthy concoction you’d get from a Vitamixer! They took it off the bill. Then Bob had grilled Dover sole with baby veggies while I had a grilled ribeye; both were excellent. Dessert was great too: apple pie/vanilla ice cream and Bakewell tart/almond ice cream. We had a lovely chat with the couple on one side of us, mostly about the volcano. After they left, we struck up a conversation with the couple on the other side: they were celebrating their anniversary; she was a couples therapist and he turned out to be a well-known British novelist, Howard Jacobson, who has been called “the Philip Roth of Britain.”

Because of the volcano ash cloud and all flights in and out of Heathrow being cancelled, people were scrambling for any and all alternative ways to get off the island. In cases it was necessary, we reserved Eurostar train tickets to Paris for Wednesday morning, then a Hertz rental car for the 9-hour drive to Madrid to catch an 11 am flight home on Thursday. I was fervently hoping that we didn’t need to do that!

Sunday, 4/18 We cruised on a Thames River Services boat (with a fantastic tour guide who pointed out every sight on our way and kept up a lively and hilarious narration) up the Thames to Greenwich, where we disembarked from the boat. We walked through the center of charming town, past a food market/street fair and then into the park, immediately following uphill on the 155 foot path straight to the Royal Observatory, designed and built in 1761 by Christopher Wren, the Royal Astronomer continually harassed by Sir Isaac Newton who wanted his measurements of the sun, moon & planets for his own calculations.

There we toured the museums and planetarium, saw the red ball on the rooftop weather vane

drop at exactly 1 pm (originally initiated to let the sailors at sea keep track of the correct time once each day), and straddled the Greenwich mean time line with a foot in each hemisphere:

We also saw the original Harrison clocks that were built in an attempt to keep correct time aboard ship according to latitude. Tacked on one wall running around the Observatory was a 24-hour clock keeping the correct time, as well as accurate rule measurements:

We left the Maritime and Fan Museums for another time. The park below

was filled with people enjoying the first real warm day of spring: playing soccer, lying on blankets in the sun, picnicking. We ate lunch outside at a tavern on the Thames, as it was so sunny and warm. We then walked through the old dockworkers’ tunnel running under the Thames River to get back to the other side and then took a bus to Canary Wharf where we grabbed a taxi back to our hotel.

Sunday night we wandered Shepherd’s Market behind our hotel—a warren of little streets full of restaurants. We passed up the Polish-Mexican Bistro,

a tiny French bistro, sushi, pizza, two British pubs, and more, finally settling on the one restaurant that seemed the busiest, a Lebanese restaurant. Bob made a wise choice from the extensive menu, picking an assortment plate of Middle Eastern dishes which turned out to be excellent. I, however, was not in the mood for Middle Eastern food and made an unwise decision to order turkey and stuffing which sounded delicious on the menu, but tasted straight from a high school cafeteria, canned gravy and all!

That night it looked like they were starting to open up the airspace plus the wind direction was changing, so it seemed as if we might be able to leave London on our new reservation—a flight the following Sunday. We love London but did need to get home eventually!

Monday, 4/19 We walked up Piccadilly to Regent Street and then up near Hamleys toy shop, we went into a little courtyard where I found the darling miniscule stitchery and yarn shop, All the Fun of the Fair, which had been recommended by an online friend who worked their part-time. The owner was very nice to chat with, despite her having to deal with her two school-age children who were also ensconced behind the counter, since school had been canceld because most of the teachers had been caught out of Britain on spring break by the ash cloud.

I restrained myself to buying a few skeins of local yarns from Sussex and the Harris Isles. We then walked up Carnaby Street (now quite commercialized), stopping in Muji, the great Japanese store, which sells some of its goods at MOMA in New York. I bought a short-sleeve version of my great striped tee Bob bought me at MOMA years ago, as well as a very thin linen knit cardigan with elbow-length sleeves in mulberry. We broke for lunch at Leon, a fast, fresh, partially-veggie carry-out with seating in the back, recommended by our son who has their cookbook. After lunch, we visited Liberty, the charming 1900-era department store. I was disappointed. While the lovely old woodwork and all is still in place, the store has been updated and modernized with all little designer boutiques—just like Bloomingdale’s or Neiman Marcus. However, it does have a large Rowan yarn section and it was nice seeing all their yarns and colors stacked up in one place. I would love to have bought a piece of fabric or an article of clothing with some of the Liberty of London designs but the prices were just outrageous.

After Liberty, we walked up Marylebone Lane to Marylebone High Street. I found The Button Queen store, despite the fact that its building had been torn down, forcing it to move several blocks farther on (and bought a few odd buttons from the 1940′s), but never did find the ribbon store that was supposed to be along the street. We went in The Conran Shop and lots of darling little stores along the way. There were some luscious pastry shops & a great organic grocery with take-out meals. We ended up choosing to dine at Giraffe, one of our old favorite healthy restaurants. I was in the mood for Mexican and had some great wholemeal chips with 2 salsas and a turkey, corn, bean & cheese enchilada with guacamole. We decided that Marylebone was a much quieter, less touristy, more interesting area than where we are in Mayfair and that we wouldn’t mind living around there.

Tuesday, 4/20, we learned for sure that our Wed. flight was cancelled and finally gave up the idea of the train to Paris and 9-hour drive to Madrid. We were re-booked on our flight for Sunday. This turned out to be the right move, after later reading all the horror stories in the papers about people driving all over the continent in search of a flight; this way we also had more time to enjoy London. However, I spent most of the day trying to get prescription refills to last through Sunday. The hotel arranged for a doctor to come to our apartment to go through my prescriptions with me; it took a long time to search his books for the British equivalents for my meds and dosages. Then I walked up to Boots pharmacy to have them filled and try to find comparables for all my pills that were over the counter. This was even more difficult! I needed to return the next day to pick up the prescriptions (and you don’t want to know how much a week’s worth of medicine cost!). I consoled myself for a wasted day by walking up to Hatchards bookstore and finding the previous 2 novels in the Maisie Dobbs mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear—I’d just finished the newest one, obtained thru the Amazon Vine program. I also stopped at Fortnum & Mason for a few dessert treats and a little chocolate to perk me up! Bob managed to have a special day though—he had a wonderful meeting with the assistant horological curator at the British Museum who took him behind the scenes to the workrooms and even took a 16thC clock out of its case to show him how the gears worked. Next he spent several hours at the headquarters of Pugwash UK (his father had been an essential early supporter of Pugwash), meeting everyone and supplying their historian with his memories of the early years when nuclear disarmament was crucial and Pugwash was often an important force behind the scenes to accomplish détente. I met them all at a lovely Italian restaurant where they kindly took us to dinner. The older man sitting next to Bob at dinner, Sir Hugh Beach, turned out to be mentioned in a front-page story on the Trident nuclear submarines in The London Times the next morning! A General and former Master-General of the Ordnance, Sir Hugh and 3 other former military commanders had authored an opinion on the editorial page about whether continuing with the Trident missile program is really the best course for Britain. We were in quite heady company; Pugwash won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995, an event in Oslo to which Bob and his family were invited.

Wed., 4/21, we walked around the city proper—we passed through the banking & financial areas and went by the Inns of Court where the justices are. We toured the oldest synagogue in the city, the Bevis Marks, from 1700 just after the Jews were allowed to return to England after having been banished by Oliver Cromwell. The synagogue is still in regular use and mainly lit by huge brass chandeliers with candles! Next we went to the old Spitalfields Market, which this week had a fair with booths set up by students and ex-students from the various design schools selling clothing, jewelry, purses, accessories, etc. There was a fashion show (a professional one) going on, showcasing the creative student fashions,

so we settled ourselves at an outdoor table at Canteen, a typical modern British restaurant, to watch while we ate. I had a superb chicken, walnut and tarragon salad:

Bob had a jerusalem artichoke pie with mashed potatoes and gravy:

I saw some t-shirts I liked and had a nice chat with the artist, but they were just simply silk-screened in black and the fellow wanted £35 for them–so I didn’t buy. Then we walked down to the Whitechapel Gallery which shows conceptual modern art. Most of the exhibit rooms were closed, preparing for shows about to open, but we saw enough as it was! In my opinion, a little conceptual art goes a long way. Then we walked way too far trying to find the London Guildhall, a rare example of medieval civic architecture, which contains an art museum and the Clockmakers Museum. The Clockmakers Museum was very interesting with some stunning old clocks and watches and a history of clock making in London. Unfortunately, we were late and just missed the last entrance for the art gallery—next time (it has some pre-Raphaelites and the only excavated Roman amphitheatre in the city). I love touring London because you always turn a corner and come upon some incongruity, like this photo of an old building with the ultra-modern “Gherkin”, the new Sir Norman Foster-designed office building lurking just behind:

You also see all sorts of unusual signage:

As we continued to walk, we passed a different-sounding restaurant but decided not to eat there:

We ate dinner instead back in Mayfair at the Cookbook Cafe in the Intercontinental on Park Lane. It was a charming restaurant, especially for a hotel, quirkily decorated with cookbooks, antiques and cooking stations, and with an eclectic menu. Bob had fish and chips and I had the ubiquitous caesar salad with grilled chicken breast.

Thursday, 4/22 We toured Kensington and Chelsea. We walked over there, did a quick tour of Harvey Nichols (what’s the attraction?) and I revisited the V&A, while Bob went back to the Science Museum. Unfortunately, the Grace Kelly exhibit was sold out for the day (I never did get to see it) so I wandered through a few galleries and then went shopping in the gift shop for presents to bring home. We continued our walk up Brompton to where it meets Fulham Road and Sloane Avenue and there was the amazing Michelin Tyre Store, refurbished by Terence Conran for his restaurant, Bibendum. We looked in all the fancy shops along the way and in Conrans, then ate lunch at a little French place called Tartine, which turned out to be an open-faced sandwich on Pôilane bread: I had rare roast beef with horseradish cream; Bob had salmon with lemon dill cream. Yummy. We continued up Fulham, turning on Sydney Street to King’s Road. Kensington is a lovely neighborhood but I’m sure much pricier than Marylebone. We stopped in Habitat, the precursor to Conran, and some other little stores on the walk down towards Sloane Sq. At Duke of York Square, we went into the Saatchi Gallery, which was preparing for a big auction of artwork from Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC). We were frankly underwhelmed by the art, which was estimated to sell from $5,000 to $200,000 at auction. We wondered who buys this stuff. About the only piece I found attractive (and that’s relative) was a red lacquered fiberglass roly-poly Chairman Mao doll (2-3 feet high) titled “Mao Never Down.” It was all strange, too strange. The Saatchi is a beautiful gallery though. We kept walking until we found Artisan du Chocolat, a phenomenal chocolate store, where I just had to buy a few pieces. Back at the hotel, I fell asleep. That night we had dinner at The Only Running Footman gastropub restaurant, within walking distance of our hotel, where I had fantastic lamb chops and Bob had John Dory. Tomorrow…What’s left?

Friday, 4/23, we again headed off down Shaftesbury from Piccadilly Circle to walk to Charing Cross Road, stopping on the way at Maison Bertaux for “the lightest croissants in London” (they were really good); then we found 2 fabulous bookstores: Foyles and Blackwell, practically across the street from each other at 100 Charing Cross Road. We detoured to Neal’s Yard Dairy to admire all the cheeses and looked at the shops in the tranquil courtyard of Neal’s Yard near Covent Garden. We found our way over to Food for Thought, a vegetarian restaurant where we had a filling lunch. There were a lot of little shops to look at in the area, but 2 especially great ones were Magma—one branch with design books, the other with design and Japanese gifts; it displayed a great many creative things to look at and buy. At Oxford St., Charing Cross turns into Tottenham Ct. Road but we went left to Rathbone and then up to Percy Street to CAA (Contemporary Applied Art)(http://www.caa.org.uk/)—effectively the British Craft Gallery. There was an interesting exhibit upstairs, “The Honeybee and The Hive,” curated by Wendy Ramshaw. Einstein once predicted that, “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.” Each of the pieces in the show addressed this subject. I particularly admired the woven, pleated neckpieces of Ann Richards but they had all sold and only photos of the work remained. However, in the regular downstairs gallery, they carried other necklaces & bracelets by her. I ended up buying a bracelet ruff, woven of metal & high-twist silk thread, which forms natural pleats off the loom. The pleats are set with wet finishing, causing the bracelet to hold its shape like a Fortuny gown. I asked if they had any pieces by Nora Fok but they didn’t even though she was a member. However, the nice woman helping me called over to another gallery, Electrum on South Moulton Street to see if they did. It turned out that they were having a show opening next week including Nora Fok and had some new pieces put away for the show but would be happy to show them to me if I stopped by. It was convenient, as we were heading to Selfridge’s to see if we could find food for dinner in their food hall. Electrum turned out to be a wonderful upper-level fine craft jewelry store with loads of amazing pieces. The pieces by Nora Fok were just amazingly creative (to say nothing of such incredibly time-consuming work). I wanted to buy something but the least expensive item was a pair of earrings for £195. I couldn’t, especially as Bob hadn’t found his birthday present yet. We went over to the basement food court at Selfridge’s and loaded up there with some whole grain bread, chicken, fish, and all sorts of vegetables and salads. Of course, we also found a wealth of cookies and tarts for dessert. There is a huge candy department, as the British love their sugar:

With enough food for dinner, we headed back to the hotel. Everywhere we went today, we saw crowds of people drinking and dressed or decorated in red and white. It turned out to be St. George’s Day, the patron saint of England and Wales. Apparently, there is a political movement afoot to have this declared a national holiday.

Saturday, 4/24, our last full day, we took advantage of the gorgeous day and warm weather to go walking in Hyde Park. First we tried to visit the Royal Institution up on Albemarle St. to see its Faraday rooms but it was closed. So we reversed direction & walked down to Marble Arch, entering Hyde Park through the beautiful Queen Elizabeth gates.

We walked all the way to the bridge crossing the Serpentine and back. The lawns were full of people; the water full of paddle boats & rowboats; the paths awash with cyclists and rollerbladers. People sat in lawn chairs, picnicked on blankets, chased after children, walked their dogs. We saw the Diana Memorial Fountain, filled with young kids wading on this hot day. The lines for ice cream were long. It was so much fun. The Serpentine was full of water fowl; we saw ducks:

and swans:

as well as cormorants and all sorts of other river fowl that was only identifiable because of a chart by the riverside. The park was full of flowers, a rose garden (though the roses were not yet blooming, and all sorts of beautifully blooming trees and bushes.

We left the park by a different gate:

and went back to the hotel for a rest after our hike. Later that evening, we walked along Jermyn Street, looking into shop windows—there was a separate shop for walking sticks, many with interesting carved animal heads, and this window display in a cigar shop:

Once again, the British don’t mince words. We also passed Paxton & Whitfield, another famous cheese shop, which was regrettably closed.

We had our final dinner at a typical British establishment, Rowley’s on Jermyn Street, known for its white linen tablecloths, entrecôte steak, and unlimited chips. Bob had salmon niçoise and we shared the quintessential sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Ahh, London, we are going to miss you!

Hey, I won a giveaway!

April 5th, 2010

In all the iPad weekend excitement, I forgot to mention that I had totally unexpectedly won a giveaway on [Barb Parry (sheepgal)’s blog. If you scroll back to March 26, you can see my prize: Celebrating her Sheep Shares, I will be getting 2 “fresh, crisp skeins of our hot-off-the-sheep Cormo wool lusciously blended with alpaca from a local farm and bombyx silk,” as well as the new book HandDyeing Yarn and Fleece (Storey Publishing) by Gail Callahan, Kangaroo Dyer.

Thank you so much, Barb, for quite an unexpected and delightful surprise! Barb’s sheep are lambing at the moment and her blog has absolutely the most adorable lamb photos on it. Plus, she owns Foxfire Fibers, which created the wonderful Cormo Alpaca Classic that I am using to knit Amy Swenson (Indigirl)’s Slow Curve sweater (see below).

(note 4/28: My prize arrived today and the 2 skeins of yarn are a creamy white color and feel as soft as can be; I almost don’t want to try to dye them! But I do want to read Gail Callahan’s book and am glad to finally see a copy of it.)

I got an iPad

April 5th, 2010

SO glad I didn’t bother getting up on Saturday morning to wait in line (in the rain)! Walked into the Apple store around 8:35pm that evening and was the last person out of the store as they were locking the door at 9pm with my new iPad and cover. I love it. It is perfect for me; exactly what I wanted for travel and just general carrying around. The old laptop I have is way too heavy, drags down my rolling tote in the airport and makes it fall over and, if I didn’t want to read my email when we travel somewhere, I would never use it at all.

At home I use my desktop iMac. But the iPad does everything I need it to: it plays my songs; I can read my email; I can keep up with Facebook and twitter; I can watch movies from Netflix (and there are rumors of a hulu app soon); and I can read books on both iBooks and Kindle (including the books I had already purchased that were sitting on my inherited Kindle). I even found an app that let’s you download and save pdf files so that I can carry knitting patterns around with me to work on. Being used to the iPhone, I find it very intuitive to use. The keyboard isn’t bad but if I ever have any long document to type, I can always use my wireless keyboard. It downloaded my entire music library and my entire iPhoto library, all my contacts and calendars, plus I downloaded a bunch of apps (mostly free or low cost) for it and still have about 30 of the 64 gb left for movies, etc.

Amy Swenson (indigirl) provided a great personal review of the new iPad on her blog.

So far, I am very pleased. You could even say excited. Go ahead, say it!

I is organized!

April 3rd, 2010

Okay, don’t all laugh at once. In a burst of energy yesterday, I put away all my winter knitting projects into giant ziplok bags with their patterns and shoved the “winter project” bin to the back of the closet. I took out the “summer project bin.” Then I went to Target and bought 2 more Sterilite bins with locking lids to hold all the cotton or cotton-blend yarns I’ve purchased (lately?). I organized as much of the yarn as I could into giant ziploks by project with pattern included. I seem to have cornered the market on Schaefer‘s Laurel—a single color or variegated (my favorite) cabled yarn that is a delight to work with and which is surprisingly hard to find for sale. So, I have THREE bins of summer projects to work up! NOW you can all laugh.

April?

April 3rd, 2010

Another month gone. And what do I have to show for it…pretty much nothing but a lot of frogged yarn. I really need to blog more and I have such good intentions but somehow using WordPress on a daily (or even weekly) basis is so much more cumbersome than just tweeting what I have to say when I think of it.

Having finished Stefanie Japel‘s Fit Your Knits class, I am finally beginning to understand how to alter knitting patterns so that they will better fit my shape: how to nip in at the waist and back out at the hips; how to slope the shoulders but allow for more length in the back than the front so the back won’t ride up; how to keep the sleeves from being too wide or the collar too open. There’s generally a lot of math involved but I’m taking that as I come across it! I thought that I would start with one of Stefanie’s own patterns: Short-Sleeved Cardigan with Ribbing from her book, Fitted Knits. I decided to knit it in Noro Silk Garden Chunky because I thought it would make a good transitional winter-into-spring sweater. It took a while figuring out the measurements but most of the adjustments would take place in the length to waist and from waist to hip. However, due to family circumstances beyond my control, my knitting time was limited and the project dragged on through March without getting near the waist.

Finally the weather started to warm up and I thought that I might as well start knitting it over again (with some additional alterations) in a mostly cotton and silk yarn from Noro, Furisode. Well, I ordered this yarn, unseen in person, from Webs and, through no fault of theirs, I hate it. It is like a cotton rag yarn with very little shimmer noticeable from the silk. Many areas are so loosely spun that they just fall apart at the slightest pull and each skein has had at least 1 knot in it. The colors are gorgeous but the yarn is pure garbage. However, I finally washed my swatch and I do have to say that it improved upon washing (and although it grew an inch in length, the width didn’t change at all, thank goodness). The gauge was slightly off, so I went up a size in the pattern from the one I had been knitting. I haven’t made it very far in this version either and just noted a mistake in the raglan eyelets that will require me frogging almost back to the collar (arrgghh!!!). It is so hard to keep those raglan increase eyelets small—I would like to find a different method of making raglan increases, so I’ll be searching the web today. Doesn’t it often seem that we do more research and figuring and note-taking than actual knitting? But I am going to press on and use the Furisode; it was too expensive just to toss (and I had already wound the skeins into balls, so I can’t return them).

For the icing on the cake, I am knitting this sweater in Combination Knitting style, so I am using the skills I learned in Annie Modesitt‘s class also. Oddly, the last time I did a lot of Combination Knitting, I remember it going much faster! I also need to do some short rows across the upper back and found two excellent tutorials by Cat Bordhi on YouTube on not only learning to make the short row wrap&turn, but on learning to neatly hide the wraps on the return rows. Only, I need to “wrap” my head around how to make this work in Combination Knitting by “turning” the stitches around the right way!

Congratulations Daina

April 3rd, 2010

According to Eliza of The Book Case blog, Daina Taimina’s monumentally inspiring book, Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes, has won an award from the British industry magazine, The Bookseller. Surprisingly, it isn’t exactly the award you’d expect for a volume that has guided many of the crocheters who have contributed to the IFF and Margaret and Christine Wertheim’s crocheted coral reef displays around the world. The book has won “the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year!” Seriously? I mean, Daina’s book is certainly worthy of winning a prize, but this one? Surely its title cannot be any more odd than The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification (as Eliza points out)?

Time lost…

March 1st, 2010

So, apparently I’ve lost 2 whole months of 2010, today being March 1st. So much for the New Year’s resolution of blogging more regularly! What can you do…sometimes real life just gets in the way of knitting, crafting and the online world. Family obligations have been keeping me busy.

In order to catch up, I’m just going to upload the photos that litter my desktop, with a brief description (maybe I’ll fill in details and links later), so you can have some idea of what I’ve been up to. Then we can hope for more consistent reports from here on out (yeah, right!).

First of all, a photo of the finished 24 mo. size baby sweater for my husand’s niece, Ada Louise. This is knit from a Shibui pattern out of Shibui sock yarn with a large hand-dyed silk ribbon that matches the yarn colors. I sewed a button on the top front of each side and crocheted a corresponding button loop out of matching embroidery floss to the gathered silk ribbon, so that the bow would be removable when one wanted to wash the sweater. It turns out the Shibui sock yarn worked quite nicely in the washer and dryer. With hand washing, the sweater grew…so it should fit for a couple years. Even though she is 14 months old already, walking and talking and as adorable as only a 14-month-old can be, Ada is still admirably tall and thin, so the sweater is large on her and should continue to fit for a good long while. The edges all around are trimmed with crocheted picots. It took way too long to knit. Next time I make a baby sweater, it is going to be in worsted weight yarn!

I actually managed to finish my winter scarf for the year (sometime along into January!): Mary Heather Cogar (rainydaygoods)’s triangular-shaped Simple Things Shawlette. I knit mine by holding two yarns together: 1 strand of Miss Babs red merino sock yarn and 1 very thin strand of Shibui silk mohair yarn. The shawlette came out rather grand, is unbelievably soft, matches my gloves and hat, and is very warm. It has been a godsend this cold winter and I just love wearing it Generally I wear it bandito-style, tying it around the back of my neck.

I enjoyed knitting the shawlette so much that I began a second one as part of a Twitter knitalong: the Traveling Woman Shawl by Liz Abinante: However, I have barely started the first lace portion of the shawl because I seem to have developed quite a problem with dropping my yarnovers and then being unable to figure out how to pick them up after I’ve purled them on the wrong side row (being unable to “see” them and the way they should go). The shawl is being knit from Spirit Trail Fibers “Frija” sock yarn (80% superwash merino, 10% cashmere, 10% nylon) in the glorious blues of the Tierra del Mar colorway. Somehow I don’t think it will be finished before spring arrives. I also joined Kitchen Sink Dyeworks knitalong for the Pavo Real (Spanish for “peacock”) Shawl by Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark, which I planned on knitting out of Kitchen Sink Dyeworks’ Luxe Merino Fine fingering/sock yarn in a mix of soft tidepool blue-greens. However, I haven’t even had a chance to wind my yarn skein into a ball yet!

I also made a halfway decent start on the back of Amy Swenson (indigirl)’s Slow Curve sweater, knit from Foxfire Fiber Cormo Alpaca Classic in Loon color. (I’ve had this aran weight yarn for several years and been loathe to knit with it because the skeins are so unbelievably soft and squishy!). However, after I’d reached this point, I began to worry about my sizing and decided to wait to continue until after I’d finished my Stefanie Japel “Fit Your Knits” online class. Held in January and continuing until Stefanie had her baby in February, this class was invaluable for figuring out how to alter a knitting pattern so that it exactly fits your own measurements. No more nasty surprises with sweaters that are too small or too large and ill-fitting. In February, I also subscribed to Annie Modesitt‘s online class on Combination Knitting as a refresher course for the in-person workshop of the same name that I took a few years ago when Annie visited with the Windy City Knitting Guild. Annie’s videos and information were very helpful and the online chats twice a week were filled with useful information not covered in the class handouts.

So, it isn’t like I’ve been totally idle. I’ve been in more of a learning and sampling mode than a completion mode I guess…although it’s practically time to put away the winter yarns and start a nice sweater for the summer!

How Moms Communicate

February 28th, 2010

When you have three techy sons, I guess you learn to get with the program. Anyway, I took a screen shot to show how modern moms communicate with their kids—all at the same time!: