Monday, April 30, 2007

Why we love River Falls

The Cosmic Otters go South (narrative interruptus - weekend of work and other distractions).

We'd been informed when we arrived that there would be an a cappella group from Ferman College (University?) singing at the break and there were likely to be a good number of newcomers. "Great!" we thought. "New people always have lots to add to the dance."

"Add" turned out to be an understatement. This picture was taken at the start of the beginner's workshop.

The beginner's lesson had twice the number of dancers that a really well-attended Chicago dance gets all night. By the start of the dance, 208 people had walked in the door. Zowie!

It was the largest number of dancers we've ever played for by far, yet somehow this didn't intimidate us. Our sound guy was superb, and I think that helped calm any fears we may have had. The evening was cool, the circulation was good, and the atmosphere could not have been any better. If you are ever travelling in the area, you absolutely must come to a
contra dance at the River Falls Lodge.

(Meg here: This is what the Fool looks like when he pops a D-string on the fiddle in the middle of a tune and has to to sort of make up the rest of "Grub Springs" on three strings, retuning while he plays, because when you break one string on a fiddle, the rest of them go all wonky ... did I mention how pleased I am to play guitar? Thought so.)

This is David. He was kind enough to put us up in his home for the evening. We stayed in his beautiful house which is situated on 22 acres in the middle of Pickens County. To get there, we drove through Pumpkintown (though we didn't see any pumpkins) and over a freshly-killed skunk in the road. Running over the skunk proved to be really exciting, because I managed to get sprayed by the skunk through the car vents. This also had the effect of stinking up the car for the rest of the trip. Clearly the skunk had the last laugh.

The next morning, we dined on more of Sarah's eggs, and I got to try grits. These were far better grits than I've had in the past. David and I swapped a few fiddle tunes after breakfast while the women (and Gracie, the dog) went hiking on some of the trails on the property.

These are boiled peanuts, a Southern delicacy sold from stands on the side of the road - and if someone is selling something from a stand by the side of the road, it's probably interesting to eat.
Boiled peanuts taste a lot like cooked beans, maybe Southern edamame? Adina likes them; we think maybe we'll stick to roasted.

Coming later this week: Knitters in the wild, contra dance at the Grey Eagle and a knitting progress update.
(Also - it has totally not sunk in, but ... Maryland Sheep and Wool this weekend!! Eeeeeee!!)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Hat details, bit o' nerdery

Laurie asks:
What hat is that?
It's from Anna Zilboorg's "45 Fine and Fanciful Hats to Knit." It's sort of a pentagon-topped beret. I'm fascinated by that book and think maybe hats and mittens are the way for me to overcome some of my Fair Isle issues.

(The lizard, btw, is a skink. Of the order "squamata," which, when I was 6, I thought was the coolest word ever. More than 20 years later, I used that word in a limerick I wrote for a newspaper story on the DuPage River cleanup day.)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Cosmic Otters Southeast Tour

The weekend started out with an uneventful plane ride to Charlotte. We got our rental car and proceeded to drive into town in search of some lunch. We went about this rather blindly, hoping that simply by driving around we would find the perfect place, such as a restaurant. It took a bit more doing than we were hoping for, but we eventually landed at Pike's in the historic South End.

We found out later that it is the only place in town you can still order an authentic ice cream soda (as authenticated by two former soda jerks). Instead we wet our whistles with unsweetened iced tea (you have to specify your sugar option down South).

It was a stunningly beautiful day. Spring is a bit more sprung down there than it is up here. The Fool enjoyed an open-faced turkey sandwich while I relished a turkey burger.

We relaxed a little at our host's home (more on that later) before heading up to the dance in Davidson, which is this adorable little town about 30 miles north of Charlotte. Complete with traffic circles, white-painted churches, and a village green, it's straight out of New England.

The dance was scheduled at a local middle school just down the road from the center of town. Things were about to take an unusual turn, however, for as we pulled up and started unloading, we overheard the head custodian say to the dance organizer, "Well, I'm calling the police."

We ran into some confusion regarding the dance group's contract (they were right, the school district was ... confused) and a first-class example of why small towns can be really cool sometimes. The police chief (the chief!) and the head of the parks department suggested we adjourn to the nearby village green and dance on the brick patio in front of the library. The night was cool and the moon was out and there was a great little coffeehouse nearby, where we went for some fortification. Someone official arranged for worklights to be brought out so we could sort of see the dance floor, the Fool scooted off to a nearby drugstore to buy some mosquito repellent and we had a contra dance en plein air, thanks to a very flexible dance community and organizers who cheerfully loaded and unloaded the minivan of sound equipment about 6,000 times.

It got a little chilly later, especially for Adina, but fortunately, she was traveling with knitters. You can't see the striped socks, but she's wearing some.

We were staying with the dance organizers, who had the niftiest thing going on. In addition to a friendly standard poodle, they had chickens! Beautiful, interesting chickens, who laid lovely eggs, all different shades of brown and green, which we had for breakfast the next day.
Generally acting like people who had never seen wildlife before, the Fool and I took lots of pictures.

A relatively quick two-and-a-half hour jaunt across North Carolina the next day brought us to Asheville, at the seat of the Great Smoky Mountains. (Two-and-a-half hours is a decent amount of travel time when you're from the East Coast, but us Midwesterners hardly blink an eye). The town was just as we remembered, only this time we didn't have food poisoning and the weather was far cooler. Gorgeous, in fact. On our way into town, Adina realized that our friend Matt could probably be found at the Fiddle and Folklife Festival at nearby Warren Wilson College, so we stopped by on our way into town.

The setting could not have been more breathtaking.

Matt was about to go on stage as part of the stringband competition (I think their band name was the Corn Stalkers). We never did find out if they won, but we liked them the best of the four groups who played.

We paused for a moment in Asheville before heading down to River Falls Lodge in northern South Carolina. We arrived early for the potluck and got to snap a few pictures. Here's some interesting things we found in the lodge.

The place is operated almost exclusively by contra dancers and has been described as the best dance hall in the entire southeast, and we'll tell you more about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Our Weekend in the Southeast

Way too much happened this weekend for me to cover in one post, but I have a few observations to make:
  • I wish all weekends could be five days long
  • Dancers down there don't hoop and holler as much (at least to our music), but they're enjoying themselves just as much
  • Asheville is on our short list of "other places we could live if life conditions were right"
  • Seven hours of driving over five days is much better than twenty hours of driving over three (our last contra dance tour)
  • Contra dancers are among the coolest folks on the planet
We have also discovered that Angus is a wee, troublemaking fink. However, we absolutely adore him for it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Meet Angus

So far, he is doing his best to charm the ladies, but Spoot and Mab want nothing to do with him. He makes happy little chirrups and warbles whenever he sees them, and goes trotting over, but they rebuff him with hisses and growls. I'm sure they'll come around. He's very friendly and determined to Be. Your. Friend. Dammit.

We are off to North Carolina on Friday, for a whirlwind Cosmic Otters tour with caller extraordinaire Adina Gordon (she of the monstersocken).
Friday night, we're playing in Charlotte; Saturday night, we're playing in River Falls; and Monday night, we are at the venerable Grey Eagle in Asheville. I'm a little nervous. There are, like, real musicians in Asheville and stuff. I'm taking the sleeve of the Blackwater Abbey sweater, which I cast on at the radio station Tuesday night. And a sock, in case of emergency (like finishing the sleeve.) The Fool will undoubtedly be working on his Fair Isle.

Last weekend, I went to the big quilt show here in town with a couple of friends. Here's some photos from that.
I love how two of the blocks spill out into the border. That's an idea I'm going to have to think about and see if I can use somewhere.

This was just pretty - I'm a sucker for Japanese indigos anyway, and the sachiko embroidery on the red part was great. I've got a sachiko kit that I mean to start one of these days, and this might be the thing that inspires me to give it a try.

Applique and paper piecing are two things I just can't get my head around to do with any skill at all. But isn't this great? I always leave this show thinking, I need to learn how to draw properly.

Mary Lee, one of the friends I went to the show with, likes traditional quilting and traditional patterns better than the contemporary work. We both liked this antique bow tie quilt.

Usually, I don't like pastels .. but I thought this one was beautiful. It makes me rethink my no-pastels rule a little bit.

Hee! Sheep!
The teeth are the best part.

And here's a picture of the goodies I got. That big eggplant panel is a Japanese furoshiki, a square of cloth you use to wrap up objects you need to schlep around - the same way urban nomads reuse string-handled shopping bags from Starbucks to haul their lunch. It's going on the wall of my kitchen eventually. The other fabrics are South African indigo fabrics like those originally made in England from 1850 to the middle of the 20th century. It seems I was in a blue mood this time around.

Off to pack! Full report later.

Monday, April 16, 2007

trying to be compassionate here....

... but right now? My leading name for The Inherited Cat is, "Dammit, go to sleep!"
Long night for all - need coffee. Picture later.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Last weekend... and this weekend!

So we played in Goshen last weekend for their monthly contra dance. It's not a long drive from Chicago (about two-and-a-half hours), so we spent the morning cleaning up at the house before heading out. Dreading the inevitably bad highway food, we put off eating dinner until we arrived in Goshen. After dropping our instruments off at the dance hall, we asked the sound man what he would recommend for a fast bite. He directed us to a few taquerias on the main strip.

"Mexican food in north-central Indiana," we thought as we pondered the population density of Mexican-Americans in Indiana. "Well, it probably won't suck terribly." After surveying our options on Main Street, We settled on this little neighborhood grocery and restaurant.

Holy mama was the food fabulous! We had tacos that were incredibly fresh, perfectly seasoned, and they didn't skimp on the meat.

The total for dinner for the two of us was $5.30. It was an incredibly good food find. It turns out there actually is a very large and growing Mexican-American population here, in part because of the RV industry based in Elkhart. We highly recommend that anyone passing through Goshen have a taco or two at this magnificent little grocery store.

The dance itself was also really fun. It's a youngish dance that's only been going on for a few years, and we had a good time playing for everyone. Except Meg, who was fighting off a cold, had to sneak out to the car at the break to swig Robitussin so she could play guitar without dying.

I, however, was my normal dapper self.

The next day being Sunday (not to mention Easter), this lovely-looking local yarn store was closed. That didn't stop us from peeking into the window, however. They appear to have a wide assortment of solid-colored sock yarn, a major plus for any yarn store.

So that was last weekend. We've reached two milestones as knitters this weekend. Meg came home from the big quilt show in town (she'll have to tell you more about that) with another basket for stash. To say that our stash fits in two baskets is a little inaccurate. The stash has two baskets, but the stash (while we were not looking) established some satellite offices throughout the house. Now, the stash has a third basket.

The second milestone is this: the Inherited Cat. He's a very sweet boy cat, about a year old, with a lot of, um, passengers and baggage. We've been giving him ear drops for some of the passengers, and he's going to the vet on Monday to be relieved of some of his, um, baggage. Two bags, to be exact. Smallish ones. He'll be coming home with us on Sunday night to begin the socialization process with our two other four-legged family members. Maybe we'll put up some cat pictures then (because it's not a knitting blog without a cat photo every so often.) I was going to post a picture of some of the passengers, too, but Meg thinks they are gross, so I'll leave it to your imagination instead. We are searching for quirky boy cat names, however, so leave us suggestions!

Tonight, we're off to our second night of dancing to the beautiful sounds of Wild Asparagus. Last night was so much fun. It was like coming home to all of your best friends and family, an absolutely fantastic feeling. We don't have pictures of last night, though I'll try to remember to take a few tonight. There also may be an after party at our friend Ed's house, where there is sure to be great music!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

OK, OK, that's unfair of me

It's really not Beelzebub's beard trimmings.
It's a mohair blend that my best muggle friend gave me, and she bought it for the color and the nice fuzzy softness.
It excels on both counts. You can't tell in these pictures, but it's a sort of peacock green, with subtle dark blue and gold spun in, so I get these gentle arcs of different colors in the shawl. It needs to be blocked and photographed outside for that to show up. I think it's going to make a beautiful piece of knitting (if I can quit screwing up and having to tink the stuff.)

This weekend, I'm going to a big quilt show with some friends here in town. I fear I may fall off the no-more-quilt-fabric wagon in possibly a dramatic and awful way.
I've got an idea for this fabric that my friend Janice brought me from Japan a few years ago. So while I wait for my enchiladas to cool so I can put them away (hooray! Hot lunches for us all week!) I think I might work on my giant flowered quilt and clear the decks for this one.
The Fool is off at Britches tonight, so when he gets home, perhaps I'll persuade him to report on events, and possibly talk about where the Cosmic Otters went over the weekend.

If the Devil has a bathroom in Hell

... the sink is filled with shreds of mohair, because as far as I am concerned, the stuff is Beelzebub's beard trimmings.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Against my better judgment....

... and cautionary comments about rows of lace shawls that take more than an hour to knit, despite a whanging sinus headache and the Medication Roulette that is over-the-counter cold drugs, despite a laundry basket full of my father's papers, which are a mixture of mathematical calculations, bills he forgot to pay and his old snotrags (J. didn't know he liked to blow his nose on Viva brand paper towels and just threw those in when we cleaned his desk) ... I cast on for the Flower Basket Shawl.
I suspect if I'd asked first, you would all have said not to use the mohair-blend yarn.
But too late.
I'm up to row 19 or so ... and it's just plain captivating. I love the center stitch that looks like a little spine, a nice column of stacked vertebrae on either side, I love the way the pattern grows out like leaves ... I may have to stay up all night knitting this.
Because if I lie down, my sinuses will explode.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Fighting the urge to cast on a shawl

That's how these big knitter-gatherings all go. I hang around with a whole passel of other knitters with their beautiful hand knit items on full display (Rhinebeck, Stitches, Yarn Harlot booksigning) and come home with a nagging thought ... something I should do ... something I just saw everyone else with ... I should cast on a lace shawl.
I know there's people out there that cast on lace shawls without a moment's thought, but I've never knit one before (doesn't mean I don't collect patterns, though.) I've got some green yarn that would work fine and I've got the Flower Basket pattern, and I've got a needle and there's nothing stopping me but a house to move, a house to paint and a whole lot of other knitting that could be done instead.
I did manage to finish a hedgehog the other week, for the daughter of a dear friend from grad school.
"What is that?" Janice asked (not the dear friend.)
"It's a hedgehog," I said.
"I thought it was an Afro!" she hooted.

So now, somewhere outside London, a small child is (hopefully) clutching her beloved handknit hedgehog that her mother named Tom Jones.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Big night out

The Fool left it to me to write about the Knitting Event of the Week, namely, the Yarn Harlot's booksigning in the suburbs.
What a hoot.
The Fool and I got there after work, so we were lucky to find three seats together. We squeezed in to wait for Thorny and discovered we had just horned in on a room-wide game of show-and-tell, where everyone took turns holding up their knitting and announcing the project and the yarn.
I was knitting my Aran cardigan out of Blackwater Abbey. I got a respectable, "Oooooh!" and a shoutout from another BWA fan nearby.
The Fool was knitting his Shetland sweater.
He got a round of applause and gasps of admiration.
And then, when he went to buy us drinks from the coffee bar, he got waylaid by a woman who said her entire row wanted to know if he was single.
(Franklin's photo, shot from the front of the room, makes it look all spacious, and maybe it was, up there in first class, but we were definitely sitting in coach....)

We really enjoyed the talk, which was entertaining and funny and totally made me forget that this guy in front of me was able to lean back and pretty much rest his head on my shoulder. Thorny had some interesting ideas about how the knitting talk reminded her about some feminist stuff she's read - I hope she blogs about it in a much more informed way.
Afterwards, as 6,000 people lined up to get their books autographed, we decided to wait until the line died down, and instead chatted with Franklin and his friend from Knitting Camp, who, like Thorny, is from Madison. We talked about Julia Child and Charlene Schurch and our opinion of the latest round of knitting books for men and the wonderfulness of the Madison knitting guild, and childbirth and lots of other interesting things.
Finally, the line died down and the Borders employees started to look meaningfully at us.
We went and chatted with Stephanie (and did not ask her to sign any personal body parts in lieu of a book.)
She admired our knitting and let us pose with The Sock, and asked how we managed stash.
YH: So do the two of you live together?
ME: We're married.
YH: But do you live together?
ME: Yeah, OK, we do.
YH: How do you handle stash?
ME: We have two baskets of combined stash.
YH: Hmm. That's not going to work for long.
ME: We've only been married a few years.
YH: It's still not going to work. The two basket thing? Nope.

I also learned that while Torontonians do not live in fear of tornados, occasionally, a hurricane sweeps down the St. Lawrence (which I kind of do not believe and am too lazy to Google up.)
And our favorite part?
She said 'arse.'

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Progress on Kai

The last time I posted about Kai, it was quite awhile ago. It is now 14 inches in length, and I'm almost ready to cast-on for the sleeve steeks.

It's a bit more form fitting than intended, but I'm hoping that a nice bit of blocking will loosen things up just enough to look casual.

Franklin has already volunteered to be the recipient if things really don't work out with the blocking.

I have recently made a few observations about my knitting. These are actually things I've known about for awhile but hadn't quite come to grips with until now. The first observation pertains to my work bag. I generally thought that I carried important "work stuff" back and forth from the office in this bag as a necessary part of my commute. Well, I realized today that I've been fooling myself all this time. The real reason I really carry it is so that I can conveniently transport my current knitting project(s) everywhere I go. While it is true that, occasionally, work-related items do find their way into the bag, it is by no means essential.

I find myself taking my bag to lunch and to coffee breaks. Since it zips, its contents are inconspicuous to the rest of the world. People ask me if I'm leaving for the day when I sling my bag onto my back. "No," I reply, "I just never know when I might have some time to knit." I have even found myself knitting while on long conference calls and in meetings. We're all a bit eccentric in our group, so very few really give a second thought about it.

The second observation pertains to large circular knitting. When I'm knitting on one big circular, I mark the end of the round with a stitch marker. I'm the kind of guy who likes to knit round by round, stopping at the end of each to consider if I should knit another. Well, since the marker is at the end of my round, I can't actually stop there, otherwise the stitch marker would fall off. So I have a tendency to sit and knit a large circular project for long spans on time because there is no good stopping point. When I have to stop, I usually try to stop one stitch before the marker, but I can't help but feel a bit dirty about this. Like I somehow haven't really completed the round because I'm one stitch short. Does this bother anyone else?

Knitting It Up at Argo

It had been way too long since I'd been to a meeting of the Stitches in Britches, Chicago's premier men's knitting (and crocheting) group. I was finally able to make it last Tuesday night. Upon the arrival, the first thing I discovered is that Argo Tea now carries soup. I was quite thrilled by this, as it meant that my dinner actually had more than one course (spinach quiche still being the primary one).

The second thing I discovered is that I am horrible at spotting knitters. I managed to walk in, order dinner, search for members of the group, and upon not finding any, grabbing a table of my own. Five minutes later, I saw two fellows knitting at a far table. I'm not really sure how I missed them!

So there were three new folks. I'm horrible with names, and I can't remember this fellow's name.

I do remember (for some freakish reason) that this fellow's name is Sheldon. He crochets.

And one of them (I think his name was a derivative of Byron, but I'm not sure) left before I remembered to get a picture. Darn the luck!

Veteran member Charlie was there, and it was great to see him again. (See, I do remember names eventually!)

We had a marvelous time just hanging out, talking, and doing our craft. It had been so long, I had almost forgotten how much fun it can be. And somehow, I am just managing to blog about this, even though this all happened over a week ago! In the slightly paraphrased words of Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, "What would the blog have to say about that?"