Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Virginia: A Weekend.

In which I reveal just how much of a wine, food, and yarn snob I have become, teach a great group of knitters, and manage to have the best day in spite of sunburn and heatstroke.
This is how much junk a woman writing a book thinks she needs to bring on a working weekend. Go ahead and guess how many of these bags actually were used while we were there.

I know I am going to forget some important things, but I need to get the basics down before I forget! We left home Thursday morning and drove to Front Royal, VA. I had wanted to stop somewhere in PA to spend some time - there are so many roadside attractions and factory tours scattered in Pennsylvania. In the end I narrowed it down to the Utz chip factory in Hanover. I have a thing about factory tours breaking up long drives. They get you up and moving after hours of sitting. You often learn things you did not know. And if you're very lucky, you get a snack thrown in for good measure, like at Cabot and Ben & Jerry's. This was my plan. Drive a lot, stop in Hanover, and finish our journey to Front Royal.

Somewhere along route 81 in Pennsylvania, however, we entered a dangerous time-space vortex. Too-frequent stops combined with heavy traffic resulted in us missing Utz by minutes. This was made up for by the amazing beauty of the Blue Ridge. Truly, I could live here and be happy. We headed on to Front Royal and checked into our hotel, a Hampton Inn. Mister Wonderful loves a good Hampton Inn, and even the not so good ones. This is a good one. We asked at the counter for some ideas on where to get dinner and headed out. We chose the Main Street Mill in downtown Front Royal. What, I thought, could be better than a local restaurant in an old feed mill?
A lot could have been better. The last time we were in this area which was three years ago we ate at Jalisco, a Mexican place in town, and I wish we'd gone back there. The food at the Main Street Mill was indifferent; the sort of standard if a bit unhealthy fare that fills you up and doesn't make you sad. But the smell of cigarette smoke was overwhelming. It carried into the side of the place where smoking is not allowed, and really made the meal unpleasant. You know that feeling when you've been on the road all day, and you're hungry, and the idea of getting back in the car and moving to another location just overwhelms you? That's where I was. So we stayed. I wish we hadn't. I did find a pamphlet describing a walking tour of Front Royal, though, which gave me an idea. I am notorious for early rising when traveling, like the sound of the chickens in my ears is there promptly at 5 even if the birds are miles away. I decided that we should get up early and walk the 2 mile tour before heading to our next destination.
On our way back to the hotel we stopped for adult libations and a bit of a snack and I saw a thing that I haven't seen since Katy's 80's birthday party...which in no way suggests how old Katy is or might be, or may have been.
 Right there in the cooler, a whole shelf of it in a wide range of flavors and everything! Mr. Wonderful chose Corona instead. Good decision. Am I the only person who remembers just haw bad these things are? Like festered fruit punch? Apparently I am.

In the end, I slept a bit more than intended and we walked a bit less. On our slightly altered early morning tour we saw the Millennium Sundial, erected in December 1999.
Notice anything...unusual about this sundial? If you do, please share it in the comments section.
We also saw this really amazing log house.
 Built in 1788, the Petty-Sumption house amazed me in it's longevity. For an old loggie with big thick chinking, that's a long life!

We stopped at the Daily Grind for some coffee (me) and some weird lemon frozen thing (him). Loved this cafe and wanted to move in. They had chairs and tables, some really nice window-seats, tables out side and even a meeting room in back! I did a bit of shopping at the Blue Ridge Hospice Thrift Shop on Main Street. I love thrift shops of all shapes and sizes, and I really love hospice work. In order for them to be there when we need them, they need support. Shopping in their thrift shops is a great way to give them that support and save yourself a dime or two. This shop even has a "man room" with "fishing poles and stuff". Perfect.

Mister Wonderful was not distracted for long by the "man room", so we headed on to our next destination - a visit with Jenn Tepper-Heverly at her lovely home to talk about her amazing Spirit Trail Fiberworks yarns for inclusion in the new book. Dyers have my awe and respect. What they do astounds me. It's not just the color. It's about choosing the base yarn that those colors will inhabit, then choosing the colors, and then - most importantly - replicating those colors over and over again with some level of standardization. I just couldn't do it. But Jenn does and she does it so very beautifully. I cannot say enough about these yarns. The base yarns are just amazing and the color is perfection. Might I particularly enable - I mean, direct your attention to Birte, which must be owned (I am currently swatching it and I am so in love), and also Penelope and Sunna either of  whom I would have an affair with. Dyers are also generous people. You'll find Spirit Trail yarns in the new book, and in another little project I dreamed up on my way home.

Jenn took us to the lovely Gadino Cellars and introduced us to Stephanie and Derek their amazing wines. Well, really Stephanie's parents' wines. Someone, somewhere other than Massachusetts should join their club and tell me all about it! I loved the meritage Imagine, and the Cabernet Sauvignon. I wish Massachusetts allowed shipping of wine. I want to be a Persono Molto Importante. We left the area happy and contented, with wine in the back seat protected from the sun by yarn and water bottles and buried under a mound of suitcase and headed for the coast. I anticipated that we'd arrive in Newport News at around 5:00pm. What I had not anticipated is the desire of locals and tourists to head for the coast for Father's Day weekend. We rolled into our hotel lobby with just enough time for me to brush my hair and teeth in the lobby restroom before heading to Coordinated Colors in Yorktown, Virginia. I'd promised to be on-hand for 7pm for a book signing and I arrived just in time! And look at what greeted me?
A shop sign with my name on it - my very first one! I signed some books and met some great knitters at Sherri's shop, and spent some time petting her adorable chocolate lab DeeDee, and then we headed off for dinner after a very tiring day in the car. I wanted to be well rested for the morning's class.

I got up early the next morning and Mr W dropped me at the shop before heading off to find a good bike ride.This made me a little edgy - love the man but really navigation is not his strong suit, and the temperatures were predicted to be around 100. But look at my distraction (there's more distraction that got cut off on my left and right, but my phone is only so wide!) -
 These were a great group of students. I know I say that a lot, but really they were. We had a good day, I think, and I hope everyone left happy!

Gene arrived promptly at 5pm to pick me up - one thing about traveling with him, there's no hanging around, no dawdle or delay, no chit-chat. He's pretty punctual. I said my good-byes and we headed out to find food. The other thing about traveling with him - I'd had a late lunch, but he'd had a bike ride. Food isn't an option. I "made" him get Thai, which I love and he does not, but dislikes less than Indian which I also love and he does not. (see if you can make sense of that.). He ate it and did not die. I ate it and was happy! We retired to the hotel in Newport News for one last night before heading on to Chincoteague.

The next morning we got up early and headed up toward the island on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. I love this thing. I think it's the feeling of being sort of in the middle of the ocean but not that I like. And I know it's a bay but it's still cool. And I love the history of it. The entire project, including the expansion from 2 to 4 lanes that opened in 1999, has been done through the sale of revenue bonds. No federal, state or local money has been used. I think that's amazing.

We headed up the Delmarva peninsula and I was sadly reminded that not all chickens get to be spoiled like mine before they are turned into freezer-stuffing. We passed a large Perdue plant. gene commented that he didn't notice a smell. We saw grower houses, the ones with the blinds and the big fans, five or six at a time in rows. A couple were open to the light because the birds had already made their journey to the plant and to the supermarket shelf. We saw this Perdue truck, used for hauling live birds to slaughter, making it's way north, devoid of chickens.
Gene saw some going south fully loaded, but I missed it. I've seen them before and I am glad I missed it. Then we came to the Tyson plant, and oh man the smell. It was awful. I wondered what the locals think - how can you ever get used to that smell? Do you ever get used to it? Or do you discover which Yankee Candle fragrance is best for covering the smell of rotting meat and stock up? Ick. I wanted to come home and hug my chickens.

I was glad to get to the Good Part of this trip. I forgot about the chickens for a while and here's what the next 24 or so hours looked like, more or less:

Bike riding in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Or I guess this is bike-stopping-for-a-picture, really. This is midway around the Wildlife Loop. We also rode the Woodland Trail, Beach Access Road to the beach, and the Swan Cove Trail from the Wildlife Loop side out to the beach. All told we rode about 12 miles. It was really hot. There was some cooling off along the way. Nice of God to put the ocean right in the middle of the ride. I appreciated it. Riding in salt water wet gear is really no different than riding in sweaty wet gear, except that for a few minutes you feel a little cooler!
There's a lot of beach. Not as many people as I expected, but this is "just" beach - no dogs, no canteen, no snack bar, no fried clams, no beer, no shops.
For "lunch" we left the refuge and had ice cream at the Island Creamery, then went back to the beach for a while.

I really want to spend a whole week here. A day isn't enough.

We checked into our hotel, and rested and cleaned up, then headed to Bill's Seafood Restaurant for dinner, where I had - in a huge personal rules violation fueled by too much sun and a glass of wine (Layer Cake Shiraz) - surf and turf.
Very yummy. The seafood is local, we were told, sourced from a fisherman in town. I can't believe I ordered this, but man was it good. The tail was huge. Gene ate more than half of the lobster, but when he saw how rare the filet was I lost his attention entirely and had to leave a bunch behind. The thing was still mooing up at me. I have a rare beef problem. Well. Problem is a relative term. We skipped dessert...

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the Roxy theater where Misty attended the preview of "her" movie in 1961.
I stood in her hoof-prints. I am going to assume she didn't actually sign her name here. We would have seen a movie if it had been of interest - sadly it was the new remake of the karate kid and not really our speed.
I sat (sort of...look, it was a long day. A little schlump is expected)in front of the statue of Misty based on the beautiful illustrations of Wesley Dennis that appear in the original Misty books. By the way if you don't know who Misty is, get thee to a library or Amazon or something, post-haste. Find Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. Follow that up by procuring every one of her horse-crazy tomes, preferably reading them aloud to some curious, precocious child and see what happens. For added value, throw in some Thornton Burgess, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and a smattering of Howard Roger Garis and watch what happens. If the kid turns into a tree-hugging chicken-farming knitter, don't come crying to me. We walked past the house where Misty of Chincoteague was written, which is lovingly maintained as a B&B. Then we went to sleep!
We got up early the next morning for one last bit of beach before turning my wee wagon northward.

First we navigated through a flock of thoughtless pedestrians who were just all over the place. The moved out of our way and I got a picture of them to share.

 Early morning on Assateague.

A visitor, who landed and really requested that his picture be taken and then....

left us.

Out the window heading onto the reserve.

After a bit of wading and no real dipping (turns out I am too old for diving into the chilly Atlantic ocean that early in the day after all) we headed back to the Hampton Inn and Suites and bid farewell to my buddy on the pier.

I promised him I'd be back. And I will, soon!

Between TNNA and this trip I am worn right out. It's going to take me a few days to recover. I think there will be a lot of napping involved...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

TNNA Hangover, In a Good Way.

I have no time to blither endlessly today, so this will be short and sweet (I hope, for your sake and mine too). I am leaving on Thursday very early for Virginia to teach at Coordinated Colors, so my plan today is to just give you the highlights of things I saw in Columbus, fiber related and not, all in one list. Then, when I am back from Virginia maybe I can take a breath and focus a little!

But, here's what I saw and found and think, some with images, some without:

Karen Alfke's unpatterns are brilliant. You need them. Hell, I need them.

I want to spend the rest of my life at North Market, just shopping for amazing cheeses, meats and produce while sampling small spoons of ice cream during shopping breaks, or possibly nibbling on olives or popping some corn and opening a bottle of a really good beer. It's all there (and then some).

If you are in Columbus and need olives, go to North Market and find The Olive Orchard stand. Get some garlic stuffed olives and a bottle of their organic oil. And the best news? They SHIP!

Miriam Felton's (aka brilliant designer of the Icarus shawl) Twist and Knit is going to be amazing also, and you should have that as well. In fact, there may be a few things in this post that you should have. She's also delightful, but that's another story.

Jeni's Ice Cream is pretty amazing. My mouth is still reeling. In the end I think my favorites are Queen City Cayenne, Lime Cardamom Yogurt, the combination of Dark Chocolate with Backyard Mint. Also Mango Lassi. And Cherry Lambic. And Salty Caramel, Wildberry Lavender and...oh you get the picture.

I need one of these Minknitures necklaces, but I cannot decide which color. I am willing to take suggestions. Pavia makes each of these items, pins as well, by hand. I was leaning toward pewter, but the copper appeals as well.

Pho is every bit as good as everyone has said it is. So was the #9 bowl

Think Outside the Socks is a FUN book! You need it.

Carol Sulcoski is my stalker, but I am ok with it as long as she keeps offering me her beautifully dyed yarn. Who am I to stop her?

Green Mountain Spinnery has a really beautiful certified organic 100% wool, dyed in Earthues colors by a local dyer. Local Color. This isn't just organic wool. The washing and spinning are organic as well. I love it.

Knitting 24/7 is also a wonderful book. It helps that the author is truly delightful. (Don't worry Carol. A promise is a promise. She's all yours, honest)
It is possible to break a Sassafras watch, but I really had to work at it. I've got the bruises on my wrist to prove it. My watch got hung up in my over-loaded and too-heavy backpack. I am now eyeing the beaded watch, which is smaller and would allow for my stupidity in over-packing my bags.

Save a Kiwi, Knit with Possum. No really. Possum are non-native introduced species doing bad bad things in New Zealand. I do not like non-native pest species. In fact they make me angry. I say, knit the little suckers up.
Steve Elkins can keep an audience entranced even when employees and friends of Webs are taking his picture. Unflappable, I tell you.

Although I never thought of it before, apparently there is gluten in hair and skin products. The ladies of Lavishea have a solution. A gluten-free, all natural lotion bar. I love this bar. And it made it through airport security, no problem. And it comes in a variety of fragrances. I made a list of my favorites.

This didn't fare as well at the airport, although in the end they let me keep it all - two cheeses from Curds and Whey in North market and some quince paste from same. Apparently food gives odd readings on the x-ray thing. Who knew. Let me tell you. That man knows his cheese. And the cheese is SO good. I got a Manchego and I wanted Cambozola, but it had all gone to a restaurant (and I am pretty sure I know which one), so he gave me a Blue de Bresse instead. It is SO good. Mike even vacuum sealed it for me!

I really like Goodale park, a circuit of which is part of a 2 mile loop walk or run from the convention center.
Ohio is flat. I like hills, but I hope I get to go back and see the flat again. If I do, I'll be in the North Market eating Pho and sniffing cheese.
Now. Laundry, errands, write two patterns, re-pack and head for Virginia!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Hiding Under My Yarn

Those who know me know how much I just love air travel. If you sense dripping sarcasm you would be correct. I approach each flight with something more akin to terror than trepidation. I know there are drugs and I have some. They are meted out with great austerity by the prescribing physician who seems to think that I verge on the edge of addiction. This is borne out by my obvious headlong descent into a life of crime and heavy use of street drugs in the 3 year period since the last time I asked for a refill. Since the remaining pills (of the 15 originally in the bottle three years ago) had expired I thought I should get new ones. She is, she says, not afraid of flying. I should not be either. There is no danger in flying. I should get over my fear. Her hesitance to give me a simple pill for anxiety is in no way, I am certain, biased by her own fearlessness. How could it be? She is a physician after all and trained not to make value judgments about her patients. Right? It would be cruel of me to hope that someday she is stopped in her tracks by a panic attack, doubly cruel if I hoped it happened on a plane.
The truth is that I respect and appreciate her rationality, and even covet it. The truth is that I try not to take them. I bring just enough with me to get on and off the planes I need to, and often I don't take any. I need to know they are there, the magic feather in my pocket just in case. I use relaxation techniques, I knit during as much of the flight as possible, I am really very healthy in my handling of the whole "certain death in the sky" panic thing.
I leave for TNNA on Friday morning and while I am excited to be there, happy to see people, thrilled to sign books, the time between now and then will be a delicate dance of panic versus will, fear versus the power of the mind to overcome it. I will, once on the ground, forget about the return trip in the flurry of activity. On Sunday it will creep back up on me and I will spend a potentially sleepless night mentally projecting positive images of take-offs and landings and no missed connections, always with amiable and polite seatmates; no screaming toddlers or loud people, please. And no stinky provolone cheese man, like on that train from DC to New York. Monday when I land I will be happy and a little surprised to have lived through yet another series of flights. It should get old, I should adapt, it should fade in time and yet it never does. No, I am not controlling, not one little bit!
The babies are growing here and have turned into adolescents.
I spend time with them now because I know by Monday they will be bigger, and the Monday after they'll be bigger still. I go right from TNNA to Virginia with a brief 2-day stop at home, to Coordinated Colors Yarn Shoppe where I will endeavor to teach people how to knit socks two at a time from the toes up. I am not flying. Luckily for me, flying into the Williamsburg area from Hartford takes nearly as long as driving or taking the train, and costs about as much too.
It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the birds pass from fluffy to feathered, from infant to adolescent. They begin with an insatiable curiosity about their environment right from the start and as they grow that only increases. 
Now they are concerned not just with what takes place within their pen. They want to know what else is out there, beyond their walls. The parallels to humans are not lost on me. First they explore the brooder. Then they expand outward until mom (that's me) lets them loose on an unsuspecting farmyard. Eventually the whole world is theirs, or they believe it is.
They mimic adult behaviors, like scratching, right from the start. They play at roosting along the way and now at over a month old some spend the night on the roosts. The majority pile in a heap on the floor when the sun goes down.
The ones who show precocity in their behavior now will be flock leaders as they grow. The pecking order is firmly established. I can shake it up by moving birds around which I occasionally do, but in the end the leaders still are leaders and the followers still follow. This weekend I separated them clearly into groups based on breed. For the chicken geeks, one pen now contains Marans, Fayoumi, Lakenvelders, what we think are black laced Wyandottes and the "gang of nine" mongrels. The other has meat birds and Cochins, Giants, Buttercups, Anconas and Leghorns. Somewhere in the mix are a few I am not sure about, and a couple of single birds of rare breeds which will be enjoyable to have around if they are hens, but don't enhance a breeding program. It makes me happy to see them, and that's enough. I cannot have every single breed. I probably would if I could.
The rest of my time is spent swatching and obsessively knitting projects from Vintage Baby Knits. I've only finished two, but have bought yarn for two others and discovered enough in stash for three or four more. I have a loose desire to knit the whole book, which I adore (the book, not the idea, although I find the idea very compelling).
The first project I finished was the Stella Pixie Hat. It is modeled here by the delightful and charming Jennifer who sits still and does not fuss or cry, ever. She's around 38 years old, so we'd expect good behavior. When I was five and she was fresh-smelling spotless vinyl she was more fussy, and needed a lot of attention. We've both changed.
I have not yet attached the button band. Love this hat and plan on making many more of it. It's quick and simple and adorable. I am making matching thumbless mittens from the remainder of the skein. The yarn is Blue Moon Fiber Arts Socks That Rock in Scottish Highlands. Love the yarn, love the hat, love love love.
I started first, but finished last the Violet Sacque.
Finished last because although I had the yarn on hand, I thought, I ran out and needed reinforcements. Webs, which is where I got the yarn originally, no longer carries Lang Jawoll solids. An internet search revealed some at Simply Socks Yarn Co. The yarn has been in stash long enough that I would never have found the dye lot, so I took what came. As a result the collar is significantly off from the body; noticeably darker.
I plan to distract from this by the use of a contrasting green ribbon at the neck. If that fails, maybe I will over-dye the whole shooting match with brown. That should haze things up a bit. I love the sweater. I like Jawoll well enough for a basic meat and potatoes sort of a fingering weight solid. It's durable, washes well, and softens up after washing which makes it a good baby yarn. Go ahead, unknown future infant, barf away.
And I swatch, and draw pictures and make notes. Here are some swatches.
I know. Exciting right? That's actually three sweaters and three shawls/scarves.  And then there's this:
the rest of the yarn for the new book (both bins). Almost all of it. There's a bit missing still, some Spirit Trail and a bit of Lorna's, but by and large it's all here. From now until Friday, more or less, you'll find me under it.
A note to my beloved family as I head out for TNNA: do you know what would make me feel truly loved? Really respected and appreciated? It's really quite simple. All animals alive and accounted for, hydrated and fed. And on top of that, just one small thing - the house cleaner than when I left.
Stop laughing. A girl can dream.
For updates from TNNA, or any time I am not home or blogging, you can follow me on Twitter either in the column on the right of this post or on Twitter itself. My user name is the amazingly original "Melissaknits". I also dual post tweets to my Facebook account where I am known by the even more original Melissa Morgan-Oakes. Expect sarcasm, cool stuff, and occasional wit. Lots of sarcasm.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Toot Toot!!

(That's my horn blowing)

I want to thank Michelle and Devlyn of Knit Happens PDX for having me on the Knit Happens show yesterday. It's up now as a podcast, which you can access by clicking the link above. It was a lot of fun to do, probably because I like to talk (a lot) and I like radio because if I am wearing pj's? You never know!