July 28, 2009

At long last, summer!

This has been kind of a sad summer, not because of anything that's happened, but because of circumstance. Weather circumstance. We've had a lot of rain here in New York, rain that has prevented trips to the beach, bike rides, walks in the park. In short, the opportunities for outdoor living have been severely curtailed this summer, which is sad. Last summer was glorious! I spent so much time in Prospect Park, running, riding my bike. I wandered about new (to me) neighborhoods, ate lots of frozen yogurt, walked home from work at least three days a week. So lovely. So it was with great excitement and gratitude that I greeted this past Saturday, a bright, dry and sunshiny day!

When I woke up on Saturday, I was was bursting with energy and plans, both novel and mundane. Run? Check. Laundry? Check. CSA? Farmer's market? Check and check. Obligations taken care of, I dove into some fun stuff: Kool-Aid dying:

Wet wool smells so much better when stewing in a vat of grape Kool Aid. I worked on some yarn that was given to me by Oiyi during a destash. I wanted to darken it up a bit, make it a little more autumnal. The yarn is a wool-acrylic blend, and acrylic won't pick up the dye from Kool Aid, so I knew I wouldn't get an incredibly vibrant effect, but I was pleased with how well it worked. The original yarn color was heathered lavender, and I dyed three skeins with grape Kool Aid and one skein with cherry. In the pot above you can see the grape doing it's work (no finished picture, yet), and below is the skein dyed with cherry, drying in my sunny backyard. It's a weird color, but I like it. I haven't settled on a plan for the newly dyed yarn, yet, but I'm thinking striped, cropped v-neck cardigan. Most of all, I'm happy to have picked up a new skill.

While the skeins were a-dryin', I loped off to my neighborhood park with my knitting and a book to enjoy a bit of the blessed weather. The park was as nice as expected, and I found myself a sweet spot on a small slope in the sun. I spent most of the time reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (so good!) and watching my neighbors. New Yorkers crack me up with their compulsive tanning. I'm of the camp that swimsuits should be worn when near water, otherwise one looks at best out of place and at worst like an exhibitionist skeezer, so it still (after 14 years of living here) surprises me to see people in the middle of a city wearing swim trunks and bikinis without a swimming pool, fountain, river, lake or sprinkler in sight. If seeking Vit. D while in a city, there's nothing wrong with shorts and a tank top, but I kind of feel (and it's not a super strong feeling, more of a preference) that if you want to do some serious tanning, tanning that requires a bikini or the like, you ought to get thee too a beach.

The sunny, summery weather had me thinking about canning, something my mother and grandmother used to do in July and August. I'd never canned myself, but decided that given my background, it was high time that I learned. I've been following a blog about canning called Food in Jars for a bit now, and the author's practical posts had me feeling that it was something entirely within my abilities. So . . . I headed off to Target to purchase my supplies, including this, the bible of canning:

There are so many exciting recipes in there, I can hardly stand it! Instructions read and supplies purchased, several hours later, I had these:

Four pints of sweet cherries in a light syrup. I think they're beautiful! And I'm hooked, hooked I say! I've a feeling that friends and loved ones will be receiving canned gifts from me this holiday season, in addition to knitted ones. The only thing that may get in my way is the blasted rain we've been having. It's really limited some of the local crops, and fruit (including tomatoes, which have been hit by late blight), in particular, has not been as abundant as in other, drier years. Rest assured, though, that this is not the last of my adventures in canning.

After four back-to-back gift projects, which I cannot yet share here, I have started a project for myself. Its Seedum, by Canadian knitter/designer Jane Richmond.

After all of my yearning for summer, I go and start a heavy fall sweater, and in seed stitch, no less. Go figure.

July 17, 2009

Things I learned in Sweden

So, as I was saying, I had a fabulous and delightful time in Sweden. While we did lots of sightseeing, our pace was more relaxed than frenzied. That's how I like to travel: plan in advance and then take it slow. Why? Well, when I'm relaxed, I'm better able to take in my surroundings and to get a sense of what the people around me are like and are doing. While I was in Sweden for only a week, and Stockholm for much of that time, I did make some observations.

1. Swedes really like ice cream.
It's all over the place! People roamed the streets of Stockholm eating ice cream like New Yorkers eat street meat, which suited me just fine, as I am very, very pro-ice cream.
2. They also have quite an affinity for candy, gummy and otherwise.

Case in point: the candy aisle at Maxi, a combo Wal-Mart/Target type store just outside of Karlstad. I arrived in Karlstad the day before the wedding, and it poured HARD all day long. Since sightseeing and swimming in Lake Ahlstern were out of the question, we ran errands, one of which took us to Maxi, where my friend the Bride wanted to pick up candy for the reception. And ice cream, for us. This was an amazing pick-a-mix setup by KaramellKungen, a la Brach's from the 70's, only on 'roids.

3. Lodging in Sweden is quite reasonable.
4. Food, however, is not.

5. When talking to a Swedish man, it is easy to get the impression that he is hitting on you. He may be, but this sense may come the fact that Swedish men look at you, like at your face, when they're talking to you. Not over your shoulder, or at their feet, but right at you. It's hot.

6. If you have big feet, Sweden is a great place to shop for cute shoes.

I wear a European 41 or 42, and that didn't seem to give pause to any of the shop owners! And so many of the shoes I saw were sensibly cute: low pumps with cone heels and open toes, funky ankle boots (lots with open toes), Frye-type pull-on boots (boots in summer, yes, because the climate is rather temperate). And, of course, clogs. Given my suitcase and budgetary constraints, I feel lucky to have returned with two lovely new pair of clogs, but had I more space and kroner, I really would have gone to town!

7. There are an insane number of hair salons in Stockholm. This seemed weird to me, as the typical Stockholmer does not have fussy hair.
8. Swedish men are, on the whole, better coiffed than American men.
9. Leggings are alive and kicking in Sweden, and I don't think it's a recent trend.

The weather in Sweden is, on the whole, rather mild. We were there in July, and the highs were in the mid- to low 70s, with the lows reaching into the low 50s. This combined with the not infrequent rain makes for a climate which is perfectly suited to the wearing of leggings (the male equivalent being the manpri, but that's another story). Leggings were ubiquitous, on everyone from elderly women to wee little girls. The perfect way to wear your skirt and ward off that Baltic chill.
10. Sweden is a more diverse country that one might think. Although I most certainly do not look stereotypically Swedish, people spoke to me in Swedish wherever I went (starting with the man in the immigration line at the airport, which I thought was weird considering I was in the line for non-EU passport holders, but I didn't mind as he was kind of foxy and it gave me a chance to practice my Swedish).

11. If you are invited to a wedding in Sweden, sell a kidney if you have to, but go! The country is as beautiful and you have heard and the people warm and lovely and they know how to put on a celebration.

12. Snaps and herring are a delicious combination. Mark my words.

July 14, 2009

Coming Home

I love travelling. Love it! I love how it shakes things up, changes one's perspective, teaches, enlightens, stretches, entertains, challenges and sometimes brings one to a realization.
I remember so clearly the first time I visited New York City. I was 19 and came for spring break with a friend who lived in the suburbs. I was so energized and excited by the crowds, the noise, the grit, the pace and the diversity. It seemed so incredibly alive and was exactly what I wanted at that time. I decided right then that I would live here one day. Flash forward almost 20 years, and many of the things that I once found so compelling about New York now wear on me. I love living in Brooklyn and the neighborhoodiness of it, but when I leave my area and have to contend with loud people, slow trains, foul smells, crowds and hyperneurosis, I can get cranky.

Enter Stockholm:

Almost from the moment we landed, I felt as though I were coming home. Granted, this may be a result of the fact that I grew up and went to college in areas with large populations of Scandinavian-Americans, and so coming to Stockholm literally was like coming home. Or because Stockholm is a city of water and bridges, and I grew up in a river city.

Whatever the reason, it felt really right, much as New York felt completely right once upon a time.

There was lots and lots to see and do, and one of the first things that we saw near our little hotel, Tre Små Rum, in the trendy neighborhood of Mariatorget on the island of Sodermalm was this:

Knitting street art! I wondered if Knitta Please had been here or if this was an indie project. It says "varsågod", which translates as "here you are" or "there you are," and is used when offering something to someone.
That first find proved to be a bit of an omen, as we found several yarn stores around the city. I bought some linen, just as I'd intended, but I also picked up several skeins of local hand dyed yarns, some wool, some silk.

Stockholm is incredibly cosmopolitan with terrific shopping, and a ton of nifty second hand stores.
How can one not love crinolines? These were at Beyond Retro, where I could have spent hours had I not felt so destroyed from our flight (no sleep for me). And trite though it may be, clogs were most definitely on the agenda.
Cute, right? We each picked up a pair here (well, mine were picked up for me as a belated birthday present).
We took the train north to Uppsala one day, to see some sights, to be sure, but our main focus was Yll o Tyll, which I'd read of on Ravelry.
Many, many lovely yarns were fingered and I spent more money than I'd expected, but I don't regret a single purchase. I've already started working up a birthday present with some silk that I brought back. Fun!
Uppsala is a really cute university town, and we had fun wandering around, even though it rained much of the day.

Lest you think the entirety of the day was spent in Yll o Tyll, I should tell you that we also wandered the grounds of Uppsala Slott, visited the Museum Gustavianum, and ate lunch at a weird little Chinese buffet joint. All in all, it was a lovely outing.
Next installment: the wedding!

July 5, 2009

Happy Holidays

What a tremendous holiday weekend this has been! Off work at noon on Thursday, then out to enjoy champagne and dinner in Brooklyn with Lauren, who's in from Paris.

Our last visit was a Christmas, so there was lots of catching up to do. I'd planned for us to enjoy our champers in a little park in Cobble Hill, but the weather neglected to cooperate.

The sky absolutely opened up! We took refuge in a tiki bar on Smith Street, ordered tacky and delicious rum drinks and waited for the downpour to end. Later, we meandered down the block for a yummy Italian dinner. Good night!

The next day, I was up early readying myself for a day at the beach with Lauren and another dear friend, Angela. This was our third annual outing to the the beach at Rye, and we really had such a lovely time. I'm a bit more of a sun worshiper than my fair-complexioned companions, so I was particularly grateful for the clear skies, but so long as I can sit in a lounge chair and stare at the sea, I'll not complain. Late in the afternoon, we repaired to the cabana for aperitifs. Pure delight!

The following day, the 4th of July, was another event: BBQ at Jeffrey's home. More delicious food and good friends. It began wholesomely enough, then devolved into proper debauchery. Quelle surprise!

Crafts? Oh yes, there's been quite a bit of that, as well. About two weeks ago Emily, a member of my knitting group, suggested KAL for a new pattern, Aestlight by Gudrun Johnston. I'd never done a KAL before, and was quite enthusiastic. I was a bit hung up on yarn, however, as I wanted to be sure not to repeat a recent misstep: using a multi-colored yarn on a lace project. Let me show you what I mean:

Pattern: Ishbel, by Ysolda Teague
Yarn: Malabrigo Lace in Azelea
Needles: US6s/4.00mm
Started: June 16
Finished: June 27

The pattern is a lovely one, but the handpainted yarn was not the best choice for the project. While it is incredibly soft, all of the details of the lace are lost in the busy color changes. Argh! I shouldn't complain too much, however, because the dark bits do a good job of hiding several of the more obvious mistakes I made on this little project. I blame it on the super sticky lace-weight yarn. My yarn-overs and knit-two-togethers kept getting lost. If I ever work with lace weight yarn again, and that's a big if, it will have to be something smooth and silky like, well, like silk or bamboo. But merino? Nyet. Also, these colors are crap on me! Fortunately, they are fab on Nettie, a friend from knitting group, so I gave it to her.

See? I'm glad it will have a good home.

So, the KAL: After realizing that nothing I have in my stash of yarns would be quite right for this project, I made an indulgent visit to my favorite yarn store, Purl, and bought two skeins from the brand new line, Spud & Chloe. I had originally planned for this to be a travel project for my trip to Sweden, but excitement got the better of me. I knit up Aestlight with what for me can only be described as lightening speed. I'm not a terribly fast knitter, but I was able to get a lot done on the day I was home sick (btw, summer colds suck! It's totally depressing to be stuck inside, sweating with a sore throat when it's 70 degrees and dry outside).

Pattern: Aestlight, by Gudrun Johnston
Yarn: Spud & Chloe Fine, in Tutu
Needles: US6s/4.00mm
Started: June 28
Finished: July 4

Constructed from the neck down in a traditional Shetland manner, this mini-shawl really grew a lot after blocking. The birds eye lace opened up nicely, and developed a kind of 3D quality that's not apparent from the photos.

I love it! A keeper, I do believe.

I'm off on holiday tomorrow. Hej Stockholm, hej då New York!