November 30, 2009

The Gift of Found Time

If you ask me, the best thing about long weekends is found time. My typical weekends are highly scheduled and packed with activities, some of which are social, but man of which fall into the category of "tasks". These are things like laundry, hanging up tried on and unworn clothes, grocery shopping, restocking the linen closet with toiletries (two weeks ago I simultaneously ran out of the TPs: toilet paper, tooth paste and tampons). Not exciting stuff, but stuff I have to take care of, lest my life fall apart. Throwing an extra day or two into the mix changes everything.

Last week, I had off 2 1/2 days for Thanksgiving, which brought my "weekend time" up to 4 1/2 days. Let's be real: I had a week off. What to do with a week off? A week in which my holiday travel involved taking the 2/3 train from Atlantic Ave to 96th Street? A lot. Thursday was lovely, truly lovely, Unfortunately none of my photos really captured the feel of the evening, nor the deliciousness of the food. I had dinner with dear friends (Megan and David) in Manhattan, their children, her father (whom I have known since I was 14) and stepmother and another delightful guest. I have dinner with this crew quite a bit, so Thanksgiving wasn't particularly unusual, but that's part of what made it so nice. No drama, no tension, just good food, better company and some vino to keep us all warm. In an unusual turn of events, I was fairly abstemious, as I've been under the weather for two weeks now, saddled with a dry yet persistent cough. Still, it was such a nice evening, and one which made me feel how truly fortunate I am.

The next day, I had one thing on the agenda: make a cake. It was a lemon cake with lemon butter cream frosting, a combination I adore for my friend Matt's birthday. He had initially thought about a coconut cake, but I thought that on the heels of heavy Thanksgiving eating, a lemon cake would feel lighter and more refreshing. While the cake was baking and cooling, I took care of a bunch of household chores, so the day had the feel of a Sunday. Only it was Friday. Still dealing with my cough, I stayed in that evening, knit and watched News Radio on Hulu. I retired early, as I knew the next day would be a big one.

And it was.

At 8 am on Saturday, I met up with Sarah, Penelope and Angela (from the Ft. Greene/Clinton Hill Knitting and Crocheting Group) at a local patisserie. The plan: road trip to Webs, a yarn superstore in Northampton, MA. Webs has amazing sales and a tremendous selection, and there's really no substitute for buying yarns in person, feeling their texture and seeing the colors, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to really do some educated shopping for large volumes of yarn, like enough for a few sweaters, in addition to doing some holiday shopping. I brought several patterns with me so that I'd have all of the information that I needed. I naively thought this would keep me organized.

Northampton is about three hours from Brooklyn, and I thought I'd use the drive time to get some knitting done, but it made me a bit queasy so I had to go slowly. Sarah, however, started in early on a pair of socks and did not stop!

Her tenacity was both demonic and impressive.

After pit stops for gas, water and cough drops, we finally arrived. Initially, the store seemed less than impressive.

What's the old adage about looks being deceiving?
(NB: I am wearing a "Property of the Seattle Super Sonics" t-shirt that I got in 7th grade at the one and only Sonics game I ever attended.)

Holy moley, is that place amazing. The front of the store is like any other yarn store, only much, much bigger, and with more staff, more books, more magazines and more yarn. Penelope was the only one of us who had been there before, and she was able to maintain her composure and stick, more or less, to her game plan. Angela, Sarah and I were like chickens with our heads cut off, bopping from here to there with our mouths agape. I was composed enough to mutter that I just had to wander for a while before getting down to business, but that was about it. Eventually I felt orientated enough to head to the warehouse. Attached to the main store, it is a giant storeroom where most of the yarn is in boxes on racks. This is where they pull for their on-line orders. It is also where the keep the CLOSEOUT yarns.

Penelope has knit many, many more sweaters than I, and with greater success, so I enlisted her help in selecting some yarn for Pas de Valse .

Things got a bit crazy back in the fingering wt. section.

As the day wound on, we all calmed down considerably and started narrowing our selections, which felt great.
This smiling lady was immeasurably helpful with that process! Not only does she work at Webs, but in talking with her, Angela realized she's also a knitwear designer, one who happened to design one of the sweaters Angela was buying yarn for. Without her assistance, I never would have located enough skeins of the Berroco Peruvia Quick that I'll be using to work up Amber, a free pattern from Rowan.
After shopping, we hit ridiculously cute and charming downtown Northampton for a late lunch at Paul and Elizabeth's (a mostly vegetarian restaurant), followed by ice cream and sorbet at Herrell's, a Northampton institution. I had chocolate pudding ice cream. Sounds silly, but it was delicious.

And I bought shoes.
They are quite foxy (or as foxy as German shoes get).

Northampton reminded me a lot of Northfield, MN, where I went to college: small and kind of crunchy but with lots of expensive artisinal things. Our final stop before heading back to Brooklyn was a Germany bakery where my travel mates picked up treats for their husbands and I tried my first sugar plum (not pictured). As with the ice cream, it was delicious.

What a fun day! And a fantastic use of day 3 1/2 of a 4 1/2 day weekend. Thank you so much to Penelope for suggesting the trip and for driving! I'm really excited start in on the yarn that I bought, including one for a gift that must be complete by the 12th. Yarn is just yarn, but somehow it also represents potential, love, inspiration and hard work all at the same time. I will make things out of the yarn that I bought. I'll match colors and textures to patterns and people, and where there was nothing there will soon be many things. And I'll have a lot of fun in the process.

November 18, 2009

Pink and Blue and Cream All Over

There's been a bit of a lag since my last post, but don't for a second think this means I have not been busy. On the contrary, my fat but long fingers have been whipping up many knitted delights; the problem is that most of them are gifts, and hence to be kept on the Q.T., you dig? I'm excited about them all and look forward to a time in late December when I can share them with you. While I've been Christmas planning, I've also been feeling a bit grabby lately, like I see yarn and think "Ooh, I want that and I want it now." I don't feel guilty about this, since I seldom make things for myself, but I do have to be careful: On Monday I "accidentally" dropped $60 on three skeins of Malabrigo Sock Yarn in lettuce, an electric green. My plan is to make Laura Chau's Honeybee Cardigan, the cropped version. After the holidays, I imagine.

While there's much I can't reveal, there are some projects which I can. Like this:

Pattern:My Kind of Town Cowl, by Trish Woodson
Yarn: Lion Brand Wool-Ease Thick & Quick
Needles: US19/15.0mm
Started: September 15
Finished: September 19

This started out as Jane Richmond's Marian, but I wasn't feeling the combo of the yarn and the pattern, so I ripped it out and started over. The cowl I ended up making is chunky and dramatic, but it has the problem that plagues so many of the new and trendy cowls: it leaves a gap in the front of my neck through which the wind can whip me. Wind whipping is precisely what a cowl is supposed to stop, so this project rates only an OK from me, and therefore, is unlikely to find another home.

Now, this next project made me much, much happier:

Pattern: Fetching, by Cheryl Niamath (highly modified)
Yarn: Noro Retro
Needles: US7/4.5mm
Started: October 26
Finished: October 28

I love these! Love, love them. I wear so much grey and black during the winter and have been looking for ways to bring some color to my wardrobe, so when I saw this beautiful ball of yarn at Seaport Yarn downtown, I couldn't walk away from it. I tried, because I was just there to buy some crochet hooks. But it was so pretty: chunky, bold and rustic yet feminine. And the blend of wool, silk and angora just felt so good. Later I learned that it's a new yarn from Noro, which somehow made me feel better about the impulse buy.

I used Fetching as the jumping off point for these, but I modified heavily. I omitted the cables, adjusted the number of stitches cast on to accommodate my gauge, knit the wrists longer and wear them inside-out. I like the look of the reverse stockinette; it has a more open and textural feel than regular stockinette. I call them my Pink Shockers, in part because they're shocking pink in color, but also in honor of some Minneapolis friends. They know why, oh yes, they do.

And now, so do you.

Earlier this fall, I was seduced by a Webs sale. It seems that Sheep Shop Yarn Company is going out of business, because their yarns are on sale all over the place. This was the first time I've purchased anything of theirs, because I found the yarns to be rather spendy. Hmm . . .perhaps this is why they're going out of business.

Pattern: A Little Ruffle, by Jennifer Lang
Yarn: Sheep Shop Yarn Company Sheep 3 Yarn
Needles: US7/4.5mm
Started: October 1
Finished: October 25
This yarn gets a mixed review from me. It is incredibly soft and was a great choice for this project. However, and this is a big however, the skeins were drastically different. One was a bit of a semi-solid pale blue, while the other was variegated blue and cream, heavy on the cream. The result is that the wrap appears to be almost striped in one section. It's super annoying, and I've never had such a problem when ordering yarn on line.

On a more positive note, the pattern was well written and I think the project came out really well (ignoring aforementioned color issues). This did involve yards and yards of stockinette, which came to be incredibly boring, which is the only negative thing I have to say about the pattern, and that's not even a criticism, just a comment.* So beware: If you're not up for a few days of straight up stockinette, work a different wrap. But if you think you can stomach it, this project is well worth the monotony.
*That was a bad run-on sentence up there. Sorry for that.

November 4, 2009

Marathon Sunday

For close to 10 years now, I've been carrying on a love affair with New York City Marathon. It started when I was invited to a marathon party on the Upper East Side. Promised bagels and Bloody Marys, I showed up that Sunday morning a bit skeptical and unsure of what to expect. How exciting could it be to watch strangers run past me?

Very exciting, as it turns out. It was the fit and the fat, the old and the young, families and friends and firefighters and folks in costumes. Then I saw the man with one leg. Cue the waterworks. What I learned that day is that the New York City Marathon is not about watching people run past me; rather, it is about watching what a single person can do when he puts his mind to it. And it's not just what a person can do, it's what ANY of us can do, if we commit ourselves. Not "athletes", not professionals, not the genetically gifted. Any of us

A year after watching my first marathon, I ran one. It wouldn't have occurred to me to sign up on my own, but my cousin Paula, who's always been more athletic than I suggested it. I promised to think it over, and then, during Christmas dinner that year, she announced our intention to run the marathon to our entire family. So, over the next six months, separated by more than 1,000 miles, we trained and trained. And then, in June, we got the good word: both of us had made it into the marathon by way of the lottery. Five months later, we crossed the finish line, in front of Tavern on the Green, together. It was an amazing day.

A couple of years later, I moved to an apartment in Brooklyn that happens to be on the marathon route
and started hosting an annual marathon party, for friends to come and eat, drink and cheer for the racers. Around 50 people come to the open house; some early to watch the wheel chair and hand cycle athletes.

And some come a bit later, nursing hangovers with coffee and mimosas.

It's a very family friendly event.
We line up on the sidewalk waiting, WAITING for the police cars and official time truck to come by and signal the arrival of the day's first racers.

And when they arrive, we clap and jump and scream and cheer.

It's always a bit slow at first.

But in no time, there are throngs of racers.

One of the most exciting things about hosting the party is having guests who are cheering for a particuler runner. This year, Laura and Don were cheering for Don's husband, also named Don, who came down from Toronto to run.
They saw him! People ALWAYS spot their runners from my place. It's got good juju.

Because guests start arriving around 8:30 in the morning, I've got to get my ass organized, so I spend Friday night and all day Saturday cooking and baking. I usually wake up in a panic, worried that there won't be enough food, and so bake one more loaf of this, or another pan of that.

This year's menu included Green Chili and Chorizo Breakfast Strata, vegetarian Chili and Cheese Strata, homemade Oreos , Cook's Illustrated's Dreamy Cream Scones (recipes compliments of Smitten Kitchen), Brooke's Grandma Smith's Banana Bread, pumpkin muffins, pecan muffins, lemon bundt cake, oatmeal blueberry breakfast bars and a spinach chickpea curry. It's important to have a mix of sweet and savory at a morning event, don't you agree?

Of everything I made this year, the scones were my favorite. They were ridiculously good, creamy almost. I baked some of them as written and served jam* on the side but with the rest, I did my thing, by which I mean I baked jam into the scones. Holy Mary, is that delicious. Trust me and try it sometime. Your loved ones will freak out.

Although the racers are pretty much gone by 1:00, the party doesn't usually end until 7:30 or 8, which makes it a mini-marathon of our own, I suppose.

Good times.

*Jam made by Brooke and Marisa.