Friday, September 25, 2009

Go North...to Canada!

Yep, I'm going to Canada! I've been working this new gig with Magic Foam Inc for almost a full year now, fielding calls in the customer service department for the Canadian clientel and the powers-that-be have deemed me worthy of my first ever business trip.

A little background might be in order here. You see, prior to this sweet deal, I had been working in music retail for about thirteen years, first at a little store in Michigan, then here in St. Louis at a local landmark, Vintage Vinyl. Through my eight years with Vintage, I rose through the ranks and eventually settled comfortably into a cushy position in the back of the store, "behind the blue doors" as we called it. The job had amazing perks...free music, free shows and concerts, incredibly flexible hours and the best darned people to work with ever! During my time there, I was able to establish myself in this new city, go back to school and earn my 2 degrees and even take a whole year off to travel to France...and then take my old job back when I returned. Amazing, really.

The downside to music retail is...well, it's still retail with a pay scale to match. To make up for the lack of fundage, I took on other jobs: working in the university language lab, selling my stuff on eBay, teaching french to Nestle-Purina employees and administrative assistanceship with the Alliance Francaise de St. Louis. At this time a year ago, I was working three, sometimes four jobs and managing just fine. The financial truth of the matter, however, was that my immense student loans were going to be coming due all too soon and I had no more slack to give.

Luckily, as seems so often to happen in my life, there was a confluence of events that brought about perfect change right when I needed it most. I was working at the Alliance, the phone rang...badda bing, badda boom...a couple weeks later, I had landed a sweet job handling all customer servie tasks for the Canadian market for a local company who manufactured Magic Insulating Foam, among other things. How? Because I had years of retail experience AND because I speak impeccable French. Well...it was impeccable. Five years is a long time...

In all my travel-laden years, I've managed to make it to Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Colorado, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, New York, Wisconsin, Washington DC, Texas, North and South Carolina. I've also been to Windsor, Ontario, Canada...but that's just across the river from Detroit so it might not count. I've experienced Rome, Florence and Venice, Italy. I dashed through London Heathrow Airport once. And, of course, a true love...France. Angers, Bordeaux, Nantes, Tours, Le Mans...I loved all these cities.

Anyway, next week I'll be venturing forth into the Great North of eastern Canada, where the strongest European influence still exists in North America. It's going to be a whirlwind tour comprising three cities in as many days. Unfortunately, I doubt I'll have much time for sightseeing or yarn crawling (although I'll give it my best shot). I'll start in Quebec City, then on to Montreal and finish up in Toronto...all on the company dime. I'll be meeting with, drinking with and eating with customers and reps that heretofore I have only spoken with on the phone. I'm sure there'll be lots of those "You don't look at all like I pictured you" moments...and I'll try to have some lovely photos to share.

I love international travel...I just hate the traveling part of it. I love being there, experiencing the excitement and wonder and exploration of a new place...but I hate the luggage, the planes and airports, the cabs and hotels. Hate it...but this, this is going to be fun.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Tale of Two Gardens

Welcome to my home. This is where I live and have for the past three years or so. I also just signed a lease renewal for 24 months, if that's any indication of how much I like it here. This is my home, mine and mine alone (not counting the 2 cats who live with me).

My apartment is the upper-left portion of what we here in da 'Lou call a 4-family flat. I haven't a clue why they're called that as I can't imagine an entire family living in my apartment, but then again times were very different back in the 20s and 30 when these were built. My street is lined with them, one after the other, all with their gorgeous red brick. )Don't get me started on how St. Louis is located on a major fault line and that someday the next Big One will come along and level the entire city.)

For the past couple years, I've had a lovely container garden on my balcony. I love the fact that I even have a balcony to begin with and I was inspired to do something with the space. I usually grow Morning Glories along the rails, which eventually give a lush green curtain against the world. Along the right, you can see the purple clematis working its way up the side wall. But, I wanted more. More space, more variety...I wanted to get my hands in some serious dirt and smell the earth and make green stuff pop up out of the ground. Behold...the target:

The evergreen bushes in the front of the building certainly look benign enough, don't they? I'm presuming they were probably planted way back in the day, maybe even with the original construction of the building. I passed by them everyday and gave them no mind until, one day, I realized that these ineffectual, bland bushes, which were really just a lazy excuse for landscaping, were hiding beneath their boughs prime gardening real estate!

So, I pulled them out...

...on both sides of the porch...

...until they were gone!

Now, I admit, at this point, that the building looked so sad and...slightly crooked. :-\ And we can't have a sad building, so I went to work immediately!

I grabbed shovels and dug trenches...

...on both sides of the porch and I filled them with paver gravel...

...and, on top of the paver base, I lay down landscaping block...

...and I built walls!

And behind the walls, in the dirt, a variety of beautiful herbs and flowers...

...and the plants, they took root and grew!

Some grew from just little baby plants...

...into monsterous, out-of-control beauties!!

Others grew so fast...

...that I had to build additional lattice on the fly, using flexible bamboo matchsticks from a previous balcony's matchstick blind.
You can easily find dewey sage...

...and lichened trees...

...bizarre visitors from worlds unknown...

...diverse blooms, both elegant...

...and exotic.
There are even occasional night-time visitors, in the form of elusive Moon Flowers.

These are my gardens. Many thanks to my landlord for allowing me to dig in his dirt (and for keeping my rent reasonably rated). Enjoy...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I Found The Loopy Ewe

Thursday night saw a joyful return to my Edwardsville, IL knit night. The finances lined up just so (not to mention the planets) to allow me the nearly 100 mile round trip. Among other things, I learned there is a different route to the shop which will cut the mileage in half! Although M. was in Oklahoma and the Cake Pusher had to leave early (even after all the fuss, it was for a good cause), there was wine, cheese and jovality all around.

As the hours and attendees waned, I learned of a St. Louis yarn shop that I was not already aware of: The Loopy Ewe. As I am the one working on the Sock Yarn Blanket, this came as surprise to my ladies. You see, located in the far west of the StL burbs, The Loopy Ewe deals almost exclusively in sock and lace weight yarns. :-O Excuse me? Yes, that's right! Although it's primarily an online retailer, on Thursdays and Fridays, between 11am and 1pm, the public is welcome to come by, peruse the stacks and generally go crazy. I assure you, when I left Knit Night, I had absolutely no intention whatsoever of seeking this place out. Cross my heart...and swear to you on my most precious stash of yarns!

Come Friday morning, however...well, I woke up close to 11am...and it was my Friday off...and I didn't really have any plans...none at all, in fact. Sorry Megan, I couldn't resist my own curiosity. So, Google Maps to the rescue and about 45 minutes later, I had found The Loopy Ewe!Please, take me at my word when I say that this experience was the closest to sex I've ever had without actual sex being involved! The sheer depth and breadth of the choices contained in the store were almost more than I could wrap my head around. Although they carry the names knitter's all know, I was really amazed at the amount of indie companies represented, many of whom I had never heard of before. So, the next question is, of course, what did I find there:

All of the selections were very reasonably priced, the store was immaculately clean and all of the women working exceled in customer service...and they gave me that cute Loopy Ewe tote! Everyone was so nice and welcoming, something that is sometimes lacking when a guy walks into a yarn shop. I spent a good hour just wandering among the racks, taking it all in before making any decisions about what I wanted. I avoided the stuff that I had seen before or that I could have bought elsewhere and focused more on stuff that I had never seen or heard of before.

Dragonfly Fibers - Dragonsock
Colorway: Beach Grass
100% superwash Merino, 390yds

Claudia Hand Painted Yarns - Fingering
Colorway: Sharks
100% Merino wool, 175yds

Alchemy: Yarns of Transformation - Juniper
Colorways (L to R): Aubergine, Diamonda and Breath of Fire
100% superfine Merino, 232yds

Neighborhood Fiber Co. - Penthouse Silk Lace
Colorway: Cooper Circle
100% silk, 1100yds

String Theory Hand Dyed Yarn - Caper Sock
Colorway: Nerrivik
80% superwash Merino/10% cashmere/10%nylon, 375yds

Tuscan Grove Hand Dyed Yarn - Venice
Colorway: Garden Maze
100% superwash Merino, 440yds

Neighborhood Fiber Co. - Maisonette
Colorway: Thomas Circle
50% Merino wool/50% Tussah silk, 1250yds

Sheepaints - Silkbamboo
Colorway: Serpiente
60% wool/20% silk/20% bamboo, 460yds

Are you still standing? You may want to sit down. I know, it's a lot...a lot to take in, a lot to show, a lot to buy. But I can honestly say that, although this purchase was worth a pretty, shiny penny, I haven't a single ounce on buyer's remorse surrounding this purchase. The quality/price/value ratio is so spot on! And...and...the cherry on top this sqwooshy yarn cake:

FREE SAMPLES!

How cute are they, these little mini-hanks of fibers galore! There was a basket on top of one of the racks, filled to overflowing. When I asked the ladies how much each one was...wait for it, wait for it...they said they were FREE! I swear I swooned like I Miss Scarlet O'Hara. I may have been visibly trembling. Now, to the everyday knitter, samples are fun, but they usually don't have enough in them to make anything of substance...unless, of course, you just happen to be working on a Sock Yarn Blanket. And wait, oh, what's this...I am!! I apologize for the questionable quality of this photo, but the blanket is almost too large to capture in a single frame. It's only about 1/4 the length of a standard bed and not even as wide and already I have to stand on a step-stool and hold the camera far above my own head. This is what you get.

I'm going to go bask in the yarn glow now. Loopy Ewe, I love you!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Little Surprises

When I leave for work in the morning and sometimes when I come home at night, I often take a quick survey of my gardens to check in on the plants and pull the little baby weeds as they appear. This simple practice not only helps the myriad plants but also imparts a grounding effect, just a little earthy fix before heading into the potentially frenetic workplace.

Last night when I came home, I was going about the task as usual. Most of the bloomers have done their jobs and are starting to quasi-wilt into their autumn holding patterns. However, when I checked out my gardens next door, I cam upon these odd little guys:
There are currently two blooms with, what appear to be, about 2 dozen more buds about to open anyday! I haven't a clue what they are. The original cutting were given to me by a wonderful woman from my LYS, along with a plethora of others. In case I never thanked you properly, Deborah...thank you! If you can shed any light onto the nature of these bespeckled blooms, I'd be very interested to know. I mean, c'mon...they're awesome! Like Mama Nature took to dabbing these little dudes with a loaded paintbrush...
After photographing these immediately ('cuz I usually have my camera in my satchel), I headed inside and came upon my second surprise, a medium sized box left for me by my friendly, neighborhood postman in between the screen and main door of my apartment. Huh? Why, what is this? I don't remember ordering anything...oh, except for that 1lb cone of Silvery Sage millend from DBNY...but that wouldn't have arrived so quickly. So, what could it be?It was from Baker & Baker in Baraboo, Wisconsin! Baker & Baker is a rep agency that the company I work for uses to handle some of our industrial accounts. Headed by the ever-charming B. and his lovely and kind-hearted wife T., this surprise care package came packed to overflowing with treats from the recent fiber festival that T. had gone to. She's a fellow knitter, among other crafty things, and we had tossed around the idea of me going up for the festival and visiting with them. Unfortunately, we had the dates all wrong and the festival happened about a month before we thought it would. ANYWAY...T. decided to suprise me with this package.

Contained within, I found a small dropper of lavender oil, some soft black licorice pieces, a box of honey drops (which are just the coolest damn thing ever!) and a large hank of some scrumptous merino sock yarn by Creatively Dyed Yarn! I would never have chosen this color myself but it so snappy and I love it! This is why I love it when people chose yarns for me...I come to love and appreciate colors that I would never have gravitated towards. Not only am I going to make my next pair of socks out of this, but this yarn is also going to be added to the ongoing Sock Yarn Blanket as one the double-size squares! Thank you SO much, T.!

It's the little surprises that really make your day. Speckled flowers and snazzy yarn...what more could this boy ask for? Now, if you'll excuse me, it's my Friday off and I'm going back to bed now.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Self-Indulgent Colorways

Happy Sunday...I've come to the conclusion that 2-day weekends are entirely too short. I am fortunate to have a job where I get to have every other Friday off in exchange for 9-hour work days. I'd gladly do 10-hour days if it meant that I could have 3-day weekend every weekend.

First up, we have François Le Chat of the St. Louis Les Chats. Perhaps you've heard of them? No? Well, they're an off-shoot of the Manhattan Les Chats, of course. Very well known and well-connected stuffed cat family. Anyway, François has a twin brother, Pierre, who is currently visiting Yarndude in the Great North. Pierre wanted to see what was goin' down and experience the butt-ass cold winter, so I packed him up with the recent care package I sent and, well, there he is. I told him it was going to get cold...but he didn't seem to believe me.

In other news, I was re-reading yesterday's post and I have to apologize if it comes off sounding a bit self-indulgent. At least, that how it sounded to me. Not the first part, mind you...the time-capsule journal entry from 5 years ago...that part was fine. The second portion though, where I start waxing reminiscent and sounding like I'm in some hazy, opium-induced stupor reflecting back on what in my childhood has led me to where I am today. I don't mean at all to invalidate what I wrote...I will stand by it in a court of law...but it was not as well-organized or as well written as it could have been. Be that as it may, there it stands.

Next up, we have a brief update on the progress of the Swallowtail Shawl. It's coming along quite nicely, although I may need to add a few repeats of this initial motif in order to make the shawl shawl-sized. It calls for 14...what you see here is 9 or 10...I forget exactly. There are, I believe, 2 more motifs and then the edging. Or is it 1 more and the edging? I don't have the pattern in front of me...

I'm also seriously considering casting on for a second shawl project, this one being Gail (aka Nightsongs) by Jane Araújo. There are a couple minor tripping points to overcome before actually starting though. The first of these is the amount of commentary currently available for this pattern. For the non-knitter, it's usually not necessary to read up on a pattern before you strike out on the knitting adventure. That's kind of the whole point of having the pattern. You follow the instructions and/or the accompanying chart and go with it. With this pattern however, there are whole forums devoted to the myriad questions, comments, variations and corrections for this pattern. In short, a lot of people seem to have a lot of difficulty with this pattern. Hmm...oh, but I do love a challenge!

The second point to be determined is the choice of yarn...always an important point worthy of intense debate. I have two choices in mind, both with pros and cons:

Choice #1: Jojoland Harmony (left)
This is 100% merino wool, super soft with a lovely colorway (HC03) that moves subtly from light tan through a medium azure. Clocking in at a whopping 880 yards, there's no doubt there were would be more than enough yardage to complete any size shawl I chose to make. The one down size is that this is a super fine lace weight (9 stitches per inch!), more akin to sewing thread...which means either using super fine needles or have a super open motif.

Choice #2: Knit Picks Shadow - Sunset (right)
Also in 100% merino, this is kind of a luscious burnt cranberry hue with slight variations in color. This is standard lace weight, thicker than the other choice, thus solving the needle size/openness dilemma. However, the hank contains 440 yards, thus casting a wee bit o' doubt as to whether there's enough yardage to carry me through to the finish line. Now, we knitters, aside from almost always being willing to justify the purchase of more yarn with any excuse, especially if it's needed to finish a project, are also very good at coming up with imaginative choices to finish our projects without buying more of the same. In other words, if I come up short, I can always buy another hank of the same...or...having other colors of Shadow in my fiber arsenal, I could always pair this with another complimentary color. Here's a close-up for the colorways...you can also see the gauge difference:


At this point, I defer to public opinion. Voting is open:

a) Jojoland Harmony

OR

b) Knit Picks Shadow

Saturday, September 12, 2009

5 years ago...


125-MontStMichel
Originally uploaded by knittaPrince
Angers, France: September 13th, 2004

I haven’t seen my host family for about a week now, not since the last time Pascal and I discussed the assurance in the kitchen. I haven’t payed him yet, he hasn’t given me receipts and other documentation, and neither of us has sought the other out. It’s intimidates me to even knock on the family door simply because I don’t understand what they’re telling me and it’s so very important to understand. But therein lies the paradox…how can I understand what they’re saying without trying and practicing to understand? And how can I practice without reaching out and making an effort?

Do I want to go home? Do I want to try and live out this time in France without putting myself on a ledge? Without trying new things? Living as insulated and protected as I can? Can I really go back after 10 months abroad without having superior speaking and comprehension skills? How many people would be disappointed with me if I returned early or without the skills they expect me to have?


More importantly, could I live with myself? How do I reconcile the conflicting feelings I’m having? How to I calm the scared part of me and allow myself to become strong and outgoing?


How do I do anything?


My my, how things have changed! I recently rediscovered the journal I kept throughout my year in France and came upon this entry, made 5 years ago yesterday! It would have been near the end of my first month and, as you can tell, I was feeling very alien, very alone and very, very unsure about who I was or what I was capable of accomplishing. The experience was the best thing I could ever have done for myself in every possible way and I learned more about myself and left so much of an older version of me behind...and came back completely changed.

Well, not completely. There are fundamental, core aspects to a personality that are never changed. They're like the basic framework of a building around which everything else is built. And you can change the decor and paint walls...and even knock out a wall here and there to change the configuration...but somewhere, deep at the center of it all, I am fundamentally me.

I am fundamentally a solo pilot. My experiences...they're mine and I like them that way. My stories are my stories and I enjoy sharing them with others. I can play well with other but I usually prefer not to. Even on group adventures, I'll be the one to wander off and explore by myself. You might accompany me along the way, but you'd only be there an an accessory. There are few exceptions: Kort, because she is the air; Boyfriends, because they are the other half; Ki and Stacy, because they complete my foundation.

My parents were both conspicuously absent when I was growing up. My father in the physical sense; my mother in the emotional. Bless them both, neither was very good at being a parent but they did the best the could. What this meant for me was that as a child growing up in a rural Michigan town, I learned how to do for myself. I played and learned and lived by myself and, as a result, became fiercely independent.

I encounter challenges connecting with most people and developing close ties to them. I've already listed those to whom I am attached, but the rest of world is so often a mystery to me and one that I seem to naturally orbit around but rarely ever skim through. Crowds tax my energy and my patience; solitude and silence open doors to creativity and peace. The behavior of people in general fascinates me but I have no desire or skill to actively participate as a member of a community. Gay community, knit community...I participate in absentia, observing from the outskirts and occasionally as a passer-by or -through. I'm the slippery wicket that can't be pinned down.

In my advanced years, I'll be the kindly old man on the metaphoric fringe of town that no one is afraid of but whom they see only in passing as I totter around the yard or garden, knitting in the porch swing, waving to them as they walk past.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Road to Paternayan


August 5th, 2009
Originally uploaded by knittaPrince
It's Labor Day and in observance of this fine excuse for a day off, I'm boycotting the gym...which works out fine since my Dad decided yesterday that today would be a great day to come visit. He and my stepmom live just across the river on the Illinois side of the world, in a little po'dunk town. There are a lot of them over there, on that side of the river. Thinking about it for just a moment, I realize that the rest of my crazy family all live in tiny towns...my sister in Michigan, my dad in Illinois and my mom in Texas. All small towns...and I have to wonder why? Actually, I don't wonder at all...it's enough for me to know that I prefer city life. I am a city dweller not because I love the frenetic pace or bustling activity. I just prefer to be around stuff and in a general location where the mindset is a little more cosmopolitan that you would usually find in a small town. Around this section of the Midwest, the small town mentality is not so much quaint as it is just plain scary.

So, let's talk yarn. It's one of my favorite subjects and I know it is for you, too. I'm going to walk you through the ardous labor of love that is Paternayan. It's sounds almost yogic and I suppose it could be viewed as meditative...or it could just be that I tend to think of most of the things I do as meditative. Anyway, the story goes that once upon a time not to long ago, during one of my visits to the Illinois side, during one of our usual coffee and cigarette sessions (before I quit smoking), my stepmom tosses into my lap a hank like the one you see here......and asks if I can possibly use it for something. I scoff and her implied suggestion that maybe I couldn't use it because c'mon...it's wool yarn. It's not as if she's giving me some crappy acrylic, this is wool, so of course I can use it! At the time, I had never heard of Paternayan and was completely unfamiliar with the yarn. My stepmom then brought out a small trash bag full to over-flowing with more hanks of this stuff in all kinds of colors! Upon closer inspection, I noticed this worsted weight yarn was comprised of three loosely twisted strands, which led to the idea to split them apart, thus making it 3 times the amount in lace weight. Great idea! But how do you split an entire hank into three balls without making a bloody, tangled mess?
Like with all hanks, I first needed to transform it from its beautiful, braid-like self into a self-respecting ball. This is the easiest step...even though I don't have a swift or a ball-winder. Just pull your knees up, keep the hank taut...and get goin! And in no time (or maybe 15 minutes), tah-dah! Once the ball has been establish, I found the three ends. It's not hard to do as they practically scream "Here I am..." I start by taking one end in the left hand, the other 2 in the right (or vice versa...it doesn't matter) and I pull them in opposite directions. At some point not too very far in this step, the slight twist in the main line will travel down the line, concentrating until it's impossible to split them any further. At this point, I need my first clothespin. Attaching the clothespin at the nexus prevents the twist from travelling back up the yarn, thus avoiding a possibly disasterous tangle. I've got a whole ball to work through...do I really want to wrestle with tangles so early?With the clothespin in place and at least one free thread, I can start winding it around its own clothespin. This needs to be done in such a way as to ensure even coverage. Don't wrap it too tight or you won't be able to open the clothespin at all. Why do I need to open it?Well, to secure the yarn, of course! Once I've wrapped all of the slack, I use the clothespin to secure the end and hold it in place so it doesnt unwind as I work with the other 2 threads.Once the first thread is wound and secure, I separate the other two threads from one another and wind them around their own clothespins in an identical fashion. Again, make sure the nexus clothespin doesn't slip. Here we have 2 threads wound...
...and finally, all three. Once all three separated threads have been wound, I remove the nexus pin and, holding the main yarn tight against the ball, I hold the ball up in the air with enough space for the three pins to hang below it. The pins will begin to spin, thus releasing the excessive twist that concentrated in the main line as I separated the individual strands. Make sense, so far? You have to release the twist in order to be able to pull the strands apart.So, fast-forward a bit...I repeat the process, over and over. Separate, wind, untwist...separate, wind, untwist. Here's the process about halfway through...roughly two hours after having wound the original ball. You can see the twist in the main line in the upper left, enough to make it twist upon itself.Patience and perseverence are the two things needed to successfully make it through the whole ball without it becoming a tangled mess. Remember, one of the goals is to not have to cut the threads for any reason. Ideally, I want three balls of continuous, unbroken lace weight.So...did that all make sense? It all comes down to how much work was I willing to put in to garner 3 balls of FREE lace weight yarn? Well, apparently, I'm willing to pu in quite a bit of work, actually...because I've split about 6 hanks thus far...and there are probably close to 3 dozen more waiting in that trash bag! Here's the thimble recap: you start with the hank...
...and about 4 hours later, you end up with a litter of lace weight balls, all with their own little clothespins. As an additional step, I usually rewind the balls so as not to include the clothespins before I put them into my stash.
And what do I do with so much lace weight? I knit shawls...here's some progess I've made on the Swallowtail Shawl I started a couple days ago...and, yes...I am using Paternayan to make it!