Tuesday, September 26, 2006

knitting update

Sorry for so few posts lately. Just haven't been in the mood.

The knitting story focuses on socks.

-The Super Secret Socks for Someone are mostly done. One was finished, but then I had to take it apart because I didn't have enough of the right color of yarn to get the second sock to be long enough and still match in color. So, I ripped out the first sock and cut and pasted (er...not really with paste) in some appropriate yarn and finished it again. But I bound it off too tightly so now it won't fit onto anyone's foot, so I have to fix that. In the meantime, I'm finishing the second sock. These poor socks!

-The Retro Rib sock is slowly but surely being completed on the bus. I'm about halfway through with the leg. It's slow going with the fine yarn and the ribbed pattern and the not-long-enough bus rides to and from work, which sometimes are completely consumed with slowly sipping coffee to make me wake up.

So goes knitting...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

starry night and the man

Look what's off the needles and on my person:This is the Starry Night sweater, which I've been working on and setting aside and working on a little more for far too long. I saw this pattern in a little, obscure book called Sweaters from the Maine Islands by Chellie Pingree and Debbie Anderson. I found the book in the library and have checked it out probably 10 times, usually just to look at the pictures and read the comments. I don't know what it is about this sweater, but it just grabbed me. Maybe because I love blue?

Another theory is about "the man." The authors of the pattern book write about how they have tons of people stop by and ask them who the man is who is modeling the sweater in one of the photos. When the authors tell them he's a neighbor, the questioners say they want to move to the island, too. I can't tell you who the man is, but I realized just the other day that he is also in another knitting pattern book I own! Again, the sweaters he is modeling I would really like to knit. They're simple, a little cabling, nothing special. So maybe it is the man!!

And thus some introspection... What is it about this man that makes everyone so drawn to him? He is not a Brad Pitt lookalike. We have no clue about his abs - he is wearing a sweater, for crying out loud! It's not that he's "hot" or even "cute," which seem to be draws for many women. He looks like...a dad. A clean haircut, a neat moustache atop a kind grin, and a sweater. That's it!

Perhaps it's just that he represents feelings of calmness, security, tenderness, and contentment through some combination of looks, facial expressions, and wardrobe.

All I know for sure is that I like the sweater (although I may redo the stars on my version) and I would love to experience a taste of Maine Island life.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Thursday, September 14, 2006

hungary - clickety-click!*

After Vienna, we drove to Budapest, Hungary. This city is a lot like Pittsburgh. There's a river (the Danube) that flows through the city and separates the semi-flat part from the really-big-hills part.And to get up that big hilly part, you can take an "incline" (they call it by the real name, funicular, over there...)And once you go up that big hill, there are some wonderful views.Due to the river, there are lots of bridges, which light up at night.There is also an intriguing mix of old and new.There are floods.And beautiful churches.However, I suppose you could say there are similarities between other cities. For example, how often do you see this sign?
that's for you, amber and dave!
One of my favorite memories about Budapest is the key-card holder in our hotel room.You have to put the card in the holder to get the electricity to work in the room (a good idea, by the way)!

*Thanks to some remembered/just-learned HTML coding, the pictures are a little more interesting now, and I can make pictures come up when you click on words! Take a peek.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

nothing to do with my travels

Okay...I just gotta pause and say: EVERYONE is having babies!! Well, not everyone, but so many people from multiple parts of my life. Behold:
  • If you walk down the hall, you'll find two women in another lab - both expecting.
  • If you go to my classes, you won't find the two women from my graduate program who are soon to have their first children, because they're already on maternity leave (or have reached writing-thesis-time).
  • If you peruse the blogs of knitting people, you'll find three women who are getting ready to add to their families! It's very weird; every time I stop on by to check out a blog I haven't read in a while, I see...she's pregnant, too!
It's an epidemic!! Good thing I don't know all these people better, otherwise I'd have a ton of knitting to do! ...On second thought, perhaps I'll make a few baby things for them anyhow... On third thought, I already have a ton of knitting to do without the babies!!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

tuesday is knitting day!

Yes, that's right, Tuesday is knitting day. And so...that must mean I found a yarn store in Vienna!

I did, and it was amazing. Not that the store was awe-ispiring, but I wasn't even looking for a yarn shop when I ran across it. I had been having the worst luck trying to find yarn stores that were on the big list I had brought with me, so I had all but given up on investing much time in gathering yarn in Europe. But as Lori and I walked down the street from our Viennese hotel to get to a coffee spot, THERE ONE WAS! With Opal sock yarn in the window. Perfect!

What was imperfect was that it was closed, but even that wasn't horrid, because the sign said (in German) that it would open the next day at 8 in the morning (I thought; I can't really read German). And, fortunate for me, our bus wasn't leaving the hotel until 8:15, so I would have enough time to run down the street, pick out something, and get back to the bus.

That's what I did. It was, of course, raining and yucky outside, and the store-owner had been caught up so the store didn't open until a little past 8 (not a big deal except when your bus leaves for Hungary at 8:15!), but she arrived soon and I had enough time and euros to purchase two balls of Opal.And instead of waiting until I get to Amsterdam in my recounting of the trip, I'll just go ahead and say I found a sweet shop in a very lovely part of Amsterdam.De Afstap carries lots of Rowan yarn, and I thus treated myself to some Kidsilk Haze, which I once had been given as a gift/prize, and which I had stupidly given away to someone else without fully appreciating its amazingness. It's made of kid mohair and silk, and that's even better than my favorite alpaca. But it's expensive!! It's a tad less expensive closer to the source (Rowan is from England, just a 3-hour drive from Amsterdam - and yes, you can drive there if you pop your auto on a train through the chunnel), PLUS they carry some shades I haven't been able to find in the U.S. The wrapper around mine actually says it's Kidsilk "Spray" - which just means it's not solid blue but has multiple blue colors.As you can see, I also grabbed some blue Regia sock yarn and a little cross-stitch kit to make something that looks like it came off a Delft plate.

Perhaps the best news about returning from my trip was that both MagKnits and Knitty had new issues out within a week of my touching down in Pittsburgh. And guess how many sock patterns are in these two web-zines? SEVEN! Plus, and added bonus because there's an article on knitting two socks at once (not on circular needles), which I've been trying to figure out how to do for a long time.

...Aah, socks. Yay. That pair I'm working on for a gift is about 75% done; I had to rip out the heel yesterday because I somehow royally messed it up - it's the last of four short-row dealings I had to do, why is it I can't seem to handle the fourth one??? You'd think I would have taken care of any issues on the technique during times one, two, and three. ...Aah, socks...

Monday, September 11, 2006

in vienna

The next stop on the European Tour was Vienna, Austria.

Austria was my favorite country on the trip (even better than the Netherlands, which is saying quite a bit because of my deep-seated love for Holland, being of Dutch descent). Austria has everything - beautiful lakes, thriving farmland, awesome mountains, and wonderful cities to boot. Vienna certainly was a wonderful city.

The day we arrived was gorgeous. We made a dash for the Lipizzaner Spanish Riding School, which is in the same palace complex as some government things and I think other royal stuff.In case you don't know or forgot, the Lipizzaners are Spanish horses (not some royal Austrian family you rarely hear about!), and Vienna is the home of a riding school where only these horses are used. Why only these horses? And why in Vienna? The story goes that the king who first brought these horses to the area (he was a Hapsburg, I'm sure) was educated in Spain (or was from Spain...? All that inter-marrying gets confusing) and wanted to bring Spanish riding along with him. If I understand correctly, he also brought some Spanish horses, which are fairly stocky (think: not thoroughbred racers), and started a stud farm in the best place possible which happened to be called Lipizzia (located in present-day Slovenia). And so...he started a riding school in Vienna, and from those first horses, more and more have been bred.

It was really neat to see the school, to learn about some of the theory behind their training, to hear how the horses are treated like "employees" (they had just come back from their annual 2-month vacation out on a farm, away from the demands of their work at the school/stables), and to see the beautiful horses. We didn't get a chance to see them practice or perform, but we did get to see what most people don't: the cat that lives in their barn.

After the horses, we took a walk around one of the "Ring-Roads" that go around the central part of the old city. Many famous buildings are there, including the opera house. And this place, which I forget what it's called, but it was pretty and isn't the sky a gorgeous blue??After some more sight-seeing, we went to the hotel and went to find a coffeeshop to have some "kaffee melagne" (I must note that I don't think I ever had a proper version of this) and cake. And at night we went to a concert where we heard tons of Strauss (there were many Strausses, all from Vienna) and, in celebration of his 250th birthday, Mozart. Very wonderful.

The next morning, when we stepped out of the hotel, we found the blue sky of the previous day had turned a very ugly grey. It was under these drizzly skies that we went to the summer palace (of the Hapsburgs...it's yellow; in case you wonder, that's the color of the Hapsburgs).It was much nicer to be inside. We had a lovely tour of the palace and heard lots of stories about the people who lived there.

We also took a short stroll through the gardens, which were all wet (and have a hedge maze!! We didn't find it, but it's there!!), and which were hit by something like 240 bombs during The War. The house palace was hit by only one. I found this very interesting and don't quite know what it means.There was one other stop during my time in Vienna, but you'll have to wait for tomorrow to find out what that was. You do know what Tuesday is, don't you?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

what language do they speak in prague

One of my favorite stories of the trip occurred in Prague.

The night we arrived in the city, we went directly to our hotel, which was situated up on a big hill (a lot like Mt. Washington in Pittsburgh). Lori and I strolled with a fellow groupie up and down the road looking for a small store, but found nothing except gigantic snails.The next morning we went into the city and were treated to an historical and architectural tour of the city by a local guide. The most interesting thing about Prague, I felt, was also very sad. It is largely undamaged by the events of World War II. Adolf Hitler chose Prague as the one Jew-filled city he would not destory, to serve as a reminder for the generations to come of "an Extinct Race." Appropriately, we visited the Jewish area of town and saw some old synagogues.

We also visited a square filled with tourists to watch the striking of the Astronomical Clock, which incorporates a variety of Christian and pagan ideas into a timepiece that tells the time, the phase of the moon, which astrological sign is in season, and other stuff.When the clock strikes, various figures "dance" and a rooster crows, although the rooster sounded a lot like a really weak trumpet to me.

The most beautiful parts of Prague were the riverfront......and the castle up on the hill (Prague Castle), which includes a large variety of buildings including a magnificent cathedral.From the Castle, you can see just how huge the city is.The most amazing part was that inside the cathedral at Prague Castle is a wood-carving dating from no later than 1630 depicting the city -- and it looks EXACTLY the same!! Well, okay, no skyscrapers out in the distance and no tremendous metronome sitting on top of hills, but it was completely recognizeable, right down to the distinctive roof tiles.

So, what's the story I love about this city? Well...it occured the evening after our sight-seeing. Lori and I chose to take public transportation back into the city to see Prague at night. And thus, we bought some bus tickets and followed the directions to the bus stop near our hotel. We hopped the bus, but we soon realized that we were going the wrong way (which, by the way, I must say is quite a feat in and of itself. Everything is in Czech, the official language of the Czech Republic. Czech is wholly unrecognizeable if you only know English, and even if you know a little Slovakian like Lori, it still makes about zero sense. We were clued in that we were going the wrong way because of the little signs in the bus saying which stops were coming up. We could see the end of the list, but we could not see our stop! And thanks to an on-board route map, I soon realized that indeed we were headed in the wrong direction, but --), but we could get off and transfer to a metro line that would take us where we wanted to go quite easily.

"Quite easily" in theory. Because when we exited the bus, we expected to find the metro station or at least a sign indicating that the metro was at the corner or at the very, very least a sign showing how to get to the metro station that the route map said was there. But we found none of the above. Right about then I started to get a little, tiny bit apprehensive. I had my small booklet of Czech phrases which included "Where is the metro", but the problem was that I could not figure out how to pronounce a single Czech word in the booklet. I suddenly found myself in a foreign country, unable to say anything except "Thanks!", fully aware that many people did not speak English, anticipating the sunset at any moment, in a neighborhood about which I had no concept of the crime rate. My gut instinct was to cry out "DOES ANYBODY SPEAK ENGLISH?!?!?!?!" but instead I went with Lori into the grocery store at the corner.

This was the location of the Funniest Thing Ever. Recall the scene: quite-frightened Ruth (it takes a lot of get me actually feeling "frightened") with Lori (who, at this point, was probably thinking "And Ruth wanted to go into Prague via public transit why???????"), both of whom had not the faintest idea how to ask about the location of a metro, much less understand the instructions if and when they were given in Czech. ...We entered the store and approached the man at the cashier. We managed something like, "English?" To which he responded, "No English; espaƱol."

EspaƱol?!??!?! Was he kidding? Were we not in the middle of the Czech Republic? Were we not surrounded by people who only spoke a language from a completely separate language family? Could this guy actually speak the one and only language other than English in which I know how to speak semi-meaningful sentences?

Suddenly it was like the sky had opened up. Communication was instantly possible. I felt like I could move to Madrid at a moment's notice. I immediately asked, "¿Donde esta el...?" but realized I didn't know the Spanish word for "metro"!! So I just said metro.

And then...strangely enough, the man who had just finished paying for his groceries, turned around and said, "Here, I will show you how to get there." Oh for crying out loud!

But at least I was reassured of my Spanish-speaking skills. I have never had an absolute need to speak in Spanish, and I've often wondered if I could get by if I was required to use the language. And...in this instance...I passed the test. It was an easy test, but still quite gratifying.

The rest of the trip was less eventful. We eventually got to the metro (after first going down a ramp to what we thought was the metro but what turned out to me an underground entrance to a store that had the same emblem as Food Lion) and into town. Prague at night is very different than Prague in the daylight. The thousands of people who were squeezed into the narrow streets during the day were now huddled inside cafes and bars. Those who were outside were admiring the river.

Eventually we got back to the hotel without any further adventure. The next morning we packed up and headed south to Vienna. At some point in time during our stay in the Czech Republic the bus stopped at a gas station with this sign.Deciphering the meaning of the lowest left-hand figure serves as a great reminder about my language woes.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

old stuff

The saga of my European trip continues...

What I did not mention (much) yesterday is that Lori and I were on a Cosmos tour. This Cosmos tour, to be precise. That meant we didn't need to find hotels or transportation or guides or many meals. I love convenience! Our tour group consisted of around 38 individuals, plus our Italian bus driver (because Italians are the best drivers), Donato (incidentally, also the name of my second most favorite pizza place), and our Slovenian tour director, Martina, who told us more details about the areas we visited than I could ever have enjoyed in high school history class. (That is to say, history was never my favorite subject growing up, but now that I'm older, I'm rather intrigued to find out how the events of yesteryear combine to produce what I see today.)

The good and bad thing about a bus tour is that the bus stops every two hours for a "comfort stop," a.k.a. legally required break for the driver in the guise of a chance to use the bathroom. The stops on this particular trip were actually quite well planned. For example, during our 7 hour trip between Munich and Prague, our first stop was in Nuremberg, Germany, where we not only had time to empty our bladder, we also got to explore the vicinity of this cute city. I indulged in the I guess famous "Lebkuchen," a very yummy gingerbread (although it has peanuts, of which I'm not a big fan in this context). And, I visited the grounds of a castle up on a big hill, which was built into rock. See!There were some really nice views from the wall around the castle garden, too, and this photo captures the mix of old and modern that was the theme of all the cities I would visit.But Nuremberg was simply a stop, and soon we were back on the bus headed to Prague!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

suitcases and bags

Last night I went to bed around 9:30. This morning, as I was running out the door around 6:45a.m. to catch my bus, I did a double take, because right there in front of my neighbor's door was...my luggage! I wasn't completely surprised, because I had called about it last night and got a recorded message that it was all found and would be delivered within 6 hours of 5:30p.m. Being that I hadn't heard anything from the airline, I didn't really trust that this would actually occur, but apparently, according to my voice mail, the luggage was dropped off at 11:00p.m. (Why would someone be going to a house at 11p.m., even if it were within that 6 hour window...??) I didn't have time to dig through and make sure everything was in my two bags, but I did have enough time to pull out my contacts and my USB cable!

So - pictures! Yay!

As with any trip, it all starts with packing. And thus...my suitcase, with my favorite dog of all time, Corkie. He has lived with me since I was about 1 year old, and he travels pretty much everywhere I go, although he doesn't take to traveling quite as well as he used to. This trip, for example, some of his insides came out.You can see how I carefully packed my big bag of warn and the all-important Interweave Knits magazine. Only the essentials here, folks.

Corkie was pretty happy when we arrived in Munich and saw that dogs were allowed (on and off leashes) in the airport.Once my co-worker and travel partner, Lori, arrived on her separate flight, we went to our hotel and then rode the S-Bahn into Munich.Once in Munich, we ate some bratwurst and dropped into a yarn store that didn't have what I want - I was looking for Regia Canadian Colors at the Ludwig Beck store, but I think that line isn't available anymore. Instead, we went to the Residenz, which has nothing to do with knitting. We did see the crown jewels and a really cool shell-encrusted mosaic in a courtyard.It's kind of sad that a lot of the stuff at the Residenz, including perhaps this, were damaged or destroyed in World War II.

I suppose if we were proper Munich tourists we would have visited a beer garden. However, we did not. But, the next day as we traveled away from Munich and towards Prague, I did get a picture of what was growing on either side of the Autobahn: hops.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

mostly back

My self and my carry-ons (including a set of double-pointed bamboo needles with lots of sock-yarn) arrived safely in Pittsburgh at about 11p.m. Eastern on Saturday night. The trip was looooooong (I awoke at 12a.m. Eastern on Saturday morning in Amsterdam), and filled with several security checks and a delayed flight, but nothing horrible except that my checked luggage did not arrive with me. British Airways has been under enough stress these past couple weeks, I am not terribly upset. And I'm quite sure it will all return to me soon enough.

Unfortunately, one of the items in my lost luggage is the USB connector that goes between my digital camera and the computer, so my photos are currently trapped on the camera and its memory cards. Sorry...! I'm going to wait to go on about the trip until I have pictures to go along with the text. It will be much more enjoyable that way, I'm sure.

However, being that it's a Tuesday, and that means knitting day here, I must tell you without pictures about my knitting escapades!

Essentially, the trip to Europe was all about socks! I took along two projects that were already on the needles - the Aran sweater and the second Retro Rib sock. But they're on metal needles, and I didn't want to risk trying to get those through security, so I went out and bought some bamboo double-pointed needles small enough to knit socks on. I put those, a ball of sock yarn, and the generic toe-up instructions from Knitty into my little bag and happily waltzed through the security checkpoint and to my gate. I was about three hours early. Better early than late, right?

Well, the three hours allowed me enough time to figure out that I hadn't measured my feet in a while and had no idea how many inches I wanted to make the sock circumference. And it allowed me to use the few resources I had to measure my foot by wrapping yarn around, marking how long it was, and then "measuring" against a piece of paper I knew to be 8.5 inches across. In the end, I was pretty much on, although I might have scared a few people by taking off my shoes and socks in the waiting area. The rest of the three hours were spent casting on (here was another moment of genius -- I had no scrap yarn with which to cast on my provisional stitches, and so...I used some of the dental floss that I had made sure to pack because the little break-the-floss-off thing works wonderfully in lieu of scissors, but unlike scissors can actually be legally taken on a plane) and starting the toe, only to realize that I had not read any of the directions and had cast on only half the number of stitches and was now making a toe for a sock that might possibly fit a thin earthworm. By the time I got on the plane, I had figured out my errors and was ready to cast on and start the sock for real!

These socks became my primary project for the rest of the trip, with a few breaks from the repetition of "all stockinette, all the time" with the sweater and the patterned socks. I was amazed that me in my knitting slowness actually finished one whole sock! And cast on the second one! I also over-estimated my capacity to knit when I brought along another ball of sock yarn I had purchased during my travels, in expectation of finishing this second sock and needing more yarn to work with. That certainly did not happen. (Incidentally, the casting on of Sock Two was even more traumatic than sock one, because it was done on the planes back to Pittsburgh, and I couldn't find the floss, although when I landed the floss was right where it should have been in my carry on! I discovered that if you wrap yarn around the button of your jeans and yank really hard, you can get a pretty smooth break and even stranger looks than when measuring your foot with yarn and paper.)

You'd have thought that I would have just gone and finished Sock Two in the two-day recovery period following my return flights (hooray for Sunday and Labor Day!!), but instead I set to work finishing the Starry Night sweater that had been sitting at home the whole time. This involved a little bit of embroidery and the knitting of a collar and much weaving in of ends. And then, being lazy and impatient, I decided not to block the sleeves (disaster waiting to happen?) and just sewed them onto the body of the sweater. I was sewing up the side seams last night while watching The Prisoner of Azkaban on my computer (I have no DVD player...and effectively no television, because the box that should be a t.v. doesn't get any channels) when my brother called, and once we started talking I realized I was exhausted, even though it was only 9p.m. So I tossed aside the sweater begrudgingly and went to bed.

...Maybe tonight the sweater will be finished! Good thing, because it's getting rather chilly. Not really autumn-cold, but a high of 70F instead of 90F as it was before I left for Europe. I like it. Sweater weather is more than welcome in my neighborhood! Bring it on!!