Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Paris to Langeville

On my last morning in Paris, I packed up, crammed myself onto the tiny Tiquetonne elevator and departed for Gare Montparnasse, arriving ridiculously early as is usual for me and rather frantic for a washroom. The place was packed and my train not yet on the board so I got a fabulous coffee and watched the scene as I waited. Twice I got into longish conversations with people asking me questions about the trains...French people, in French! Guess I have succeeded in not looking too much like a tourist. The train was finally posted - about 20 minutes before departure - and I headed down the platform. The 2nd class cars are always the farthest from the main station so I no longer panic when it seems like I might have to walk all the way to my destination. It was a quiet trip except for an incident just past Le Mans when a suitcase fell from the overhead rack a couple of seats ahead of mine and clobbered the poor woman sitting below. The French despite their celebrated reserve, flocked to help her and she was well fussed over for the rest of the journey. Yet another reason to pick the window seat...

My friend Françoise was waiting faithfully for me on the platform at Les Sables d'Olonne, a minor miracle in my view since we hadn't been in touch for weeks....nothing since "my train arrives at 2:30 on Sunday, the 7th". This is the third time we have met in France like this so I'm less nervous now about it actually coming to pass although I had the "de rigueur" thought, what would be my next step if she doesn't show? We did a little vehicle tour of Les Sables d'Olonne, a beach town with some interesting buildings from the 30's and many seashell mosaics along the walls of the narrow streets, kitschy but old enough to be cool too. There was a parade being marshalled at the waterfront with some modest floats and a flock of local girls wearing clogs, colourful folk costumes and lace coifs on their heads. Local boys were also dressed up in folk costume and were practising their music on the Breton style bagpipes and horns, quite thrilling to hear in that context but not what everyone would call tuneful, a harsh, compelling sound. The beach was spectacular, a long curve of white sand around the bay bordered with low rise hotels and apartments, some art deco but most newer and pretty cheesy up close. The beach is obviously the main attraction here as the town doesn't have a whole lot of character. It was a gorgeous sunny day but the wind was strong and blowing sand made it less than pleasant near the water so we didn't wait around for the parade to begin and headed off to Langeville where Françoise's family owns a summer home.

Beach near Langeville

As I would learn, Langeville looks pretty much the same as most of the towns in the area: tidy, white stucco houses with blue shutters, red tile roofs, all in the low lying flat landscape of the Vendée shoreline. There didn't seem to be much to do or see in walking distance aside from the beach which was again, spectacular: miles of white sand backed by dunes backed in turn by deciduous forest. Here and there, crumbling blockhouses from World War II poke up out of the dunes. Although sunny the weather was a bit on the cool side so most houses remained shuttered and it was very quiet. The house was lovely and comfortable, full of antique French country furniture, beautiful linens on the beds and the accumulations of a much-loved and long-used family retreat. Françoise has been summering here since she was a teenager so it is pretty much in her blood.

White stucco, blue shutters and red tile roofs at La Tranche-sur-Mer

We spent the week walking, reading, napping, eating, lying on the beach, drinking wine and in my case, knitting while listening to audiobooks on my iPod. Each evening there was the almost ritual closing of the shutters once we were ready to go to bed, often before sunset. With no daylight saving and it being almost the solstice, it was daylight until almost 11PM. Between the tranquility, the gentle rhythm of the days, the comfortable bed and the darkness that only shutters on the windows can provide, I slept like a child, wakening to bird song. The second day of our stay, there was a huge windstorm and we actually lit a fire in the fireplace and hunkered down under blankets, quite content. When we walked through the forest the next day there were branches on the path and the beach was covered in fluffy white foam from the pounding waves of the day before.

Foamy beach at Jard-sur-Mer

The week slid by, serene, quietly delightful, laid-back. On the last day, Françoise drove me to La Rochelle where I was to fly to Dublin to meet my guy. It was a very hot day and it was farther than anticipated - partly because of poor navigation on my part. La Rochelle is a lovely city, reminding me of St. Malo but built of white stone rather than grey, giving it a sunny southern aspect. Much of the new world exploration in the age of discovery left from here and the city was celebrating its links with Quebec this summer...I was pleasantly surprised to see the Quebec flag flying at the harbour.
Exposition at La Rochelle on the expeditions to New France

Quebec flag flies over the harbour at La Rochelle

After a nice lunch outside the cathedral, we wandered the back streets of the old city, climbed the ramparts at the mouth of the harbour and enjoyed the cool shady arcades until it was time for my flight.
Harbour gate, La Rochelle

Inner harbour, La Rochelle

Ramparts of La Rochelle

The La Rochelle-Ile de Ré airport was tiny with nowhere to sit, packed full of people with questions and no staff to provide answers, everyone overheated and anxious. People in Ryanair uniforms sailed busily about the room, unresponsive to pleas for assistance. Guess that's how Ryanair is able to offer those low fares, not that my fare was particularly a bargain. I had dutifully checked in online the day before using my iPhone and was assured on the website that I could print my boarding pass at the airport. At the airport there appeared to be no facility for printing and as for staff to clarify my next step, see above. Nothing for it but to wait with growing apprehension then make sure I was at the front of the line when the flight was called. I couldn't even settle down enough to knit, which is really saying something for me, in spite of it being World Wide Knitting in Public Day.
The agent barely listened to my story, sending me with a form to a different desk to "pay for printing my boarding pass" (30 euros!!!) and to "have my visa checked" (what visa!??)! By the time the stone faced woman at the counter deigned to serve me, my patience had quite evaporated. Speaking French was beyond me and while I didn't raise my voice, I was very firm. I laid out the sorry tale ending with "now it seems I have to pay another 30 euros and I am not happy". She met my eye, assessing my outrage, I glared back, she kind of hitched one shoulder in that French way, rolled her eyes, pounded a "Paid" stamp on my form, and shooed me away, all without uttering a word. For a minute, I couldn't quite believe I'd managed to get my way. The lesson? Have your say, don't yell, don't back down and to hell with polite and accommodating.

Too bad my France sojourn had to end on this sour note. It will be a long time before I put myself in the hands of Ryanair again. Mostly I've had exceptionally good experiences with the budget airlines in Europe. They fly between smaller cities without routing through the large airport hubs and while the fares are not all that small once all the extras are added on, they make it up in convenience. At least I got in my knitting, finishing up the first of what I'm calling my Langeville Sunset Socks in the mercifully cool departure lounge and during the flight to Dublin.

...and next, Ireland...

Friday, July 17, 2009

Paris Encore

London to Paris:

Off to St. Pancras early in the morning after a rerun of previous day's breakfast - I really don't like canned baked beans...I don't even like looking at them first thing! And I would have killed for a real coffee. Fortunately, they have lots of nice coffee establishments in St. Pancras Station so with a nice hefty cappuccino in hand, I went off to check in, where I was immediately headed off by the nice security men - no drinks in the lounge. I was ridiculously early as usual, so I found a nice bench along the beautiful open concourse and finished drinking my coffee in relative peace.

Passed through French customs without incident, into the overcrowded lounge (did they not know how many people fit on one of those trains when they built the place? And while St. Pancras is very old on the outside, it is brand spanking new inside!) then onto the train. A young Asian woman sat beside me with her parents sitting across the aisle and they conversed in their language for the first part of the trip...turned out they were Malaysian, she had been educated in the U.S. and was a physician and nowhere near as young as she appeared. They were visiting Paris for the first time and were using the French edition of "The Book of Steves" as we have taken to referring to Rick Steves guide books (more on that later) and were staying near Rue Cler near the Eiffel Tower as he recommends.

The Eurostar was nothing exceptional as European fast trains go...comfortable, fast, on time. As for the Chunnel, I had expected an extraordinary experience but after the requisite time speeding through the English countryside, it gets dark outside the train for a half hour or so then one is speeding through the French countryside. The greater pleasure is that the Eurostar takes less time than flying and it is pretty much downtown to downtown. When I arrived in Paris, I was able to walk downhill from Gare du Nord to my hotel near Les Halles without any trouble and without recourse to other transportation.

My room in the Hotel Tiquetonne for this stay was on the top floor, the 7th, reached by a teeny slow jerky little elevator or an interminable winding staircase. Over the rooftops, I could see the Eiffel Tower, hazy in the distance. The room was under the angle of the roof and set back from the eaves with casement windows that opened wide for air (no AC) and the sounds of the unseen street below wafted up to me. Rue Montorgueil with its shops and restaurants was just around the corner but sadly, the quartier has become very touristy since my last stay in 2004. The feel of a residential area has pretty much gone with some of the fine old restaurants replaced by fast food joints and tourist claptrap outlets. Bands of older teenagers roam the streets at night and the drunken clamour goes on until daybreak. That said, the Tiquetonne is ideally placed for walking the city and I went out every day with my deck of walking cards from City Walks Paris to discover parts of the city hitherto unknown to me. Best of the few I had time to undertake was the Butte aux Cailles area, with its neighbourhood feel and the charming Villa Daviel, a whole row of adorable rose-adorned single family cottages on a dead end lane. On a different expedition, the card for the Trocadéro directed me to the Allee des Cygnes, a walkway that runs the length of a very long narrow island in the Seine. James Joyce used to go there for strolls to clear his head and these days, young families and people walking dogs take the air. Near the Jardin des Plantes I visited a Roman arena, the Arènes de Lutèce, and beneath the stone tiers of seats in the centre ring where gladiators and chariot races once entertained the Roman occupiers, neighbourhood children now play informal soccer matches and men gossip over their petanque.

View from the Tiquetonne - can you find the Eiffel Tower? Hint: it's in the right third of the photo.

Les Arènes de Lutèce

Allee des Cygnes

Villa Daviel

Besides these more obscure pleasures, I window shopped along the very tony Rue du Passy, hung out for awhile by the Eiffel Tower, eyed the stratospherically priced designer offerings along the Boulevard Haussmann, walked by the Elysée Palace, home to France's presidents, like a fortress with the small army of security personnel choking the surrounding streets. I couldn't help but wonder if Carla Bruni is at all dismayed by the way she must live now, cloistered inside, in absolute luxury and comfort but always fenced in, enveloped, never able to slip out the back door for a quick walk up the Champs Elysée.

I browsed through the divinely presented food offerings at Fauchon on the Place de la Madeleine - these people have the tortured food thing down to a science. This is where I picked up a box of their miniature pastel meringues as a hostess gift for Françoise, knowing how much the French appreciate these little luxuries, and pretty certain I would have the opportunity to try a few myself. Sharing food is almost the main point of eating for the French - huge generalization, I realize, but it is something I have noted on many occasions in France. Rituals surrounding food and its preparation are of equal importance to food-as-nourishment to a much greater degree than in North America although that is something that is changing for the better in North America and unfortunately, for the worse in France.

And that's what was missing from my explorations of Paris - a bit of company, someone to break bread with. As much as I love the city and as happy as I am to follow none but my own agenda, I was lonely at times, a bit triste. Daytime was too full for much reflection but it would have been nice to have a companion for the evening meal. As it was, I took to buying a few supplies and picnicking in my room or in a park rather than sit alone at a table in a restaurant.

Carrousel in the Jardin du Ranelagh

to be continued...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

European Interlude

Back at last...what a busy few months it's been since I last posted. There have been some travels, most notably to England, France and Ireland for the month of June. The plans for this trip came together somewhat piecemeal. I had a large credit with Air Canada that had to be used by June 7th, left over from a trip to Quebec last August that had to be cancelled due to our dog Daisy's first big health crisis. Usually I go to France in April or May to have a French immersion experience with students and former students from the French Diploma Program at the University of Victoria, led by my teacher and friend Françoise. A group of us stay in a gîte in the French countryside, speak nothing but French to each other while shopping and participating in activities intended to put us in contact with local people and have the opportunity to practice French as it is really spoken (3 entries from the 2007 trip to Brittany at my Aventure En France blog). It is most effective in improving conversational skills as it is pretty much impossible to sustain that careful translation in your head before speaking...one must listen hard then jump in if one is to have any kind of a conversation, even if it's just to buy the day's bread at the local boulangerie, and be prepared to be laughed at or not understood.

This year, there weren't enough people to make up a group and I had resigned myself to not going when Françoise, bless her heart, invited me to come and stay with her at her family's vacation home in Langeville on France's Atlantic coast. She goes to visit family in Angers every year and then winds down at the seashore from her busy teaching year. I happily accepted and went on to plan the rest of the trip since the roughly two weeks involved was, to my mind, not enough to justify the agony of jet lag...three weeks is my minimum. I had hoped that my partner, who was tied up with work until mid-June, would come and meet me in France but he suggested that we recoup the trip we had intended to make to Ireland in 2001, cancelled when the foot and mouth epidemic struck and the "ways" across Ireland were closed. We went to Greece instead, had a wonderful time but still dreamt of walking in Ireland.

On June 1st, I left for London having long ago given up on flying directly to Paris with Air Canada. They insist on routing west coast passengers through Toronto - a four or five hour flight from Victoria followed by a five hour wait in the unlovely and crowded Pearson International succeeded by a roughly nine hour flight, and a befuddled arrival into a foreign language and people not celebrated for their patience. My preference is to fly direct from Vancouver or Calgary to London, spend a couple of nights there to adjust the mental clock and gear up for speaking French, and maybe do a bit of tourism between naps.

This strategy puts me into Europe around midday and I try to stay awake until the sun goes down - quite a struggle as the days are very long in Europe in June - they're on the same parallel as Edmonton, hard as that is to believe and the sun sets around 10 PM! My hotel was near Kings Cross station, chosen because St. Pancras next door would be the departure point for the Eurostar a couple of days hence. I got quite turned around coming out of Kings Cross so I had an inadvertent tour of the Bloomsbury neighbourhood before I located the hotel not half a block from one of the many station exits. In my meanderings, I had seen the new British Library (well, new to me) and decided to go back there since it was only a block or two down the Euston Road. It was a splendidly sunny day so I got a bite to eat and sat in the sun in the peaceful courtyard (did I mention how crowded and intense the streets of London are?) before going inside to see what there was to see. And I saw actual pages of the Gutenburg Bible, Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks and the Magna Carta, quite astonishing in my sleep-deprived state.

Day 2:

This was my day to explore about London and I hadn't made any definite plans as I wasn't sure I'd be good for anything if my sleep pattern hadn't resolved. The day started with a "full English" breakfast...eggs, sausages, beans (the bland canned pork-and-beans type of my youth), toast, delivered in a subterranean breakfast room by a young woman with an impenetrable eastern European accent. When it came down to it, I didn't feel up to braving the teeming streets so I got on an open-topped boat headed up the Thames to Hampton Court. The trip lasted about 3 1/2 hours and was made more entertaining by our guide who delivered a rather smartass running commentary about the sights along the river. I had my knitting with me and between that and the surprisingly pastoral riverbanks once we got out of London proper and the lovely day, I was very happy.

Open tour boat on the Thames

The defunct Battersea power station - awaiting yet another developer to turn it into fashionable condos without changing the historic exterior

Beautifully painted narrow boat passing Kew Gardens

Once at Hampton Court, I confined my explorations to the gardens as I usually find palace interiors excruciatingly over-decorated and claustrophobic and besides, my time was limited. The rose garden announced itself with the most exquisite scent, long before I laid eyes on it. The timing was perfect as all the roses were at their height of bloom and the place was practically deserted. The rest of the gardens were the expected parterres, a greenhouse entirely filled by "the great vine", a grapevine that produces 500 to 700 pounds of fruit per year and is over 200 years old, an orangerie, a forest of huge pyramid shaped yew trees set out in lines in front of the Baroque wing, fountains and artificial lakes and streams with, best of all, swans with babies.

Rose garden with Tudor wing in background

The Great Vine - 230 years old

Foxgloves against the wall of the Tudor wing

I skipped the famous maze, seductive though it seemed from the outside as it was getting late and they wanted yet more money to go in...the UK seemed very pricey to me with extra this and supplemental that at every turn. Happily, the hotel had free WiFi so I was able to use my iPhone for e-mail.

The train zipped me back to London and I tumbled into bed in my decidedly spartan but quite adequate hotel room, ready to hop on the Eurostar the next morning.

...to be continued...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Peace Mural

A few weeks ago, I volunteered to work on the Peace Mural being put together out at View Royal Elementary.  This is a project of the Creative Peace Mural Society and is one of many they have facilitated in communities all over the world.  I felt very fortunate to be able to participate locally and hope to eventually join the team on one of their overseas projects. 

A large percentage of children who attend View Royal are First Nations and the school is located on traditional Coast Salish territory. Accordingly, First Nations artists Butch Dick and Darlene Gait were commissioned to design the main elements of the piece.  The school children and members of the Songhees nation had the opportunity to add elements to the mural which was then assembled and sewn together by volunteers and the core members of the society.  The "unveiling" is to take place at the end of the month and I can't wait to see the whole piece hanging in all its glory.  

The mural was cut, assembled and sewn together in under a month, an amazing feat considering nobody gets paid.  The international murals are completed on a three week schedule and given this narrow window, the method of construction had to be simple enough for speed without compromising aesthetic values.  Local textile artist Carole Sabiston came up with an ingenious technique which involves layering up all the elements of the design, covering them with a layer of tulle netting and quilting through all layers with lines of zigzag machine stitch.  The tulle has the added benefit of blending out the starker contrasts and marrying disparate materials into a pleasing composition.  

The murals are made up of several panels which hang side by side which means that each panel can be rolled and the entire mural packed into a smallish box for transport...very practical for travelling exhibitions.  The plan is to have representative murals from each continent shown together at the 2012 Olympics in London.  

Friday, March 27, 2009

Spinning Dust Bunnies

Now I have a history with quiviut, the proverbial skeleton in the old memory vault.  I once owned...wait for it...an ENTIRE GARBAGE BAG OF QUIVIUT, pounds of the stuff.  It was given to me to spin by a guy who worked up north in the oil exploration business whom I had encountered at some craft event where I was selling the natural-dyed fat singles I was churning out at that time.  He had picked it up off the tundra where it was lying around in heaps after the spring moult, or whatever you call it when muskox shed their winter undercoat.   The deal was that I would spin up the fibre in exchange for a share of it and perhaps some of his very beautiful hand carved antler buckles or buttons.   

I tried spinning the stuff on my Indian spinner and needless to say, had a lot of trouble.  I put it away in our tiny attic, resolving to delay the R and D until the long winter months when every hour of the day wasn't taken up with tending gardens and preserving the fruits thereof.  In the typical "back to the land" (i.e. hippies in the backwoods) style, my then husband and I lived in a cobbled together house (and I use the term "house" loosely) in the bush that was heated with two wood stoves. To make a long story short, the house burned to the ground one freezing cold December day, and the quiviut was one of the things that didn't get saved.  A few weeks later during the cleanup, buddy who worked up north arrived in his pickup and stared at the place where the house had been, not needing to be told that his quiviut had gone up in smoke.  He was pretty philosophical about it, saying "Oh well, easy come, easy go," or words to that effect.  

Ever since the fire, my feelings about quiviut have been ambivalent:  intrigue mixed with the memory of  that gut-wrenching day.  The scarcity and astronomical prices have been a sufficient deterrent up until now but the temptation was always there and I longed to give it a try, to master it - the fibre and maybe the negative feelings along with it.  Last Friday I took the plunge and shelled out for 20 grams of the stuff, a pouffe of roving the size of a loaf of bread in a ziplock bag and after it sat for a week, calling to me from the spinning corner, I plunged in yesterday, still full of those ambivalent feelings.

It was very difficult at first.  The roving is ephemeral, smoke between my fingers, like drafting a cloud of nothing, spinning dust bunnies.  It has to be a very fine yarn in order to get some decent yardage out of it so I cast about for a method that wouldn't waste a shred of fibre. Not yet in possession of a diz, I tried pulling the roving through a small funnel but it was still too dense and nowhere near small enough.  It was a semi-transparent pencil roving I was after. Then I tried pre-drafting the chunks of roving and when they threatened to drift apart, I dampened my hands and rolled the predrafts on my thigh to firm them up.  This really worked and now I'm well into the first spool, although I have very little spun fibre to show for two hours of spinning.  

My intention is to ply two singles and knit a very open lacey short narrow scarf...after all, the muskox survive -60C wearing this stuff so anything more dense is going to be too hot even on the coldest Victoria day. And of course I only have 20 grams so my choices are limited.   The singles are spun quite firmly so that they stay together so the plying should also help them to bloom a little.  My only quandary is how to estimate when to change spools so I have equal amounts to ply from.  At the moment I'm going by weight but if anyone has a better idea, lay it on me.  

As for the negative feelings and regrets?  Still there but less strident as a result of confronting a tiny corner of them. One of these posts, I'll tell the story of the fire and perhaps get a little more of it off my shoulders.  For now, I'll just say that it was a long time ago, no one died, and it opened some doors that needed opening.



Friday, March 13, 2009


Took a little ramble with the camera in the garden today.  It may be chilly still but the garden thinks it's spring.  The photo to the left is of the hellebores or Lenten Roses out in front of the house that are one of the earliest things to bloom. It helps that they are against a south facing wall and have the benefit of a micro-climate.   

Down below I've posted all the various skeins that I spun for what seems to be destined for a blankie project.  The dark brown skeins in the middle will be the anchor/main colour for the mitered squares and they are a two-ply  of a merino, alpaca and soy silk roving from Anna Runnings at Qualicum Bay Fibre Works.  The soy silk is pink and chartreuse and while the roving looked like chocolate pistachio ice cream, the finished yarn is mostly brown with pink and chartreuse tweedie bits.

Once I had a good whack of the main yarn, I experimented plying a single of the dark brown first with a single of chartreuse kid mohair and then with a single of pink merino to emphasize the pink in the blend.  I still had a skein of the dark brown left so I plied it with some commercial alpaca leftovers from stash to get a bit more variety for the mitered squares.  The result was a small skein of brown and gold and another of brown and purple.  Since they all have at least one strand of the dark brown, I think the variations should all look like siblings...let's hope so.    

Merino/alpaca/soy silk plied with chartreuse  kid mohair

Merino/alpaca/soy silk plied with pink merino

The happy family

I'm quite thrilled with how the skeins look against the dark brown leather of the couch.  I think the blankie is going to look very nice thrown over the back of the couch when it's not in use. The inspiration for this project is the Mitered Square Afghan by Chris Delongpré on Ravelry but I plan on winging it.  I'm craving something straightforward that I can knit without charts or fuss and just make it up as I go along.  Yep - meditation knitting.  

Thursday, March 12, 2009

More sad news

Yet another dear spirit has left the world.  My little Auntie Marguerite passed away two mornings ago after losing her brief struggle with a brain tumor.  I was in Kelowna last week for a funeral (bit of a theme here) and visited her in her hospice room on a couple of her "good" days.  She recognized me right away, and although very quiet, was in good spirits. It was hard to believe the prognosis but now, less than a week later, she’s gone.

She was a tiny woman, tinier as the years progressed, but one underestimated her at their peril. With eight lively children, and my uncle the ferryboat captain away from home for long periods, she probably couldn't afford to lose the upper hand. Many a time I saw a towering son quake before her wrath and have had reason to quake myself. I often wondered how she kept it together but she was part of the last generation of women who were never in doubt about their destiny.  Home and family came first.  She devoted herself to it whole-heartedly and still had time to be generous to her community and extended family. 

And there has been yet another death in the family.  I was in the Okanagan last week to attend the funeral I mentioned earlier, of my Auntie Emilie's husband Victor who died quite unexpectedly of heart failure. Emilie is the eldest of my dad’s siblings while Marguerite was the youngest. 

My attachment to these elderly aunties in spite of only sporadic contact over the past few years has taken me a bit by surprise but I think it has something to do with my childhood.  I grew up on a farm next to Mission Creek in the south end of Kelowna, not far from Okanagan Lake.  It was a truly a "family farm".  My grandparents lived in the main farmhouse and my respective aunties with their husbands and large families occupied two newer houses set close to the road, models of modern (1950's) convenience.  Our patched together house was up the lane toward the barn tucked in amid weeping willows.  I say “patched together” since our house started life as a hired hand’s cottage and was constantly being added on to when farm chores and outside work allowed my father the time for home improvements...in other words, hardly ever.  

As kids, we didn't give a hoot that our house was modest at best. My brother and sister and I and the tribe of cousins lived our lives mostly outdoors, searching out new kittens in the barn, roaming the fields and woods on horseback, spending hours at the lake on hot summer days.  We hung out on the creek bank fishing or cracking rocks to see the shiny bits, built forts and explored the one bit of bush left wild at the back of the farm.  We traipsed in and out of all four houses as if they were our own, my mother and the aunties praising, scolding, settling arguments, teaching and feeding us indiscriminately.

After the sale of the farm and my escape first to university and then to marry and live on the west coast, we saw less of each other aside from brief exchanges at 50th anniversary and landmark birthday parties.  The cousins similarly scattered and in this long-lived family, we were lucky enough to not often have the marshalling effect of  funerals.  With the events of this spring, and the advanced years of the generation ahead of us, that is about to change. 

If there is any upside to all this, it is the opportunity to get to know my cousins again.  In some cases, it's been 30 years and more since I last saw them yet the connection is still there: a dormant familiarity that springs back to life upon re-acquaintance.  And it probably doesn't hurt that the years apart have knocked our sharper corners off, increased our tolerance so we don't piss each other off like we used to.   

Between deaths in the family and losing my little dog, there have been a lot of tears lately and I hardly know anymore what I'm crying about - the tears arrive and I just go with it. What set me off yesterday was the enthusiastic greeting from my friend's dog Sophie when I arrived at her place for our twice-weekly walk.  Last evening there was no discernible trigger - one minute I was fine and the next I was weeping. 

Tough times but once again, knitting and spinning have come to the rescue.  My Gnarled Oakwoods shawl is growing apace and I'm into the vine patterned centre panel.  Soon I'll be putting the first half aside and starting the second half although it makes me want to tear my hair out to think that I'm less than halfway.  I’ve made a lot of mistakes but the lace patterning seems to hide them quite effectively.  With any luck, the oopsies won't show once it's blocked…either that or I’ll be redoing the entire first half. Shoot me now! 

Because of the difficulty keeping track of where I am in the pattern, I've put aside the index cards I made up for the first section and taken Sarah's suggestion to work from the chart. Not one for waiting about for an internet shipment, I  jury-rigged a chart tamer from a metal tray and some adhesive magnetic strips used for making fridge magnets and it works brilliantly. On some short pieces of  tape, I drew little arrows on the paper covering and I move them about to indicate the direction of the row and the start of the repeat for each row.  I place the main strip above the row I'm working on so I can check on the preceding rows without having to move the strip and lose my place.  Cheap and cheerful!

Fast and dirty chart tamer

My merino/alpaca/soy silk spinning project is complete and I intend to knit a mitered square blankie to show off the various colour combinations.  I’ve felt cold so often this winter that I want a nice throw for the couch that I can wrap myself up in when I’m chilly.  And even big kids need a soft cozy blankie when they feel blue.  Look for photos of the yarn and a pattern preview in my next post.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


For this or any other dog
I believe in heaven, yes, I believe in heaven
Which I shall not enter, but where he will be waiting for me
Wagging his tail like a fan
To greet me with affection when I come.

Pablo Neruda, "The Separate Rose"

Good dog Daisy

First of all, fair warning...this post is about the last hours of my beloved dog Daisy.  If that kind of subject matter upsets you, stop reading now.  

The events that initially inspired starting this blog last August(Daisy's first trip to the pet hospital) resolved last evening when Daisy's life came to an end.  Little Daisy, velvet of ear, fleet of foot, scourge of squirrels, bouncy and bright and sweet-natured is gone into whatever it is that awaits us all.  She spent the intervening five months since her first big health challenge in relatively good shape, running after the ball, chasing squirrels, greeting her many admirers passing by the front gate.  She had occasional tummy issues  kept under control by strict enforcement of the "no treats, no people food" policy and careful watching of her diet. She ate better than we did with only the tastiest low fat concoctions to tempt her fragile appetite and home-prepared dried chicken breast for treats.

Then a little over a week ago, she started to go seriously downhill, refusing to eat, vomiting, accidents on the carpet at night, getting thinner every day.  Two days ago she went for an overnight stay at Kindred Spirits, our local veterinarians, to have intravenous fluids administered for dehydration.  That seemed to turn her around very quickly, her appetite returning in spades and her mood back to normal. But the real problem, it seems, was her lungs. During the second night she developed a pneumothorax which collapsed one of her lungs.  The vets were able to reduce it yesterday morning but by late afternoon when I expected to be picking her up and taking her home, it had re-formed.  It was decision time...the thing I had been dreading for months.  I was put into a room with Daisy and I held her on my lap while I waited for Harry to arrive from work.  Her breathing was very rough and she held her nose up high trying for a better position to draw in more air.  Her body felt odd, sort of loose, like a bag of bones. If you don't know the fox terrier breed, "loose" is the antithesis of the "solid and muscular" norm. For me, that was the telling moment - she wasn't going to come out of it this time.  

Once Harry arrived, we agreed that it was time to make the decision to have her put down.  I struggled with this as my perfect scenario would have had her dying quietly, lying on the lawn in the sun or failing that, in her own bed at home, not in this cold tiled impersonal room.  When I suggested taking her home to die naturally, the vet told me kindly that it would be horrible for Daisy and horrible for us, given her respiratory distress and the anxiety that goes with it. That scotched any romantic notions I had about the perfect death.  Once we decided on euthanasia, we sat cuddling and stroking her and talking about all the funny things she had done during her life: the time when she was small when she walked right through the bars on the deck railing, fell into a bush, slid to the ground, got up and trotted away unfazed, or the way she cocked her head to one side when someone said the magic words "squirrel" or "treat" or "whacka whacka" (our term for a nightly ball chasing session using a racket and tennis ball), the daily ritual of biting the mail as it came through the mail slot, her ecstatic greetings at the door after our briefest absences, her enthusiasm for life, and her courage and buoyancy in trying or painful circumstances.  Many are the lessons in right living that we have learned from our intrepid little dog. 

Eventually, the vet came in to check if we were ready, went away and returned with a full syringe. She told us what exactly to expect and as the drugs went in, Daisy seemed to know somehow. She turned her head toward each of us to look deep into our eyes as we stroked her and said "Good dog, good dog".  Finally, her head drooped then went down and it was as if she went to sleep - no more laboured breathing and moments later the vet confirmed that her heart had stopped.  It was very quick, very peaceful and somehow right.

The wonderful staff at Kindred Spirits wrapped her body up in a blanket and carefully placed it in a box for us to take home.  I can't say enough good things about the docs and staff at Kindred Spirits.  Not only competent but respectful, empathetic, understanding and diplomatic...they couldn't have been better.  I'm sure they've done this hundreds of times before but you'd never know it from their concern and sensitivity.

It was dark by the time we got home so we rewrapped Daisy in her own blanket and this morning we buried her without ceremony in the garden in her favourite sunny spot, taking turns to cover her over.  Nothing left now but to grieve and remember all the good things about her.  I like to picture her greeting our old cat Aphra in some kind of afterlife, the two of them restored to youth and grace and ambushing each other from behind the Elysian shrubbery as they used to do in our back garden.  It doesn't seem to matter a bit that I don't really believe in an afterlife - it still comforts me. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lost in the (Oak) Woods

And here it is, the green monster aka  Cobblestone Pullover completed just after my last post. It required very little finishing...just a few ends to darn in and the underarm stitches to graft. And seemingly, I'm not destined for the dreaded "boyfriend sweater" experience - he's worn it nearly every evening since it was finished and says he loves it.  It fits beautifully and the fabric is supple, drapes nicely and I hear it is comfortable to wear.  Yay!

Yep, once again, it's been awhile since posting.  No excuse really although I had a week long trip to the Okanagan visiting family and since returning, I continue to pursue my New Year's resolution of cleaning and sorting one drawer/cupboard/trunk/bin/shelf  a week all year. Can't recall if I mentioned this in my last post but because I felt so defeated and overwhelmed by the nasty build-up(s) that lurk behind closed doors and the lack of space to stash new acquisitions, I decided to try doing it in teeny chunks.  I made up an Excel spreadsheet and it appears that based on somewhat reasonable/realistic divisions, I'll still be doing this well into 2010.  The bonuses are already apparent six weeks in...forgotten and misplaced treasures have emerged from the nether regions of every cupboard so far and I'm not even out of the kitchen yet. Imagine the gems that await in my full-to-the-rafters workroom, not to mention  the joy of having access to the surface of my work table once again.

Spring appears to be on its way out here on the Pacific coast.  The snowdrops have been in bloom for a couple of weeks, the rhodos are showing some pink and the robins have arrived in force. Yesterday I gardened (second session of the year) and hung the clothes out on the line where they actually got dry...okay, almost dry. Sadly, today is windy and cold and I'm happy to stay in and work on my alpaca lace shawl and pity my fellow North Americans to the east who are still blanketed in snow.  I'm using the laceweight two-ply spun from the dark brown alpaca fibre I acquired from Blue Stone Alpacas on my fibre safari last fall.  It took forever to spin and I had to pay a lot of attention to consistency but it seems to be paying off. The deep brown suggested a leafy/woodsy motif so I chose the Gnarled Oakwoods wrap by Anne Hanson from the last Twist Collective newsletter.  It's really lovely although now that I'm into the third iteration of the 40-row repeat, I wish I had added one more section across (the pattern calls for three) to get more width.  No, I'm not about to tear out 90 plus rows of lace and start again. My hope is that it will magically expand with blocking but I suspect it may not end up wide enough for my liking.  I had envisioned this as a lightweight travel piece that would cover me from neck to ankles and just the width of my body - I'm a smallish person - on long plane and train journeys. I hate those icky blankets the airlines provide (do you really believe they wash them between usings?...not likely!)  The shawl (scarf?) is knitting up so light and airy that an extra panel would not have added much bulk.  Too late now...the thought of doing a second one is too overwhelming to consider just now. 

This is my first major commitment to lace and I'm finding it quite a challenge.  I keep forgetting to do the yarnovers at the end of the repeats and since the wrong side is a purl row, by the time I notice, I have to tink back two whole rows and part of another.  Also, I think perhaps the yarn is a bit underplied in some parts as it separates easily and I end up with surprise extras.  

Part of my Okanagan visit involved a couple of days with my latter-day hippie daughter and her partner in beautiful wintry Cherryville.  They are avid chain maille makers and they have taken to incorporating coloured rubber rings to add stretch and of course, colour to their work.  It seemed to me that these rings would make great stitch markers so I cadged a dozen each in white and yellow.  They work brilliantly for the lace as the colour shows up well against the dark brown yarn and they are flexible and soft and a little clingy so they don't slip too easily through the stitches.  I know these can be ordered in the bazillions online but I'm not sure what I would do with all the extras.  Unfortunately, they only seem to come in black at the hardware store - fine for pale yarns but pretty much invisible otherwise.  If anyone out there knows of a source that supplies a range of sizes in a range of colours in stitch-marker quantities, please share.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Elephants and Phone Booths

Another "holiday season" behind us - sometimes it seems like the social (and every other) aspect of Christmas is like trying to stuff an elephant into a phone booth.  Eventually, something's got to give.  Thanks to the weather, we had a respite this year, many events being cancelled due to the slippery roads and unusual amounts of snow for our usually green-year-round city.  What I didn't miss due to weather, I missed due to a bout of the flu which is still in the denouement stage as I write.  There was a lot of knitting done over the past few days as I lay beached upon the living room couch, listening happily to the audio version of Connie Willis's unabridged novel, "To Say Nothing of The Dog"...20 plus hours of entertainment with an excellent narrator.  It's supposed to be science fiction but reads more like another of my favourites, Oscar Wilde, given that the time travellers spend most of their time at a country house in late Victorian England.  

The green monster (aka The Cobblestone Pullover from Interweave) is almost knitted and is looking very good.  I was lucky to have such a simple garter and stockinette stitch project on the go since my fever-addled brain could probably not have coped with anything more complicated. The many pairs of Felted Clogs were well received and I managed to knit myself a pair as well - there is a reason these are so popular despite being quite a pain to knit - they are sooo comfortable and they look wonderful once they are fulled.  What was a loose floppy thing becomes a thick firm fabric and the colour intensifies.

During the holidays, I knitted another pair of Sea Anemone Wristwarmers in yet another colourway of Noro Blossom and was very happy with the outcome.  Herewith, the pattern, as promised.

Sea Anemone Wristwarmers

Yarn:  Noro Blossom, 1 40 gram skein
Needles:  4.5 mm DPNs or one long circular for magic loop

Divide skein into two equal balls (by length) and loosely  cast on 28 stitches (I went up to a 5.5 mm circular for the cast on). Join and work in the round in 2 x 2 rib (2 knit, 2 purl) for 3.5 inches.  Work another inch to an inch and a half in stockinette (4.5 - 5 inches from the cast on). Work one increase round by knitting into the front and the back of each stitch. (56 stitches).   Knit one round even.  Work a second increase round by knitting into the front and the back of each stitch (112 stitches).  Knit another round even.  Cast off knitwise and sew in ends. If you want the cuffs longer, you will need another skein of yarn, knitting in rib for however many more inches you desire before changing to stockinette. 

As you can see from the photo, I made no attempt to match them, preferring to believe that the chaotic colour scheme is part of their charm.  Pretty much impossible to match them with just one skein anyhow.  I divided the skein by winding a centre pull ball, hand winding a ball with the yarn held double to find the middle, cutting the yarn then rewinding each strand by turns to make two separate balls...kinda painful.  If anyone knows a more elegant solution, by all means, let me know.

Below are a few photos from our guild Christmas party - so much fun and many thanks to the organizers for their hard work putting it together and to all the fine chefs for their contributions.  The adorable lamb cake that begins this post was one of the offerings.  

Lamb cake

Seasonal headgear

More seasonal headgear

Raven snags the lambikins in the gift exchange/showdown

Table of revelers with my prize-winning
 felted tea cosy in the foreground