Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Who Reads This, Anyway?

Dateline: Emerald Hills, 12/24/08

Last week this blog passed the 1000 mark for "unique visitors", and that's just since June 9, when I installed the Bravenet counter. I started the blog in January. I continue to be amazed at how many people are actually reading this thing. The average seems to be about 3 or 4 per day, with small surges after I write a new post. (The surge comes mostly from my knitting friends, who find out about the post by checking their friends' activities on Ravelry.)

Bravenet shows me the most recent "referrers", which are the web sites or searches that led people to the blog. By far the most common referrer is variations on searches for bead stores or yarn stores in Maui. This was the subject of one of my first posts, in January. There must be a lot of knitters and beaders out there who are planning trips to Hawaii. I also get searches for specific beading teachers or projects that I have written about. And there are occasional unexpected searches, like the recent one for "fortman (sic) and mason afternoon tea". No, I didn't misspell it on the blog; the hit was on the other words.

More recently I installed Feedjit, which gives me a map showing the location (but not the identity) of people who come to the blog. This has been truly fascinating, and has led me to speculate about why people are reading what I write. The first marks on the map were from northern California and the Washington, DC area. This is understandable; it was my local knitting friends and my friends from Y2Knit, who linked from their blog to my posts about the Montisi retreat.

The first international hit was from Kuwait. I was amazed. Was it an American soldier, a knitter or beader, on her way to Iraq? When the Kuwait hit recently disappeared from the map I got suspicious; was the Pentagon involved? Some Italian hits followed, probably people searching for information about Montisi. I was surprised by the first hit from Africa, in Mali. Now I have visitors from every continent except Antarctica. Aren't there some knitting or beading researchers stuck in Antarctica for our winter/their summer who have little to amuse them except reading blogs?

In the U.S., the hits are clustered on the two coasts, with a nice sprinkling from the midwest. But strangely, there is a big gap coming from the mountain time zone. I used to work for a company based in Denver, and I've spent a lot of enjoyable time there. I've also loved visiting New Mexico. What is it about my blog that is keeping residents of the mountain west away?

To readers of this blog, wherever and whoever you are: I am very grateful for your support during my first year of blogging. I wish you happy holidays and the best for 2009.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Not a Normal City


Dateline: Venice, 10/16/08 - 10/20/08

"Venice is not a normal city." That was the response of the man at the desk in our hotel, when we told him we were confused by the street addresses. He's right; Venice is unlike any other city I've been to. There are no cars or other land vehicles anywhere in the city. The public transit system consists entirely of boats. People walk everywhere. Every other store has colorful glass jewelry in the window. I was in heaven!


The instructions to get to our hotel from the train station were: take water bus #1 to the Ca D'Oro stop, then the hotel is a one-minute walk. One minute turned into at least 20 as we got lost and had to ask a few people for directions. We soon found out that's what life as a tourist in Venice is like. I didn't find the city map to be much help, and I got impatient when Jim would stop walking in the middle of the street to consult the map. I learned to go with the flow.

We thought we figured out the street address system after a while. Venice is divided into six districts, or sestieri. Addresses seem to be assigned by sestieri rather than by individual street. We stayed in Cannaregio, where a restaurant might have an address like
Cannaregio 4624. If you know which side street the restaurant is on, you can use that as a clue, but otherwise you walk along the main street of Cannaregio until you find the 4600's, then start looking on side streets.


On our first full day in the city, our plan was to take the water bus, or Vaporetto, all the way down the Grand Canal to Lido, a beach resort where I remember staying with my parents in 1965. The ticket booth at the Ca D'Oro stop was closed, so we went to a nearby tobacco shop and bought one-day transit passes. While we were waiting for the boat at Ca D'Oro, another tourist told us that there was a transit strike and many of the boats were not running. We had just wasted 34 Euros on our one-day passes! We quickly changed plans and instead walked to the huge San Marco square, the center of the city.

In San Marco we were approached by a man who asked us if we wanted to visit the island of Murano and tour a glass factory. We did; it was on my list of things to do and I thought we might get some good glass bargains there. Because of the transit strike, the factory was offering a free taxi ride. The man helped us into a water taxi and we had a surprisingly long and rough ride to Murano. At the glass factory, we were greeted by a woman I came to think of as our minder. Each of the few families visiting the factory had their own minder, who explained the glass making process and sat with them during the demo. After the demo, in which a glass artist made a vase and a horse, the minder took us to the showroom, where we saw lots of beautiful and very expensive glass pieces. I thought we would never get out of there without buying something, especially after they paid for our taxi ride, but after a bit of looking we just said we were done and the minder walked us out.

We walked around Murano a bit, had lunch, and found some less expensive glass stores, but it seemed that the stores in Venice proper were just as good and not as expensive. We managed to get a Vaporetto back to San Marco, using our day passes. From there, Jim went to a museum while I took off in search of some bead stores I had on my list. Atmosfera Veneziana is a beautiful store where I had no trouble spending over 60 Euros on some glass beads to add to my small Italian bead collection. I was proud of myself for finding the addresses on my own, then finding my way back to the hotel. On the way I stopped at several of the ubiquitous glass stores, buying some pendants which I plan to use with kumihimo braids or other beading projects. Many of the glass stores had a few baskets of beads. There was also a bead store not far from the hotel, on our way to almost every place we walked; I visited several times before settling on a few things to buy.

After all the Medieval and Renaissance art in Florence, we were happy to see some 20th-century art at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Guggenheim was a wealthy American who lived in Venice, and the museum is in what used to be her home.

Our hotel served a perfectly adequate breakfast, as did the hotel in Florence, with the same selections every day. We were always looking for places to eat breakfast out, but never found a suitable place in either city. There were bakeries with beautiful pastries in the window, but they didn't serve coffee or have tables. There were bars that had coffee and were open in the mornings, but their pastry selection did not look as interesting. This seemed to us to be something lacking in Italian life. They need some Cafe Borrone equivalents.

When it was time for us to leave Venice and fly to Rome, we asked at the hotel about options for getting to the airport. We could walk to Ca D'Oro and take a Vaporetto to the bus station, where we could get an airport bus. We could walk a longer distance and get a boat that would take us directly to the airport. Or for 100 Euros we could take a water taxi that would pick us up at our hotel, which had a back door that opened to one of the canals. Although we were tired of schlepping our suitcases, we ruled out the water taxi option because of the expense. We made a dry run of the walk to the airport boat and decided it would be too far with suitcases, although we had lunch at a lovely restaurant near the boat stop. That left us with the Vaporetto/bus option. I was nervous as I usually am on travel days: Would the timing work out right? Would we be ok walking in the dark at 6 a.m.? Would we have trouble getting on the Vaporetto with our suitcases? But everything worked out fine. The Vaporetto showed up right on schedule; no transit strike that day. We had a nice, last view of Venice in the dark from the Grand Canal. As we got to the bus station and saw land vehicles for the first time in 4 days, it was a relief to be on dry land again, but I was also sad to be leaving the magic of this not-normal city.

Two weeks is about my limit for foreign travel. I start to feel the stress of being in an unfamiliar culture and trying to deal with an unfamiliar language. On our last couple of days in Venice, both of us came down with bad colds. By the time we got to Rome my cold was at its worst, and I was a couple of days beyond the two-week limit.
I was really ready to go home. We spent an afternoon touring Rome, most of it on a hop-on hop-off bus, and also searching for a pharmacy where I could buy tissues. My last night in Italy was a sleepless one, not helped by the fact that I hated our hotel (on the outskirts of Rome, near the airport) and that I had taken an Italian cold medication that seemed to make me more congested. It was followed by a miserable 12-hour flight to Dulles, during which I couldn't find a comfortable sitting position, and then a somewhat better 6-hour flight to San Francisco, which I mostly slept through.

I loved the trip to Italy: the small town life of Montisi, the dazzle of Florence, and the magic of Venice. But I was also glad to get home and start our new life, with both of us now retired. More on that in a future post.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Firenze


Dateline: Firenze, 10/11/08 - 10/15/08

Firenze is the city we call Florence, but I think the Italian name is much prettier. I met Jim there after the Montisi knitting retreat. Gianmarco drove a group of us to the train station in Sinalunga. I was the only person traveling north; everyone else was going back to Rome and then home from there. I said good-bye to my fellow knitters at the station, and for the first time I was on my own in Italy.

After a week in the tiny town of Montisi, I was dazzled by Firenze: the jewels sparkling in store windows, wonderful-looking pastries on display in bakeries, beautiful Medieval and Renaissance architecture, and lots of people walking everywhere. The center of Firenze is closed to traffic except for taxis, which have to go slowly to make sure they don't run over the pedestrians. I was glad to be back in a city.

The Hotel Alessandra is a very nice small hotel in a central location, within easy walking distance of the Uffizi Gallery and the Ponte Vecchio (pictured at night, at the top of this post). It is on what Italians call the second floor, but we call the third floor, of a palace built in 1507. I was surprised at how spacious our room was. The view of the Arno River from our hotel window is above.

Neither of us is much of a museum-goer (despite my having worked with museum data for several years at RLG), but we had to visit the Uffizi and the Accademia (home of Michelangelo's David). We found that the self-guided museum tours in Rick Steves' guidebook were just right for us; they concentrated on one piece of art in each gallery and there was humor in the descriptions. We read them out loud to each other as we toured the museums.


One day we took a bus tour to Siena, another medieval Tuscan city, where we had a walking tour that ended at Il Campo, the huge town square. On the way back we stopped in San Gimignano, "the epitome of a Tuscan hill town" according to Rick Steves, beautiful but very touristy (seen from a distance in the picture above). We had less than an hour there, and a lot of it was spent waiting in line for the rest room (for which we had to pay), and for prize-winning gelato (for which we also had to pay).

Our hotel arranged for us to take a cooking class, which was a lot of fun. Along with other students from all over the world, we made two types of pasta and two sauces, plus chocolate salami, chocolate mixed with pieces of biscotti and rolled to look like a sausage. We sat down to eat our pasta with a couple from Australia and a couple from India who live in London; among us we had the English-speaking world pretty well covered.

Gelato is everywhere in Firenze. I had with me a list from the San Jose Mercury News that preported to be the top 10 best ice cream places in the world; one was in Firenze and one in San Gimignano. I was suspicious of the list because of the three U.S. entries, places in Maui and in Fairbanks that I had never heard of, plus Ben & Jerry's in Vermont. I like Ben & Jerry's but would hardly rate it as one of the 10 best in the world. (I do, however, rate Toscanini in Cambridge, MA that way.) The list's Italian recommendations were good enough, but Vivoli's, a recommendation from Rick Steves, was the best. I was surprised by how good the rice gelato was, like a frozen version of rice pudding.

Of course I needed some time for shopping in Firenze. As usual, I had a list of yarn and bead stores from the web. Filati Campolmi
is a yarn outlet store that had some bargains. At Beatrice Galli Yarn Shop, the owner followed me through the length of the store, commenting on the yarns and making me very uncomfortable. I bought a little bit in each place, but I also had in mind that we were trying to travel light and that the stock market was crashing, so for once I didn't go overboard. I thought I had found Ditta Chiti but then decided I must be wrong, since the window was full of underwear. Then I remembered that it's common in Europe for yarn to be sold in lingerie stores.

Beaded Lilly was not as good a store as its website made it look; a very small bead store that I had to visit 3 times before finding it open. I also discovered another small bead store purely by accident while walking through the city. I started a collection of glass beads, which I continued buying in Venice, and which I plan to string some day as a remembrance of our trip to Italy.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Canottiera


Dateline: Montisi, Tuscany, Italy, 10/4/08 – 10/11/08

The knitting project for the retreat was something of a mystery before I got to Montisi. It's called Canottiera, and it's a modular, wearable art vest. Jill started releasing patterns for the various pieces in June. They are complex designs with intriguing names like Bit of Italy and Farfalle Knot (named after the villa cat Farfalle). We had a basic schematic, but it was difficult to see how the pieces would fit together.

This project pretty much consumed my knitting life for several months, and frankly, I resented it. Most of the pieces had lots of cables and twisted stitches, not my style, and a type of knitting that I don't enjoy. The pieces were difficult, and there were lots of corrections to the patterns, and just when I thought I had caught up, another piece would be released. I also didn't really like the yarn colors I was using; they were not as bright as I usually use. I kept at it, but also kept finding other projects that I really wanted to start (or continue) working on.

When we got to Montisi and started our workshops (which were scheduled for 2 - 4 hours per day, around other activities), the plan for the Canottiera became more clear and I began to enjoy it more. We steamed the pieces and they started to look much nicer. Jill has a magic touch with steaming; she puts the piece on the kitchen counter, saturates it with steam, and uses her hands to get the piece to look perfect. We started to put the pieces together.

We also did some art felting, which I enjoyed very much, to create a yoke for our vest. We used a needle felting tool to attach pencil roving to "magic paper", then wet the piece, put it in the dryer to felt, then poured boiling water on it to get the magic paper to dissolve. I went wild with colors in my needle felting, so that I'm not really sure that the yoke goes well with the rest of the vest.

I didn't get my vest finished in Montisi; I don't think anyone in the group did. I still have several pieces to knit, and a lot of putting together to do. Without impetus from Jill, Susan, and the rest of the group, I fear this could become a UFO, which would be a shame after all the work I've done on it.

Several months before the retreat, Susan and Jill started a blog that participants could contribute to. I really appreciate this technique; it's a good way to get to know fellow travelers before actually meeting them, and to ask questions about the project. I arranged to take the same flight from Dulles to Rome as 5 other women going to the retreat, and before we met at Dulles we felt as if we almost knew each other. We recognized each other by our "Knitters for Obama" pins. It seemed as if everyone on our retreat was an Obama supporter, or if some were not, they kept it to themselves.

After the 6 of us went through taking 3 different trains together, schlepping all of our luggage, laughing at the tiny elevators we had to take two by two to change platforms in Chiusi, and then the extremely long ramp that was the alternative to stairs in Sinalunga, we were a cohesive group by the time we got to Montisi. We found two other knitters along the way, one in Chiusi and the other in Sinalunga. This group of knitters was one of the nicest I've been with on a retreat, and I hope to remain in touch with them.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Life in Montisi


Dateline: Montisi, Tuscany, Italy, 10/4/08 – 10/11/08

During our week in Montisi, we knitters became part of the community of this small town. A lot of people in town knew about the "knitting ladies" and would greet us as we walked around town. One day we staged a KIP (knitting in public) photo op on the piazza, or town square, in front of a mural that featured a woman knitting. And throughout our visit, we tried to adjust our schedule to the town's rhythms.

There are a few small stores in town: two tiny grocery stores, one of which also sells postcards and sewing notions; a gift shop; a bakery. The stores are typically open in the morning, closed for the afternoon, then open again for the late afternoon/early evening, but they didn't always keep to their posted hours. One morning a few of us walked to the grocery/postcard store and found the owner struggling to find her key. As one of us held her coffee for her, she looked but could not find it, and we finally walked back to the villa. I'm sure she didn't like having to turn away so many customers.


We got to know some of the dogs and cats of Montisi. Fritzi (the black and white cat) and her daughter Farfalle ("Butterfly", the white cat) live outside the villa and show up at least twice a day for food. I saw this boxer only once, but thought he made a nice picture in the window of his owners' home. A friendly black dog, Fragolette ("Little Strawberry"), wandered around town, greeting everyone and sometimes following people as they walked.

Montisi is divided into several contradas, or neighborhoods. On our first full day in town, our contrada had a fundraising lunch to support their jousting team (!) and our group attended. The main street was blocked to traffic (not that there was ordinarily a lot of traffic), and two long tables were set up in the street. Contrada residents cooked and served a lunch of several courses, including an excellent lasagna, tripe (which was actually good, but somehow I couldn't eat much of it), and unexpectedly, some of the best French fries I've ever had. Wine was included, of course, and the traditional dessert was vin santo, a sweet wine into which biscotti are dipped. It was great meeting and trying to communicate with some of the local people, and also some foreign visitors.

I'm used to having constant internet access, and maybe it was good for me to break that habit for a while, but I never gave up the quest for access while in Italy. I had no less than two computers with me, a laptop and my iPhone. Montisi has a bar/cafe, Il Rondo, which has a computer that visitors are welcome to use, but I was never able to get a wireless signal inside the bar. I discovered, however, that I could get a signal right outside the bar in the piazza. That became my personal wireless hotspot, and I went there at least twice a day to get news of the outside world: download email and New York Times news, call home, and get stock market quotes (which I might have been happier without; I was asked not to use the word "crash" to describe the market because I was upsetting other knitters, but I still believe this was the right word. Not a good time for us to be retiring and living off our investments.) I had an internet phone package that allowed me to call home very cheaply, but required wireless access. Later I discovered that the wireless signal was also available near the snack bar, so I would go there in the morning, order coffee (which was a good, strong espresso), then sit and use my iPhone.

I never found out whose wireless network I was using, since both the cafe and the snack bar denied it belonged to them (which may have been due to communication problems on my part). But it was reliable and free, which is more than I can say for the access in our hotels in Florence, Venice and Rome. All of these hotels charged what I considered outrageous rates for internet access, such as 8 Euros per hour. I paid for time but tried to keep my online time to a minimum.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Knitting Retreat in Montisi


Dateline: Montisi, Tuscany, Italy, 10/4/08 – 10/11/08


Y2Knit is a bicoastal company run by two sisters, Jill and Susan Wolcott. Jill lives in San Francisco and is a designer; Susan lives in Maryland and runs a yarn store. Together they sell patterns and yarn, teach classes, and also organize retreats for knitters. This year they had a series of retreats in Montisi, a rural town of about 400 people in Tuscany, dating from medieval times. I attended the second week, along with 9 other knitters. We stayed in Villa Maddalena, a big old house on the main street of the town.


In addition to the knitting workshops, which I’ll cover in a future post, Susan and Jill filled the week with interesting activities without venturing far from Montisi. The theme of the week seemed to be living your passion. All of us are passionate knitters, and thanks to Jill and Susan’s local contacts in Montisi, we were able to meet and interact with several people who are just as passionate about their work.

Elizabeth Cochrane is a British artist who has lived in Montisi for several years and has become a valuable member of the community. She paints the gorgeous Tuscan landscapes, and specializes in painting clouds. Liz also devotes time to helping tourists enjoy Montisi. She served as translator for several of our activities, and also welcomed us into her home and studio. In the picture, Liz has her back to the camera as she translates for Marco during our tour of La Grancia, a former estate which is now used for winemaking and renting apartments to visitors.


For a small town, Montisi has an abundance of excellent food. Tina Hilton, an editor and yarn rep, did most of the cooking for us, and all of the food was wonderful. Three meals especially stood out. One dinner was cooked for us at the villa by Alessandro, a local chef. It included picci, a Tuscan pasta which is like a thicker version of spaghetti. I bought a package to bring home, it cooks for 22 minutes, which is unusually long. Montisi also has two wonderful restaurants that serve locally produced food. Alberto owns La Romita, a hotel and small restaurant that is part of the “slow food” movement. He cooked and unobtrusively served us a wonderful dinner of several courses; a highlight was the chestnut pasta.

Alberto also owns a frantoio, or olive press, which is used to make olive oil from the local crop. His passion really became apparent when he talked to us about olive oil, with Liz as his translator. After explaining how the oil is made, Alberto gave us a tasting of two oils, one ordinary extra virgin from the supermarket, and the other last year’s locally produced oil. He showed us that the supermarket oil had a somewhat rancid smell and taste, while the local oil smelled like freshly cut grass, and was a natural green color. The day we left Montisi was the first day of this year’s olive harvest, and unfortunately none of last year’s oil was left to be sold, so we were not able to buy any. Montisi produces only enough oil to be used locally and does not export it. When I get home to Sigona, my favorite produce store, which sells a variety of Italian olive oils, I’ll look for some Tuscan oil that smells like fresh grass.

On the other end of town from La Romita is Da Roberto, a beautiful restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining. Roberto served us a stupendous lunch, starting with panzanella (Tuscan bread salad) and ending with tiramisu. Roberto does not believe in using vinegar in his salads; he says it’s a “trick” that masks the natural taste of the food. He also doesn’t use alcohol, another “trick”, in his tiramisu. I don’t usually like tiramisu, but this was wonderful, full of chocolate, espresso, and cream.


The next day Roberto, who speaks fluent English, put on a wine tasting for us in his garden. We tasted a white, a rose, and two reds, all produced by small local vineyards. Roberto spoke to us for two hours about the wines, food, and other fascinating topics.

We took several walks in and around Montisi. The longest walk was a 6-kilometer round trip, much of it uphill, to the nearby town of Castelmuzio. Both Montisi and Castelmuzio are hill towns, so of course we had to walk downhill from Montisi and then uphill to Castelmuzio, then vice versa on the way back. I lagged behind with women 10 years older than I am, but at least I was able to complete the walk. While in Castelmuzio we visited the harpsichord studio of Bruce Kennedy, who showed us a beautiful, newly built harpsichord and played a little Bach. We then walked through some of the steep, narrow streets of the town, which really feels like a castle, and visited the local supermarket (only a little larger than our typical convenience store) before starting the walk back to Montisi.

We also enjoyed meeting a genuine celebrity, although I have to admit I had never heard of her before, not being a Harry Potter fan. Miriam Margolyes is a British actress who played Professor Sprout in Harry Potter, among other roles, and some of our group recognized her around town. She came to visit us at the villa and talked to us about her home in Montisi and the new movie she’s about to shoot with Tom Conti and Daryl Hannah. Miriam is on the left in this picture.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Shop Hop, Day Four

Dateline: Emerald Hills, 9/22/08

Yesterday I completed the shop hop by joining Jocelyn and her group (her daughter Kelsey, Cris, Sylvia, and Carol) to visit my three remaining stores. The rest of the group was going on to three more stores, but Jim and I were going to a barbecue with his SLAC colleagues to celebrate the end of the Babar project in the afternoon, so I went with the group only to the three northernmost stores.

I had a lot of fun doing the shop hop, but I have to admit that I'm glad it's over. I'm really happy to be back to my quiet routine. I've done very little knitting and no beading in several days, and I want to get back to them. After all, if I don't use at least some of the the yarn and beads I've been buying, how can I justify buying more?

9:45 -- leave home

10:00 -- Edgewood park and ride at 280 and Edgewood

Jocelyn picked me up and we headed to Burlingame.

10:30 -- Burlingame

I'd like to take a class at Yarn Paper Scissors sometime, because they have nice, brightly furnished classrooms with a lot of light. I fell in love with a scarf from Ocean Breezes, a book that I already have. Jocelyn gave me a coupon that she had forgotten to use on her own purchases; in exchange, I bought her coffee at Peet's.

Bought: 3 skeins of Laines du Nord Mulberry Silk.

11:15 -- San Mateo

All of us liked Nine Rubies' one-skein project, a beaded purse in both knit and crochet. The pattern came with a 10% discount at The Beading Frenzy.

Bought: 3 skeins of Filatura di Crosa Dolce Amore.

12:00 -- Belmont

At Creative Hands, I received my last stamp and turned in my passport. I hope I win a prize, but since I have lousy prize-winning luck, I doubt that I will. We ate lunch at a good Mexican restaurant a block away.

Bought: One skein of Kraemer Sterling silk and silver (the sparkles are actual silver)

1:15 -- back to Edgewood

Jocelyn dropped me off. I was surprised to see a Tesla parked next to my car. Was it George Clooney's car?

1:30 -- back home. 19 down, 0 to go.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Shop Hop, Day Three

Dateline: Emerald Hills, 9/20/08

This shop hopping is exhausting! After yesterday I wasn't sure I ever wanted to see another yarn store. I'm glad I didn't fall asleep during the concert (which was very good). Still, I carried on today. I've set my goal and I plan to reach it. My rate of buying is going down, though, which is a good thing.

9:20 -- leave home

9:40 -- Menlo Park

Cafe Borrone for our usual Saturday breakfast. We take separate cars so that I can start hopping from there.

11:30 -- Los Gatos

A short visit to Natural Expressions, a bead/quilting store that I had never been in before. Then to Yarndogs, which has its own quiz/scavenger hunt for a prize drawing. I spent some time looking for edible yarns and for sock yarns that contain no wool.

12:45 -- Campbell

At Green Planet, I saw a swirl sweater for which they're having a crochet-along, and decided I wanted to participate, even though I have to miss the first 2 sessions. They assured me that I could catch up.

Bought: 2 skeins Mirasol Hacho, 2 Big Eye Beading Needles (I had been looking for these all along and Green Planet was the first shop that had them).

1:25 -- San Jose

This was only my second time in the Knitting Room. The people were nice and helpful. I really liked CommuKnity's one-skein project, a beaded scarf in Frog Tree Alpaca.

Bought: 1 skein Lamb's Pride variegated worsted, 2 small clear plastic project bags (I have so many wip's I don't know where to put them all), 1 skein Frog Tree Alpaca, 3 tubes of size 6 beads, 1 pattern.


3:00 -- Redwood City

I stopped Art on the Square, where a friend from the bead guild was selling her jewelry. I've never seen so much activity in Redwood City! Salsa tasting, dancing in the square, lots of people.

4:10 -- back home, time for a nap! 16 down, 3 to go.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Shop Hop, Day Two

Dateline: Emerald Hills, 9/19/08

Today was a more relaxing day; fewer stores, shorter distances. It's a short shopping day for me, because tonight Jim and I are going to San Francisco for dinner and a San Francisco Symphony concert. They're playing music by Leonard Bernstein to commemorate what would have been his 90th birthday.

10:00 -- leave home

10:20 -- Los Altos

It's good to have two stores within walking distance of each other, Full Thread Ahead and Uncommon Threads. I already knew I wanted to do Full Thread's shawl project because I got a preview of it on Ravelry. In fact, I went for both of their projects, the shawl and the market bag.

Bought: One skein Marinella sea cell/silk for shawl; one skein Louet Euroflax for bag. Two books (Nashua Vacation and Rowan Colourscapes Chunky Collection). Birthday present for Jim; will not be revealed here but it's NOT YARN.

12:00 -- Mountain View

Stop for lunch at Erik's Deli and to buy some cat food.

1:00 -- Sunnyvale

At Purlescence, saw one of Alison's shawls on display and was hoping it was the one-skein project, but it's from her second book, in progress, so the pattern is not yet available. I did buy a skein of the yarn that was used for it.

Bought: One skein Casbah, Dandelion colorway; set of plastic kumihimo disks (I've been using the styrofoam ones but these look much better).

1:45 -- Santa Clara

The Yarn Place's new location is very nice. After visiting there I was already tired, but Bobbin's Nest was only .7 miles away (according to my gps) so how could I not go there?

Bought: One cone Kraemer Yarns Little Lehigh Pebbles in bright pink at 50% off; 2 patterns; one ball of Cable Due cotton (for bead crochet or kumihimo).

3:00 -- back home. 12 down, 7 to go.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Peninsula to Pier LYS Shop Hop, Day One

Dateline: Emerald Hills, 9/18/08

The second annual Peninsula to Pier LYS (local yarn store) Shop Hop started today and runs until Sunday. 19 shops are participating. Each shop has a one-skein project (some have both knit and crochet projects), pattern free with purchase of yarn. As you visit each shop you get your passport stamped. There are prize drawings at the end for people who have at least 12 passport stamps.

I missed last year's shop hop and I'm determined to go to all 19 stores this year. Will I end up with 38 skeins of yarn and 38 new projects? I'd better not! So why am I doing this? Certainly I don't need any more yarn or projects. I've been to most of these stores many times. The chances of my winning a prize are slim. And I have some other events planned for this weekend in addition to the shop hop. I guess I'm doing it because it's an accomplishment of sorts, and a break from my normal routine. I'm also determined to blog about each day's adventures. And I'm determined NOT to buy something in every shop.

This is definitely a multi-day endeavor. The geographic spread is from Burlingame, 15 miles north of us, to Carmel, 95 miles south. Today was my long day for shop hopping, because I didn't have anything else scheduled, so I decided to start with the shops farthest away. I thought about staying overnight somewhere, but decided against it because I didn't feel like being away from home again so soon after the Portland trip. Since the shops were all open until 8 tonight, I decided to stay out as late as I could and visit as many shops as I could.

This would be a perfect application for Twitter; I could have Twittered my location and purchases all day. Since I didn't, I'll go through the day's events here.

9:15 -- leave home

10:06 -- Morgan Hill

Perfect timing; arrive at Continental Stitch right after opening. This is the only one of the 19 I've never been to. Morgan Hill is always on the way to somewhere but never a destination. Last year's grand prize winner arrived there ahead of me. The store's crochet project had not yet arrived.

Bought: One skein of Schaeffer Anne, rainbow colors, 30% off.

In front of the store, I run into a friend who didn't know about the Shop Hop; was just passing by in her car and happened to see me. She recommends that I stop at Madonna Needlework, which is not on the hop. Since she's the second person to recommend this store, I decide to go there. There is some knitting yarn, but mostly needlepoint threads, beautifully arranged by color.

Bought: Small hanks of 4 different needlepoint threads to try with the bead crochet project that's giving me so much trouble.

12:25 -- Pacific Grove

Too bad I have so little time in one of my favorite towns in California. Grand Prize Winner is at Monarch Knits, having already been to Carmel and back. I become worried that I'm behind schedule and won't get to all the Santa Cruz shops today.

Bought: 2 skeins of Knitcol self-striping sock yarn (I probably won't do their fingerless glove project, but I liked the yarn); 1 skein of Tango tape yarn (because the Monarch people showed me how to crochet one of those nice ruffled scarves; I never did get the hang of knitting with this type of yarn).

Lunch at Red House Cafe, which has a wonderful warm tomato and mozzarella sandwich. French roast coffee from the drip bar at Juice and Java, for the road. Drove out of town on Oceanview Blvd.

2:40 -- Carmel

Quick stop at Knitting by the Sea, just to get my passport stamped. Fruitless search for a bead store. Carmel has no street addresses, so all I knew was the intersection. I wandered around for a while, then asked in another store and found out bead store was out of business. Referred to a different store, which turned out to have jewelry but no beads.

Bought: One pound of Carmel Foglifter French roast coffee beans, at Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Co.

4:45 -- Capitola

Another quick stop for passport stamp at The Yarn Place. Then off into the Santa Cruz rush hour. Luckily my car radio can now get KPIG, a station I like which is available only in the Monterey/Santa Cruz area.

5:30 -- Santa Cruz

Had a little trouble finding the Golden Fleece's new location. New store looks smaller to me than old one.

Bought: One skein of Kauni (I can't resist the stuff!) in yellow/orange/red.

Coffee/dessert at Java Junction, a Reese's peanut butter cup mocha. Then on to the Swift Stitch.

Bought: 3 skeins of Plymouth Fantasy Naturale from the "2 buck bucket"; one skein Chasing Rainbows mohair/wool (although I won't do the beret project); one pattern.

6:50 -- Felton

Luminous Threads is my last stop for the day. (I considered also going to Purlescence, which was open until 9, but will save it for another day.) Their project is a knitted bracelet with cables, which I might not do, but I bought the yarn and got the pattern anyway. I reminisced with Amber, the owner, about that terrible stormy day in January when she helped all of us who were trying to get to the Quaker Center for our retreat. Hoping for better weather next January.

Bought: One skein Cascade Greenland; 4 glass buttons.

8:20 -- back home. 7 down, 12 to go.



Sunday, September 14, 2008

Back to Portland


Dateline: Portland, OR, 9/14/08

After many years without visiting Portland, I am here for the second time this year. This time I'm attending the Knit and Crochet Show, an event held jointly by the national knitting and crochet guilds. I flew this time, not being up for another 1500-mile round-trip drive. The weather is a lot better than when I was here in March. No snow this time; in fact, it's warmer here than it is at home.

I'm practicing traveling light for my trip to Italy next month, when I'll be taking several train trips. I did pretty well on clothing, but of course I brought more yarn and more projects than I could possibly work on in 4 days. Still, I had no problem taking the light rail from the airport to a stop just a half block from the hotel. I continue to be impressed with Portland's public transportation.

Knit and Crochet is a much smaller conference than Stitches. This has good and bad points. The market is a lot less crowded, but there are a lot fewer vendors. There are fewer classes to choose from, but still a good variety, and a lot more crochet classes than at Stitches. This time I took exclusively crochet classes. I don't crochet as much as I knit, but I really enjoy crochet, and I'd like to learn more about it. (The market included a booth for the Crochet Liberation Front, a group that defends crochet against the too-common bias against it among knitters.)

Both of my Friday classes were with Darla Fanton. I've taken classes with Darla before; she's an excellent teacher, and she teaches unusual techniques like Tunisian crochet. These two classes were in bead crochet. I had a really hard time with the first class, which was crocheting a bracelet with very fine thread and a tiny hook. After several bad starts, I gave up and decided I should try it with heavier thread first. I did a lot better in the afternoon class, where we crocheted a necklace with wire (pictured at the top).

Yesterday I took a shawl crochet class with Melissa Leapman, a New Yorker who is the author of several knit and crochet books. We made 3 miniature shawls in class, and I really enjoyed the two triangular samples. The one on top has a picot edge and the other a ruffled edge. Since most of my crochet work so far has been limited to scarves, I was happy to learn how to do increases.

This morning's class was in broomstick lace with Jennifer Hansen, the owner of Stitch Diva Studios, who also specializes in unusual techniques. I couldn't imagine what kind of technique would use a huge knitting needle (size US 19) along with a small crochet hook, but I soon found out. You make big loops and put them on the knitting needle, then crochet into groupings of the loops. The class project, which I haven't yet finished, was a small Victorian drawstring pouch. Jennifer managed to include all sorts of techniques in the project: increases, decreases, short rows, and working in the round. I think this technique would make a beautiful scarf.

Of course I was tired for my Sunday afternoon class, but I still enjoyed Going Around in Circles with Marty Miller. We crocheted several sample circles, learning how to increase (if starting from the inside) or decrease (from the outside), add a ruffle, etc. The sample at the upper left is the beginning of a short row circle.

I was pretty restrained at the market, buying only a little bit of yarn, a book and a few patterns. I think I've finally caught on to the fact that I have an excessive stash, and spending a lot of time beading has decreased my desire to buy yarn. I'm also saving up some yarn buying "credits" for next week's Peninsula LYS Shop Hop.

I didn't have much time to be a tourist in Portland, but I did go to the Saturday Market yesterday. This Portland institution goes back almost 35 years. My first trip here was in 1975, when Jim and I came here to visit his brother Tom and sister-in-law Suzy, who lived here then. On Saturday morning they chopped a bunch of ingredients and came to the Saturday Market, where they operated a taco stand. (This was in addition to their day jobs.) Now the food stands seem a lot more commercialized, and the market is a lot bigger than I remembered.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Who is this Woman?

Dateline: Emerald Hills, 9/9/08

I don't mean to turn this into a political blog, but I need to talk about someone who's been on my mind a lot for the last week and a half: the Republican vice presidential nominee.

Who is this woman to whom I've reacted with such strong and contradictory emotions? I dislike her even more than I do the current president and vice president. But I'm also fascinated by her and reluctantly admire her. I read everything I can find about her. I mentally recite the odd names of her 5 children. She is the Princess Diana of American politics, and I was fascinated by Diana too.

How can her story have caused me to think like a sexist? I question whether a mother of 5, including an infant with Down's syndrome, should want a job like the vice presidency. I know better than to ask questions like that. I imagine the conversations in which she persuaded her 17-year-old daughter to keep her baby, and the daughter's boyfriend to agree to be married and to travel to St. Paul. She's a "family values" person, but is she exploiting her family for her own political ambition?

How can an acceptance speech charm me and anger me at the same time? Charmed because of her obvious intelligence (even though someone else wrote the speech) and performing ability. Angered by her sarcasm about community organizing, and by the venom in her voice when she said "San Francisco". Contemptuous of the way she pronounces "Eye-raq".

When her selection was announced, I was overjoyed. He chose an unknown governor from a faraway state? He thinks he can attract Hillary's supporters just by choosing a woman? This will cost him the election! And I can't wait to watch her debate Joe Biden. But now the selection looks like a brilliant move. It looks as if they can win, and I'm terrified. In 4 years she could be president of the United States. She could complete this country's transition to theocracy.

Who is this woman? Let's hope that we don't have to find out more than we already know. Let's hope that after November 4 she goes back to just being the governor of a faraway state, even though she'll no longer be so unknown.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Wordle

Dateline: Emerald Hills, 8/19/08

From the KnitPicks staff blog I discovered Wordle. You can feed this site a URL or some text, and it creates a colorful "word cloud" that gives greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the text. You can see the Wordle created from my blog on the sidebar, and click on it for a larger view.

It appears to me that Wordle looked only at the most recent posts on my blog. London and yarn are the dominant words. Surely I used the word "Portland" just as often as "London" during my trip there in March? And surely I mention beads as often as I mention yarn? And why is Jeffrey's British friend Richard more prominent than Jeffrey himself?

Still, I'm happy with my Wordle. Its color scheme looks good with the blog, so I didn't take the opportunity to change the colors. I like the fact that words like "women", "knitting", "shopping" and "restaurants" appear. "Trip" and "stores" have special prominence, which seems very appropriate to this blog.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Field Trips

Dateline: Stockton, 7/11/08; Petaluma and San Rafael, 7/19/08

Recently I went on two shopping expeditions: one with beading friends to Stockton, and the other with knitting friends to Petaluma and San Rafael. There was a certain symmetry to the two trips. Each included six women (I was the only overlap). In each case, one of the women drove an SUV that fit all six comfortably. Since other people were driving, I was able to relax and knit in the car. Each trip involved about an hour and a half's drive. And by accident, the beading trip included one yarn store and the knitting trip included one bead store.

On the Stockton trip, our main objective was Bead Dreams, which has probably the best selection of seed beads I've ever seen. Other people came with specific shopping lists, but I just bought what looked good to me, hoping that I didn't already have the same color at home. After lunch at a nice crepe restaurant, we spent some time at Knit Witz, whose sign we happened to see on the way into town. There we heard that there was another bead store in town, so of course we made an unscheduled stop at Beads Plus.

The excuse for the knitting trip was to go to the Muench Yarns factory sale in Petaluma. The sale had a lot more yarns than just Muench, since Knitterly, a nearby yarn store, contributed lots of yarn to the sale. Most of the yarn was discounted 50%. I'm embarrassed to say how much I spent on yarn (which I obviously don't need more of); let's just say that I was the big spender in our group. We had lunch at a surprisingly good sports bar in a nearby mall. (I generally don't like sports bars, or almost anything with the word "sports" in its name.)

After lunch we headed south to San Rafael, where we stopped at two more yarn stores, Dharma Trading Co. and Marin Fiber Arts. At Dharma I resisted the temptation to buy more yarn, but I did buy two beaded scrunchies which I wear as bracelets. At Marin I couldn't resist a skein of lace weight Whisper in bright greens. While walking on the main street of San Rafael we happened upon Baubles and Beads, so of course we had to go in there too. I had been to their Berkeley store before, but not yet to San Rafael. You can read Vivian's account of the knitting field trip, with pictures, here.

Although I've talked before about my enjoyment of traveling and shopping by myself, I also really enjoyed these chances to spend a day with other beaders and knitters. I'll look forward to the next field trips!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Shopping in London

Dateline: London, 6/28/08 - 7/6/08

I can imagine my knitting and beading friends thinking: All this travel stuff is ok, but what we really want to know is: What did you BUY? The truth is that I didn't have a lot of shopping time, because we were busy being tourists and seeing family and friends. And when I did have time for shopping, I was so tired that I didn't take full advantage. This is just as well, because I didn't go as overboard as I might have.

During our walk on the south bank of the Thames, I spotted a shop called Funki Fresh that sells beautiful machine-knit garments. After trying on some shrugs and thinking "I should knit something like this", I decided on a purple ruffled scarf that drapes beautifully.


My prize for the most unusual yarn store goes to Weardowny. When I arrived, there was a couch standing on end, between the gate and the main door. I managed to get in anyway and was greeted by friendly women and a friendly dog. There were knitted garments for sale and a small selection of yarn, mostly Rowan. They have knitting classes, and there's also a guest house upstairs. For class projects they have several patterns for sampler scarves. I couldn't resist buying a cute gift package of 2 skeins of yarn and small straight needles in a miniature hat box, plus the pattern for the lace sampler scarf, for 28 pounds. There was no way this was worth $56, but I was caught up in the charm of the place.

I found the yarn departments at two department stores, Liberty and John Lewis, not so easy until I figured out that it was listed under "haberdashery". John Lewis has a substantial yarn inventory, but the prices seemed a lot higher than for the same yarns in the U.S. Liberty's prices were even higher. Both stores had a 50% off sale on selected yarns. At John Lewis I bought some Rowan Kidsilk Night on sale for 3.75 pounds per skein, or about $7.50. I see that online U.S. prices are about $13 - $14, so I did get a bargain. Both stores also had some beads and other craft supplies. Liberty has always been one of my favorite stores. Outside it looks like a medieval castle, and inside the floors look down on a central atrium. The store has gorgeous fabric that always makes me wish that I sewed. There were also two non-department yarn stores on my list, but I didn't manage to get to either of them.

There are two bead stores within a block of each other in the Covent Garden area, London Bead Shop and The Bead Shop. Neither had anything that I couldn't find in the U.S. One was better than the other, although I've forgotten which! The better one had a good selection of seed beads and I bought some.

The new Swarovski Crystallized Cosmos and Lounge is trying hard to be hip and contemporary-looking. The beads are displayed in plastic drawers. The upstairs lounge serves champagne and fancy hors d'oeurvres, and had an exhibit of crystallized clothing.

Camden Town is a funky part of the city that borders on Regent's Canal, and is famous for its street markets. We spent a little time there with Jeffrey and Helene, looking for lunch and overwhelmed by the many food stalls. Later I went back by myself and bought this bag which is all a single zipper, and can be completely unzipped into a very long zipper. ("But why would you want to do that," Jeffrey asked when we first saw the booth. I don't really have an answer; I just thought it was nice and unique, and I have a bag stash that almost rivals my yarn and bead stashes.)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

London Life

Dateline: London, 28/6/08 - 6/7/08

I appreciate the signs that are painted on many London streets, reminding you which way to look for oncoming traffic. The arrow is an especially nice touch, in case you've forgotten which way "right" is.

Congestion pricing, which charges drivers to drive into the central part of the city, seems to be working well in London. Traffic seemed better than I remember from previous visits. Cars are very good about stopping for pedestrians. Too bad that New York recently rejected congestion pricing.

The Underground (affectionately known as the Tube), London's subway system, is convenient and usually easy to use. Wherever you are in the city, there's usually a Tube station nearby. But we found that often either individual stations or whole lines are closed. Frequently while we were there, the line we needed to take was closed because of "communication problems". The announcements about the closings were difficult for us to understand because of the British accents. We started looking online to see if there were Tube problems before we left our apartment. Usually it's not hard to re-route.

Riding the Tube requires a lot of walking and stair-climbing. Only the deepest stations have escalators, and a few have lifts. The stairs, plus all the walking I did, are probably the reason that I gained only 3 pounds during the trip. On this trip we took the Tube to and from Heathrow airport, which required a change of trains. It worked quite well, aside from having to carry our suitcases up or down some stairs, and also deal with the infamous "gap" between the train and the platform. (There's often a recorded warning to "mind the gap" when a train comes into a station.)

On my first visit, in 1971, people who saw me looking at a map in the street would often ask if I needed help, and sometimes even offer to walk me to my destination! That didn't happen this time, although a man on the Tube offered us help as we consulted the Tube map (turned out he was from Australia and had recently moved to London). When I asked some people for directions to Liberty, a well-known department store, the people I asked said they weren't from here and didn't know. I found it pretty much by accident, about a block away. But people were very friendly when we approached them with questions.

Prices are very expensive, especially with the pound now worth about 2 dollars. (For years it was worth about a dollar and a half.) In restaurants, prices would have looked a bit high if they had been in dollars, but looked extremely high considering they were in pounds. Our pre-theater afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason, a fancy department store that sells gourmet foods, came to 81 pounds, or $162. (Granted, it did include a glass of champagne.)

There wasn't much that was unique playing in London theaters. We saw We Will Rock You, a musical based on the rock group Queen. It has played in Las Vegas and I had planned to go see it there. Jim and I both liked it, even though it was loud, used lots of strobe lights, and had a flimsy plot that was really just an excuse for the music. We weren't exactly in its demographic, but we enjoyed it anyway.

Life in the apartment was mostly smooth, with just a few unusual occurrences. We brought electrical adapters so that we could charge our various electronics. Our dvd's wouldn't play in their player, so the Netflix we brought came home unused. (We didn't have much time for watching movies anyway, and I managed to do very little beading or knitting on the trip.) I loved the British water boiler appliance, which boils water hot enough for tea in seconds. (I've asked Jim to get me one for my birthday!) As I usually do while I'm in England, I became a tea drinker and even added milk and sugar, which I never do at home. Our only struggle was with the washer/dryer, a single machine that does both, but which refused to get our clothes dry, even after we ran it all night. I had to dry that day's underwear with a hair dryer, and we hung the rest of the clothes all over the apartment to dry. We never figured out whether we had done something wrong, or if that's just the way the machine worked.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Less Than an Hour by Train

Dateline: Buckinghamshire, 2/7/08

"Less than an hour by train" is a phrase that Leonard Bernstein used to describe American suburbs in his 1950's opera Trouble in Tahiti. Travel less than an hour by train from London, and you're not in the suburbs, you're in the beautiful English countryside, in Buckinghamshire (abbreviated Bucks), a county north of London. We traveled here to spend the day with Jeffrey's old friends Richard and Judy, who live in the picturesque town of Stony Stratford.

Richard met our train in Milton Keynes, the largest city in Bucks, which from what we saw consists mostly of office buildings and shopping malls. We quickly drove out of Milton Keynes to the small town of Winslow, which had a farmer's market that day. We had lunch at a small sandwich shop that served delicious and unusual fillings, such as bacon and Stilton, on baguette.

After lunch we visited the village of Nether Winchendon, which according to Jeffrey's research is one of the most charming villages in Bucks. The village has no stores or restaurants, only houses and a church dating from the early 13th century. Richard pointed out the old mailbox; "V R" means that the mailbox was made during the reign of Queen Victoria. (Newer mailboxes say "E II R", which stands for the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.)

Our next stop was Claydon House, the ancestral home of the Verney family. The estate now belongs to the National Trust, although members of the family still live in one of the wings. The Verneys were associated with the English civil war in the 17th century, and also with Florence Nightingale, whose sister married a Verney, and who was a frequent visitor to Claydon.

We ended the day in Stony Stratford, where Richard and Judy's house is about a block from the main street. The town was beautifully decked out with flowers, part of an effort led by Judy to enter the town in a beautiful village competition. Stony Stratford is the place where the phrase "cock and bull story" originated, referring to two rival pubs. The town has no less than 6 Indian restaurants, and we ate at the one considered the best, Kardamom Lounge. That night the restaurant had its "gourmet special", where for 10 pounds each person could choose a starter, main dish, bread, side dish, rice, and dessert. The amount of food on the table was astounding, and even more astounding, the 7 of us managed to eat most of it. When we left the restaurant at around 10, there was still some daylight left, although it was completely dark by the time we got to the train station for the trip back to London.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Walking Around London

Dateline: London, 1/7/08 (July 1)

London is a great city for walking, and I feel as if I've walked around the whole city these past few days. I'm too tired to write a long post, but here are some pictures of the highlights.

Outside the British Library, where we saw manuscripts (including Beatles songs).

On the Tube.

The London Eye, seen from Green Park.

Walking across one of the Thames bridges.

Regents Canal (Jeffrey and Helene walked while we took a boat).


Waiting to board the London Eye (a slow-moving ferris wheel with large compartments, offering spectacular views of the city).

Parliament, seen from the Eye.