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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Channeling My Inner Suzy Homemaker and Calling Carrie Bradshaw

Despite how much I sucked at Home Ec (I kicked ass in shop), I have a pretty strong domestic streak.* I enjoy cooking and baking, and my love of fiber seems to know no bounds. (I will learn to spin, I will learn to spin.) All of a sudden, I am itching to sew. I have been bitten by the Amy Butler bug. So...I ordered a bunch of patterns and some fabric (Purl Soho had a very nice 40% off sale on some charming textiles), made the rounds of local fabric stores, and I am going to oil up the Singer and, hell, yeah, I am going to sew. We'll just have to see how that goes.

I've started and finished a few small knitting projects in the last couple of weeks, including some socks and a few cowls. (I hope cowls don't become the ponchos of 2008--I'm investing far too much time and $$ only to abandon them in a season or two. I have some Quiviut versions in the queue--yum!)

This week I have to choose my projects carefully because the combination of the Alchemy Magician's Scarf (that Silken Straw is unforgiving stuff) and some gardening has wreaked havoc on my hands. After a few rounds, they start to ache--not good, not good at all. So, I am taking it easy and maybe I will use my "down time" to practice spinning.
Yesterday, I went to see "Sex and the City." (I have a serious thing for Mike Logan/Mr. Big, both flawed but very hot characters.) I left wanting to toss all of my Danskos and Borns and invest heavily in Jimmy Choos and Manolos. Not gonna happen, mind you, but it was tempting. I actually have a pair of Manolos that I have never worn. I got them on clearance from Neiman's several years ago (I just totally blew my style cred by admitting they were on clearance), but I never had an outfit to wear with them. One thing I have learned from those Sex girls, your shoes do not have to match the outfit at all. Watch the feet--you'll see what I mean.

After a very cool spring, it looks like the nicer weather may have arrived. Today was absolutely perfect: sunny with an occasional cloud, warm but breezy, and not humid at all. So long as it stays this way, this will be my view for most of the season:

We are so, so very lucky to have a large balcony on our house. Our next door neighbors to the north have one, too, and it's a very good thing we get along with them because we're only about 5' apart. It is quite a luxury here in the city--both to have neighbors you love and a great outdoor space.

The husband, the boys, and I all got a big dose of quality balcony time today. Actually, Pitch lost privileges for eating flowers and Papel got sent to the dugout for having a battle of wills with a terribly brazen pigeon. There was no contact--just a fierce staring contest that threatened to turn ugly for somebody. Considering I found a squirrel's tail--the entire tail--on the sidewalk next to my house this week, I do not want any part in wildlife carnage. (My cats were cleared of all charges in the squirrel case; they are always limited to strictly supervised balcony time and therefore have ironclad alibis.)

(Get a load of all of those tree seeds. There was a solid layer of them covering the floor before I swept up as many as I could. There were times today when it looked like a blizzard.)

P.S. Those clear plastic shoes are not Carrie Bradshaw-approved. I know that, but they amuse me nonetheless.

*My domestic skills DO NOT include cleaning. I. HATE. TO. CLEAN.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Back on Land

I've been home for a few days two weeks , but I have been flying below the radar. It's hard to readjust when the twice-a-day housekeeping services come to a crashing halt. (Hmmm...methinks I hear the sound of tiny violins.)

The trip was great. The two days in Seattle at the beginning were particularly good. It was just me and the husband hitting many of the spots we enjoyed the summer we lived there together. (Could it really have been 1993? Yikes.) We stayed in a great place directly across the street from The Hammering Man. It was a quick trip down the hill to the waterfront and a short walk to Pike Place. I don't know what they put in the water out there, but I swear I was jonesin' for coffee ALL THE TIME. Seriously, I wanted a cappuccino every time I passed a coffee joint, and since they are 3 or 4 to a block (tiny exaggeration), it was a little crazy. We took a liking for Tully's, and I wouldn't mind it at all if they built a few out here.

We walked around Pike Place Market (where the flowers were so gorgeous and so inexpensive), visited the aquarium

(where we took 4000 pictures of otters, 3998 of them blurry),

had dinner at Cascadia (where I had, among other things, super-tasty mini-burgers slathered with truffle butter and an Alpine (Douglas Fir) Martini and the husband finished his meal with "The Catch of the Day"),

took a ferry to Bainbridge Island so that I could visit Churchmouse Yarns and Teas (which has the best English Breakfast Tea and some of the nicest staffers in the universe), and, most importantly to SOMEONE on this trip, had sausages at The Frankfurter. (The Italian Hots live up to the name, that's for sure.)

On boarding day, I went on the yarn crawl organized by the travel agent. It was a little crazy (okay, a lot crazy), because the bus had to make three trips to get all the luggage to the ship before the crawl. (I kept my Bossy Girl Badge in my purse and did not get involved in the mayhem, though there were a few things I was itching to suggest that might have made the morning a tad smoother, IMHO.) We managed to hit three of the four planned stops (Tricoter, Hilltop Yarn, and So Much Yarn; Acorn Street had to be dropped due to the late start.) Hilltop was my favorite shop of the day because of the atmosphere. It is in an old house with Arts and Crafts detailing. It is a cozy little place that is full of charm. Then it was on to the ship.

Celebrity really did a disservice to the passengers on this sailing because the ship did not arrive in port until 7:30pm. Instead of a relaxing day with staggered boarding, all passengers were corralled in a no-frills terminal, given cardboard boxes of packaged snacks, and crammed into too-small waiting areas with too few plastic lawn chairs for seating. Frankly, the experience did not live up to Celebrity's branding and marketing efforts. We did not feel as though we were "treated famously" unless they meant to treat us like D-list celebs just booked on a DUI. We were lucky and boarded by 8:30pm; some people didn't get on until 10:30pm. Not a relaxing first day of cruising by any stretch of the imagination.

The first day at sea was a little rough, and though I had never gotten seasick on a cruise before, I was down for the count. I made it through half of Amy Singer's "Plug and Play Shawl" class before I had to go back to the cabin. Not pretty. By day two I was fine, and even though we had some really rough seas (outdoor decks were closed, shows were cancelled, and warnings to wear flat shoes were issued--that kind of rough), I felt great the rest of the trip.

Our first port was Ketchikan. It's a small place with the requisite Junque Emporia, Tanzanite Forever Outlets, etc., but there are some locally owned and managed places in the downtown, among them, two yarn shops/art galleries run by the same woman who just happened to be vacationing on the same cruise. I went a little overboard (I'm buying yarn in Alaska! I'm buying yarn in Alaska!), but I only purchased things made or dyed in-state. I purchased several things from Raven Frog Fibers (Sitka, AK), some Pink Carrot (dyed in Ketchikan), Rabbit Ridge (Anchorage, AK), and, even though I said I wasn't going to get any, several (okay, five) balls of Quiviuk/Merino/Silk. While I was on a yarn binge, the husband took a float plane to Misty Fjords. (Misty Fjords, by the way, is a character in the book he claims he will someday write; she joins the madcap Bananas Foster and others I cannot currently recall in wacky antics sure to delight. Coming soon to a bookstore near you.)
Our other Alaskan port was Juneau. After asking for directions to the yarn shop, we were first sent to the Ben Franklin (not exactly what I had in mind), but a second person got us where we were going. At Skeins, I got another skein from Raven Frog (supersoft silk/merino in Cabin in the Woods), and a ball of 100% Quiviuk. (When she told us she still had 2006 prices on it, I couldn't resist.) The husband and I also got alpaca sweaters (totally imported from S. America, but gorgeous nonetheless--and they're not matching sweaters, just in case you were wondering) from a boutique down the street. After dumping the booty back on the ship, we took a whale watching excursion. We saw 5 or 6 humpbacks, a porpoise or two, sea lions, and bald eagles.

I would have loved to have spotted a bear on the shoreline of Admiralty Island, but it didn't happen. (I did see a bear at Mendenhall Glacier the last time we were in Juneau, so that will have to do.)

Our third Alaskan destination was a visit to Hubbard Glacier. As we did last time, the ship was able to get within a mile of the glacier (through a dense ice field this visit), but it was really cold and nasty on deck. Freezing rain and gusty winds made it a bit rough, but it is an amazing thing to see 6-7 mile-long, 300' tall wall of ice in front of you.

Our final port was Victoria, BC, a place we'd been several times before. The ship was a few hours late docking due to the bad weather and reduced speed, so the travel agent called ahead to Beehive Wool Shop to make sure they'd stay open. The husband said the scene at Beehive was like watching zombies looking for brains to feed on, and I have to say that he wasn't far off. (Someone actually grabbed a skein of yarn that was in my my hand. 'Nuff said.) Beehive has an astounding array of Fleece Artist and Hand Maiden, and that's what we zombies were out for. I tried to get out as quickly as I could. When the call went out that the bulk of the knitters were arriving--we didn't take the group bus so we got a bit of a jump on things--I got to the register and hightailed it out of Dodge. (It was crowded before the bus arrived; it must have been madness after.) We spent the rest of the evening strolling around the harbor, browsing in Munro's (a local bookstore with an amazing contemporary tapestry exhibit on display), eating fish and chips and hoisting a pint at Swan's, and reminiscing about our last visit there.

The next morning we woke up docked in Seattle. Disembarking went much more smoothly than getting on, and we were off and had our luggage by 10am. Since our flight wasn't until 2:40pm, I suggested we drag our luggage (4 suitcases plus carryons!) a half-mile or so to The Frankfurter so that the husband could have another sausage or two before heading home.
All in all, it was a great trip. We made some new friends (shout out to VicKnitChick and KnittingonCall and G, in particular), nabbed some great fiber, and had a fantastic time together.

We're booked for Sea Socks '09, departing Baltimore with stops in Boston, St. John, Halifax, Bar Harbor and another port in Maine. Amy Singer and Jillian Moreno are scheduled to be on board. (If you ever get a chance to hang with Amy Singer, do. She is very, very cool.)

Last but not least, thanks for your comments. The winners are: Abbeykins and The A.D.D. Knitter. I will email you both to get snail mail addresses to send your winnings!

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Tourist at Home...and a Contest for Tourists.

I am exhausted! My oldest friend (well, she isn't my oldest friend, but the friend I've known the longest) was here with her youngest son this weekend. Here is a quick run-down of what we did:

  • walked around my neighborhood.

  • took him on his first El (and subway) ride.

  • went to the Shedd aquarium where we saw the Komodo Dragon, the dolphin show, and a 4-d movie. (Think water spraying in your face, air jets on your neck and feet, and things poking you in your back. Fun, actually.)

  • went to the Field Museum.

  • posed for hysterical pictures (none of which are on my camera) with the globe exhibit at the Museum Campus. (Think young boy as Atlas, pretending to spin an 8-foot globe on his finger, etc.)

  • came back to my house for a dinner of homemade crabcakes, salad, celery root puree (which the 9-year-old tried!), and strawberry shortcake.

  • ate lunch the Signature Room on the 95th Floor of the Hancock Building.

  • took him on his first cab ride.

  • went to the Lincoln Park Zoo where he and I indulged our penchants for penny medallions (flattened pennies.)

  • ate at a Chicago landmark, Geja's, an atmospheric fondue restaurant. Gruyere and Swiss fondue followed by lobster, beef tenderloin, and vegetables in an oil fondue, and ending with dark chocolate. Sorry to those near us hoping for a romantic evening--fondue with a 9-year-old does not lend itself to romance, though no one was injured during the consumption of this meal despite the presence of pointy objects, hot liquids, and flame.

  • watched the Simpsons movie, which he narrated with every line prior to its actual delivery by the characters on-screen.

  • ate at a Swedish restaurant in my neighborhood so he could try Swedish pancakes.

  • went to Millennium Park to see Cloudgate, aka The Bean (which he kept calling The Lima Pea), the Crown Fountain, etc.

  • walked to the river to see the Wrigley Building.

  • saw the famous Chicago puppet bike.

  • went back to the Lincoln Park Zoo again. (The Lion Building was closed the day before for a special event, and there was an untapped penny machine which caused great yearning.)

  • walked through the Lincoln Park Conservatory.

  • had Chicago-style hot dogs.

  • ate paletas, Mexican popsicles sold from pushcarts and quite prevalent in my neighborhood.
I am beat. Now that I am done being a tourist in my own city, I need to quickly pack to be an actual tourist. I am off to Sea Socks.

While I am gone, I was hoping to entice some of you to de-lurk with a little contest. I am a prolific collector of souvenir yarns, skeins I have procured on trips. What is your favorite vacation yarn or, alternately, your favorite fiber-related field trip? Post your answers in the comments to win a fabulous hand-selected skein of sock yarn. I promise really good stuff. Pinky swear. (Ooops, that was the 9-year-old rubbing off on me.) One skein will be awarded for my favorite answer and one will be awarded at random, one prize per person. (The last time I had a contest, only one person entered, so she was the sole winner. I hope that a few more people will comment this time.) Winners will be notified the week of May 19.