Thursday, May 25, 2017

The ridealong sock

I can't believe I ever took a trip without throwing some knitting in my suitcase, and I am never taking a trip without some again.  Not only did the sock yarn and needles I brought to Germany help me feel productive while stuck sitting on a bus, I got a pair of socks for a souvenir.  Yay!

Here is the sock partway through the first week we were away, as we drove to Bonn from Cologne for a tour of the house Beethoven was born in.  I like Beethoven's music and the brief tour we had of his home was interesting of course, but I am what I am and my takeaways were really only two.

1/ further confirmation of the shorter height of average person back then and

2/ new realization that I would not like to live in a house that old unless it was made of stone, because I would develop a bizarre creeping tic after a day or so of gingerly stepping across such fragile-sounding floors and stairs.

Okay I'm going to be honest here: Bonn was my second-least favourite city on the tour, after Munich, which I did not enjoy (apart from an hour or so in a park area) even though I learned the most there.  I mean no disrespect to Bonn - I mean, I was just passing through and can't judge.  It was rainy, we weren't there long enough to relax and explore, I am not a big gummi or licorice consumer (Haribo candies originated in Bonn and there is a flagship store there which might otherwise have redeemed the day) and my toe hurt a lot.

BUT there was one thing that makes Bonn stand out in my memory, which is that is is where I almost bought something I really wanted.

Here is the long long story, complete with pictures.

I have a cousin who lived in Berlin for two years, so when I had a chance that day, I e-mailed her to ask where I could get aid for my bad toe.  She lives in England now so the time difference was negligible.  Her advice was to look for a Rossmann store, as they have everything.  Thanks to the beauty of the map function on my phone, we discovered we were three minutes away from one.

Yes, I know, I am lame - I took this pic to wordlessly e-mail her in response.

And yes, they had good stuff for my toe, which we purchased very affordably.  But it is such a cool store we explored the whole thing and in the basement, we found some very cool stationery items, and a nice pair of scissors which I bought because I had forgotten to pack any.

Yeah, Bonn is also where I found a knitting store that sold unspun wool for stuffing into shoes to prevent blisters (not pictured), and a block away, a sewing store where I treated myself to some new darning needles and a sewing kit.  I think I took this picture to illustrate a possible post on Souvenirs Knitters Buy.

BUT as we were leaving the basement of Rossmann, I found an entire bin of half price Things I Wanted.  Here is a pic I took the day I first became aware of the Things, a couple of summers ago here in Toronto while browsing through a gift shop in the Distillery District:

These plush toys are called 'Worry Eaters'.  The idea is that a nervous child with some sort of crippling fear or worry can write it down, unzip the Thing's mouth, stuff it in, and sleep peacefully knowing the Worry Eater is taking it away.  Ooookay then.

Let's look at the Thing another way, shall we?

For a start, they are made with THE SOFTEST FABRIC EVER. Completely touchable velvet.  Plus, stripes!!!!  Straightaway, I was sold.  But also, you can open up the pocket on the front and keep stuff in there like the ring you don't want knocking around, or a candy bar for later, or a tiny stuffed mouse that would look funny hanging halfway out and placed cleverly in a chair so you have something to giggle over when you come into the room. Maybe that idea leaves you as unmoved as the worry note idea leaves me, but in my opinion the entertainment value alone is huge.  Sadly, so is the price tag, so I never did buy one here at home.

However, the moment I saw the bin of sale priced Worry Eaters I realized two things.

Not only could I finally afford one, but the supersoft fabric would be an excellent Flying Home In A Plane aid, because the trip over was a bit dicey and I knew I needed more support for the one back.

Not to mention that I could keep my takeoff and landing gum in the zip pocket, thereby keeping it close in case of extended turbulence.

So I was especially excited to pick up one with long bunny ears - I love rabbits for some reason - and saw that its tag said MARY.

I am serious.  Half price.  Favourite animal.  My own name.

And I did not buy it, because Pete went, Meh, do you really need that?

aieeeeee why do I listen??? I couldn't be sure of my answer until the next day, when it was Yes, yes I really need that.  So for the rest of the trip, as we moved from city to city, we went into every Rossmann within walking distance, which I deemed to be one hour or less.  Pete generously went along with the plan but I did not find a single other bin of Worry Eaters in any of them.  Eventually in Munich we found displays of full-price Marys but I couldn't justify that, so I came home with no stuffed friends. SIGH.

Okay, back to the real topic of this post, which is Sock.

I was careful to pack the two sock bags one inside the other and then sort of wedged at the top of my suitcase so that once I was through security in Frankfurt I could unzip enough of my checked luggage to reach in and grab a sock bag to transfer to my purse, and then knit on the bus to Cologne.  This strategy worked out very well, as demonstrated by the stripes on that first sock picture.  By the time we headed out for Bonn, I'd made use of around three hours of unproductive time.

This is the sock after we drove back from Bonn, in the evening when I was trying to keep my hands warm during a concert in Cologne Cathedral. 

The Cathedral, and the concerts generally, are going to get their own post, because Wow.

The next morning we left Cologne to go stay in Regensburg for a few days, and that day was more or less All Bus All The Time. 

We took a brief break to spend about 45 minutes in medieval Nuremberg (you need more than 45 minutes, it's gorgeous there) and a bit longer in the museum of the Nazi Parade Grounds (not being able to figure out the audio guides made it easier to limit the emotionally difficult content to exactly what you could take... we ended up focusing on personal accounts of the rallies by elderly people who had been children at the time, neatly co-opted by the propaganda and sense of inclusion.)  Then we had supper at a beergarden which was very pretty and garden-idyllic, just across the lake from the oh so disturbing museum.

Still, it was an excellent day for knitting, even though I did get a bit antsy after so much time on the bus, and had to stop a few times to play with the sock.

Chompy sock!!

Baby chicken sock!

We got to spend the weekend in Regensburg, and Pete and I really enjoyed our time there.  Everything we wanted or had to do was walkable from our hotel, it's an incredibly beautiful and intact medieval town, and the rain we'd had since we arrived - stopped. I think that was where I figured out that I could keep my knitting in the giant pocket of the smock I'd brought, allowing me to take out my knitting whenever I wanted, even while strolling over cobbles.  So even though I was not on a bus a lot, I still made progress.

Didn't graft the toe though, even though I'd bought darning needles; I just got going on sock number two:

The wooden square needles I bought to take on the trip worked out just fine, but I still prefer metal; I notice the difference in the tips, which feel more accurate that way.  But I would take wooden ones for traveling again, as they seem less threatening, security-wise, and do a good enough job for this girl.

And there you have the story of my trip knitting.  Yay!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Knitting day to day

Let's start with the UGH of routine knitting, and then we'll get to the fun stuff. 

Don't you hate when you somehow manage to pick up a lower strand of yarn to knit into a stitch, then figure out a way to pull down an upper strand on the next round?  And then have to rip two stitches back about twelve rounds to fix the lump all that that makes, only to realize you don't know where your crochet hook went?

Also, I realized right after I set up this correction that I am missing a needle.  You know, from the old set I love that they don't make any more.  Hopefully I lost it in the condo and not in the Knitter's Guild meeting where I was knitting with Trish the other night.

I keep meaning to go to these meetings on a regular basis.  I'm lucky enough to live in a city with a huge group of knitters that puts on interesting events and brings in speakers - why not participate every month?? Because it's hard for me to get away on a Wednesday night, apparently.  This meeting was different though because Emily was the guest.  You know, the incredibly talented artist behind Viola yarns.  I wasn't going to miss that because I think Emily is wonderful and also, she was going to be selling stuff.

I was feeling the shortage of sock yarn now that I've knit Viola socks for Wayson and he loves them and wants more. 

The talk was fascinating.  Emily showed slides of photographs that demonstrate how she comes up with her amazing colours, but the takeaway for me is that she fully accepts a creative process that is not even remotely linear.  At one point she showed a picture of a tree beside a building whose siding was reflecting the sun, and out of all the amazing aspects of that image - her colour inspiration was the negative space between them all.  Since my creative process is turning out to be a lot less structured than I have tried to make it all these years, I was pretty impressed by the way she's learned to go with it rather than fight it.  I've been trying to do the same thing the last few months, and it's been working out for me really well, but I'm not yet at the stage of 'unconscious competence'.

Trish was the one who tipped me off about this meeting while I was still in Germany, and thankfully, on the day we were both able to get away.  On the way back through the University of Toronto campus we walked down this space between buildings that's been beautifully planted with trees and light posts.

Kind of reminded me of the lovely paths in the old towns we visited in Germany.  While I was there I kept thinking, why don't we have more of this or more of that?  So it was nice to stroll down such a beautiful path here at home.  Definitely nicer than remembering, after seeing so many big elaborate fountains in the middle of squares, that there IS a big elaborate fountain in a parkette right near our condo - topped by a dog bone and graced with alternating dog and cat statues.  I mean it's not exactly the same feeling as a classic centuries-old fountain, you know?

Yesterday I met my friend and writing mentor Wayson for brunch which felt VERY luxurious.  He has a favourite cafe and that's where we meet, for coffee and, usually, something with eggs.  This time I tried a breakfast sandwich that was boiled eggs, bacon, and tomato with a little mayo between two slices of multigrain bread - grilled.  Heaven.  Also I had a latte and for the first time ever, I actually ate the foam on top with a spoon separately from the rest.  Wow.  How did I manage to miss the amazingness of that all these years??

And we had such a good visit, too...he is so positive and supportive and interesting, and also very engaged in life.  I feel so fortunate to have a friend like him.  Afterward I felt very creative and inspired and did some good work on my current writing project, and made some more sock progress (until I realized I had messed up those stitches so many rounds back) with his next pair of socks in mind.  I am thinking I will knit them in Sea Storm, the colourway I didn't want to take with me to Germany since we were, after all, flying a really, really long time over the ocean.

I think I forgot to mention about the turbulence during the flights there and back.  The good news is, it was not bad at all.  The bad moment was during takeoff from Germany - it was getting to be a rainy afternoon and I guess we hit some air because there was a big drop as we were first ascending, and then another, and for the rest of the flight I was keenly aware of how high we were and how long from being on firm ground again.  At one point, I got undeniably alarmed about how loud the engines were getting from time to time - alarmed enough to ask the flight-savvy person next to me what all that was about.  He told me it was because the plane was speeding up to compensate for the air pockets we were going through, as this can smooth out turbulence and produce a more comfortable flight.  WHAT a relief.  And also, next time I am totally springing for noise canceling earphones because planes are not getting any less noisy. 

The socks I knit in Germany were very bright, and I was surprised by how soothing I found these socks to be when I grabbed one to take to the Guild meeting.  Greens and pale purples... they're just a great combination for calm, don't you think?

It's getting easier to knit, now.  My fingers still get a bit pins and needle-y, but I can go longer before they feel stiff, and I'm very grateful because I've missed it.  It's like having a tiny loom in your hands, knitting - don't you find?  You sit quietly or while chatting and move your hands in these repetitive motions and then you look down and you have cloth.  Amazing, and at the same time, an everyday sort of thing.  
Isn't that the best part about knitting?  Everyday magic?  Aw, who am I kidding - the best part is wearing when you've made. Ha!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Knitting holiday

Jet lag: it's everywhere you want to be.  Still, there's no pretending that countries in other time zones aren't kinda worth the pain, right?

Somewhere magical in the medieval centre of Aachen
And I got to knit while we were in Germany.  When I'm working at top speed (without scheduling knit-specific sitdowns to get ahead on purpose), I can make a pair of socks in two weeks. I came really close to finishing a pair on our recent trip, even though I didn't pack them in my carry-on luggage to knit on the plane, because we were on a tour bus a lot...

plus, I knit through the concerts we went to hear.
I felt badly about this because I didn't want anybody to think that I wasn't paying full attention even though I can knit on autopilot and kept my eyes on the choirs.  Normally, this worry is enough to keep me from knitting in a concert but guess what: stone can be cold!  And a stone cathedral can be REALLY cold.

The first concert was in the cathedral in Aachen, which is essentially just the dome, and it was warm and cosy

and softly lit

(this light fixture is I think 700 years old now?  and very heavy, incidentally.  and not in use in this pic.) 
I mean, SO beautiful.  But the second concert was in the Cologne cathedral,

which is very big and made of stone and essentially impossible to heat.

Since I'd forgotten to bring my fingerless mitts out with me that day, knitting was the only way I could keep my hands warm.  Nobody questioned me about it so after that I just knit through every one, even though I stowed hat/mitts/scarf in my daypack for every other church visit.

Okay, true confessions time: the 'packing light' concept did not work out so well for me.  Next time you catch me gloating about how efficient I've been, feel free to remind me!

The night before we left I was putting stuff into the bag Pete and I intended to share, and suddenly realized that while it all fit, there would be zero room for any purchases or bringing home stuff for other people with already-full bags, as I knew we would end up doing because Group Tour.  So if you happened to be in downtown Toronto the day we left you would have noticed me literally running to The Bay in time for their opening at 10am, to buy a suitcase to check into the cargo bay of the plane.  Seriously, I did this.  And we traveled over with two big bags that were mostly empty.

Then when we arrived I realized I had forgotten to bring:
a nail clipper;
a sewing kit;
loose wool to tuck into my shoes in case of blisters;
a single pair of shorts;
sun screen;
either of the gel tube things I bought to protect the baby toe that was mashed by a heavy thing dropping on it a few days before we left; and
any clothing that was not black (except for two tops that mixed black and white).  I am actually recoiling from black clothes right now, after years of cultivating a black-based wardrobe.  I think I might be starved for colour now, officially.

AND I had packed a heavy pair of (black) shoes I could not wear because of The Toe.

I mean I honestly thought my foot would recover by week two, but No.  It got worse.  I saw a doctor just before we left who assured me it was not broken, but suffering from soft tissue damage.  So technically, it should just heal, and would have by now, if I could have rested it.  As it turned out, we were walking around ten hours a day on the days that weren't bus-infested, and the bus days weren't exactly slack either.

Some days it wasn't just the toe - my ankle was visibly swollen and the toe itself was hot, which worried me a lot.  I ended up filling a small packing cube with the gear we bought at various Apotheke shops, including the 30 euro tube of Heparin that I only used a couple of times.

Fun fact: Apothekes don't take Visa.

I have to take a moment to marvel over German Apothekes.  We found other shops that do a more North American version of drugstores, selling a little of everything, but the ones marked Apotheke are downright Spartan.  There are few product displays and little to no brand variety.  What they stock is exactly what you need, and nothing more.  And then there is a giant back room of tiny wooden drawers for the pharmacist to find specialist stuff.  I looooved them.  They were like the commercial version of packing light, with pretty lip balms at the cash desk!

Here is how bad the foot thing was: there were another couple of knitters on the trip and they were super excited about knitting, telling me straightaway when they spotted a yarn store - and all I cared about was whether they sold unspun fiber so I could stuff it in my shoe.  (the first one? yes.)

Okay just so we have something for the agony column, let's take a look at the outside of a shop I found in Regensburg even before I heard about it from my fellow knitters:

Is that not adorable?

I bet you would have rushed right in to buy some of that colourful, hand dyed laceweight in the basket on the window sill, to bring home for Trish.  Especially if you weren't afraid the shop only took cash and you'd already spent insane amounts of your limited amount of cash in Apothekes for an injured foot.  (sorry Trish!)

Before we left, I swear I read that Germany is not so big on knitting, but I kept falling over knitting stores every town we went to.  Anyway, it's not like I had so much space after the bag of Apotheke booty went in, and the cute dress, and two linen tops, and the gift chocolate... not to mention the two pairs of Birkenstocks I bought, because everybody else was buying a pair and I did after all have a super sore baby toe. 

I bought this one first, a plastic pair with a totally open toe area which I wore for two easy evenings until they gave me a massive blister on a different toe,

check out the brown/silver vinyl tile floor in hotel #2!

and then a two-strap pair in black unlined leather because I kind of like the look of that style with a pair of handknit socks.  But when I tried wearing them I realized a new pair of Birkenstocks are MUCH stiffer than Mephisto sandals, which is what I have always bought in the past.  I comforted myself with the idea that this particular style is not one that Mephisto produces, only to find when I got home that they do, and the leather is way softer in Mephisto form, too.  Grrr.

We spent pretty much the whole two weeks in Bavaria, which is an interesting experience if you are not drinking beer.  I mean beer is a German thing obviously but in Bavaria it seems like it is EVERYthing.  Most of the group dinners were in beergardens, where the emphasis is on beer and camaraderie rather than food quality, variety, or timeliness; we bailed on at least two of them and went out for pasta and grocery store sandwiches, respectively.  This is what we looked at while perched on the ledge outside a palace in Munich, eating (in my case) the most delicious boiled egg and crisp bacon sandwich ever made:

About halfway through somebody else on the trip asked me how we were handling the German food and without thinking I said, We are eating Italian! It was true, but that was mainly because if you order pasta you will probably get a vegetable with it, and if you are in a tourist area ordering German food you are not going to see a lot of anything green.  There is a huge Italian influence in Bavaria and it was hard NOT to find an Italian place for pasta or pizza.

I love sandwiches and because you can find those at every bakery we had one for lunch every day, complete with the crispest, greenest, frilliest lettuce you will ever see.  Plus, sometimes, a few slices of cucumber.  When we got salad, it was mainly arugula, which is young and mild in Germany in springtime and SUPER delicious.  And asparagus is in season there now too, but the markets and menus all featured white asparagus which I have never had before.  It was often sold out by the time we were eating but I finally got to try it in a very creamy risotto and it was wonderful, very mild and and the perfect texture.

We did eat in one neighbourhood (aka not tourist-driven) beergarden on purpose... it was so pretty and tree-filled, and literally steps from our hotel in Regensburg on a night when my foot was well past viable for walking on.  A very kind, bilingual patron offered to help us out when we arrived so we knew to just sit ourselves down anywhere, and then we confidently ordered the first thing on the menu (Schnitzel, pommes.)  I didn't take a picture of what this looked like when it arrived, but imagine the biggest dinner plate you have, and then imagine a chicken cutlet so large it's hanging off the sides of the plate with just a few french fries peeping out from underneath.  Neither of us could finish but we really, really wanted to!

The concerts on this trip - there were five - were absolutely amazing, each one better than the last.  The acoustics in old gothic cathedrals are truly magnificent and sometimes the choir we were stalking performed with the cathedral's own choir, so you're talking around 300 voices singing the most stunning repertoire in the most breathtaking buildings.  I think it was in Cologne that we wandered into the cathedral while the resident choir was rehearsing, and tears leapt to my eyes because the sound was so incredible.

And that's probably enough trip news for one day, don't you think?  I have a ton of pictures I want to share, but after today I'll try to group them into cohesive stories.  Right now, I gotta go crash, because I am still not used to living six hours earlier than I was living last week!