Tuesday, December 06, 2011

On Being an Elf

I don't know why I thought Santa needed an extra elf this year, but just before Thanksgiving I decided to change my mind and knit a few Christmas presents. I don't know why I can't seem to make these decisions earlier, like September or something, but I never do. Call it an impulse, or maybe a flash of inspiration. Either way I'm buying yarn in colors I wouldn't typically purchase for myself and knitting projects like a mad woman. Now if that isn't being an elf I don't know what is! The best part? I'm having so much fun! Too bad I can't show you what I've been up to, but we can't spoil Santa's surprises can we? HO HO HO!


Friday, November 25, 2011

Go Vols - Hat!

I'm on a roll trying to finish some of the half-knit projects in my UFO basket. I sketched out the colorwork section of this hat and knit it last winter. The first go around the hat ended up being too small for my rather large head, so I frogged and reknit it. By the time I got the knitting done it was too hot to wear the woolly thing. All I did tonight was add teh pompom adn weave in the ends. Finished and ready for those COLD basketball nights. GO VOLS!!!

It's Basketball Time in Tennessee!

Mondo Cable Vest
Posted by PicasaIt's that time again - it's basketball time in Tennessee! And since basketball is played during the winter one must have some warm orange and white garb to wear to the games. I picked up a few things last year, but I knew I wanted to make some new things for this season. Since it can get mighty chilly gong back and forth to the games and a bit drafty in Thompson-Boling Arena I decided I needed to tackle a sweater this time around. This might not sound like a big deal for most knitters, but for this skinny yarn, lace knitter a sweater is a challenge!

So how did I get myself into this predicament? It all started the day my Best Fiber Friend (BFF), Paula, unpacked a huge box of new yarn at my LYS, The Yarn Haven. The yarn was Pacific, a new worsted weight washable merino/acrylic blend from Cascade. There were oodles of great colors, but when this Tennessee Orange came out of the box my mind started racing. I don't buy yarn on impulse anymore so I left the shop without the yarn but it didn't stay there long. I went back a few days later and bought enough to knit this vest plus an extra skein for some accessories.

I cast on Bonnie Marie Burns' Mondo Cable Vest right away and worked on it during the month while I was sick with a nasty respiratory virus. While I was sick I didn't care that the knitting was mostly stockinette and rather boring. For a couple of weeks boring was good, then it was awful! I thought the plain stockinette part would *never* end! The top-down construction of this vest sounded like a wonderful thing at first, and it is, but the execution of the design for the upper portion is terribly fiddly. I wasn't too thrilled with how the pattern was written/edited so I wouldn't suggest newbies try it unless they have a mentor to guide them through. The actual knitting isn't difficult, but following the pattern is a bit cumbersome IMHO. Maybe my negative attitude is because I'm used to the precision of lace patterns, but I expect more from self-published (not in a magazine) patterns.

The designer intended for this pattern to be either a vest or a shell. As such, I expected the armholes to be rather shallow for stand-alone wear. I knew I'd be layering my vest over a loose-cut turtleneck so I dropped the armholes by 4 rows. The fact that my row gauge was a bit tighter than the pattern called for contributed to my decision. In the end I needn't have bothered as the armholes would have been plenty deep without modification. Live and learn. The vest was written to end at the high hip and I wanted mine to extend to the low hip so I added one extra repeat of the cable motif. I could have added a few more rows, but I'm satisfied with the length as it is.

I choose to knit one size larger than I normally wear as I wanted plenty of positive ease in my vest. Who wants to wear confining clothes at a basketball game? Not me! I love the overall fit of my finished vest so I made the right choice for me. Even with the extra length added to my vest, I ended up using ~150 yds less yarn that the pattern called for. This surprised me, but 400 grams was plenty. Now I have 200 g to knit a beret plus something else, possibly mittens. Whatever, I am ready to show my Tennessee Volunteer Spirit, sing Rocky Top, and cheer on Coach Martin's Basketball Vols. Go Big Orange!

Friday, July 15, 2011

If it's July it must be...

time for the Tour de France. And if it's TDF time, then it's time for lean, mean, spandex-clad cyclists on fast machines (bikes), awesome rear-view scenery (woohoo!), sunflowers, lavender fields, the Pyrenees, and the Alps. It also means it's time for my annual TDF knitalong project - another lace shawl. TDF knitting projects need to have some French connection and mine does. First of all, I am knitting the Omelet shawl from Knitty.com. Omelet, or omelette, is French for thin plate, so I'm knitting skinny French eggs for 3 weeks. More specifically I'm knitting a lavender-infused Provencal-style omelet as the yarn is a gorgeous skein of Tosh Lace in the Wood Violet colorway. My Le Tour de Omelet shawl is not quite halfway done though the TDF is past the halfway point. I think I have a lot of lavender eggs to eat, um knit, this next week. Vive le Tour!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Cades Cove Black Bear

I met a friend in Cades Cove yesterday to go looking for bears and wildflowers. We arrived just after sunrise and just in time for breakfast - the bear's breakfast that is. Good thing he was more interested in grubbing a rotting log than us! We've had a bumper crop of black bears in the Smokies this year :-)

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Spring Flings II: Tennessee Civil War National Battlefields

At the end of March I headed to middle Tennessee en route to Kentucky for yet another knitting retreat. Since I don't often get this way I took advantage of the opportunity to pursue another one of my interests - the American Civil War. On my way to Kentucky I detoured through Clarksville, TN, home of the US Army 101st Airborne Division "Screaming Eagles" and Austin Peay State University.
McGregor Park, Riverside Drive, Clarksville, TN

 It was cold and rainy - not a pretty day for sightseeing but I persevered anyway. Hey, at least nothing was crowded - I pretty much had everything to myself! We'd had heavy rains much of the week and the Cumberland River showed the cumulative effects of all the rain that had hit the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee and Kentucky. Can you say FULL? This was the view of the river from a small museum and park in downtown Clarksville. Definitely not canoeing weather for sure.

Fort Donelson National Battlefield Entrance
The drive over to Dover and Fort Donelson National Battlefield takes you along the southern border of Ft. Campbell. To the north all you see is a big fence and very tall trees, to the south it is all relatively flat farmland. It's very pretty but definitely different from East Tennessee's hills. Dover is a very small hamlet located on the west bank of the Cumberland River/Lake Barkley just south of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. A couple of stoplights and you've passed all of town and arrived at the entrance to the National Battlefield.
Confederate Monument, Fort Donelson National Battlefield

Confederate Canons on the banks of the Cumberland River
If you want a peaceful, contemplative afternoon at an important Civil War battle site, go on a rainy day in March. I saw the movie (very good!) at the Visitors Center by myself, bought a couple of items at the gift shop (support your National Parks by getting your goodies at an official park gift shop!), and headed out to see the monuments and the canons. I anticipated the markers about the Union and Confederate Armies, the earthenworks, the canons overlooking the river. What I didn't anticipate were the eagles. Not the 101st Airborne Division Screaming Eagles based out of Fort Campbell, but American Bald Eagles! I'm reading interpretive signs in a forested area just past the canonball-stacked gates to the riverfront area when I notice a smaller sign to my right. The sign tells visitors the area is off-limits because it is an eagle nesting area. I glance up just in time to see a huge eagle clutching something in it's talons swoop among the trees right at eye level. I gasp!

Bald Eagle
I get in my car and drive to the riverfront overlook to look at the canons, appreciate the view, and contemplate what happened in this place. I pull out my new tripod and camera to take a few photos, positioning to camera to capture a big tree in the foreground. It is then that I look up and see THE EAGLE perched not even 25 feet away from me. We are alone - the river, the canons, the eagle, and me - standing in the drizzle. I am awestruck. I am humbled. I am wet. I take pictures - lots of pictures.

Fort Donelson National Cemetery
Fort Donelson National Cemetery
After my eagle experience I drove over to the nearby National Cemetery where many of the Union Soldiers are buried. On a wooded bluff high above the river is a beautiful house and the classic white marble headstones which tell the truth about war. Men died - lots of them. I did what I always do at National Cemeteries filled with fallen soldiers - I cried. It was raining and I was alone so who would know?

Dover Hotel
My last stop was in town at an old hotel/tavern that I'm sure was a nice place 150 years ago. The Dover Hotel has a majestic view of the Cumberland River and was the headquarters for Confederate Major General Simon Buckner. It was here that General Buckner was given no other option but Unconditional Surrender to Union Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant. General Grant was known forever after as unconditional surrender, U.S. Grant. The loss at Ft. Donelson opened the way to Nashville and Union invasion of the Deep South. It was one of the earliest, critical battles of the Civil War.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spring Flings I: Fibery goodness

I have been taking advantage of my improved health and flexible schedule to go on a number of Spring Flings over the last couple of months. I've put an unusual number of miles on my car as I have driven to different locations. met new and old friends, and pursued a diversity of interests. I can't tell you how much fun this has been!
Sunrise over Rich Mountain from Tuckleechee Cove

My first adventure was in late February at a knitting retreat in Townsend, TN sponsored by my LYS, The Yarn Haven. We stayed at a spacious retreat center in Tuckaleechee Cove with spectacular views of Rich Mountain and the western boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I took the above photo on a chilly morning - it's a Smokies classic with mist in the valleys and clear blue sky above. We had a lively group of knitters from TYH at the retreat, which made being there a blast. I had fun teaching a class on Beaded Knitting Friday night. On Saturday Mimi had us all indulging in her "drug of choice" - Noro Silk Garden - as we created embellished cell phone bags. So I have a great bag, now I need the cell phone!

I've been teaching quite a few tatting classes this spring at TYH in addition to my role as mentor to the lace knitting group. The word that I am a tatter and I teach tatting has spread. Suddenly my skills are in demand! Unexpected issues with a scheduled instructor left vacancies in the workshop schedule at the Smoky Mountain Fiber Arts Festival (SMFAF) in mid-March. I was contacted about teaching and found myself doing a 4-hr class on shuttle tatting on Friday and my Essentials of Lace Knitting class on Saturday. I confess the preparation was a bit stressful as I further refined my classes, but once I got to the festival and started working it was so fun! I did mange to get to Townsend early enough on Saturday to go over to the Visitors Center to see the demonstrators, the Suri Alpacas, and the sheep shearing. Everything was wonderful!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

On this day in Tennessee History

One hundred and fifty years ago today Jefferson Davis of Mississippi and Alexander Stephens of Georgia were elected Provisional President and Vice-President of the Confederate States of America. On this same day a referendum was held in Tennessee to determine whether or not the state should hold a secession convention. Unionist candidates outnumbered Southern Rights candidates three to one. Tennesseans decided not to assemble a convention by a vote of 69,772 to 57,708 and Tennessee does not secede from the Union at this time. Nevertheless, deep divisions in the Volunteer state were evident--divisions that would play a pivotal role as the Civil War bloodied every corner of the state. Even now as we begin to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War evidence of a once deeply divided Tennessee remains. While on this day 150 years ago Tennessee did not secede, later the state did leave the Union. Tennessee was also the first state to be reclaimed by the Union in battle. It was a high price to pay, a very high price.

To honor this day I have chosen to feature a photo of the Tennessee Monument located between the North Carolina and Virginia monuments along West Confederate Avenue on Seminary Ridge in the Gettysburg National Military Park. I was fortunate to visit Gettysburg last summer. A knowledgeable tour guide took me through the events of those bloody three days in July, 1963. I walked the Hallowed Ground where tens of thousands of men, as Abraham Lincoln proclaimed, "Gave the last full measure of devotion." Late in the afternoon, after my tour was over, I returned to the site of the Tennessee Monument. By this time very few people were in the area so I was essentially alone. The inscription on the monument erected by my state to honor those who fought says, "Valor and courage were virtues of the three Tennessee regiments." I sat down on the edge of etched stone slab and stared out across the grasses of the battlefield. I thought about what it means to have valor and courage. I thought about what it must have been like to walk hundreds of miles in all kinds of weather, often without adequate food, clothing, or shelter. I thought about what it took to leave one's family behind to fight in a war about things that may or may not have impacted them personally, about going to war because it was the honorable thing to do, about following the orders of your commander, not knowing if he was making wise, informed decisions or not. I looked across the fields that once were covered with bodies and blood--and I cried.

I am the offspring of immigrants. My people did not live in America at the time of the Civil War; nevertheless, the Civil War was fought for my benefit. America would not be the nation it is today had we not endured the tragedy of the Civil War. Caught up in our fast-paced self-centered society, too many Americans have forgotten the lessons of our Civil War (or they never learned them in the first place). Now is the time for us to make sure our Hallowed Grounds remain hallowed. Now is the time for us to first learn, then teach the lessons of the Civil War to the future generations. We need to know the major names and places, but also need to know the stories of the little-known people. Real names, real faces, and real places make the war real in our contemporary lives. It is in that reality that we are most mindful of terrible damage that inevitably follows when leaders refuse to listen to one another, refuse to work together, and stubbornly insist that their ideology is the one and only true way. If we cannot unite as One Nation, we will fail. We should not forget. I will not forget!