Thursday, June 26, 2008

Monkey Business in Alaska!

Settle down. It's not THAT kind of monkey business. hee hee. I mean that in Alaska I got down to business on my Monkey socks!

The oh so popular Monkey socks are a must knit. The pattern design flows well and the lace repeat is very easy to execute. The only thing that I'm changing is to use US1 needles instead of the recommended US2 needles. I reduced the needle size because I like my socks on the snug side and tend not to knit them on anything larger than US1 needles.

If you are one of the few who have yet to knit these socks, what are you waiting for, the free pattern link is here: Monkey Socks at Knitty.

For those Interested in Alaska......

We had a wonderful time and I want to thank everyone for their well wishes and recommendations about what to do and eat! Mr Puffy in particular has asked that I thank Carly at Kasiaiscarly for her tip about bringing back Chummy Yummies - gourmet dog treats - he's absolutely thrilled with them. There is no doubt that he seems happier with this gift that some of the past souvenirs we have come home with. Although I am sorry that his hematite necklace from Hawaii broke. That was very cute on him.

If you visit Alaska you must visit Denali National Park which encompasses an astounding six million acres. In the park we saw grizzly bears, caribou, gull sheep, moose, and even an elusive red fox. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures worth sharing of these amazing critters because the animals stay pretty far off the road and, frankly, without using binoculars and/or special camera equipment they look like little specks on the horizon.

Not being the camping type, we stayed at the Touch of Wilderness B&B Inn which is located roughly 10 miles outside the park. We had a lovely stay there and after experiencing the periodic rain bursts throughout the day we were very thankful not to be camping out! That's actually typical of Alaska weather. The rain showers come and go throughout the day. I've never experienced such mercurial weather conditions in my life.

The following pictures are taken in and around Denali Park. To return to a knitting theme, I want to point out that in one of the pictures I'm wearing my Goldilocks Shawl.

Our next destination was the Chena Hot Springs Resort which is approximately 60 miles outside Fairbanks, Alaska. The majority of the wedding guests stayed nearby at the Twin Bears Camp for the week and enjoyed feasting and music until late each evening. Needless to say, they are young.

The Chena Hot Springs area is a beautiful place to visit and apparently a popular destination during the Winter months to view the Aurora Borealis (i.e. Northern Lights). I don't see us returning in the Winter months to see this natural phenomena, though, as the temperatures are historically below zero (Fahrenheit) for a daytime high.

The following photos are of the Chena Hot Springs area - which is teaming with wildlife. In fact one of the pictures below shows a family of moose streaking right through the Chena Hot Springs Resort itself and, yes, that's a beaver damn in the first picture!

What did I enjoy about Alaska besides the fabulous scenery. Hum. I have a new appreciation for a cup of plain roasted coffee in the morning (Alaska's own Raven's Brew is a must try); the sweet potato french fries certainly deserve mention; and I won't soon forget the halibut fish and chips -the best I've ever eaten - and I do consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur!

Last, but certainly not least, the wedding was beautiful and green, in every sense of the word (i.e. organic and natural)! It's not every wedding where the bride makes her entrance in a canoe paddled by her father. They are very well suited and will be very happy together!

It never rains but pours! Sunday we leave on a cruise to Mexico which is a treat to the family from my Mom and Dad who are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary! Whoo hoo!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Summer Scarf

I'm away soon. We are leaving on a short trip to Alaska for a wedding and I'm very excited about going. I've never been as far north as Alaska and I can't wait to see what this area of the country is like. The bride is the daughter of close family friends and she is a terrific young person. She joined the Peace Core after college and spent a year living in a remote village in Peru teaching about nutrition and sanitation. Since then she has worked for the park system in Alaska. It is so nice to see her find someone with a similar love of nature and interest in helping improve this world.

By the way, if you happen to see Mr Puffy, please do not mention this trip. He's not going and it's a bit of a sore subject for him.

I think I'm going to take this scarf with me on the trip. I love the pop of color it gives and I like the way it spruces up an otherwise casual outfit. There is, after all, different degrees of casual and even in the wilds of America one does like to look put together!

There is also something I want to point out about this scarf. Notice the natural color tones. That's not by accident. Have you ever fallen in love with a stunning brightly colored handpainted yarn only to realize after knitting it up that it goes with absolutely nothing in your wardrobe? I have. As a result I'm now a little more circumspect when I select yarn colors because, frankly, I am a project knitter and not a process knitter. I want to actually wear what I've knit and not just around the house. But it's an evolutionary process. You simply have to knit with that spectacular sparkly yarn with eyelash embellishment at least once just to get it out of your system. Someday I'll share a project (or two) illustrating what I mean. When I feel you need a good laugh, that is. Not that there is anything wrong with brightly colored embellished yarns per se. I have seen really gorgeous shawls and scarfs knit with these yarns. I just think that it is harder to wear them, you know, out in public.

In any event, this happens to be an example of what I would describe as one of my more judiciously selected handpainted yarns. It is still a gorgeous handpainted yarn but using more natural and wearable colors. It's currently my favorite summer accessory because the yarn is cool and drapy and I like the way it feels (it's 100% silk).

Project Specs: Shoulder Wrap kit using Handmaiden yarns, 100% silk spun, nova scotia colorway, I believe.

The gourd in the picture is from Frannie's Gourds an artist located in Santa Ynez Valley, California, a small rural town near where I grew up (Santa Barbara, California). In the fall these gourds start appearing in the local Farmers Markets and while I bought mine already painted for those crafty ones out there - and you know who you are - I think it would be a fun project to paint your own gourd. I've seen them made into birdhouses and I think that is a pretty cool idea. Here's a link to a craft site that sells them already prepared for painting and crafting.

Have a fun weekend everyone and I'll see you when I get back from Alaska!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Little Grousing and Knitting Tip #4

Topanga is particularly lovely during the spring and early summer months as the mountain is covered with pretty wildflowers. These flowers are a pretty shade of grayish blue that I think tones well with my current yarn (Blue Sky Alpaca Royal "primrose"). I hope they are still in bloom by the time I'm finished! I also hope not to hear from any botanists telling me they are actually a weed. The royal alpaca is heavenly to knit with - sigh - and I can see more alpaca projects in my future.

I'm currently knitting the Swallowtail Shawl (free pattern link). For those of you unfamiliar with this shawl it has the distinction of being voted one of the top 5 patterns from Interweave Magazine (Spring 2008). High praise indeed and well deserved (mostly - LOL). I really loved this design, until I came to the nubbs. Weep, weep. Now I'm sorry I chose this pattern because I have found the P5Together stitch at best awkward and at worst downright painful! It is an ill conceived stitch that is only mildly ameliorated by executing a slip 2 P3Together instead. To my horror and dismay I've actually had the nubbs unravel before my eyes requiring me to tink back to reconstruct the original nubb a row back. And yes, I've tried forming the nubbs loosely but I don't care for the sloppy appearance of the stitch formed that way. But now I'm nearly through with the nubbs and it's smooth sailing from here on out.

Lace knitting is a nice skill to have whether you want a full lace shawl or just a small motif to set off a hat, sock, or sweater pattern. By in large you will find that lace stitches are simple to execute (mostly - LOL) and give stunning results. And seeing that I'm currently in the middle of a lace knitting project Mr Puffy suggested that this would be a good time to share one of my lace knitting tips. This lace knitting tip is geared toward the new and/or aspiring lace knitter. So, if that includes you, pour yourself a cup of tea and read on.

Knitting Tip #4. Knitting Lace - Read Your Resting Row Stitches

As a preface I want to define two terms.

1) Pattern Row. The pattern row is the row where you are following detailed instructions to perform various knitting stitches such as increases and decreases. This is also known as the "right side" of your knitting.

2) Resting Row. The resting row is where you purl all stitches across. This is also known as the "wrong side" of your knitting.

Generally, with most lace knitting projects, you alternate between a pattern row and a resting row.

With that preface here's a lace knitting tip: always read your stitches as you purl across a resting row. By this I mean you need to mentally track in reverse the pattern row you just knit and confirm as you purl across the resting row that all your increases and decreases are correctly placed. This is a great double check on your knitting and provides you with an early detection method to catch any errors that might have occurred on the pattern row you just completed.

I think is is also helpful to know that when knitting lace most mistakes are the result of either forgetting to make a yarnover increase (YouTube Video link showing how to create a yarnover increase) or making a yarnover increase where it doesn't belong. On the resting ("purl") row it is very easy to correct this mistake by either adding a yarnover or dropping a yarnover as you come upon the mistake.

This knitting tip does require a fair bit of concentration as you purl across the "resting" row. I want to emphasis that lace knitting is a skill that gets easier the more you do it. I also think that the mental exercise is a good thing as I consider knitting a pivotal part of my Alzheimer prevention program. I thought I was alone in this view of knitting and so I was amused the other day to see that Channon of Chan Knits similarly views knitting as part of her AZ prevention program. It certainly can't hurt.

Tea Break

Now that everything about knitting lace is as clear as mud, I think we could use a tea break! Here at Mr Puffy's Knitting Blog we primarily talk about afternoon tea and by that I mean a tea time where you sit down with a tea tray and enjoy a relaxing break in your day along with something to nibble on. But I like to drink tea all day long and I start every morning with a pot of tea. This morning I'm drinking French Blend which is a custom Lavender Lounge tea from San Clemente, California. It is a black tea with floral undertones that I would describe as a complex earl grey tea. In the picture below you can see that it has a variety of flowers petals mixed in with the black tea. Unlike most black teas I like to drink this tea without any milk or lemon added.

Have a great weekend everyone and be sure to take time to enjoy a cup of tea!