Knitting treats from Copenhagen

I was teaching on the weekend and so was unable to make my way up to Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Yarn Festival. I admit to having felt rather sorry for myself. For the entire time I was doing the MBA I was unable to make any yarn shows. I planned to remedy that once I finished, but then I took a job (teaching on the very same MBA programme) which meant a lot of working weekends. The universe (or at least the people who schedule yarn shows and MBA classes) seems to be conspiring against me, as they are mostly scheduled concurrently. Oh well. I am not so desolate as I have a Danish consolation prize or two (perhaps three).

A few weeks ago I was in Copenhagen with my friend, Erun (and with Sarah and Sara). One of my top priorities was to make it to Somerfuglen, a knitting shop that I had long wanted to visit.

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I know you won’t believe me but I didn’t buy any yarn there. Why? Because I loved everything and couldn’t choose and I had a plane to catch. That is not to say I didn’t make any purchases. I bought two lovely knitting books. First, I bought Issue One of the new knitting periodical, Laine.

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This is a lovely book. It is filled with knitting patterns, beautiful photography, articles, designer profiles, recipes, and has high production values. Even the ads are lovely! This issue had profiles of Joji Locatelli and Helga Isager among others. It seems to me that this will be a collectable and I am happy to have the first issue.

I also bought this amazing book:

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By Annette Danielsen, it is filled with stunning photos of Greenland and absolutely gorgeous sweaters. I want to knit them all. I particularly want to knit this one, Fjelde, which coincidentally I have in my favorites file on Ravelry:

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Here is the extra special goodness from my trip to Sommerfuglen:  I tried this jacket on! And it was scrumptious. It fit beautifully and was a dream to wear. As a result, I have purchased the book and now somehow have to teach myself to read a knitting pattern written in Danish! Never fear, dear readers, I WILL accomplish this eventually (perhaps with some help from my friend, Erun, and her mother, Liv)!

Hanging in the window at Sommerfuglen was a very smart jacket by Hanne Falkenberg. I was able to try it on as well. I am a big fan of Hanne’s designs and yarn as you can tell from this post from some years ago. This jacket also fit perfectly and I could not help but notice that it was precisely the kind of thing I need for my working wardrobe. I thought about buying it right then and there, but was prevented because (1) I couldn’t check any luggage on my flight home and (2) the shop didn’t have kits in the colour combos I liked.

Once I got home, I continued to think about this jacket, however, and ended up ordering a kit in the same colourway as the shop sample (colourway #1). Here it is:

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The design is called Sofi, and it is knit in two different yarns – the sleeves and main colour are knit in her No2 shetland 100% wool and the contrast colour is her No4 Sofistica 60% Cotton & 40% Linen. Here you can see the two different yarns from the kit:

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So, even though I didn’t make it to Edinburgh, I can console myself with these lovely Danish knitting treats. I have heard that the festival suffered this year from its excessive popularity – by all accounts it was very crowded and hot. I would have braved both to see Kate Davies’ stand (and all of the other goodness) but perhaps by the time I do make it up there, the venue will be bigger. In the meantime, I have plenty of knitting to keep me happy.

Western Cape, South Africa: on a mission to avoid the news and relax

Doug and I are on the Western Cape of South Africa, trying to recover our equilibrium after the disastrous US election results by avoiding politics in specific and news in general.  We spent our first day in Cape Town, walking along Sea Point, and having dinner in trendy Camp’s Bay while enjoying the sunset. We then left for Tulbagh to get away from it all.  (Virtually everyone we talked to in Cape Town said “Why would you go to Tulbagh?  There is nothing to do there!” PRECISELY. We once again stayed at Rijk’s Country House, a little slice of heaven.

There, we did very strenuous things, like sit on the terrace and drink wine and appreciate the views:

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Walk through the vineyards and appreciate the views:p1010523

Go for beautiful drives, and appreciate the views:

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Baboons strolled by our car to say hello:

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Flamboyant grasshoppers tried, and failed, to blend in with the scenery:

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My knitting needles were put to use:

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(Full disclosure here: some time was spent reviewing grants, preparing lectures, answering emails, grading papers – it is near impossible to truly get away from it all. But other than those ubiquitous tasks, we reveled in doing nothing.)

After three days in Tulbagh, we headed to the coast, to a little village called Paternoster. There we stayed at the wonderful Abalone House and Spa.  I cannot say enough good things about this place.  Here is a view from the deck at the Abalone:

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Here is the whimsical plunge pool:

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Here is where we sat drinking a glass of bubbly and appreciating the views (are you noticing a theme here?):

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This is the view from the private terrace off of our room:

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Need I mention the fabulous restaurant (Reuben’s at Abalone House, run by celebrity chef Reuben Riffel)?  The luxurious spa?  The lovely staff?  It would be easy to check in and never leave the hotel, but then you would miss the little gem that is Paternoster.  How could you not love a town that has a house like this one?

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In Paternoster, we also did very stressful things, like stand on the rocks and appreciate the views:

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Paternoster has a glorious beach. It goes on for miles, with beautiful white sands.  It is also a windy beach.  We couldn’t take photos on the beach itself because of the flying sand.  On this day, it shot past brisk to exhilarating and then to mini gale-force sand storm, and it was still a fantastic experience. Here is me fooling around in the wind, just before it knocked me over:

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We had booked into the Abalone for one night, intending to have a glimpse of Paternoster and then head back down to Cape Town.  When it was time to leave, we found we couldn’t – we most happily stayed for an extra night.

We then headed down to Hout Bay, where we were meeting up with our friend Chris. We were all staying in the beach home of a dear friend.  We weren’t sure what to expect, but it wasn’t this.  Here we are on the balcony:

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We have had an amazing time.   Unfortunately, we must now get back to work, although we will still be here in South Africa.  Doug has a very hectic schedule of meetings all week in Cape Town, and I have caught a quick flight to Johannesburg where I start teaching tomorrow. Soon enough it will be time to face up to the mess of the real world and contend with baboons of a different sort.  In the meantime, hello from South Africa!

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In the Desert

I am writing this in the Airport Lounge at Phoenix Sky Harbor while waiting for a flight to take me home.  I have spent the past week in Tucson, visiting my mother and stepfather, Marylou and Stuart.  Both my step-sister, Alison, and my daughter, Leah, flew in for the weekend as well.  We had a fabulous time.  Leah had just survived the rainiest October on record in Vancouver and this intense burst of sunshine has refilled her batteries.  As she said: “I seem to be solar-powered.”  I can agree with that!

Before heading out to Arizona, I was struggling to finish knitting the pieces of Emma’s Tinder cardigan.  My secret plan was to block the pieces before I left, and to bring them to Tucson and do all of the finishing while on holiday.  Leah would then be able to take the finished garment back to Vancouver for her sister.  I knew that I would have to block them by Sunday evening in order to take them with me on the plane, but I had to finish knitting the right front first!  I finished at about midnight on the Sunday after a marathon session. Doug took a photo of me collapsed on the floor after I finished blocking (not the best photo given the poor lighting, but a good representation of how I was feeling at the time).

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Despite this mad rush, the truth must be told: I had vastly underestimated the amount of time the finishing would take and also underestimated how difficult it would be to piece together a worsted wool sweater in the record-breaking Tucson heat.  The sweater is now back in my suitcase, returning with me to England.

I can, however, confirm that Tinder is a lovely cardigan with some very clever details.  The raglan seams and the collar came out great:

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Here I have borrowed my mom to show off how the shoulders are shaped:

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Isn’t it gorgeous!

Despite the disappointing amount of knitting I managed to do on this holiday, I had a fabulous time.  I always enjoy being in the desert and it was fun to have so many of us together.  Here are some photos from the Desert Museum.  If you are ever in Tucson, it is a must-see!

Marylou and Leah:

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Javelinas:

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Unbelievable vista with Saguaro cacti:

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Leah, me, and Alison:

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Alison and Stuart:

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Random cactus photo:

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Now, I am going to sit back, enjoy my wine, pull out my knitting and zone out until flight time!

In which I get whisked off to Llandudno and have a wooly adventure

I’ve been doing a lot of teaching lately, including most weekends.  A week ago Saturday, I arrived back home in the evening after a very long stint of teaching, including the preceding two weekends and all day Saturday.  I was shattered and looking forward to collapsing in a puddle on the couch.  My plan was to vegetate for a day or two, maybe three.  Shortly after I walked in the door, Doug says, too casually, “How tired are you, Kelly?”

There is a story involved here, but the short of it is, that Doug had just discovered he had his dates wrong for a conference and was supposed to be in Wales at 8:00 the next morning.   To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I even knew he had plans to go to Wales at all, much less that he was thinking of dragging me along.  Before I could blink, I found myself throwing some things in a suitcase, piling in the car, and driving to Llandudno, in the north of Wales.  We arrived after midnight in the pitch dark.  The next morning, Doug gets up at the crack of dawn and heads off to the conference. (I ask you, what kind of conference begins at 8am on a Sunday???)  I wake up a few hours later, walk over to the windows, and – wow! – stare out at the ocean, and the picturesque town of Llandudno.  Here is a pretty shot of the town, which I took from in front of my hotel:

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Here is the iconic pier:

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I spent the morning walking along the pier and the strong ocean air blew all the cobwebs out of my head.  It was an incredible, invigorating interlude.  Doug was busy attending talks, but I was charmed by the town, and the wonderful views in every direction.

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The pier, with its candy stands, rides, bouncy castles, grand old hotel in a state of disrepair, and funky arcade games, was a kick.  Zoltan the magnificent tried to tell my fortune, and the Pirate Blasta beckoned:

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Late in the evening on the second day, Doug and I took a drive around the Great Orme Headland on Marine Drive.  This 4-mile stretch of road is considered one of the most scenic drives in Wales.  The view in every direction is breath-taking.  We were particularly taken with St. Tudno’s Church and churchyard, perched high up the wind-swept hillside overlooking the ocean.

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See how the trees have bent to the ceaseless wind.  It is one of those spots that inspires awe.  The monument stones are beautiful.

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St. Tudno built the first church here in the 6th century.  They still have services here, held outdoors in the summer.

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Continuing up to the summit, you pass the Great Orme Bronze Age Mine.  Discovered in 1987 by archeologists, this copper mine is 4000 years old.  This is me, standing on the top of the summit with the bay in the distance.  The wind was so strong I had to fight to stand up.

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Look closely at the hills behind me and you will see an interesting man-made feature. Over the years people have left their names spelled out in large stones along the side of this hill.

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Marine Drive may be only four miles long, but it is a beauty.

Now, observant readers may notice that the title promises a wool-related adventure. This is, after all, a knitting blog. Enough of this travel stuff!  Let’s talk about wool!

When I found myself in Llandudno, one of the the first things I did (as one does) is get on-line and look for nearby yarn stores.  One of them caught my eye: The Lost Sheep Company in Colwyn Bay.  As soon as the conference ended Doug and I made our way to this delightful shop run by Welsh-wool enthusiast, spinner, knitter, and designer Chrissy Smith.  The shop is lovely, filled with wool in various stages of production, and an assortment of spinning wheels, weaving looms, tools, and other treasures.

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We struck up a conversation with Chrissy, who told us the basement was overflowing with fleece.   Of course, then we just had to see the basement!  Here is Chrissy, knee deep in fleece, all of it from local Welsh farmers and all of it from Welsh breeds.

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Chrissy is a passionate and knowledgeable advocate of local wool and local farmers as well as the history of the wool trade in the region.  She regaled us with stories and politely answered our questions.  She helped me wade through hip-deep fleece, so that I could play with the unbelievably gorgeous Black Welsh fleece up on this shelf – the blackest natural wool I have ever seen.  It was much softer than I imagined, and rather addictive.

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The shop had a number of customers and students learning how to spin, and had the kind of atmosphere which made you want to sit down and chat over a cup of tea.  One of the women had come from quite far away to learn how to spin, and I could see why. If you find yourself in that part of the world (whether pirated away in the middle of the night or otherwise), you must go check out this shop.  And if you have time for a spinning lesson, so much the better!

Chrissy sells her hand-spun wool in the shop.  On the day we were there, her supplies were pretty limited, but I bought four pretty skeins:

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The one on the left is one that was in the window and is unlabelled; Doug liked it and added it to the bunch.  The others are, from left to right: Jacob, Welsh Mule, and Black Welsh Mountain.  And just because yarn photos float my boat (and presumably yours) here are a few closeups:

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I am looking forward to playing with some hand-spun.  Beware, Doug: maybe I will need to counter your newest guitar with a spinning wheel!

We drove home the long way, all the way down the A470 – 186 lovely, twisty miles from Conwy to Cardiff.  Autumn was in its glory.  This was the best 3-day break I’ve been on in a long time.

 

Rites of passage

I haven’t blogged in a few weeks, but in my defence, I have been busy undergoing rites of passage.  First and best, Doug and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a trip to Verona.

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Verona is a gorgeous place.  We stayed in a hotel just outside the old walls of the city, near the Basilica di San Zeno.   While not the grandest of Verona’s many churches, this is the loveliest.  It was originally constructed in the 8th century and was damaged first by the Magyar invasion in the 10th century, and then in an earthquake on January 3rd, 1117 which destroyed much of Verona.  It was re-built in the 12th-14th centuries.  I love this older style of church architecture much more than those that developed during the Renaissance and Enlightenment.  Tradition has it that the crypt of San Zeno is the site of the marriage of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  Doug took some lovely photos of the Basilica:

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I especially loved the variety of columns, sporting whimsical carvings:

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(Doug informs me that these were probably not considered whimsical at the time.  I stand by my description.)  As the edifice is so old, and has been re-built a number of times, you can see many layers; here is a fresco painted over an older one.

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The Basilica has a lovely cloisters:

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In a nod to the fact that this is a knitting blog and not really a travel blog (it’s hard to tell sometimes, is it not?), here is a single knitting photo for this post.  This is me taking a small break to knit in the very peaceful cloisters.

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When in Verona one seemingly must visit the famous balcony of Juliet.  It is really a mad crush of tourists which I found peculiarly comic and boisterous.  I wonder what Shakespeare would have made of it.  The small courtyard surrounding the balcony is packed with people.

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The souvenir industry is in full swing.

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A never ending string of “Juliets”come out on the balcony for an expensive photo opportunity.

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The security guards look bored.

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Leading into the courtyard is a small tunnel on which visitors and lovers have graffiti-ed their names.  Those who don’t have paint have left their names in nail polish, or on post-it notes, or – my favourite – on plasters (band-aids).  I wonder if these last have a morbid sense of foreboding to them; it seems like bad karma to leave a symbol of your love and togetherness on a plaster.

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We had  fun in Verona.  We walked and ate.  Here is Doug at a cafe where we enjoyed a lovely bottle of wine and talked to a table of young British Indian women with families in Edmonton and Vancouver.

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I include this next photo specifically for Leah.  Grom is her all-time favourite Gelateria; yes, Leah, here we are standing in line at Grom.  We went there twice.

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The old town itself is very beautiful and surreal.  The shopping is first-class, the cafe culture is vibrant, and everywhere you look there are pockets of antiquity. Here is the Arena, a Roman amphitheatre built in the 1st century.  It is still used to this day.  In the summer, you can see open-air opera.  While we were there, Zucchero was performing and the square was filled with music.

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The Porta Borsari,  an ancient Roman gate in the middle of the old town, also dates to the 1st century AD. I find it astonishing to casually walk through a 2,000 year old gate. Millions of people, tourists and natives, pass under it every year.  Verona is like a living museum, but with ice cream and Gucci.

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On our wanderings, we encountered quite by accident the Chiesa di Sant’Eufemia, a gorgeous, peaceful church tucked into a corner of the old city.  There were no signs, no ticket booths, no tourists, just an open door and some hidden majesty.

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The ceilings were spectacular and, here and there, you could see the older layers of murals from beneath the newer ones:

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I loved this from the wall of one of the chapels:

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We stumbled, by complete accident, onto an art exhibit by Paolo Masi installed only the day before, in which a round mirror has been placed on the floor so as to interact with the space around it, giving amazing juxtapositions and views of the Chapel Spolverini-Dal Verme, within the Chiesa di Sant’Eufemio.  It is truly spectacular, but ephemeral – it will only be there till mid-October.

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I said that the last few weeks have marked many rites of passage.  This next one may not be a rite, but it sure marks a passage.  Also in Verona were my three house-mates and lovely friends from graduate school.  Itziar, Hamida, Lisa and I shared a house in Cambridge, Mass. when we were PhD students at MIT in the 1980s.  This was the first time that we had all been together since 1988.

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It was totally fantastic to meet up again in Verona. The five of us (with Doug of course) had a great time reminiscing about the past.

Last but not least, this week also marked my graduation from business school, with an Exec MBA.  It was a gorgeous day to graduate.  Here is a photo of the back lawn of the Henley Business School (the prettiest business school on earth) after the ceremony.

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In the background of the above photo, you see a bunch of graduates posing for a photo. This is the graduating members of my class (or most of us).

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We wanted to take a photo of us all throwing our mortarboards in the air.  The photographer refused.  He said that Health & Safety rules prevented him from taking such a shot.  I kid you not.  Doug compensated for this by taking many photos of mortarboards not flying through the air:

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Finally, here I am receiving my degree, about to shake hands with the Chancellor, Sir John Madejski:

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As you can see, I have had a busy few weeks.  I now have the weekend to re-coup and then next week will be in Beirut.  My new life seems rather hectic.  I promise to bring some knitting news soon.

There and back again: the tale behind my new knitting pattern book

I have a lovely new knitting pattern book.  It is a Norwegian pattern book (a pamphlet really, but book is easier to write) from Rauma, one of Norway’s big yarn producers.  The tale of how I acquired it is rather interesting, and I thought it would make good Saturday- morning-over-coffee reading.  One of the things which I read most Saturday mornings with my coffee is Karen Templar’s Elsewhere post.  If you aren’t reading Karen’s gorgeous blog, Fringe Association, you are missing something (her blog is very popular so it is unlikely that anyone reading my far more humble blog will not have heard of Karen).  One of my favorite features of her blog is Elsewhere, published on Fridays, in which she provides links to content she finds interesting – these come from a range of sources, including articles, blog posts,  and various gorgeous or inspirational textile-related things she finds on-line and shares.  In mid-April, I read this Elsewhere post.  One of the links took me to a blog post by Paper Tiger.

The Paper Tiger blog is written by Dianna Walla.  She is one of my ‘friends’ on Ravelry and I have been interested in her stuff for awhile now.  I find Dianna intriguing for a number of reasons: (1) she is a Linguist (I consider myself a “lapsed linguist” at this point, but you might say it’s in my blood), (2) she is a fabulous knitter, (3) she is a fairly new designer but her stuff is really good, (4) she now lives and studies in Tromsø, Norway, somewhere I have long wanted to visit, and (5) she can really write.  The particular post which Karen linked to, which you can find here, is about the Norwegian wool, Rauma Garn.  Rauma is an old company, and has a huge back-catalogue of patterns.  Dianna notes that the company has been publishing some knitting pattern booklets with re-issues of old patterns that have been re-worked for modern tastes.  The photos of these sweaters are mouth-watering (make sure you read Dianna’s post)!  I was particularly taken with this photo:

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I saw that photo, and thought “Hmm, I’d like to get my hands on this pattern booklet.” And, without further ado, I popped off an email to my friend Erun.  Erun lives in Copenhagen, but she is Norwegian, and I know that she has a mother who knits.  I sent a link to the pattern booklet and asked if it was possible to purchase it in Norway.

This was all done while sitting and reading on a Saturday morning in my house in Oxfordshire, England, and was soon forgotten.  A month later, I made a business trip to Malaysia, where I was teaching at the business school.  I knew that Erun’s job often took her to Malaysia, and I sent out an email to ask if she would be there.  In a lovely and serendipitous fashion, she was also in Malaysia and we both had a weekend free.  We agreed to meet up in Singapore for two days of sight-seeing and catching up.  I made a brief post about this weekend trip, which you can find here.  Here is a photo of the gorgeous Erun and me sitting on the deck at the Singapore National Gallery.  I love this photo because you can see reflected in the window behind us the view of the harbour which we were facing.  (By the way, the Singapore National Gallery is fantastic in every way – gorgeous exhibits, gorgeous architecture – and this deck may be the best place to sit in Singapore and enjoy a drink on a hot afternoon; but don’t order the iced coffee!  It ranked extremely low on my coffee-o-meter scale.)

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Imagine my surprise on this trip when Erun said, “Oh, my mother bought you that knitting book and I brought it with me!  Here it is!”

And here I am, back in England, with my new knitting pattern booklet!

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This booklet has some amazing patterns in it; I am especially impressed with the menswear.  Here is the only other photo I seem to be able to download, but there are a number of men’s sweaters that are really fantastic.  I will try to get photos of them at a later date.

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Now I plan to enjoy this new pattern book, not only for the beautiful designs, but also for the opportunity to try to read Norwegian knitting patterns!

This pattern book had an interesting journey to my hand.  From a blog written by an American student in Norway, to a blog written in Tennessee, to my cozy morning reading in England, to an email posted off to a friend in Copenhagen, to a request to her mother in Norway, to a weekend in Singapore, and finally back home to Oxfordshire!  Many thanks go to Erun’s lovely mother!

Sojourn in Sicily

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Imagine, if you will, a week-long dinner party in a magical villa in Sicily, surrounded by fabulous people. When our dear friends, Craig and Albert, asked us to join them on holiday, it took us about 0.025 seconds to say “Count us in!”  In all, there were 20 of us gathered there; we flew in from Washington DC, Houston, Boston, Vancouver, San Diego, London, Tunisia, Brasilia, and Hong Kong to spend a week relaxing, sight-seeing, and merry-making.  It was a blast!

I have far too many lovely photos from the trip to ever do them justice on this blog. So, I will be satisfied here with a few selected highlights of the sight-seeing, and some gorgeous shots of the villa.  Plus, since this is my knitting blog, a few gratuitous knitting shots.  The absolute highlight of the trip was spending time with dear friends, old and new.  We had some adventures, however, chief of which would be our hike to the top of Mt. Etna.

To get to the top, one first drives a long twisty road up the side of the volcano.  Then you park the car and take a very long cable car ride up into the clouds.  (I am afraid of heights so this is quite a big deal for me).  Then you get in a big all-terrain vehicle and they drive you up another long twisty trail through what looks like the barren landscape of an alien planet.  The theme song from James Bond may or may not be going through your head at this time.

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The vehicle lets you off into the freezing cold and wind, at a height of about 10,000 feet. The views of Sicily below, and the ocean, are breath-taking, but it is the eerie solitary landscape of the volcano, with its giant craters and wind-swept rims that powers the imagination.

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We walked around the entire rim of a crater.   It takes about an hour to walk around with the wind and cold buffeting you at every step.  The ground was covered with ash from a recent eruption.  If you dug a few centimeters below the ash, there was ice.  If you dug further, you could feel the heat from the magma beneath the surface.

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Here we are, near the top:

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The very next day, as we were driving up the coast, one of the craters erupted and we watched as smoke and ash spewed into the sky.   (I cannot emphasize how cool this experience was in every way.)

We also spent a marvelous day at Taormina, a beautiful town perched on top of a cliff above the sea.  Taormina is the home of an ancient Greco-Roman Theatre, which is still in use today.  (They were setting up for a Duran Duran concert while we were there!)

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These ruins are truly amazing.  It is impossible to stand in this spot and not imagine ancient productions.

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Not only is the Theatre itself breath-taking and beautifully preserved, but the views from this spot are majestic.

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One must stop and appreciate the view:

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As spectacular as the Ancient Theatre is, it had to compete with the marvellous lunch we had on the terrace of the Hotel Timeo.  I don’t eat cannoli (gluten allergy), but I am told these are the best Doug has ever eaten.

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The food and the wine were spectacular.  (If you are lucky enough to dine there, do not miss the lobster risotto!) And here is the view from our table:

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We also spent an afternoon at Noto during the Flower Festival.  To say the festival is popular is an understatement:

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We were lucky to find an oasis of peace amidst the crowds:

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Here is a favorite photo of Emma and Wally, a new and already dear friend:

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Here is a peaceful view across the building tops of Noto:

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This holiday was set against the gorgeous backdrops of the villa, the Commenda di San Calogero, which is truly a magical place.

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We gathered every evening for cocktails, followed by dinner around a huge table in the lovely dining area:

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Leah commented that it was like suddenly finding yourself in an Agatha Christie novel, except that we weren’t being killed off one by one.

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There was time to knit:

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And lovely local towns to explore (and eat in):

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There were even four-legged friends to accompany your walks:

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It is hard to believe that such magical places exist in the world.  Most of the magic, however, comes from beautiful friendships.

Tomorrow, the girls leave to fly back across the ocean, but this trip will stay with us forever.

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Stopover in Singapore

I am in Singapore at the moment hanging out with my friend, Erun.  We were both serendipitously in Malaysia on business at the same time, me in Johor and Erun in KL, and so we both met up in Singapore for the weekend.  We have a hotel room on the 57th floor of Swissotel, The Stamford, with a harbour view.  Here is the view from our balcony:

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We spent today walking around the harbour and ended up sitting in the bar at the top of the Marina Bay Sands.  (It is the iconic Singapore structure which is basically three tall towers with a boat stretched across the top which you see in the photo above.  I think it looks silly.  But sitting in the bar on the top having a drink is super cool.)

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The views from there were spectacular.  We even took a selfie, to fit in with the other tourists (though without a selfie stick; I do have some standards).

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These photos are from Erun’s phone.  I might post more when I get home and figure out how to download photos from my new camera.  In the meantime, hello from Singapore!

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Knitting with elephants

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I am in South Africa for two weeks teaching, and I took advantage of my free weekend to travel out to a game reserve.  Yes, that is me knitting while standing next to an elephant.  I am standing in front of the restaurant at the game reserve, which is located next to a large watering hole where the elephants come to drink every day.  Thank you to Roy, the lovely man who took the photo; when I told him and his wife that I wanted a photo of me knitting with the elephants for my blog, they said “What a lovely idea!” instead of “Sorry, lady, but you are crazy!  You need help!”

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Above is a photo taken the day before where I am sitting on the back porch of my room while an elephant wanders in the bush just below me.  This was a very cool and surreal experience.

I went on a game drive one evening.  It was great fun.  Here is a list of the animals which we saw while on the drive: vervet monkeys, hippos, red hartebeest, wildebeest, warthogs, zebras, white rhinos, giraffes, ostriches, impala, blestbok, kudu, jackals, waterbok, springbok, nyala, and eland.  I didn’t take many photos, and am also having some difficulties with bandwidth here, so I will only show you a few.   I am not sure, but I think the beautiful animal below is an impala.

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We came across a family of giraffes, including a three week old baby:

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We were in an all-terrain open vehicle, and driving through the bush – really off-road. This last week there has been torrential rain here, so there was mud everywhere.  At one point, our vehicle got stuck in the mud, and we had to all get out and stand in the bush, while trying to get the vehicle loose from the mud.  We gathered tree branches and vegetable matter to stick under the wheels, but it took a good 20 minutes to get it loose, and in the meantime we were all sure that we would get eaten by hippos!   We drove through the game reserve for three hours and came so close to the animals it was astonishing (and a bit scary).  The rhinos were the hit – at one point we were about 8 feet away (too close in my opinion).  Here is a photo of me in the vehicle with rhinos just beyond me.  (Thank you, Ian, for taking the photo!)

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Here is a not very good photo of zebras, but it gives you a good idea of the kind of countryside we were driving through.  It is pretty astonishing to be driving along and come across a herd of zebras.  There were about twenty or so zebras in this group, including quite a few young ones.

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The amazing thing is that we were still quite close to Johannesburg; this was an 80 minute drive from my hotel in Jo’burg, but really felt far removed.  It is a whole different world from the city.  I am told that it doesn’t come close to the kind of experience you would have in the Kruger, but for a weekend break, it was pretty  cool!  On the Saturday, I sat down in the restaurant for lunch, and looked up to see an elephant outside the window. Here is the photo I took from my seat while eating lunch:

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People here are very friendly.  My driver, Sipho, is a great companion on the road and we shared many stories.  He brought his wife along on the return trip, and we all got to enjoy the elephants and good conversation.  I was traveling by myself, but found people to sit with, and chat with, and eat with.  I shared a lovely dinner with two Australians, one from Brisbane and one from Sydney, who were here attending a conference.  (Thanks, Ian and Lisa.  And thanks also for the wine!)  Today, I sat in the sun for a while sharing drinks and chatting with two lovely South African families, Nicol and her husband and young son, and Roy with his wife, who prove that 74 is the new 50!  I was knitting all morning while sitting and chatting with them, so perhaps they weren’t put off by my request for photos of me knitting with elephants.  And, of course,  I felt compelled to knit while leaning against the sign saying “Danger Elephants” in front of said elephants!

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Travel to the Western Cape, South Africa

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I have just returned from Cape Town, South Africa!  I spent two amazing weeks there, during which very little knitting-related activity took place.  The Executive MBA programme at the Henley Buiness School has a required module on Reputation and Responsibility, for which the entire class travels to Cape Town to work with NGOs and Social Enterprises.  My team was assigned to work with Shonaquip, a company which designs and manufactures wheelchairs and seating support solutions for disabled people, and which also provides assessments, fittings, follow-ups, maintenance and training.

We were blown away by Shonaquip, and the other NGOs involved in this project.  It was an extremely emotional week for all involved, as we came to grips with the enormity of the problems facing South Africa, and the determination and talent and heart of its people.  We were humbled by the dedication and boundless energy of people and organizations determined to provide dignity and solutions in the face of overwhelming poverty and the legacy of apartheid.

I saw very little of Cape Town, I’m afraid.  Tourists to Cape Town usually go to the top of Table Mountain for fabulous views, and to Robbin Island, where Mandela was imprisoned.  I didn’t manage either of these, nor did I get much of a chance to experience Capetown’s nightlife or great food.  For the first 8 days that we were in South Africa, I spent virtually all my time either working with my team in the hotel or at Shonaquip or its clinics in hospitals and townships.  I did manage some early morning walks with Doug along the sea wall and two lovely seafood meals with classmates.  The rest of the time was late nights working and room service.  I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world.

After the presentations and the closing party with our NGO sponsors, Doug and I took off with four friends for 5 days exploring the Western Cape.  This was amazing – the scenery is breathtaking!  The rest of this post will be rather photo-heavy.  We first went to Cork Bay (Kalkbaai), where we stayed in a fabulous B&B with a view to False Bay.  We explored from there, first visiting a wild penguin colony along the coast:

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We almost missed this little guy who was tucked away just inches from the foot trail:

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The coast is beautiful and rugged, and around every corner is another breathtaking view.  We drove through the National Park to the Cape of Good Hope.  Yes, I went to the Cape of Good Hope!!!!!  It’s an incredible experience as you stand on a spit of rocky promontory with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other.  13-IMG_0157

The photo above looks down on a gorgeous beach along the Atlantic side of the Cape; if you follow your gaze out seaward from there, you can see a long line of white breakers where the two oceans meet:

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We were there on a gorgeous day, very warm and sunny, but the wind and surf were quite rough.  You can readily imagine why so many ships wrecked along this point.  For those of us who grew up reading books about the early ocean explorers, this is a very romantic and powerful place to be.

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The views across False Bay towards the Indian Ocean side were softer, and almost mystical:

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Some of you may know that I am afraid of heights.  I balked at walking out to the end of the Point.  Doug said “No way are you going to come all of the way to the Cape of Good Hope and not walk out to the end of the trail!”  He was right; I only had a few bad moments and the experience was totally worth it.

I asked our friend Kevin to take a photo of Doug and me at the bottom of the trail.  He took about 20 and they all looked like this:

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Once he stopped laughing, Kevin showed me the photos, I had a little scream, and then I asked Doug to hold my hair down for a photo.  That didn’t work out too well either:

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And this is what happened when he let go:

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Oh well!  I stood on the Cape of Good Hope, and I have the wind-swept hair to prove it!

We spent the next morning shopping in the very funky little shops in Cork Bay (it is a very bohemian town and the shops are much better and cooler than you will find in the bigger towns).  We then drove along the coast to Hermanus, with a brief stop at Pringle Beach, a very beautiful spot with interesting rock formations:

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Hermanus is widely-acknowledged as the best land-based whale-watching spot in the world.  You don’t need to hop on a boat to see the whales here; you sit on the rocks and the whales play in the bay, sometimes just metres away.  Southern right whales spend part of the year here – calving takes place in August and September and the males arrive for mating in October, when the season peaks.   We were there past the peak season so we missed the sight of dozens of whales; nevertheless we sat on the rocks the first day and watched three whales, including a mother and her calf, play in the water just fifty metres or so from us.

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I can tell you that it is very difficult to get photos of whales actually breaching the water.  It takes great patience; kudos to Doug.  He snapped this photo the next morning of a whale a little further out from us.  This whale was slapping his tail in and out of the water and taking jumps for quite a long while.  It was a joy to watch.

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Sunsets in Hermanus are especially lovely.  As the sun sinks, the rocks on the other side of the bay are bathed in beautiful shades of pink:

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We left Hermanus in the morning and drove up north, through gorgeous scenery, to the lovely town of Tulbagh.  There we stayed at the Rijk’s Wine Farm,  which comes as close to perfect as any place I have ever stayed.

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Tulbagh is in a wide valley, perfect for growing grapes, surrounded by mountains on all sides.  Rijk’s is an award-winning winery that arguably makes the world’s best Pinotage.  The hotel is beautiful, the wine is wonderful, the scenery is lovely – it was so peaceful and gorgeous, I didn’t want to ever leave.

What should one do while sitting in the shade of grape arbors, drinking in the frgrance of 1300 white rose bushes, and looking at the mountains, while your husband pours you a glass of fantastic wine?  Why, knit of course!

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Kevin, Carola, Chris and Mike – thanks for the company!  I never thought that I would see Africa.  Now that I have, I know I will return.