Friday, September 28, 2007

Time for some knitting talk

So the traveling has been great, but the knitting has been great too, and before I post about Tennessee and the final leg of our trip, let me get back to yarn play. But of course, sorry - no photos.

While travelling, I worked on the Baby Yoda Sweater. My go-to baby gift is usually the always-a-hit, everyone-loves-em Blu baby jeans, but it would appear that the entire United States is running low on Rowan Denimyarn. Webs is out (actually, correction - WAS out. Just checked and they have replenished. But since the pregnant coworker is leaving next week, no time to order, knit and wash. Nuh-Unh!) and the closest thing I have to an LYS is out, too.

So I decided on Baby Yoda. The recepient (his mother, anyway) is a good friend, but I wasn't looking to do an heirloom quality gift. Baby Yoda was perfect! I worked it in O-Wool Balance and it is cute as can be. I love that it can grow with the baby. Then I invented a little hat. Of course I use "invented" loosely - just to say that I didn't use a pattern. Its very cute but I have no idea if it will fit a baby.

Rossnyev has been poking along. I finished a sleeve, but then decided that I don't like the 3/4 length. Its a little too cutesy for me - I have other 3/4 length sleeve cardigans I do like, but it just felt a little too...I don't know. But I didn't like it, and I also feel that full length sleeves will extend its wearability season. So I'm working the second sleeve up to full length and then I will have to unravel the decorative pattern edging of the other sleeve and continue it to the same length. Fortunately, its excellent TV knitting and though I love the yarn, I'm sort of to the point where I want it done.

And I have officially embarked on my mom's sweater. Totally loving it. But then again, don't we love every project when we start it? If you don't love a project at the beginning, its going to be a long haul...and maybe likely to be a perpetual UFO. The stitch pattern I'm using is "Ribbed Leaf" from Walker vol. 2 (page 151). I've never worked a twisted stitch pattern before and I love the rhythm of it. And because the pattern appears so complicated, its extremely satisfying to work. It also pairs very nicely with 1x1 rib for the edging.

Next up is to start some of my Christmas sock knitting. Simple socks only, because mom's sweater is NOT TV knitting, and once Rossnyeve is done (hopefully soon), I'll need a new mindless project. Mom's sweater might turn into TV knitting, but even though its simple, its still a 16 stitch, 28 row repeat and I have A LOT of stitches on the needle for the back of the cardigan. Abundant opportunity for confusion. It works on the subway, but not for a good movie. It will be fine baseball-playoff knitting.

Go Yankees!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Carry me back to Old Virginia, Back to my Clinch Mountain Home

It was a four hour drive from Lexington, Kentucky to Maces Spring, Virginia. We went through the Cumberland Gap into Virginia. The scenery was lovely:

And the roads, as you can see, were positively deserted - a real treat when you are used to driving in the city with a bunch of pushy assholes (of which, admittedly, I can be one from time to time).

There isn't really all that much Carter-related to see in Maces Spring (I refuse to call it Hiltons!). Janette Carter, daughter of Sarah and A.P., began the Carter Fold which is the actual music venue. Here are the sites you can visit in Maces Spring/Hiltons:
the graves of Sarah and A.P. (is this the same Church in The Wildwood that they sang about? I don't know!)
A.P.'s store (he ran it pre-Carter Family days). This serves as the museum.
A.P.'s birthplace (a log cabin moved on site)
The Carter Fold - the big auditorium type place where they give concerts every Saturday night.
Maybelle and Eck's house is nearby, but is privately owned so you can't tour it.

Music starts at 7:30 and the other sites open around 6 p.m. - they are only open on Saturdays before the concert, so frankly there is little sense visiting any other day or time.

We pulled up to the Fold about 5:45 p.m. and were greeted by:

That little house is the store and museum. We paid our 50 cents admission and walked into a crazed jumble of memorabilia, interesting but completely disorganized and in dire need of conservation and curation. I say this only because I feel it is important enough to warrant that. I loved the sort of quirky, chock-a-block feel and the hand written labels and genuineness of it all and that shoudn't be lost - but if the items are going to last into the future, they have to be properly displayed. For example, there are huge scrapbooks full of letters people wrote to A.P. when he was sick - but they are just stuck into a folder. Lots of clothing in the display cases is moth eaten and musty. It was kind of sad and distressing, actually. If I had oodles of money, I'd donate it towards some professional curation!
The highlight of the museum for the man was A.P.'s work clothes:

We paid 50 cents to tour the cabin as well before buying our tickets to the concert.
The band playing that night was the ETSU Bluegrass Band, the only university in the country to have a four year degree in Bluegrass!
We had a while to go til the concert started, but it was already quite crowded. We couldn't sit close - some lady yelled at me for trying, which put me in a foul mood...thankfully that went away when the music started - and the venue is much, much larger than I expected. I knit, of course (a Baby Yoda sweater for my friend who is expecting) and the man took some pre-show photos. It was dark so they're bad. Do forgive.

That lower photo, thats the snack line you see there. What kind of food do they serve at the Carter Fold? An eclectic mix of nachos, hot dogs, and bean soup with a corn muffin. We ate popcorn. I couldn't help but crack wise about authentic Appalachian nachos - they did appear to be the most popular food item in the crowd.
The show started on time. Dale Jett, who is Janette's son (hence A.P. and Sarah's grandson) is a sort of MC and he played two numbers before ETSU came on. They were Carter Family songs, but I don't recall which.
Then the band came on - they were great! We were enjoying it plenty when all of the sudden, in about the third number, we heard this sound. The man described it as rain, to me it sounded like breaking glass, but like rain too - and we looked all around, wondering where it was coming from and what it was. When we looked down at the stage, we saw what it was.

It was perhaps 8-12 people, walking out in front of the stage, shaking hands and smiling at one another.
They were Appalachian clog dancing!

I absolutely cannot describe how we felt at that moment. We had tears in our eyes. Not to be overly dramatic, but really. We did. It was like all of the sudden (and I am getting tears in my eyes typing this), bluegrass wasn't something that we listened to through a box anymore - bluegrass was ALIVE, a living tradition, a vital part of people's lives, a social event, a celebration. It wasn't a CD and it was more than a performance. It was the soundtrack of that part of the country and of people's lives. It was incredibly moving and immensely entertaining. Here's a photo, except where the snack line was in the previous photo, the people here are dancing:

Alas, there were many "No Videotaping" signs posted - so no movie. But you have to go see it for yourself.
The people are blurry because they were moving so fast, but the gentleman in the blue and red and white striped shirt really tore it up, he was fantastic at it and was one of the first ones out on the floor. There is also a young guy, probably 18 or so years old, you can just see his head in a tan baseball cap who was amazing to watch. Here was this kid, decked out in baggy jeans and like a Harley t-shirt or something, doing this regional dance and doing it spectacularly. These are people who come out to the Fold most Saturdays, to see their friends and to dance. I really had no idea what kind of crowd would be there, and I don't know why I was so surprised that it would be locals.

We watched the rest of the concert in a sort of reverie. I did have a feeling similar to when I used to go to church, and there are so many people, all coming together with like minds, to celebrate something. It was definitely a spiritual experience.

The concert lasted well into the night, I guess we left at about 10:30, still on this high that we got from experiencing...I don't know exactly...American Music? American Culture? America?

We were staying in Bristol, a city on the border of Tennessee and Virginia. Bristol is extremely significant for Carter fans, because that is where they were "discovered" by Ralph Peer. He placed an ad, looking for local talent for Victor records, and he recorded the Carters and amazingly, Jimmie Rodgers at the same session.

Bristol was about 25 miles away. Too happy and bewildered to care for directions, I turned on to the Bristol Turnpike. I knew I was heading in the right direction, but what followed was half an hour down the darkest, twistiest, turniest roads I have ever driven. I laughed the whole time. It was a joy. The man kept exclaiming over the stars - you sort of forget about them living in the city, and they were magical.

We arrived at our hotel around 11:30. It would have been a real kicker to the day if we had found a delicious place to eat. We stopped at a bar we passed that said they had food, but it was too smoky inside and they were playing some awful top 40 tune. We settled for a six pack and Taco Bell back at the hotel room. Not the perfect ending to a perfect day, but good enough, to be sure.


The roots of roots music - Pre-Virginia post discussion

Growing up, my family wasn't that into music. My dad would play the oldies station when he was grilling or working in the garage and my mom played Christian music. Sheesh, right? The music that I most associate with my childhood - and this is thanks mostly to family camping trips - is Motown, Supertramp's "Breakfast in America" album, and Bob Seger. I loved to listen to classical on the radio, but my dad made fun of me for it.
Point is - finding the music I love hasn't been an easy process. When I first heard Led Zepplin, I was a junior in high school and I was shocked that I fell instantly in love with it. Previously, I thought it was "hard rock" music for burnouts. From LZ it wasn't too long til I discovered the Grateful Dead, which I also instantly loved. But as much as I liked the Dead, all along what I really wanted to hear was the musicians who has influenced them. But how to get there?
Johnny Cash's American Recordings were a start. Falling in love with them and listening to more and more Cash finally unlocked the roots music I had been looking for. I had been listening to Dylan since my junior year of high school, but who was this Woody Guthrie, and where could I hear his music? Certainly not on the radio and not even in the public library. And naturally, in those times, I didn't have the money nor the access to the music shops (this was - gasp! - pre-Amazon days) that I have now.
Our first year in New York, we were poking around the Virgin Megastore in Union Square when the man randomly came across a Monroe Brothers CD. On the back of it was a quote from Bob Dylan that said something like, "I love listening to Bill and Charlie Monroe. Thats what America is all about to me". So we bought it and fell completely in love. After that, it was a sort of torrent of bluegrass music purchases and from then on, the roots music world gradually opened up. We bought (or got from the library) all sorts of crazy country and bluegrass compilations, plus Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, and finally, The Carter Family.
For all our musical revelations, I don't think any were quite as profound as the man's instant attachment to the Carters. Played the one CD we got from the library a million times, bought more - bought the Mark Zwonitzer book, Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone? and started to dream of visiting their home place of which they sang so fondly - Maces Spring, Virginia.
On September 15, 2007 - we made our pilgrimmage.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Blue Moon of Kentucky

Just returned from a week touring Kentucky, Virginia (not much of it) and Tennessee. I love New York, I really do...but anyone who lives here gets tired of the pretensions and rudeness from time to time. Especially if they've recently spent a week among lovely people and scenery as we did down south there. Here's the rundown:

Wednesday, September 12 we arrived in Louisville. We stayed at the utterly fabulous 21C MuseumHotel. If you go to Louisville, frankly, there's no where else to stay.

If you checked out that website, then you may think that it contradicts the lack of pretension I'm claiming to have seen on our trip. However, it really wasn't pretentious. I swear! Full of contemporary art and with one of the best restaurants in town (Proof on Main), but really, the staff was so nice but not weird nice, just genuine. And the owners are sharing their own personal collection with the public, and whats pretentious about that? The galleries are open to the public anytime. There is art on guest room floors that they can't get to without paying for a room, but the public can come in for tons of free art whenever they'd like - including Judy Fox's amazing (and perfectly sited) sculptures.

Proof specializes in bison and bourbon, so the man was very happy. The trip was, for all intents and purposes, a business trip. But I can't help it if the man loves bourbon and has long wanted to travel the bourbon trail. And, the bison was really delicious - nothing like those cheesy bison burgers you see advertised in diners. We had lunch and drinks at Proof but had dinner at Lily's, which was wonderful.

Then it was on to Lexington! Horse country! I've never been that into horses, especially after being thrown from one (with no injuries, thankfully) at church camp as a kid, but I got a grand tour of Keeneland which was lovely, as you can see here:

Since they were having their September Yearling sale (see, don't I sound like I know what I'm talking about?), I got a glimpse of the whole bizarre world of thoroughbreds. Bizarre, but fascinating and I definitely want to see a race - ideally in Kentucky, but I always have Belmont here in NY.

Once in Lexington, I visited Ashland, the home of Henry Clay and had a bite at their cafe. This place served sandwiches literally straight out of my grandmother's cookbooks - I tried pimento cheese for the first time. I had heard of it, but I asked what it was, and when the nice lady (it really seemed like everyone in Kentucky was SO NICE) said that if I didn't know what pimento cheese was, I must not be from the south. Well, then, I HAD to try it. Didn't love it there, but tried a different version later and enjoyed that. Had we arrived at the cafe earlier, I could have tried other old-fashioned delights like olive and cheese, cream cheese and nuts, and something else odd that I don't recall.

The next day, as a gift for the man, I gave him a bourbon day - driving him around to the distilleries and to the Boubon Festival. As it turned out, you don't need a designated driver for bourbon sampling, because:
1. the distilleries are far apart and have limited hours, making it practically impossible to get to them all in one day.
2. you HAVE TO take an hour long (at least) tour to get to the tasting part, making it extra impossible to get to them all.
3. they only give you half an ounce of bourbon.
So even though I gave the man my samples, he was pretty far from buzzed and could certainly have driven himself if he had to.
But allow me to back up for a moment, because this day started with the best breakfast of our lives! We enjoyed it at the Silver Spoon Restaurant in Versailles, Kentucky - on Business 60, right where 60 splits off to the right (if you're coming from Lexington). Determined to not eat at a chain, we were glad to see this place and pulled in around 10:30 am. The man ordered the Farmer's Breakfast: two eggs, toast, potatoes, a country ham steak, biscuit and gravy and fried apples. I ordered a regular breakfast: two eggs, toast, potatoes, and whole hog sausage. I really don't know where to begin describing the meal, it was absolutely sublime. The eggs were hands down, the best I've ever had in this country. They were so delicately flavored, I could swear they had been laid that morning. And naturally, they were perfectly cooked. The meats were naturally flavored and delicious. The biscuit and gravy, delightful and full of homemade taste. And the fried apples were a true flourish, with the man enjoying them in bites with the ham. So, if you do the bourbon trail, have your breakfast at the Silver Spoon - its a gem!
Due to annoying tour schedules, we had to drive by Woodford Reserve and go up to Frankfort to Buffalo Trace. Frankfort is a cute town and I saw a house I absolutely loved - a three gabled gothic revival. But I digress. Buffalo Trace distills one of the man's old favorites, Blanton's, and his new favorite (after sampling it later that evening at De Sha's near our hotel - great bourbon selection!), Pappy Van Winkle. You don't get to see the distilling or mashing or fermenting at Buffalo Trace, but you do get to see the storage houses (which smell wonderful, and I don't like bourbon) and the hand bottling room (pretty neat) and the grounds are lovely. The tour ends with a tasting of Buffalo Trace and Rain, an American vodka they make there (corn vodka - delicious, and convenient for those of us who buy American as much as possible!). I let them touch my lips but gave them to the man, as I'm not much of a liquor drinker.
Then it was on to Woodford. A visit there came highly recommended from many people, but we were disappointed and I'm telling you now, put it low on your list - the man recommends the Heaven Hill Whisky center thing in Bardstown first - but I was working and didn't go with him there). Anyways, Woodford.
First, you have to pay $5! Maybe this is because they drive you 800 feet in a bus. I don't know. But you have to pay and essentially, you're paying to listen to an hour long advertisement for Woodford. Our tour guide was really cheesy and awful, maybe that put the bad taste in our mouth. The nicest part of the Woodford tour is definitely seeing the fermenting. Look how cool it is:

and seeing their beautiful copper stills:

But the tour (and the requisite movie) is just, Woodford this and Woodford that. It got kind of tiring. Anyways, the tour ends with the tiny sample (happily surrendered mine to the man) and the craptacular plastic sample cup that "you get to keep".
After that, slightly disheartened (and $10 poorer!) we headed to Bardstown for the festival. There, we ate at this makeshift type tent with two women dishing out pulled pork, sloppy joes and I think chicken salad sandwiches. I had a sloppy joe, which I hadn't had in many years and it was quite good. The man ate the pork sandwich and loved it, but was soon angry that he passed on the 2" thick pork chop sandwich at another food booth. He consoled himself with a corndog:

And as for that cigar - a real estate company was giving them away for free. It smelled so bad when it wasn't even being burned that he left it in a hotel room.
For a bourbon festival, it was awfully tough to find a drink. But we found the drinking area:

The man sampled 1792 (he hated it!) and refreshed his taste for some other bourbon he hadn't tried in a while. The pours were generous and fortified him enough to brave the craft vendors. I thought they were pretty good, actually, and we bought some lovely things for our good friends who are watching the rabbit. Here is the guy who made the tasting spoon we bought:

He's a second generation spoon maker (carver? I don't know) and was very nice. He just does it as a hobby and doesn't have a website but he makes some handsome spoons.
We ate that evening at the aforementioned DeSha's which was more or less unremarkable except for its bourbon selection. Here is a picture of their uninspiring salad:

But it was walking distance to the hotel and you can't argue with that.
The next day was the big day - we were traveling to Hiltons, Virginia - formerly Maces Spring, Virginia - for a pilgrimmage to the Carter Fold. A long awaited day, indeed!
We made the trip down there leisurely, taking back roads instead of I-75. We visited the delightful and unexpected Rock Castle River Trading Company where I fell madly in love with a bunch of pieced but unjoined Victorian silk "grandmother's flower garden" quilt blocks. They were foundation pieced on old letters and I'm still dreaming of them - but at $10 a block, I couldn't afford them all and it would be a shame to separate them.
The excellent people there told us to go to Weaver's Hot Dogs in downtown London if it was open. Even though we were planning to stop at the (somewhat) fabeled Burger Boy Restaurant nearby, when we saw Weaver's was open, we stopped in:

They asked if we wanted onions, and the man said, "however they're best". We didn't know onions meant a strange chili type sauce with raw onions in it. They were quite tasty dogs, no doubt, and the photos on the wall were a great touch.
Burger Boy with its storied fried chicken loomed just up the road, so calling the Weaver's dogs an appetizer, we soldiered on. And then it appeared, in all its iconic sign-y glory:

The man had the chicken, I had a burger once I saw that they made them small and thin, the way I like them. The chicken was indeed VERY good, but it had tough competition. For us, its hard to beat the outstanding, delicious, superlative fried chicken at Fiorella's in New Orleans.
Thus, we continued up the road to ol' Virginny. But our experience there deserves its own post, and its nearly time to punch out for the day. But I can promise that what is going to be described in the Virginia post is the closest thing I've ever had to a spiritual experience - and was a highlight not just of the trip but probably - no joke - of my life. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Socks that Rock Rant

What the *^&%! is up with this Socks That Rock stuff?

First, google it. You will see evidence of acolytes devout enough to rival the world's major religions. You look at the pictures and see pretty socks in pretty colors and think, "I wouldn't mind making a pair of socks out of that". If you dig a little deeper, you find out that people who haven't yet knitted with STR are considered "virgins". I swear!

So you think, gee, if its this popular, I should be easily able to go get myself some. So you go to the website and look at the retailer list and see there are 16 - that is SIXTEEN - yarn shops in America and Canada where you can buy this fabled stuff. Imagine my surprise that there was one in Michigan - but thats as far east as they come.

I then clicked on "retail info" and found out that they had a WAITING LIST just to sell their products in your shop (apparently, they can't supply more than 16 shops and their Rockin' Sock Club, famously shut down by some well-meaning better business bureau who couldn't believe that thousands of women paying $250 for a "sock club" wasn't a scam). And that to be on this waiting list, you have to reply to their little questionnaire, including "a current class and teacher bio" and "...any other point of interest you would like us to CONSIDER". CONSIDER!!!! You have to be judged by these people to see if you're good enough to sell their yarns. What a bunch of hogwash.

I was really trying to avoid swearing on my blog but I am very, very tempted to say "F***ing elitist B****es!" Right??? I mean, come on! This is YARN and KNITTING, this isn't haute couture (Fashion Week is taking place in Bryant Park right now, meaning that normal people can't enjoy the park since its been turned into a tent colony for hosting the fashionistas and the - I'm going to say it! - ELITE of the world). And its SOCK YARN. I love to knit socks, I do, but I can get oodles of beautiful, glorious sock yarns most anywhere (even from MY LYS), without supporting a clearly exclusionary yarn company.

Oh, and did I mention that one skein of this holy grail of yarndom is only 360 yards - meaning you're basically knitting adult anklets, because you're not getting a very long calf section (fyi, most two socks per skein yarns are over 400 yards).

I told you this was a rant.

And, all that said, if I can get into the Rockin' Sock Club next year, I'm totally doing it. Even though I rarely wear socks.

A girl's got to see what the fuss is about, right?

Friday, September 7, 2007

Christmas knitting update

Christmas knitting is officially past swatching stage and has firmly and definitely begun. The felted tote bag for my aunt is actually almost done (at least the knitting stage) which means of course I should be posting a picture and of course that I don't have one at the moment.

The bag is pretty hilarious right now. I've never knitted for felting before and so I see it as a big, floppy ugly thing and I cannot wait to see all tightened up and felty. I started it last weekend. Now, I live in an *apartment* and that means that I don't have a *washing machine* which means I cannot *test felt* because even if I went to the laundromat to test felt one measly swatch, they're all front load washers which can't be opened during the cycle, because they'd make a terrific mess if you did. So I did hand felt a swatch, but even like 20 minutes of that doesn't really give you the full idea of how much the piece will shrink. In writing the pattern, I decided (randomly) on a shrinkage of 2/3. Which means I was multiplying my desired finished measurement by THREE and using that figure. Well, I didn't even get a third into the base rectangle of the bag before I realized that there was NO WAY that could be right. So I dashed off to WEBS and found that they had a free pattern for a felted bag out of the yarn (Valley Berkshire). Using their figures (thank you, Webs, for giving before and after felting measurements), I rejiggered my whole pattern and am now more or less confident that I will end up with a nice tote bag. And my friend is going to let me use her washing machine.

I am also knitting a scarf out of this ugly sparkly yarn for someone that I don't like but must still give gifts to. I wanted a spiral scarf and found a suitable non-short-row pattern (no problem with short rows, she's just not worth putting that much work into it!). I didn't revisit the pattern I found online, assuming I knew what to do. After all, its just CO 100 sts, k 1 row, then increase in every stitch for one row - repeat as necessary. So I did k1, yo and wasn't feeling too confident about it but plugged away anyways. I was all the way up to 800 stitches on the needle before I looked at the pattern which says k into f and b of every stitch! No big deal. I ripped it, all 800 stitches and will be casting on again soon. I don't care because it makes great TV knitting. I think it still would have spiraled, it was just too holey.

All this goes to show you, I'm no knitting genius. But practice makes perfect and I get plenty of that.