Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Aloha Y'all!

Wait, no really-- is it already WEDNESDAY? Have we been done with our paradise retreat for four days already? I don't know about the rest of you, but island time ended for me pretty quickly. After a joyful ride to the airport with Eva, Suzette and Marianne, and a relaxing time sitting in one of those big wooden rockers waiting for a plane out, things got annoyingly hectic way too soon. There was the storm on the way into Atlanta, the delayed flight back to Austin, and the discovery, upon my return, that my wonderful house sitter forgot to leave my key (she didn't know I didn't have one with me). So seventeen hours of boat/car/plane/layover/delays and I'm back home and can't get into my own house. I figured it out without having to break in.

Now that I've had a few days to catch up on my sleep, I'm feeling much better. I can't get Monhegan out of my head. Last year, I was so psyched to learn lace and Fair Isle. But as soon as I got back, I pretty much resumed my St,st lifestyle. This year, I feel different. I feel like I had this knitting transformation, and I am hungry like the wolf to finish my French Market Bag and start up some Aran sweater. And no, I am not being sarcastic.

Is it too sappy to write a love letter to knitting? I take my chances. Being on the island for a week with y'all was like landing on some home planet where I don't have to explain this way-more-than-a-hobby knit-addiction of mine. Yes, I'm in awe of those of you who can finish three projects in one day, and can knit without looking, and who understand what colors go together well. But I'm also pleased with my own progress. I think this point was really driven home when I made a joke at breakfast about how I'm going to start cabling my i-cords. Get it? Get it? CABLING MY I-CORDS!!

Three years ago I don't think I knew what an i-cord was. And the sight of a cable needle made me tremble. Even though I know from other areas of my life-- writing, cooking, serial divorcing-- that everything takes practice to get right, I get amnesia around this concept. Only when I wake up ten years after the fact and see what progress I've made do I understand the power of process. Which is my convoluted way of saying that when I picked up the needles eleven years ago, I swore I would never learn to purl, that this would lead to too much frustration, a "need" to learn patterns. After three years or so, I did learn to purl. Then I learned socks. Then I learned basic sweaters. Then I learned accidental felting. Then I learned how to repurpose the accidentally felted sweater into a nice bag.

At Knitting Camp, I have picked up SO many tricks, bits of advice, and skills, that I now feel like a ding-dang daredevil on the needles. I cannot believe that I now get the concepts of lace, Fair Isle, chart reading, bobble making, and-- thanks to this year's retreat-- the formerly daunting intarsia which makes an amazing amount of sense to me now.

So thank you all for all the help, inspiration, and-- yes-- makeup tips.
Boy am I a happy knitter.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fairwell Fair Isle!

And of course, when I say, "Fair well, Fair Isle," I'm not trying to suggest that with the end of this wonderful week comes an end to my attempts as Fair Isle and intarsia. The Fair Isle I speak of is our lovely Monhegan Island. Because if you think I'm just going to go back to Austin and resume making all my projects in stockinette Noro, you're crazy.

Oh no, after this week, I plan on making EVERYTHING in both Fair Isle and intarsia, and not only that, my new nickname is going to be The Cable Lady. That's right, not a row shall pass that doesn't include at least ten strands of yarn and the need for at least three cable needles used simultaneously.

I have been won over! Thank you, Lisa. Thank you, Susan.

And really, thank ALL of you for an incredible, hilarious week. And thank you, Holden, for all those low fat options at snack time. And thank you Bird Man for making the trip complete by showing up again this year. I'm a little sad there's not a hurricane brewing, a storm of the sort that would've prompted a round of loud scary pronouncements about the ride back to the mainland. But I'll get over it.

I'm going to be putting up more posts here over the coming days, some recaps of all we've done. Maybe this will be a chance for all of us to escape just a little longer before we get pulled back into a world where our cell phones work and we have to make our own dang coffee in the morning.

Safe travels to you all. Boy did I have a great time. And remember-- if you ever need hair and makeup, Eva is your gal.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Charting: New Territory

[Eva, our in-residence hand model, shows a real flair for combining elegant platinum and diamonds with the wonders of nature.]

It's about 7:30 here on the island-- not that I'm really into looking at the clock-- but I mention this because while the rest of you lazybones SLEPT IN, I got my butt out of bed at six and headed over to Burnt Head to sit atop the cliff and allow the sun to put on a youtube-worthy performance for me. Allow me to tell the long story of how this came to pass-- Miss No Sense of Direction finding her way around the trails all by her lonesome.

We begin with yesterday. Another magnificent breakfast-- the special was a nice goat cheese omelet. Then a small group of us headed out with Patty the Human GPS for another wonderful hike/stroll, which culminated in our triumphant arrival at Pebble Beach. The rocks here are stunning, like little round pebbles on steroids. They are enormous and baby-bottom smooth, worked over by nature's washing machine set on super-agitate. I could've sat admiring those rocks all day.

Then back at the ranch, I opted for lollygagging whilst my more ambitious knitting yogis embarked on a boat tour around the island. Upon their return, with only a subtle hint of gloating, they informed me all that I had missed: namely up close views of some porpoises and a bald eagle. How an eagle is allowed to fly bald while a pack of knitters is running loose around here is beyond me-- somebody knit that bird a hat already.

We reconvened as a group for the afternoon class, with most of us opting to sit out on the porch on those lovely big white wooden rockers. I would be remiss in not reporting that, praise all things good and wonderful, it was another Whoopie Pie day. This time we had the classic variety-- chocolate cake filled to bursting (like my pants after I ate ten of them) with delicious fluffy creme. Much progress has been made by many on various Fair Isle and instarsia projects. For my part, I chugged away ever so slowly at my cable-enhanced hat which I might just finish today. My intarsia project is, shall we say, on island time-- not in any big hurry to be finished.

That said, I have to note that even though I'm not whipping through my big project like some folks are, the very fact that after only four days I find myself not entirely uncomfortable reading charts is Major Progress. I come on this retreat namely for the laughter and relaxation. And so, for the second year running, something like stunned surprise fills me when I stop to consider that, yet again, Lisa and Susan have sneakily gotten me to improve my knitting skills, making it painless in the process. Last year my motto was, "Hey, nobody told me life was supposed to be Fair Isle." I viewed the project with trepidation but then, miracle of miracles, wound up finishing my bag before the ferry headed out.

But I had a bit of chart-amnesia when I arrived this year, having forgotten some of last year's lessons. So I initially I looked at Susan's cable chart and winced. I tried it, reverted to the written pattern, then rededicated myself to figuring out the chart. Which I did. I took that hurdle-clearing as impetus not to be put off by the ridiculously complicated looking intarsia chart supplied by Lisa and, my oh my, this attitude has served me well.

After class, we gathered for a group photo, ambushing an unsuspecting passerby to take the shot for us. (See her picture below, aiming the camera at us.) She was a very good sport. Just before the photo, somebody said we all needed to go put on all our knitted garments. I took this edict to heart, arriving clad from head to toe in everything I've ever knitted, including my trademark Over-Embellished hat and my Noro socks. Apparently I was the only one who followed the instruction so closely, thus I wound up looking like a crazed Nanook of the North while everyone else looked rather dignified.

[Unsuspecting passerby-turned-group-photographer]

Then onto Lobster Cove for a sunset picnic. Oh I just love that. Down goes the sun over there. Up comes the moon over here. I met a woman once who swore to me she listened to rocks to hear ancient Peruvian dreams. Yeah, well-- whatever. But I will say if anyone takes the time to listen to the rocks at Lobster Cover a hundred years hence, they are going to hear some very loud laughter (and maybe the occasional bawdy joke).

I know I said this was all about how I came to haul my sleepy self out of bed to catch a sunrise. We're getting there. Post-picnic, nearly all of us gathered in the adjacent living rooms to knit our hearts out some more. We had a newcomer in our midst, one Isabelle, who's been coming to the island for over forty years. She's working this magnificent sweater and she took us up on the invitation to join in, sharing some great stories in an accent so lovely it made my already harsh Jersey accent sound like some bastard street urchin.

Isabelle told us, as if reciting poetry, about the wonders of sunrise here on the island. Many knitters chimed in that they would be getting up at 6 to join her and see for themselves. I found that this pact was not unlike the "let's all put on all of our knitting for the picture" command. All night I woke up, nearly every hour on the hour, like an excited kid on Christmas Eve. Is it time yet? Is it time yet? Finally, it was time and I leapt (okay, creaked) out of bed and overdressed and dashed downstairs to find... no one but Holden who was dutifully setting out the coffee.

I thought I might encounter others along the way but no. Just me and my lack of sense of direction, hoping I might find my destination. At one point, it occurred to me that if I looked up at the sky, rather than down at my feet, I might see where I needed to be going. This is a GREAT navigational concept, people. Look UP when you're lost and maybe you'll see some little clue like, say, bright light coming from the East. So there I was, like one of the Wise Men. And when it dawned on me that I'd strayed from the trail into someone's yard, I moved swiftly and quietly, inventing an apologetic excuse in my head that I might use if the homeowners came out with a shotgun. (This is like excuses we make in our head when we drive too fast, planning a good story to tell to any cops who might pull us over.)

I spotted Isabelle, all alone on a big rock, looking utterly refreshed and serene. How she managed this before 7 am is beyond me, but maybe I can aspire toward this inner calm thing and, if I'm lucky, achieve it by the time I'm ninety. The sunrise itself was not as magnificent as it could've been-- by which I mean it did not burst like a flaming ball of red from the horizon. Instead we got a subtle lightening, and Isabelle told me about the island and shared her binoculars and the water was gorgeous and, not to make those of you who SLEPT IN feel bad or anything, but I'm so glad I got up.

Now I'm back at MH for our last full day on the island. Such a strange time warp here-- like the days stretch out but the week has managed to whiz by. How did that happen? I vow to finish my hat today before the lobster picnic this afternoon. I might even get up again tomorrow before dawn and give that sunrise thing one more shot before I head back to the urban reality that is my life.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Yes, That's Right, MORE PICTURES

Okay, we're at that point now where the days are blending into each other, and I mean that in the best sense of the word. I no longer have my timepiece handy-- in fact, the concept of time hardly dawns on me except if I see folks heading to the room where we have classes or (more importantly) I see Holden sweep through the room and start thinking, "Is it whoopie pie time yet?"
Now is the dream portion of the trip-- whatever stress getting here incurred has fallen by the wayside. The beds promote deep sleep. The food is excellent and shows up at just the right intervals. The knitting is near constant-- maybe we're not all knitting at once, but like the changing of the guard, you can bet that somebody is knitting somewhere-- in one of the living rooms, or out on the porch, or even during a stop for rest during a hike.

Oh and the hikes! Yesterday we took a good long walk-- over two hours. Today was shorter but a bit more on the strenuous side. We settled on Pebble Beach where I saw the most beautiful, enormous "pebbles"-- all smooth from being in the enormous washing machine aka the Atlantic Ocean. We spotted a silver seal sunning himself on a rock and we followed suit, setting for a spell to listen to the bells of the buoy-ies (what IS the plural for that?), and admiring the endless horizon.

Melora cut out a little early to head back to lead yet another yoga class. She's busy restoring us all, getting us to open our shoulders after so much knitting, and open our hips after so much hiking. I wonder what she has planned for later today to counteract the "Holden Effect" -- by which I mean, oh yes! It is a whoopie pie day.

So here, some more great pics from our fearless hike leader and official trip photographer, Patty:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Gadgets and Fairies and Gifts-- Oh My!

So much to tell! Yesterday's hike was... interesting. Somehow a pack of four of us got behind Patty and the rest of the gang. We came to a fork in the road and whenever this happens, Lisa-- who was in the four pack-- likes to quote Yogi Berra who said, "When you come to a fork in the road, TAKE IT!" So we did, apparently veering off down a different prong than P & co.

This was just fine. We had a wonderful time taking in all the views, wondering how long it might be before the others started to miss us, and swapping all sorts of stories which I shall not repeat here. Suffice it to say that Laurie had the good sense to bring a map and Lisa had the ability to orient us using the map. Before too long, we heard the voices of Patty's group, and -- our hero-- she came careening down an embankment that had to be at least 10,000 feet high so that she could throw her jacket across a puddle to allow us safe passage that did not involve muddying our shoes. Thank you Patty!

We saw some great fairy houses in Cathedral Woods-- some very upscale some more lean-to-ish. Oh, and I have to tell you-- check out the picture below-- I found a tree doing yoga in the forest. Yes, this is the real Tree Pose, in case you were wondering.

Back at Holden's place, we had a couple of hours of downtime, allowing Brenda and Gina to continue their undercover investigation of the Black Duck Emporium, the little store across the way that has a phenomenal bag selection. It's like they are bag dealers, and maybe they even have hidden cameras to capture us ogling and fingering all the goods over there, slobbering as we imagine dividing our DPs from our circulars, compartmentalizing and organizing until we drop.

Speaking of organizing-- so Suzanne asked how the rest of us keep our supplies organized. My answer would be "poorly." But, Eva to the rescue! She dashed off to her room and came out with all manner of organizational ideas and equipment. And then, using the skills she picked up as a hand and glove model, she waved those lovely fingers over her needle case (one of, like, five hundred) as if she were a game show hostess. (Pity she's not.)

Not long after, Kay came in to show me a gift that her sister Laurie made for her. The two are here together and L has been bestowing knit-related gifts on K since we got here. (Waa... why can't MY sisters knit and make ME cool gifts?). The gift of the day yesterday was a beautiful-- I mean just stunning-- needle case. So lovely was it, that when I went to the Black Duck for my daily bag fix, and when I got to talking bags with the proprietress, she told me she'd just seen the most gorgeous needle case, and proceeded to describe Kay's new case. See? It's already legendary!

Gina actually got the whole organizational ball rolling the other day. As she did last year, she brought gifts for all this year. And the score was most excellent. We each got a copy of the book KnitSpeak, a roll of highlighter tape, and this magic wand thingie that you can slide you pattern/chart into. This thing not only keeps your place, it magnifies the lines so you can actually see what you're doing. THANK YOU Gina!

Most of us had dinner over at the smashing Island Inn-- tres FAN-ceeeee! There, I got to describing one of my favorite gadgets, a recently acquired camping headlamp that I have repurposed so that I can see my knitting better. I actually whipped it out at dinner. Eva nearly spit her teeth out at the dorkiness of it. But then... bwahahaha, evil me... I stroked my beard and rubbed my hooves together and dared her to try it. So she did. Now she wants forty of them. In pink.

Hard to believe that today is our third full day already. Dang if flies by too quick.
Off for another long hike. Here are some pics:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Eleven Thousand Wordsworth! (and counting)

Patty isn't just our fearless hiking leader and dispenser of First Aid. She's also a topnotch photographer. Here are just a few shots she's taken. I'll post some more soon.

[Night knitting]

[Welcome Reception]

[To the Shore!]

[Welcome Night: Salmon Mousse]

[Balancing Rocks]

[More Night Knitting]

[Still More Night Knitting]

[What We Live For]

[The Weather is FANTASTIC!]

[First Hike]

[World's Largest Stitch Marker]