Tuesday, May 25, 2010

They Come Not As Single Spies

You know it's been a busy weekend when getting back to work feels relaxing.... The walk this week was in Bear Brook State Park on Sunday. It was our warmest walking day yet. As we set off into the woods, I was reflecting that this year I've had spring all out of order. At home we're well into June, at least as far as the plants are concerned. Friday, four irises burst into bloom simultaneously, by Sunday there were dozens. The blue flags (which normally lag the other irises by at least a week) have started blooming as well. (You'll have to imagine a gorgeous photo of blue flags, here, since I forgot to go take one before it got dark.) The phlox and flowering almond bloomed before the last narcissus was gone by, and the impatiens bids fair to be in full bloom before the end of the month.

The state park is an hour or so north, and it seems to be a week or so behind Nashua. The leaves on the trees have mostly attained their full growth but haven't yet darkened to the hues of summer. Adolescent ferns are torn between reaching for the sky and spreading their leaves to drink in every drop of sunlight. Little streamlets have slowed from the rains of the summer and trickle over moss-covered rocks. And wildflowers appear here and there among the greenery. I was thrilled to spot a number of lady's slippers. They're a native member of the orchid family, slow to grow, and much over-collected. They're on the endangered species list in NH, as they are in many of the places they grow. Hiking in my youth, we always looked for them, and seldom found any. This is the first time ever I've seen them growing in profusion.
lady's slipper, courtesy Wikimedia Commons
This image is not mine, it's a public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

Of course, warm windless conditions through damp areas are the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos. We were wearing insect repellent, and I had the added benefit of having my husband as bait (mosquitoes adore him, he must be extremely tasty). Mostly, they were deterred by the repellent, but every so often one would ignore our stench and try for a meal anyway. I'm happy to report that reflexes honed by years of Girl Scout Camp are still with me- not many survived the attempt.

Saturday was a designated 'home maintenance day'. We wanted to get the pool open, but the first order of business was to (literally) clear the deck. See, when I bought my house, it had this kind of bar-thing built into a corner of the deck, which my husband and I referred to as 'the cabana'. I'm told the prior owners used to have big parties and used it as the bar. We have our own share of big parties, but generally we consider a lot of alcohol is consumed if someone brings a six-pack. It's not that we object to alcohol- I quite like it now and then. It just happens that most of our friends prefer soft drinks. On those occasions we've had it- almost no one drinks it. So the cabana has never been used much. And it also had several problems.

a) The canopy came down too low in the front. We know this from all the guests who would leave our parties with a bruise in the middle of their forehead.

b) It shades some of the deck, causing a lot of green slimy crap to grow there, and also obstructs efforts to sweep leaves and acorns off.

c) The top surface was originally varnished, and has been becoming increasingly warped and peeling. Serious maintenance would be needed if we planned to keep it.

So, a few weeks ago, in the freakish early May 90 degree heat (seriously, what was with that?) I got a sudden fit of ambition, took out my hammer and crowbar, and started demolishing the darn thing. You know those days where you start sweeping and stop to pick something up and put it away, and while you're doing that you remember you wanted to wash the mirror in the bathroom, and then you get distracted by something else, and next thing you know, it's hours later and you haven't finished sweeping? It was kind of like that.

I resumed the project off and on over the next couple of weeks. It took longer than it should have thanks to the builder, who saw no reason to use one nail if he could drive six or seven instead. And this is the same guy who used nails (many of which aren't even galvanized) to put together the deck instead of deck screws (with the result that many of the nails are backing out, to the detriment of people who trod on them in bare feet). This house is full of really odd DIY choices, that’s all I can say. Some are just weird, others I’ve gone to considerable trouble to change over to something more standard (not to mention safer). But eventually, at the end of last week, I finally got it all down:
former cabana

Note the signal absence of cabana. So, the first order of business was to cut the pieces down enough to go in the back of my station wagon and haul them off to the dump. Then the ritual hauling-of-pool-crap-out-of-the-basement. Then the crawling around under the deck cursing while putting it all together. My adorable, handsome and altogether charming spouse took on that job this year. If I wasn't already married to him, I'd marry him. Also, his manly thews did a rather better job than I usually do at getting joints tight. Which is not to say things aren't still leaking, but we're still further along than I expected to be at this point. And given that we're getting more hot sticky weather this week, the idea of getting the pool open is actually pretty appealing. No doubt we'll finish just in time for another cold snap!

Now if I could just find a fiber that resists chlorine...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fast on My Feet

It's not a record, but these were definitely faster socks than usual:
opal socks

Yet another tribute to the enduring fascination of self-patterning yarn. I finished these Sunday on the drive to and from the train station. Why the train station, you wonder? Well. It's like this.

One of the challenges in our program of walking is finding long interesting routes to walk. We much prefer loops rather than going to somewhere and returning- it means new scenery all the way. So Sunday, we went down to beautiful Concord, Massachussetts and took the commuter rail into Boston. From the north side of Boston, we walked back north and picked up the Minuteman Bikeway, a long rail trail that leads fairly directly northwest. It was a beautiful day for walking, sunny and breezy. We stopped for lunch in Cambridge and cold drinks in Lexington and then continued on to Concord. In Concord, we actually had a choice of two routes back to the town center (and the train station parking lot where we'd left the car)- a smaller unpaved rail trail or the Battle Road trail, part of the Minuteman National Historic Park. We've walked Battle Road before (it's a lovely trail) but we hadn't done the rail trail, so we opted for the path not previously taken. Aside from a few muddy bits, it was excellent- it skirts a wildlife reserve, and is in general quite woodsy, a bit surprising in an area as built-up as the Boston suburbs. Altogether it was a very pleasant walk. All eighteen miles of it.

Yes, this was our plan. A REALLY long walk. We wanted to see a) how our getting-in-shape efforts stood up to a real endurance test and b) to judge whether we were getting close to our goal of being ready for a one-day 22 mile hike during our vacation this summer. Pleasantly, the answer is yes. We were somewhat footsore at the end of the walk, but could have gone further. We did pick up a few blisters, however we were much less stiff the next day than we were after shorter walks earlier in the season. We kept a pretty steady pace through the whole walk, averaging about 3 miles an hour. We are *not* going to do it again this coming weekend, though. It just takes too darned long. We'll probably go back to 10-12 mile hikes to keep up our conditioning and try for at least one more long hike before the 22 miler.

Of course the real problem is going to be -- once we've done the 22 miler, what will be our *next* goal?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Making Progress Sideways

As Toni noted in the comments to the last post, I've made good progress toward the May goal (I need 42 FOs year-to-date by the end of the month, currently I'm at 38). In fact, if I kept knitting mittens, no doubt I could have been ahead of schedule. ....that's okay. I can wait while you stop laughing.

Friday evening, my husband and I decided on impulse to go out and listen to music (a very talented young fingerstyle guitarist named Craig D'Andrea) at our local acoustic music venue instead of, say, getting organized for the weekend. So we got home latish, did the bare minimum of house stuff, and crashed. My backup plan had been to be up early and get organized in the morning. I awoke to pouring rain. Soothing peaceful pattering on the roof rain. I thought, 'So much for the outdoor portion of my to-do list', dozed off again and wound up sleeping rather later than I had intended. Which is how at the last minute, I wound up with a whole day of running around ahead of me and no time to match up odd bits of yarn into harmonious (or at least non-awful) color combinations for mittens. Instead I grabbed a set of size 0 dpns and a ball of sock yarn- fast, fun, and guaranteed enough knitting to get me through the day without running out.

So, Saturday morning we went to see Iron Man 2 with friends, which was amusing enough, though I liked the first one better. (Its biggest problem was that it tried to do a whole bunch of different subplots and wound up without enough time to develop any of them properly. The acting was good, but good actors can only do so much without a good script. Also, I was reminded that I may have to stop going to movies in theaters as they have gotten so loud it's often quite painful to listen to. And I really don't think I should have to wear earplugs in order to attend a movie.)

From there we headed out to western Massachusetts through an absolute downpour to visit friends. Since our friends are quite accustomed to me always having knitting in my hands, it occasioned no comment whatsoever that I knit socks through pretty much the rest of the day.

We got home quite late, slept late again and then pursued our campaign to get in better shape. The hike of the week was closer to home, since we'd done so much traveling already on the weekend. We went to a state park near Peterborough NH. Our planned route was twelve miles- the first six miles went over two small peaks, Pack Monadnock and North Pack Monadnock (Pack is believed to be an Indian word that meant 'little'- just plain Monadnock is the largest and very much climbed peak in the area- I hiked up there a couple of years ago), and we walked on back roads to loop back to our car.

It was a really great hike. The hill country is still a few weeks behind us in spring, so the forest canopy hasn't really filled out yet. A lot of sun filtered down to the trail, and the leaves were that lovely shade of intense light green you only see in spring. Tender young grasses and lilies of the valley competed with moss to cover little clearings, and ferns are still uncurling their leaves in slow graceful spirals. The trail along the upper slopes was lined with wild blueberry bushes, covered with their small bell-like white blossoms. It was quite windy and somewhat chilly despite the sunshine, but perfect for a brisk hike- too cool for bugs, and kept us (well, me) from overheating on the uphill bits. When we broke out of the trees, we had an outstanding view of the surrounding forest and mountains and it was clear enough to see all the way to the coast. (Yes, of course I forgot the camera. What was your first clue? Though truly, I'm not sure a picture could do it justice.)

Of course it was only the second really hilly walk of the season, and this particular trail has a lot of steep bits with hard scrambles. So, I'm a little stiff today. But the exercise *is* making a difference, I'm happy to say. It was a steeper climb than anything we did last month, and I still needed fewer stops to get my wind back. We made much better time, and despite the distance, I didn't blister at all. So- I feel like I'm getting a bit of my hiking mojo back, even if I'm still not in the kind of shape I used to be in.

Naturally there was no knitting while hiking (though I actually kind of wished I'd had it for the second bit of the hike, coming back on the road). But there was a fair bit of passenging going to and from hiking, so the socks progressed.

It's funny- I can look at a skein of sock yarn, look even at knitted swatches of the yarn. And it really doesn't tell me much. Self-patterning yarn especially. I quite often start knitting and as the pattern emerges, I say, 'well, darn, I don't think I much care for this'...and yet, somehow, as the socks go on, it seduces me into liking it. This for example-- I liked the colors in the skein, but the patterning initially didn't thrill me. And yet I'm liking it more and more as the socks go on:
colorful socks
Plain toe-up socks in Opal 2104.

So. Best laid plans. I still haven't put together a couple of hours with functioning brain cells to sort out sweaters. I have a couple of other project plans that didn't move at all over the weekend. But we still have three weeks left in May, and I only need four more FOs to stay on schedule. I'm not crazy enough to make any predictions, but it at least looks possible!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Playing Catch-up

Another busy week, which has meant traveling projects. Small and numerous traveling projects.
mittens and more mittens
FO numbers 34, 35, 36, 37 and 38.

It almost seems like cheating to call them FOs, but they're so darn cute. And I didn't have any in the smallest size. Plus it lets me use up a lot of really small skein-ends. And the big project this week isn't going to be an FO, because demolishing things isn't actually a craft. No matter how much work it is.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Counting Up

Having determined to finish off April by trying to finish up some projects, I went on a bit of binge. First, the hat I finished in New York last weekend (I omitted the ziz-zag and just let the pattern spiral, so instead of the All-Day Beret, this is the Friday AM beret):
the Friday AM beret

Then I suddenly recalled that I'd always wanted to try Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's Unoriginal Hat pattern. However there was a small impediment. The pattern calls for one of the metric sizes of needles that's between 10.5 and 11 in US sizes. Moreover, it wants dpns. And the largest size of dpns I have is 10.5. So I shrugged and cast on with the needles I had. "Let's see what happens," I said. What happened was that I got a child-sized hat. A fairly small child, or at least a child with a small head. And I still had tons of that yellow yarn left - I'd had some left from the afghan last year even before I got more for Easter. So I added one more repeat of the chart to increase the diameter, and started the hat partway through the chart to add some length and got a quite respectably adult-sized hat. Very charming pattern, and speedy too. I'd recommend it highly for that last minute gift knitting. Here are the two hats in question:
two unoriginal hats

But don't imagine it's all been hattitude around here. Nope, I've been changing off with mittens- there's been a fair amount of gallivanting, and the sweater is just too awkward to travel well, so it's been staying home. Here's my collection of traveling mittens:
a quad of mittens

Yep, four pairs, for ages 4, 8 and 10 (two of those). Mittens travel almost as well as socks, and so I'm taking a short break until I decide what the next socks will be.

Speaking of gallivanting, this week's ten-mile-plus walk was in Stowe, Vermont. They have a lovely bike-and-recreation trail that follows the river, with many pretty views. Such as:
view from the rec path in Stowe VT

The village is very charming, with the usual touristy types of shops...also a very nice yarn and fabric store- small, but with a good selection, and some really gorgeous quilts. We strolled around the village, had lunch, admired yarn and quilts, walked a bit over 11 miles. Then stopped on our way south to check out Cold Hollow Cider (yum), their cider doughnuts (yum, yum), and took the tour of the Ben and Jerry's factory in Waterbury. A nice tour, with samples at the end. It was only with fantastic self-restraint that I managed to walk past all the ice-cream and leave empty handed. (It helped that I got two of the little sample cups...)

Surprisingly enough, this gets me close to the 100 projects goal- not quite, as I needed 33 projects by the end of April to be on schedule, where I was only at 31. But still- I was more caught up than I expected. We'll just have to see how May goes.