Friday, January 30, 2009

Christmas gifts, belatedly

I come from a crafty family. My aunt Kathy used to paint the most fantastic ceramic Christmas ornaments—I'm talking four-foot-tall classical Santas, and Christmas trees with real working lights—and my aunt Debbie has a whole room dedicated to all her various crafts (scrapbooking, sewing, soap- and card- and candle-making, etc.)

As a kid I dabbled in counted cross-stitch under their guidance, and I made a quilt and a few other things in high school. You know how it is when you've got plans for all the cool things you want to make—more quilts, and sun-dresses, and throw pillows, and rag dolls. You start to develop quite a big stash of fabrics. And then life gets in the way, of course, so you never really do find the time to make (or finish) that quilt with the matching throw-pillows, or the dress, or the rag doll, and all that fabric sits in big boxes in your closet.

With each new holiday season I become increasingly set on handmade over store-bought, using materials already on hand whenever possible. In June 2007, while Kate and Elliot and I were on Hvar Island in Croatia, we picked up sachets for souvenirs that were made from lavender grown on the island. So when I saw a big bin of dried lavender at the Mediterranean stand at the Saturday market, I decided I would make my own sachets out of all that unused calico sitting in my closet.

Easy sewing (4" squares, with half the fourth side left open for stuffing), quick assembly, looks so nice with a ribbon and a matching soap or vial of essential oil. So that's what I did.

I also knit quite a few Christmas gifts this past year, but I still haven't gotten decent photographs of most of them!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Adventures in Berlin: the Liquidrom

There are a few places in Germany I never got around to blogging about. I went to the ruins of Anhalter station on my own, and later with the Fat Tire bike tour, and both times I wondered what the heck this building was:

I asked our tour guide, and he said that among other things (offices and a movie theater), this futuristic building contained the Liquidrom, the coolest spa he'd ever been to. There were hot and cold baths, a bar, and a chamber where you could listen to music underwater. Kelly and I resolved to go there before she left, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. We went along with two Aussies we'd met in our travels, Hinn and Brie, and it was so much fun chatting with them while we kicked back in the outdoor pool.

Needless to say, I didn't take any photographs on the inside, but man, this place was amazing. Everything was modern and immaculate, and aside from a few Australian guys at the bar we were the only tourists there. The locals didn't seem at all disdainful of us, either—most people were just chilling (in the buff, or near to it) on beach chairs reading books or the newspaper (which seemed kind of strange to me, considering the entrance price, but I suppose they had seasonal membership).

You pay about €18 (plus €3 for towel rental, if you need one) for two hours, and I think it's a couple euros more for every half hour you spend thereafter. The whole place smelled wonderful—I can't recall which scent, it might have been eucalyptus, but it was really soothing. There was a courtyard with a wooden deck and a warm pool, the sound chamber our tour guide mentioned (it was fairly small, and being hogged by the same couple every time we tried to use it), a steam room so steamy you couldn't see your nose if you crossed your eyes, and freezing-cold pools you could hop into after the sauna (if you were feeling brave enough).

The sauna was the best part. It had three tiers of wooden benches, so if you sat at the top you'd practically burn your skin off. At the top of the hour the spa dude would come in and pour fragrant essential oil (sandalwood or whatnot) on the red-hot coals, then flap the heat around with a towel. He was very gracious, repeating the instructions for us in English, and making jokes as the air got hotter and hotter. It was the most intense heat I've ever experienced—I had to remove my gold necklace quickly to avoid burning myself—but I was determined to stay sitting on the top tier. The lovely man came up to me afterwards and told me he was impressed that I'd stayed put!

Later on we ordered smoothies at the bar, and the same guy who ran the sauna served us. You were given a key-fob at the beginning for your locker, and this also served as a credit card of sorts (so you could leave your wallet in the locker). I was so tickled at how futuristic this seemed!

So to anyone paying a visit to Berlin in the future (this means you, Kate and Elliot—you'll love it), be sure to spend an evening at the Liquidrom. Top it off with a good meal and you have the perfect last night of vacation.

(One more thing: the entrance is a bit tricky. When you come up the subway steps, you'll see the building to your left, and the entrance to the movie theater and a restaurant is on that side. Walk past that side of the building, make a right, and walk down the block until you see the door to the Liquidrom on your right.)

And with that, my Germany blogging has come to an end. Over the next few months I'll be doing research for the second edition of Moon Ireland, so there'll still be plenty of new photos to share!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Inauguration video #1

And my friend Diarmuid sent me this link, asking me if I could spot myself. (I haven't—yet.) Cool, huh?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mealey's Christmas Blouse

I like to tell people that the beginning of the year is Selfish Knitting Season. Here's my version of Elaine's Blouse (from Interweave Knits Winter 2008), which I fell totally in love with as soon as I saw the magazine preview.

(I'm wearing a flesh-colored tank top underneath. Really, I am.)

When the Stash and Burn girls did their magazine review, Nicole said she didn't think the design and the yarn worked well together at all, but I think the rustic yarn keeps it from being too girly. The finished object isn't perfect—the ribbing doesn't line up on the back (I mustn't have picked up the stitches for the buttonband or buttonhole band evenly enough), and if I could knit it over I'd make the peplum two or so inches longer. But I love the color (my sister keeps telling me to buy/make clothes that aren't black, purple, or green), it felt good to get a deal on the yarn (ggh Silky Tweed, purchased in Munich—it's a lot pricier in the States), and it's surprisingly toasty! I'll go back and reknit the buttonband and collar (so the ribbing lines up right) sometime when it's too warm to wear it.

Thanks to Brendan for taking such nice pictures! We lucked out with the weather today.

I want to do more 'selfish knitting' this year, but I also want to knit at least one item for charity per month. That's part of the reason I started knitting in the first place! I was working at Jo-Ann between getting my M.A. and going back to Ireland for Moon Handbooks, and I rang up this really nice lady who was buying bright red yarn to knit a receiving blanket for Project Linus. She inspired me to learn to knit—for the third time—but once I'd finally gotten the hang of it I just started making stuff for myself and my family. In three years of knitting, I've only made one object for charity, and I'm ashamed of that. I think I'll try to make a few things for both Dulaan and the Knitters for Obama service project, which will benefit the Mattaponi Native American tribe in Virginia.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Knitting Patterns from 1939

Neat, huh? I found this pattern book (dated 1939) at Vintage Knits, which offers an incredibly wide range of knitting, crochet, and other needlework patterns as well as great customer service and really reasonable prices. I bought this one based on the cover alone, and I definitely think I'll eventually make a couple things out of it. Many of the patterns are dresses or suits, but among the suits there are several tops that would make adorable short-sleeved cardigans or blouses on their own. Here's a scan of one of the more eye-catching outfits in the collection:

I think the cardi is really cute, but I don't know about the trim—it's a bit...furry.

And alas—hat pattern not included.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mealey D. Goes to Washington

I got up just after 3AM on Inauguration Day and walked to the Mall with my sister and a bunch of friends. We stood for over eight hours in a tight crowd, and braved even tighter crowds on the long walk home. But man, it was so worth it!

I also took a couple videos, which I'll try to upload to YouTube.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

the Little March Hare jumper

Have I mentioned lately how obsessed I am with Ravelry? A couple months ago I came across this lovely sweater......and knew I had to make it. Short-sleeved sweaters are perfect for Galway summers, since it doesn't often get warm enough for tank tops or t-shirts. Chris (littlemarchhare on Ravelry) is making this jumper in Rowan 4-Ply Cotton, and she very generously offered to email me a scan of the original pattern. The pamphlet isn't dated, but it looks to be from the '40s, wouldn't you say? The button placement and sloped neckline seem so modern. Here's my swatch (I'm using Rowan Cashcotton 4-ply in chartreuse):

The twist stitch felt pretty awkward at first, but now I'm whizzing along. (Mind you, it'll still be awhile before I finish this thing—I've got a few other projects to finish up before it gets my full attention.) And I spotted some awesome pale green iridescent shell buttons at Hickey's (at the Eyre Square Shopping Centre) awhile back. They'll be perfect.

I want to scan one of my vintage patterns to email Chris to thank her—I just received the most incredible stash of crochet booklets from the late teens (!!!), which my uncle came across while moving his mom into assisted living. (Thanks, Uncle John!) So far the only thing I've crocheted is the Babette blanket, so my skills are still totally basic, but looking at all those intricate hankie and yoke edgings (to put on the collar of a nightshirt or dress or what have you) gets me eager to improve!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Adventures in Germany: Munich

I really liked Munich—it has such a pleasant, genteel vibe to it. Berlin is much grittier, which is also cool in its own way of course. Munich was pretty much my free day; I wanted to amble around the Altstadt, check out a few yarn shops, and do a good bit of writing (fortunately, the hostel I was staying at had a pleasant sitting area with working power points and €2/24-hour wireless internet). I found another Christkindlesmarkt here, though not nearly as extensive as Nuremberg's. The merchandise sometimes varied too—I saw stalls selling (handcarved?) Nativity sets and figures in Munich, and can't recall seeing any in Nuremberg. Food and drink (Glühwein, Lebkuchen, etc.) were the same though.

Unfortunately, pretty much all the museums are closed on Monday—the very day I was there—but I managed to squeeze in a visit to the Alte Pinakothek late on Sunday. Best time to visit, as it happened: admission is only a euro on Sunday afternoons! While in Munich, you must visit this museum to see Rubens' stunning two-story painting of the Last Judgment, as well as Albrecht Dürer's famous self-portrait. It was painted when he was my age, 28, so seeing it in person had a certain poignancy I couldn't have felt had I viewed it earlier.

Another highlight was seeing the Glockenspiel at the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) at noon. The figures were fantastic: musicians, dancers, flag-bearers, royalty...even the pope slides out and takes a few bows. The coolest part comes toward the end, when two knights on horseback go for a joust. Utterly delightful, and of course the Christkindlesmarkt spread out over the plaza below added to the magic of it. You can just make out the figures in the tower below:

And of course, I had done my homework on Munich yarn shops, and picked up eight skeins of ggh Silky Tweed from Lanaiolo to make Elaine's Blouse. The yarn is made in Italy, but it's a German label, so I saved a fair bit of cash buying it there (€4.50/ball, compared with $10.50 U.S. retail). Huzzah! (By the way, I finished the blouse over the holidays—photos in a future post.)

Anyway, here's one more cool shot (inside the Temple of Diana, at the Hofgarten):

Friday, January 9, 2009

Happy New Year!

I haven't posted in awhile because Brendan was here in New Jersey meeting the folks. We had a lot of fun in Philly, New York, and D.C.

(That's the Hans Christian Andersen statue in Central Park.)

I'll try to finish up my Germany pics over the weekend!