Saturday, May 30, 2009

Goodbye Galway

But the bad news is also the good news: everything is temporary!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Aughanure Castle

Yesterday I visited Aughanure Castle ("OCK-a-nure"), a restored tower house (built c. 1500) in a tranquil riverside setting not far from Galway City, and as you can see I couldn't have asked for better weather. (Bats, murder holes, secret chambers...I imagine it might be rather spooky to visit when the weather's not so fine.)

That pepperpot-tower-type thing used to be a watch tower, but most of the wall that connected it to the others is gone (or under grass). Too bad they don't allow picnics here!

The forty-minute walk from Oughterard is do-able but not ideal, since there are a few spots along the busy N59 without a shoulder to walk on—and Oughterard isn't the most happening spot anyway. Seems there are as many closed (some quasi-derelict) shops and restaurants as there are ones still open for business. If you don't have a car, going by Citylink (as I did) may be your best option. Ask to be dropped off at the castle turn-off, which is about 1.5km before you reach Oughterard. It's a very pleasant 2km (20-minute) walk from there.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Of Graves and Gardens

I had a lovely time with Seanan's aunt Bríd on my visit to Dublin this week, and had drinks/lunch/coffee with a few more good friends I hadn't seen in awhile. I also wanted to get a bit of sightseeing and picture-taking done (the new edition is still in limbo, but I'm always thinking ahead).

My first full day—Mount Jerome Cemetery. Now, I have wandered through plenty of graveyards in my time, but this one really takes the cake on the creep factor.

This graveyard is full of crumbling monuments packed so tightly you can't even approach many of them because there's nowhere to walk except on the stones, which I will not do. All of Dublin is dying to get in, you know. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) There was a funeral going on while I was there. And check this out—not only do I find a Star of David in a Protestant cemetery, but there's a skull inside!:

I had wanted to pay a visit to the final resting-place of one of my literary idols—lots of famous Dubliners are buried here—but the place is huge and you can't read many of the inscriptions anymore. I thought I'd stop by the office if I couldn't find it on my own, but I got so creeped-out and sad from my first walk-through that I didn't have the fortitude for a second try. Plus it was about to rain.

(You walk down to reach those mausolea below ground level. Wasn't feeling brave enough to venture into the open-air corridor to read any of the names.)

Second day—the National Botanic Gardens. It was so nice to see (and sniff) so much life after a trip to the world's spookiest graveyard.

The Botanic Gardens are lovely, and even better, they are free! You can take buses 13, 13A, or 19 north to Glasnevin (fare €1.60), and a guided tour is €2. Definitely worth a visit if you're ready for a change from the hustle and bustle of city sightseeing.

Thanks to Diarmuid, I've also got a new lunch spot to recommend—Anderson's in Drumcondra (a ten or fifteen-minute walk from the Botanic Gardens), a first-class creperie. I got the vegetarian breakfast galette and a vanilla latté—scrummy!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Night in Connemara

Last weekend I went to Leenane for a night with Paige and the M.A. girls. I took a walk to a graveyard overlooking Killary Harbour, wrote, read, knit, and went for a wonderful dinner at the Blackberry Café. Then we stayed up late in the hotel sitting room drinking G&Ts. It was lovely!

It rained pretty much the whole time, but at least the rhododendrons were in full bloom.

I have told many people that I am on a yarn diet (at least until the fall), but there was one exception—I needed a few more balls of Kilcarra Aran Tweed for birthday/holiday presents, and I had a hunch the Sheep and Wool Museum (cum souvenir shop and tea room) would sell it for less (€3.25 a ball instead of €3.65, 3.75 in the city, which is quite a cheeky price actually). I went back to the hotel bar and gleefully told Paige I had yarn in my pants. Which was true. It was pissing rain, and I tucked the paper bag o' yarn inside my Goretex. (Please don't hesitate to tell me I'm crazy. Believe me, I know.)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Knitting Vintage Socks

Knitting from modernized versions of Victorian sock patterns might not sound all that exciting, but a classic design can be really cool with the right yarn. There are a lot of people on Ravelry knitting socks from Nancy Bush's Knitting Vintage Socks (several Ravelers seem to be knitting their way through it, pattern by pattern), and it's really neat to see a funky hand-dyed yarn paired with a pattern that otherwise might seem a little staid. I didn't use a hand-dyed yarn, but this shade of fuschia is funky enough, don't you think?

Pattern: Gentleman's Socks in Lozenge Pattern (CO 60 stitches for a ladies' size 8 1/2)
Yarn: Regia 4-Ply in kardinal
Needle: 1 1/2 (more like a #1...I stuck one of my Brittany wood double-points in a needle gauge, and it fit in the #1 hole)
Raveled here.

I bought several balls of Regia and Jawoll Superwash (both hard-wearing German sock yarns, for the uninitiated) at a craft store in Berlin, and when I showed Kelly my bag o' yarn booty, she drooled over the two balls of fuschia and asked if I could make her a pair. She was really excited to get them. They are funky-lawyerly, just like her.

And here's my Mamacita's Mother's Day gift (also from the Berlin booty, photo taken just before she and my stepdad returned from Florida...the back lawn was a bit of a jungle):

Pattern: Gentleman's Shooting Stockings with Fluted Pattern (CO 66 stitches for a ladies' size 9 1/2)
Yarn: Lang Jawoll Superwash, 1.5 skeins of petrol
Needle: 1 1/2 (same deal...this yarn stained my Brittany double-points, plus the fifth needle snapped in transit. Fortunately they've got a five-year guarantee!)
Raveled here. One of my favorite sock FOs, partly because the color is just so rich. Must buy more online.

For the third project, I'm using yarn I picked up from This is Knit last spring. I tried casting on a couple of different sock patterns over the past year, but each time I decided I didn't enjoy the stitch pattern enough to see it through. This one is pretty boring (basically a rectangular checkerboard), but I know I'll get a lot of wear out of these, and that's enough to keep me knitting them.

Pattern: Gentleman's Fancy Sock (CO 66 stitches for a ladies' size 10, decreased to 64)
Yarn: Araucania Ranco Solid (colorway 483), 1 skein
Needle: #1 (new Hiya-Hiyas I picked up at Woolbearers)
Raveled here.

The lesson I've learned with these socks has to do with the yarn. I had heard (after I balled this skein) that you shouldn't wind yarn until you're ready to cast on; otherwise the yarn loses its elasticity. I now know that this is true. The knitted fabric still has some stretch to it, but probably not as much as if I'd waited to ball it up. Oops.

I love the look of the purl ridge used in the Lozenge sock pattern above—I used it on my St. Paddy's Day socks, and on these socks with a 3x3 rib as well. Of course, I realized midway through that 66 stitches wouldn't jive with the P2, K2 / P2, K2 pattern (if the round starts with P2, it has to end with K2, and with 66 it ends in P2), so I decreased to 64 (usually you're supposed to increase after the ribbing so it stays snug, but I wasn't about to frog this yarn again).

Anyway, Knitted Vintage Socks is an awesome book. Excepting a few lacy ones, most of the patterns are suitable for anyone; it's just a matter of casting on an appropriate number of stitches. Definitely one of the most useful books in my pattern library.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Springtime in Tipperary

This past week I visited Seanan and his family in Tipperary. The weather was perfect, and we went for several wonderful afternoon rambles. Above: chive grass in Bán's garden (we ate some of the heads, which tasted just like onions); tussling with Rory in the garden before walk #1.

Because it was Sunday, we were able to go along a new dual-carriageway under construction. We scuttled through a drainage pipe, which was eerie and fun—made me feel fourteen again. This overpass is a popular spot with skateboarders, hence this silly pose.

The next day we went for a walk in the hills near Seanan's house.

A bluebell wood, a babbling brook, and plenty of sunshine—heavenly!

The walk on the third day was shorter, since we were going to see Coraline in the evening. (Highly, highly recommended, by the way. I liked it even better than the book.)

St. Patrick's Well.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Bishop of Hell

Catchy title, eh? Alas, I cannot take credit for it. I came across Marjorie Bowen's The Bishop of Hell by way of E. Nesbit's excellent Grim Tales (a.k.a. The Power of Darkness)—they're published in the same series by Wordsworth Editions, Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural.

I'm not sure how to feel about this collection. The stories are mostly memorable, but the author tends to treat her characters with disdain, even cruelty. In "Elsie's Lonely Afternoon" a neglected orphan living in her bedridden grandmother's rambling, spooky old house seals her own fate through her simple desire to be loved and appreciated. There's no ghost in this story, merely the illusion of one, yet it's the most disturbing tale in the book. In most of the other stories the protagonists aren't so worthy of our pity—in fact, they're so unlikeable, and the author so thorough in describing their despicable natures, that the denouement is much less satisfying than it might have been were the characters rendered more sympathetically.

Despite this thread of cruelty, there are several stories that leave you feeling uneasy in a pleasurable way, as in all the best gothic tales. There is romantic revenge and murder, and revenants aplenty. In my favorite story, "Kecksies," a man who'd sworn to have the wife of his enemy lies dead on a pallet in a remote cottage. The enemy arrives, decides to play a trick on the small group of mourners, and dumps the body in the brush so he can take its place under the shroud. You can guess where this one is going, but what a thrill! The prose is so much fun—"The clouds overtook them like an advancing army"; "his naked chest gleamed with ghastly dews." Even in this memorable tale, though, there's not a single character you can get behind...not even the poor rejected dead guy.

I don't usually place much stock in Amazon reviews—I tend to find them more useful after I've read the book, as in this instance. The lone review of The Bishop of Hell echoes my feelings quite neatly, noting the "heavy current of bitterness" that runs through the collection. According to the book's biographical note, Marjorie Bowen, a.k.a. Margaret Gabrielle Vere Campbell Long, "spent the early part of her working life providing for a demanding and ungrateful family." So it seems the series editors and/or critics felt the need to provide at least a partial explanation for that all-too-noticeable "current of bitterness."

It may sound like I'm giving The Bishop of Hell a lukewarm recommendation, but you'll really enjoy these stories if you're in a certain frame of mind. E. Nesbit's gothic tales are perfect for a melancholy evening (as Victor Hugo said, it's the pleasure of being sad), whereas this collection is just the thing when you find yourself hating the world and nearly everyone in it. Nothing like an unrepentant scoundrel coming back from hell wearing a mitre of fire to make you feel good about the state of humanity, eh?

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Muppet Sweater

Back in November I made reference to my first-ever sweater attempt. In the beginning, unless you have a LYS (local yarn store) with good customer service and lots of nice yarn and supplies to choose from, chances are you will be looking for yarn at a "big box store" (Jo-Ann, Michael's, A.C. Moore). Most of the yarn at the big box stores is acrylic blend—decent choices for charity or baby items, but not so much if you're looking to make a really nice sweater, shawl, or whatever. The short of it is, I didn't know any better back then. I picked a novelty yarn that looked and felt oh so snuggly, and paired it with this pattern from Knitty. This was the hilarious disaster that ensued:
You've just read my defense, but still...what the hell was I thinking?!

This 2/3-finished (and how did it even get that far?) Muppet Sweater has been living in a yellow plastic bag in my closet for the past three and a half years. I only took it out recently to frog it and ball the yarn up to donate to charity (speaking of which, if any of you knitters out there have yarn, needles, etc. that you're never going to use, consider mailing it to a school in Manhattan. Full details in the Craftlit show notes.) So I donated it, but of course I just had to take a picture of it first, so that I can look at it whenever I need a good laugh.