Sunday, December 30, 2012

Of Frozen Far-Flung Foragings and Cunning Cat Capers

Oh my, now I know what real cold is!

Let me hasten to reassure.  This is not West Cork.  This is nowhere near Ireland.  Just before Christmas we took a quick trip to Lithuania.  Right now it's cheaper to fly there than it is to take the train to Dublin.  Really!  And we so wanted to see something other than rain, sodden fields, rain, wet grass, rain, dripping trees.

And did we just about get that!  Dear heaven, I will never complain about what I considered cold days in Ireland again!  Many degrees below zero here in the main street of Vilnius, and a wind from Siberia via Belarus driving freezing, iron-hard ice crystals against your face.  Was extremely glad I'd brought my lined ski cap and cashmere cowl.  Needed both of them.  And more.

Here is another view of Vilnius by night.  It's beautiful.  Spectacular old buildings, onion domes, archways, wedding-cake Baroque splendour, and very little traffic.  (Well you wouldn't drive in that weather unless you had to.)

There were little stalls everywhere, selling hand-knit gloves, hats, and socks.  I liked these ones with cats on.  There appears to be a separate toe on the side of the foot there, or maybe a pouch for secreting small amounts of amber?  Because Lithuania is of course the home of amber.  Pretty well all the supplies for the legendary Amber Room in St Petersburg came from there, as I recall.

Caught a glimpse of this beautiful Aran-style jacket in the window of a linen shop (linen being Lithuania's other main export).  It looks for all the world like the one worn by Cameron Diaz in The Holiday.

Shop was shut at the time unfortunately, so couldn't check it out.

And there were even smaller establishments selling handknits too.

Elderly ladies like this one would come into town every morning early from their villages and set out their wares, socks and gloves knitted with loving care.  It was a long hard day in that freezing cold and bitter wind, but they kept their posts and even managed to smile for potential customers.  I'll remember her when the next Sock Madness starts and I'm whinging about not having exactly the right colourway or fibre.

I had a special mission on this trip, and it involved searching out the best yarn shop in all of Lithuania (naturally!)

This is Mezgimo Zona or the Crafty Place.  And thanks to Ravelry, I had a friend to meet there.

Virginija lives in Vilnius.  She's also on Ravelry (virginute) and her colourwork would make you ashamed to claim to be a knitter.

I had some commissions from friends for various yarns and Virginija guided me towards the right ones for mittens, lace shawls, and more.  And then we went for coffee and were able to talk about so many things.  My Lithuanian is practically non-existent but Virginija's English was, thankfully, far better, so I was able to find out what life was like before 1991 when they finally became independent.  It made me thoroughly ashamed of the way we complain in Ireland about weather and politics and annoyances generally.  Try living in Eastern Europe during Iron Curtain days and you might have more reason to complain.   But it really is marvellous to be able to exchange ideas and thoughts and ask questions in strange countries.  That way you make real contact.

I was even introduced to the best thrift store (a favourite occupation of mine in foreign cities) and Virginija pointed out that if I wanted nice leather buttons for a new knit (as I did) it was actually far cheaper to buy an entire coat and snip off the buttons than to go shopping for those expensive little items alone.  Which I did!  On that particular day, at a cost of all of one Lita (about 25c).  It was a truly hideous black and white tweed coat that had seen better days, but it had not only twelve beautiful black leather buttons but also twelve tiny flat ones, sewn on at the back.  And a buckle on the belt too.   (Yes, yes, the coat went back to the shop.  Nothing wasted, nothing thrown away.  'You learned to be very thrifty in Soviet times,' said Virginija soberly.  Rest of the world, take note and learn.)

We walked under the bare black branches of trees in the park and shivered to see the castle on the hill above with the wind and snow howling around it.  Rather grateful to be staying within the thick walls of an old nunnery (Domus Maria) rather than an ancient castle, however historic.  You could just imagine those tapestries flapping and the icy draughts caressing bare shoulders as the banquet progressed and the minstrels tried to keep their fingers warm enough to play.

These cheery birchwood elves look happy enough to be outdoors.  It's a nice idea and one I might copy myself next winter.  Wonder how they would take to endless mist and rain though?

Even getting back on the plane for the flight home was an endurance test.  You stood in that warm building and saw everyone in front of you donning coats, hats, gloves in preparation for the short walk across the tarmac.  'Is that really necessary?' I wondered out loud.  I soon found out! 

Absolutely adored Vilnius.  Glorious architecture, lovely people, delightful food (dined in this most atmospheric restaurant down in brick-lined cellars).  Its name, Lokys, means The Bear, and yes, there are still bears in Lithuania.  Next time, next time...

Back home it was all systems go for the Christmas rush.  This is the final result of the Advent Scarf KAL organised by Zemy on Ravelry.  The angora/merino was so cosy I was most reluctant to take it off to give to its intended recipient!  Every day of Advent brought a different Aran pattern so you had got plenty of practice in the technique by Christmas Eve.

And this is a little Norwegian-style cape for a small friend aged just 15 months.  Crochet is much quicker than knitting and I was able to get this whipped up in a few evenings. 

Sophy Wackles tried her best to help on a shorter neckwarmer-style Aran scarf in scarlet alpaca, but she still hasn't got the hang of cabling without an extra needle which makes her rather slow.  Never mind, slow and steady wins the race, doesn't it, Sophy?

Regrettably, the cats are more interested in the machinery than the manipulation.  The skein winder fascinated them both and now each morning they have a few energetic minutes turning it, just to flex up their paws.

They are both working hard for their Yarnslayer badges though, and hope to be able to wear these with pride in the New Year.

And finally, as a good wish for that same New Year, here is a picture to make you smile through the clearing up and the tidying away and the wondering what the future holds.

Wockin' Aroun' Da Cat-Mas Tree...

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Concerning Furry Foundling Felines and Festive Fibre Fun

I'll have to do a quick update.  If I wait until there is time and enough to write a full-length posting,  it will be Tibb's Eve before I get round to it.

Felines first, for I know that's what you want to know.  Last time I introduced you to the small and beautiful Maine Coon cross, Mishka.  Well she is no more.  Not a topic for discussion, let's just throw unpleasant words like 'minor road used as a freeway by hasty commuters' and 'wild kitten born to explore pastures new' and leave it like that.

A day and a night of tears and self-accusation and tough questions like 'do I deserve to have a cat if I can't care for it?' and DH had had enough.  He hauled me into Cork, to the local rescue centre.

'No, we don't have any kittens' said the young man firmly.  I buried my face in my hands and DH looked at him hard.  'Well, you could look at these pictures on the wall if you like.'  More sniffles, more hard looks.  'Well, you could come in here and look at these cages I suppose.'

A long room with all kinds of cats stretching and clawing and meowing in separate cages.  One serene mother with a new litter, a splendid tabby tom pawing the bars imperiously, a couple of battered animals that had definitely seen better days.  I wandered down to the very end, to a cage in the corner that appeared empty, and peered half-heartedly in.

A huge pair of eyes, like emerald green lamps, looked back at me.

As my eyes adjusted to the dimness, I saw there was a very very tiny black kitten behind the lamps.  It was scared, but courageous.  A finger through the bars was approached timidly, then rubbed against, with the beginnings of a tiny purr.

'That's it' I said instantly.  'That's the one.'

The young official objected.  This kitten had only just come in, it had to be checked out, vaccinated, its papers stamped.  'Friday at the earliest.'

Now he was on the receiving end of two hard stares.  Then I remembered the persuasive technique and reminded him of how much all that officialdom would cost.  'We'll take him straight to our own vet.  Save you all that outlay.'

'Well... I don't know.'

I tucked the kitten inside my jacket and headed for the door, pausing only to leave a contribution on the counter towards the centre's sterling work.  DH smiled comfortingly and followed me.  As we got into the car, the young man rushed out after us with the kitten's papers.  A single sheet with a fuzzy picture clipped to it and a number.  'Just mention Cat 303 if you need to call us.'

Cat 303.  What a start in life!  A mugshot and a number.  He curled up quietly in my jacket all the way home and soon found a comfy warm spot of his very own, with toys in case he was lonely.

His official name is Wolfgang since he considers himself a bit of a dangerous lad, but he's been Pollywog from the moment he arrived.  You know, those wriggling long-legged black creatures you find in ponds?

Of course it wasn't long before he started tormenting Sophy Wackles, who, though she pretended to be annoyed, was secretly overjoyed at having someone to play with.

And things went along very happily.  Pollywog was not allowed out of the house at ALL.  Not until he's a lot older and calmer.  I would love to see him climbing trees and exploring bushes, but I never want to go through that road experience again.

As kittens will, he grew and got more playful.  Soon nowhere was safe in the house from his marauding paws and explosive bounces.  'Needs a companion to play with,' I said to myself.  Not to DH yet - need to take these things carefully, don't you?  But I did mention it in the end to Animal Whisperer In Chief, my friend Eileen, who runs a boarding kennels and can speak, soul to soul, I verily believe, to any creature under the sun.

'Funny you should say that,' she commented.  And immediately unfolded a story that would raise the hair on your head.

That very morning, she recounted, a friend had taken a lorryload of cattle into Cork and had brought them to a large barn on the outskirts.  While his mate unlocked the lorry doors and started the cattle down the ramp, this man went ahead to open the barn doors so they could rush straight in.  There, in the very centre of the vast empty concrete floor, sat a smidgen of a tiny grey tabby kitten.

'He couldn't delay,' explained Eileen.  'He could hear the clattering hooves behind him, so he simply rushed over, picked it up and shoved it in his pocket and got out of the way.'

Later he tried to find its home, but with no success so, as everyone tends to do around here, brought it back to Eileen.  'It's in the car with me now, would you like to see it?

Would I what?  Was this a gift from the gods or not?

Baby Podge was so very young that he needed all of Eileen's expertise to get him to normal eating and drinking habits.  But at last he was fit and able and came home to join Pollywog.  And what a party they've been having ever since!

I worried for the first couple of days, since Polly seemed to be doing most of the trouncing and Baby most of the shrieking, but Eileen counselled calm, and sure enough the little warrior was giving as good as he got.  He would scream, Polly would back off, and Podge would double his fists and dive right back in.

Now we have one big happy family.  Baby has notionally been christened Amadeus to go with Wolfgang, and once he loses those roly poly curves we will have to stop calling him Podge for his everyday name.  Suggestions welcomed.

With all this excitement, the festive season sort of crept up without my noticing until I started getting requests for those special shawl kits again.  So I had to haul out the Victorian skein winder and all the huge containers of yarn, and start making up a few.  So far I have created blues, purples, greens and pinks, or Sea Cave, Connemara Twilight, Forest Path and Wild Rose to give them their proper titles.

Here is Connemara Twilight in its handy case.  Must get those which haven't already been booked up on eBay before too long or we'll miss Christmas altogether!  Time, time, we need more time.  (You'd think they changed the date of Christmas every year, wouldn't you, the way it always seems to catch us on the hop!)

Somebody asked to see that lovely old skein winder again, so here it is, busily working on the Wild Roses kit.

These aren't just for shawls of course.  They're ideal for those Jane Thornley-type vests, wraps, whatever.  Anything that needs lots of lovely different textures and fibres and shades to create a unique work of art.

As if there wasn't enough to do, there is also the Advent Scarf knitalong, started by Zemy on Ravelry.  These engaging events mean you get a different pattern by email every morning and work a section of the scarf.  In the end you have a wonderfully varied scarf which also serves as a sampler and reminder for future projects.  This year Zemy has chosen cables, which is great fun.


Here is mine so far, worked in scarlet alpaca.  It's a coned yarn so will soften and plump up considerably when washed.  It's lovely to wake up each morning and wonder what new variation is waiting!

There was a nice pink shawl completed before the Advent Scarf started.

Got the idea for this when pulling on a dark winter coat to go out.  I realised that something bright pink peeking out from underneath would add just that flash of colour one needs in winter.  It's much the same as my Ruffled Shawl a la Duchesse, but I blocked it into points for maximum effect.  And used yarn from the stash too, yay!

Working on several gift projects too of course but won't show any of them here.  Suffice it to say that both hand-knitting needles and the knitting machine are in full use. 

Actually I remember distinctly my mother getting us to sew up sweaters for our cousins on Christmas morning because she had only just taken them off the machine the night before.  That and preparing the turkey too - how did she manage it all without flipping?  Nice to know I have inherited the last-minute gene.