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Winter Wonderland

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Why yes, I am in Italy. Enjoying a little coffee and biscotti after a day of very enjoyable snowshoeing. There will be photos, but not tonight. I doubt I’m going to be lasting much longer than it takes to get ready for bed. It is a good exhausted.

The Year That Was

Like many people, I find myself at the close of a year looking back at the events that have shaped my life over the past twelve months. It has certainly been an interesting one. While I have been adjusting to life in a foreign country, I have also been devoting a great deal of time to my personal development.

Last year for Christmas, I requested sessions with a personal trainer. Santa obliged. This has become an important aspect of my day to day life. I had never worked with a trainer before and was a bit unsure what to expect at the beginning. I have been challenged, pushed and cajoled into trying new and crazy things. I’ve ached. Oh, how I’ve ached. I have also made huge strides in my fitness level. Due to recurring injuries, I am no longer running and I really miss it. However, Anett and Tamás have worked hard to strengthen the affected area so that I may consider starting again, something that didn’t seem possible. I’ve discovered new ways to work out that are fun and effective, like suspension training and that crazy indoor cycling called spinning (not to be confused with real spinning). And I’m back in the pool, which makes me very happy. It has been, um, decades.

2012 was an exceptional year for creative development. I signed up for a couple of art classes on a whim and discovered a wonderful teacher who seems to be able to pull out my creativity. Her drawing classes got me putting pencil, charcoal, and brush to paper in a way that I haven’t experienced since I was in design school well over a decade ago. The figure classes she added in September have been amazing and I will be continuing with these into the new year. The artistic stimulation has carried over into my work with fibre. Whilst I haven’t been knitting as much as in the past few years, what I did work on was more challenging, frequently using my own handspun yarn. My spinning abilities have grown by leaps and bounds. I am now spinning with intent, playing with fibre preparation techniques such as combing, hackling and carding to produce a particular end yarn. And getting adventurous with art yarn. It has been so much fun. So too has using spindles more – I really like the low-tech aspect and the feeling of connection with women of centuries ago. In June, I gave in to long-term curiousity and purchased a small loom. At this point, I’ve only made a couple of scarves and tea towels, but this holds so much potential as a creative outlet for me. I can’t wait until I can weave yardage to sew into my own clothing designs.

Another central theme of the past year has been travel. I have been blessed with an extraordinary opportunity for exploring Europe through my husband’s job. We closed out 2011 with a snowshoeing trip to the Salzburg, Austria, area and will be starting 2013 with another snowshoeing vacation, this time to the Dolomites. In between, we have visited Vienna, Lisbon, Barcelona, Costa del Sol, Western Germany (near the border with the Netherlands), Paris, and Ireland. Whew! It makes me exhausted just thinking about how much packing and unpacking we’ve done! We have also continued to explore this exciting city of Budapest, learning more about its history and the customs of the Hungarian people.

The international community, the defence attaché community in particular, has been more than welcoming to us. We have experienced social activity like never before! From the Officer’s Ball in Vienna to the Marine Corps ball in Budapest to an Abba costume party, we have made new friends that we hope will last a lifetime. We will treasure the memories. It has indeed been fun.

2013 certainly has a lot to live up to!

Lest We Forget

Commonwealth Cemetery, Budapest, Hungary

Coordination is a Gift

Just wait until the colour comes up….

One which I’ve evidently never been given. If you have some extra lying around, I’d appreciate it if you could send it my way.

The yarn that I whacked against the side of the tub turned out beautifully though.

Three Irish Girls Merino, in the colourway Flowering Cherry

It is destined to be used in a hat that I volunteered to test knit. The designer seems to have been sidetracked and hasn’t sent me the pattern yet. Which is just as well. Because my finger hurts too much to knit.

Hey there!

I haven’t forgotten you, honest. The past month has been unbelievably busy, what with two trips and their prep/aftermath. I have a bunch of photos from Paris and Ireland to get through so I can share the best with you. I’ve also had recovery time from a sprained ankle – more on that one later. I’m feeling a tad disorganized, but that’s natural, right?

Eyebrow Raising

I know someone who can do what she terms “The Eyebrow of Death”. It has been known to instill fear in the hearts of her high school students. She can convey an entire conversation with a few moves of her brows. Even my darling husband has been known to encourage our sons to rethink a course of action with one raised eyebrow. I wish I could do this. Alas, I cannot. It is unfortunate, because I have seen a number of things recently that make me want to raise an eyebrow.

For instance, I came across this little number at a home improvement store. It isn’t the best picture….it had to be taken surreptitiously due to the “no photograph” policy and the security guards loitering around.

Essential home equipment?

Yes, these are stills. Apparently regular people buy these things. Which accounts for the prevalence of homemade pálinka in Hungarian homes. I’m told that this is a normal thing to do here. See my eyebrow twitching? Should I try to bring one home to Canada, just to see what Customs says?

And how about this bit of sculpture? She is most definitely creepy.

I can’t imagine the thought process behind locating this above the entrance to a hotel. Doesn’t look that bad in the photo, but trust me. It is just plain weird. This looks like it was lifted from a Tim Burton movie. I don’t think I could bring myself to walk through the doors, never mind sleep there.

And the strangest of all:

A strange vehicle on the main drag

Sorry about the crap photo, but that thing was moving and I was trying to dodge traffic. I’ve told a number of people about this phenomenon, but I don’t think they believed me. It is a bicycle. Modified for sure, but still a bike. On it sits a dozen men (yes, it is always men) pedalling like crazy and drinking beer just as fast. It’s called “The Beer Bike”. Yes, really.

Drinking and Driving

I’m afraid that I just about rolled on the ground laughing the first time I saw it. Interestingly, I always see it on one of the busiest avenues in Budapest. One can only hope that the fellow steering isn’t drinking as much as his companions. There are just so many thing I could say about this, but perhaps it is best if I just let my readers come to their own conclusions.

Sometimes I feel as if I’ve landed on another planet. But much of the time, I really wish I could convey what I’m thinking with the simple arch of an eyebrow.

Going Batty

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I love colour. This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. I wear wildly coloured and patterned socks. I paint my walls in shades considered somewhat daring, including lipstick red. The standard uniform of black with black seems, well, boring. So when one of my favourite fibre sources started selling bags of randomly assorted bits, I just had to pick up some. I didn’t know what exactly I was going to do with these colourful bits and bobs, but I knew the answer would eventually come to me.

Just look at all that colour!

After dumping out the contents of four bags, totalling over a pound of fibre, I started doing a little organization. Mostly to see how many duplicates there were. Then out came the drum carder and I began to play! This, my friends, is a drum carder:

Spike, the batt maker

You place lengths of fibre on the infeed tray (at the bottom of the photo), turn the handle, and the fibre is combed into a thin sheet which is wrapped around the large cylinder. Each successive bit is layered on top of the last. This presents an amazing way to blend colour and texture, either in layers or, by running it through several times, as a thoroughly blended mass. It’s like painting, but without the mixing! Here is a small sampling of the batts I made.

Pretty, aren’t they? Almost like candy, only fluffier.

Look! Each side is different!

So what do you do with these batts, you ask? Why, you spin them! Naturally there are as many ways to spin a batt as there are spinners. This is what I did. I tore a small section off of the batt lengthwise, going almost the full length of the batt, then started it from the other end. Sounds confusing, doesn’t it? Maybe a photo will make it clearer.

"Z" StrippingThis method of tearing the batt, “Z stripping” will make one long strip of fibre which can then be pre-drafted to about the thickness of one’s thumb. Then it is spun.

The blending of the colours made spinning compelling – I just had to see what would happen next. They were spun with an eye towards compatible colour combinations, but nothing too exacting. Then I randomly grabbed bobbins and plied. The result was five skeins of lovely, squishy yarn in a perfect weight for a cozy winter pullover. I should have plenty….there is just over 1000 yards here.

I’m thinking a raglan with a v-neck might be nice. Something simple, to allow the heathered colours to shine. What do you think?

Look Ma! They’re all dressed up!

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Phew! The heatwave has finally broken. Yes, it is still warm, but not that life-sucking heat that we’ve been experiencing for the past two weeks. We are having some very welcome rain as well. This makes me very happy and my garden even happier.

We went for a walk late yesterday afternoon downtown and came across more yarn bombing in a major downtown square. Fun! It bears the same ribbons as the one at the metro station, so I can only assume that the same people are responsible. Surprisingly, the ones I posted earlier are still intact and looking good. Infinitely preferable to spray-painted graffiti, don’t you think?

Not that the lamp posts really need scarves in these temperatures.

This one is my favourite, just for the variety of colours and textures.

‘Tis the Season

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Lest you think I’ve lost my marbles, I’m referring to that quaint military tradition of “posting season”. This is the time of year when assignments come to an end and boxes are packed to head to a new destination, a new job in a new place. Consequently, it is also the high social season of the year, with many receptions and parties held to bid farewell to those bound for new adventures. This year is no different, although we don’t happen to be moving this time around.

For George and I, the big change this year is that we aren’t at home in Canada, so new rules apply. Usually we are invited to attend a farewell party, possibly two. Okay, I’m good with that. We seem to have become part of the defence attaché community here by default, since the Canadian component was moved to Belgrade last year, and it is much larger than I ever would have imagined. The invitations just keep on arriving! In the past eleven days, we have attended four such receptions/parties. Also, two connected with national or regional celebrations (US Independence Day and the Calgary Stampede), though I have to say that we were disappointed that Canada Day celebrations were suspended due to the recent budget-cutting measures of the Canadian government. There are still three receptions to come in the next week or so.

Yes, this has necessitated shopping for new clothes. Much of what I own is ill-suited to these sort of functions, particularly in temperatures exceeding 35 C. Except for the Independence Day event, which had a dress code of jeans and cowboy boots! That I can do! And keep cooler than this poor fellow, all done up for the occasion:

I could get used to having a social life.

Guerrilla Antics

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I’ve been reading reports online about yarn-bombing, knitters taking their knitting to the streets and using it as installation art in public places. Mostly in the United States, but this has also been occurring in Canada and Great Britain. Budapest isn’t a place that I expected to find it. After all, there is little evidence of a fibre arts tradition here. I’ve yet to find a yarn shop, despite searching, and I had the devil of a time locating a dealer to look at looms (more on that in a later post). So, on my way to the gym this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see this:

 

Hey, is that knitting on there?

Yes, it is pouring rain and I’m in a hurry to catch the metro, but I have to stop for a closer look.

Wow! Someone has been busy.

I love it! This is outside a very busy metro station on the Buda side of the Danube, where numerous bus and tram routes cross paths. I’m astonished. Usually this is a hang-out for some of the less desirable elements and they are nowhere to be seen. There are tags with words:

Pretties the place up, don’t you think?

“Guerrilla Knitting 2012” in both English and Hungarian. Wonder where else this will crop up? Must keep my eyes peeled. Art shows up in the strangest places.