12 August 2009

Wisconsin Stash

I did mention that we visited some local yarn shops while in Wisconsin. In these economically tough times, I know many people are bargain shopping at the big box stores. Still, if you can afford to, I definitely encourage you to support your local yarn shops. These are the people who will be there to help you figure out a pattern, who schedule classes and workshops and book signings, who will order just the right color when it is out of stock. And let's face it, you can't perfectly check yarn softness or match colors with an outfit without having the yarn in person.

In Fish Creek I visited Red Sock Yarns. This is a relatively new shop but the owner has already made some wonderful and smart choices. In addition to a nice selection of good yarns, she has a sitting area for knitters or non-knitters who need to wait. Here I bought six skeins of elsebeth lavold Hempathy in a lovely spring green shade. My thought is to make a top to go with a certain silk skirt. I'd been looking for an excuse to buy some of this, anyway. I am thinking of maybe a summer shell with some lace or openwork details.

Up the street a little farther was the Interfibers summer studio. There were some really beautiful woven wall hangings. I'd love to come up with some clever ideas for knitted artwork for the local annual South Cobb Arts Alliance member show. Seeing this work was good motivation and inspiration. There was also some nice handwoven clothing. And there was just a little yarn, so I purchased a couple skeins of New England Shetland. I later saw more of this in some of the other shops I visited. It isn't something you are likely to find easily in Atlanta, but is obviously well-suited for traditional Northern Fair Isle knitting. And the contrast between this pretty blue (which has a subtle heather to it) and this golden yellow is just delightful.

As we headed down out of Door County we also stopped in Sturgeon Bay at Spin. This is another good yarn shop -- friendly people and a good selection. I bought a skein of Noro Silk Garden sock yarn that will probably become a test sample. And they had a thorough selection of books. I purchased Wire Knits by Heather Kingsley-Heath and Pet Projects by Sally Muir & Joanna Osborne. Wire Knits has lots of interesting knitted and beaded projects. The book has the expected jewelry projects, but it also has several variations of wire knitted flowers, a wire ruffle as a barrette, wire knitted collars, and even a spiral scarf. Some of these small projects would be very nice gift projects for the holiday season.

Pet Projects is similarly clever. Yes, it has dog coats and cat beds. In fact, it has a dang fine pet beanbag that would be an excellent stash buster project. But it also has a carrot curtain (for a rabbit), a water lily (for the goldfish/koi pond), a horse blanket, a hamster house, a parakeet blanket, a tortoise hibernation tent, and a wire bird feeder. There is a rosette pattern that is useful for anyone who needs a blue ribbon. (Could you imagine a knitting contest with knitted 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-place ribbons?) And toward the back is a chapter of knitted pets -- larger scale amigurumi. Those choices include a fox terrier, a ferret, a guinea pig (perfect for the research scientist in your life), and a nicely-textured tortoise. I think I was seduced into both of these purchases by the sheer cleverness of the authors. And be aware that Pet Projects has several charts that might be adaptable to other circumstances. For example, I think the baroque cat cushion would make a mighty fine cushion for the humans, or maybe a stylish starting point for a handbag.

When we got down to the Madison area, I found two more shops of interest. I visited Lakeside Fibers which is in Madison and right on the lake. It also has an adjoining cafe, so you can knit and enjoy a proper cup of coffee. I bought Knitting Art by Karen Searle. The profiles included some knitters I'd heard of, such as Kathryn Alexander and Debbie New, but the other sixteen are new to me. If you are looking to "think outside the box," this book will definitely take you in that direction. No boxes here. I also bought a skein of Filatura di Crosa Timo. I've been looking for a flame-colored ribbon yarn that might make a good antenna ornament. I'd even looked in the STITCHES South market back in April. So I was happy to find this. Now I need to decide if I should knit something, or if I should just tie on the ribbons.

The last place I visited was in Verona, just to the west of Madison. The Sow's Ear is another first-rate yarn shop, and it is also combined with a coffee shop. In fact, there was a nice group of knitters sitting at a table and just knitting away. They immediately made me just a little homesick for my own local knit night. One of the ladies was nearing the end of the second sleeve and almost ready to steek a gorgeous Fair Isle sweater. If we'd had more time, I would have been tempted to pull up a chair and wait for the excitement. The shop ladies were also very nice, and one of them helped me order Making Mathematics with Needlework and Knitted Lace Designs of Herbert Niebling directly from Schoolhouse Press. I also bought a skein of Poems Sock yarn and a Sow's Ear commuter cup. (The cup was to keep Cuddly Hubby from spilling any diet Coke in my zippy sippy.) I'm not sure why I don't see Poems in more stores here in Atlanta, as is it made by Universal Yarns, who are located just up the expressway in North Carolina. I'm looking forward to playing with it, as I think it will make a good alternative to Noro Silk Garden Sock. The colors are pretty and the superwash wool seems to me to be softer and loftier than Silk Garden Sock.

Hmmm. I guess now it makes more sense why I'm not doing the Atlanta-area shop hop this year. I think I made my own Wisconsin shop hop.

09 August 2009

And the end of the trip

We rode the train into Chicago. We were way out in the suburbs, so the ride was about 45 minutes, but at least we didn't have to drive in the city or look for parking. I specifically wanted to visit the Art Institute of Chicago. It was nearly lunchtime by the time we got to the museum, and the Cuddly Hubby had not had breakfast. On the other hand, I was eager and a little cranky -- don't get between me and the great art, okay? Oh, and we did have a nice surprise. Our membership level at the High Museum here in Atlanta was high enough that we got reciprocal rights at the Art Institute. So we didn't have to pay for admission. Cuddly Hubby went off in search of food, I went off in search of art, and we agreed to meet later in front of Sunday on the Grand Jatte.

I wandered through the Asian collection, and eventually found my way to the temporary exhibit "Beyond Golden Clouds: Japanese Screens from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum." I was initially interested but skeptical -- from the title, I could tell this was an example of "in these hard economic times, let's collaborate from our own collections so we can have an exhibit on the cheap." I had forgotten what I had learned to graduate school: Never underestimate what is in the basement of a major museum. Museums are like icebergs, you are only seeing 10 percent. There is usually a lot of good stuff in the other 90%. There are a many reasons something will be in a museum basement. Fragile works on paper, such as drawings, prints, scrolls, or Japanese screens stay mostly in storage because prolonged exhibition can cause them to deteriorate. Sometimes works are in storage because the artist is not famous or the style is not popular. For example, there is a lot of great 17th century Dutch art in the basement of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Americans are not as fond of, knowledgeable about, or attracted by Dutch Baroque as they are by French Impressionism or Italian Renaissance. Given the choice between hanging a gallery of excellent Dutch genre paintings or a gallery of so-so Impressionism, many museums will hang the names people know. I happen to like Pre-Raphaelite, but rarely get to see it in person because it is not well-represented in American museums and because it is not typically the stuff of blockbuster exhibitions.

So, I walked into the screen exhibit. And the first screen was so amazing that I considered spending the remainder of the day looking at it and not even worrying about the rest of the Art Institute. That screen is Landscape of the Four Seasons dating to about 1560 by Sesson Shükei. This is mostly a black ink painting with touches of color -- a green like oxidized copper and a red like cinnabar. The variety of strokes, the use of negative and positive space, the inclusion of people and architecture within the landscape all left me fascinated. I spent probably half an hour just staring at it in delight. I could actually feel my body reacting. Truly an amazing work and well worth the effort to traipse into the city. I did, eventually, walk through the rest of the show. But by the time I met Cuddly Hubby, I was beginning to think that I may have spent six years of graduate school studying the wrong stuff. I did purchase the exhibition catalog. And I was tempted to write a fan letter to the curator. Wow!

Cuddly Hubby and I spent the rest of the afternoon browsing the collection. There's plenty more to see on another trip. But I was very interested in seeing the Stock Exchange Trading Room. It is tucked off in a corner, but it was worth searching it out. The patterning on the walls and ceiling are especially delightful. Thank you to the many architecture patrons who, although they could not save the building, did manage to save some pieces of it. (A pair of staircases from the Stock Exchange have been built into the architecture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I've touched them and walked on them.) The picture at right is far too golden (no flash, please), but will give you some sense of the scale and grandeur of the space.

About dinner time we left the museum and found a nearby restaurant that serves Chicago-style pizza. So we ate good pizza, took the train back to the suburbs, and then drove to Indianapolis for the night.

The following day, we headed over to Ohio. The picture at right is a screen shot from the Garmin. While I do find the GPS to be a very handy device, it sometimes gets temperamental when you step off the proscribed path for a moment. In this case, we had exited the highway in order to acquire more fuel. As Cuddly Hubby says, "Don't get your algorithm in a wad."

Saturday's adventure was a return to airplanes. We visited the National Museum of the United States Air Force. This is located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. (By the way, the "Wright" part of the name is for the Wright brothers.) We met our dear friends, Camille and Clayton, who drove up from Kentucky. So the four of us enjoyed a tour of many, many airplanes. Many. And the museum has several singular examples -- either "the only one ever built" or "the last remaining one." The level of aviation coolness in this one place is beyond words. And there were numerous trophies and awards on display, including the Congressional Medal of Honor and an Emmy belonging to Bob Hope. We didn't even go out to the Presidential hanger or set foot in the Aviation Hall of Fame and we still ran out of time in the three main hangers. And silly me, I didn't check ahead of time. I know for next time to download the podcast tour. The photograph is Cuddly Hubby and I with the Apollo XV capsule. If you are into machines that fly, this place is on par with the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

After the airplanes, we followed Camille and Clayton back to Kentucky. We had a wonderful dinner and a good night's rest. The following day we got to see their new home. They had just closed on the house and were in that in between stage where their stuff was still in the rental home but they had the keys to their own home. We are obviously very happy and excited for them. And they have a great room in the basement with a big fireplace. It would be perfect as a "tavern" for gaming. Just saying.

As we had a delicious brunch in Lexington and got a late start on the road, we got home after dark. No complaints, as it was a dang fine trip all around.

06 August 2009

A Few Days in Madison

After our week in Green Bay and Door County, we headed down to Madison to visit more friends and see more sights. We stayed at the home of Dr. Don and Nancy Field. Dr. Field is a very successful rural sociologist and a professor at the University of Madison. He'll be retiring in the next year. Nan is a writer and publisher and runs Dog-Eared Publications. Both are very involved in nature conservation. They are dear friends of my husband's family, and Nan greeted us as if Cuddly Hubby were her own son.

Nan and I had some interesting conversations about writing and publishing. She kindly gave us copies of her books and stickers. She goes to great lengths to be sure the information in her books is correct. For my friends who are home schooling, I can definitely recommend her work. The books contain interesting and fun activities while teaching scientifically accurate information about the animals and habitats. And she has been careful that the artwork for the stickers is scientifically accurate as well.

One of the great things about staying with friends is that they know the area. Nan took us out to Baraboo, about an hour's drive from Madison, so we could visit the International Crane Foundation. This is the only facility in the world that houses all fifteen species of cranes. For an animal lover like me, this was a major treat! In the picture above, a male whooping crane practically runs on water.

The following day we visited the House on the Rock. Alas, the visitor information doesn't really explain who Alex Jordan was, how he built the house, or why he made the design decisions that he did. The architecture is sort of Frank Lloyd Wright meets nautical shipbuilding. Several friends and family had recommended it, and it is definitely an interesting place to visit. I think it would be even more fun to have House on the Rock bingo cards -- gridded screen, fireplace, couch, ship model, Chinese doll, creepy instrument that plays itself, indoor fountain, bronze statue, bookshelf, skylight, amaryllis. The photo above is the Infinity Room, which was added after the fact. It cantilevers off the rock in a way that does not at all inspire confidence. But the view is nice.

Later that evening, Dr. Field took us on a tour of the University of Wisconsin. We walked down State Street and stopped for dinner. We ate bratwurst -- compare and contrast red and white brats. And we drank good beer. Fortunately, a lot of the stores were closed by the time we went strolling. But the window shopping was fun. And we got this great picture of the Cuddly Hubby and I with a statue of a badger mom with baby badgers! (For you knitwear folk, the scarf I'm wearing is Bootkicked, one of my not-yet-published patterns. The yarn is Noro Silk Garden sock.)

On Wednesday we took at tour at Taliesin. My advisor at Penn State was a specialist in Chicago School architecture, so I'm sure he would approve of this outing. Frank Lloyd Wright was quite a personality in his own right. Cuddly Hubby and I had a lot of fun on the tour both looking at the architecture as well as swapping snarky comments between ourselves. And the tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and also had a sense of humor about the myth and legend of Frank Lloyd Wright. Here's a silly posed shot of me in ecstasy over a window detail. (For the knitters -- the shawl is Reynolds Fusion and the pattern is yet another not-yet-published original design. Fusion is a discontinued yarn.)

That evening we had dinner with a friend of the Cuddly Hubby. She was also in the One, the Only, the Truly Incomparable Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band. She and her husband have children who like pandas -- clearly these are smart people. We also went out for ice cream after dinner. Again, more proof these are good people.

Thursday was our last day in Wisconsin. We took a side trip to Cave of the Mounds before we headed out to Chicago for the night. I'm not a big fan of caves. In fact, I think the last time Cuddly Hubby and I toured a cave was on our honeymoon almost fifteen years ago. But this one was nice enough -- lots of the usual formations. Some of the formations had unusual colors due to the minerals in the surrounding rock. And the tour does feature a few moments of total darkness. This is funny, because in the gift shop you can buy a post card that is all black with the notation: Total Darkness -- Cave of the Mounds. Kudos to the clever person who came up with that. And I should mention that the gift shop has lots of rocks at very good prices. It was tempting to buy a few polished rocks or fossils to use as props in the Dungeons & Dragons game.

All in all, Wisconsin was a fine place to visit. We sadly bid it goodbye as we headed for the congested chaos of Chicago.

02 August 2009

AirVenture

For airplane aficionados, the annual Experimental Aircraft Association airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin is about as good as it gets. I've always had a tangential connection to airplanes. My father was a commercial pilot. My brother was a private pilot and instructor. My husband is an aerospace engineer and through him, we have several friends who are also pilots and/or engineers.

Cuddly Hubby and I had never been to Oshkosh. Wow! For starters, this is like attending the State Fair, except instead of animals and farm equipment, everything is aviation-related. While lots of people do drive, lots of people also fly to the show. And then they camp. Lots and lots of camping for the week-long event. And more airplanes that you can imagine. I thought I had seen crowds at Dragon*Con. Hah!

There are four parking areas where general aircraft are on display -- ultralight & rotorcraft, vintage, homebuilt, and warbirds. There are also several large exhibit hangers. And there are several venues for presentations. And there are areas for workshops so that if you are building an airplane yourself, you can learn how to work metal or cover the wings or install controls. There is also a main aeroshell square with static displays that change over the course of the event. Nearly every vendor in general aviation has a booth of some kind. And if none of that interests you, you can always just sit yourself down on the flight line and watch the demonstrations all day.

We were there on Tuesday the 28th of July specifically to see the A380 (photo at right). Cuddly Hubby's speciality is acoustics. He had heard that the A380 is supposed to be very quiet in terms of community (flyover) noise; so he wanted to be present when it arrived at Oshkosh. By luck, WhiteKnightTwo also arrived that day. So after some very interesting presentations in the morning, we sat on the flight line and watched two very different but very interesting aircraft show their stuff. And, yes, the A380 is amazingly quiet!

We also returned on Sunday for the last day. That's when I discovered the NASA exhibit. I could have spent a whole day just looking at the cool stuff.
A 3.9 billion-year-old moon rock
A space suit
Interactive maps of the moon and Mars
A small wind tunnel with wing-section models
A full-scale model of a martian rover
And lots of interesting NASA people were there -- pilots and engineers. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to the engineers who are solving some amazing problems both in design and manufacture. We also spoke some about the brain drain in the aerospace industry. Good people who have built great stuff and solved complex problems are retiring without having the opportunity to pass their expertise on to the next generation. Talented young people are no longer seeing aerospace as a field worth pursuing. (I spoke to a retired Georgia Tech professor earlier this year who told me that the initial aerospace course is no longer a weeding-out class. Twenty years ago GA Tech had many more prospective aero students than spaces in their program. That is no longer the case.) This is a serious issue if the United States wants to remain a leader in space technology and continue to reap the rewards that come from breaking new ground in science and technology.

It is also good thing that I don't fly, because by the end of the show, I was thinking that building an airplane in my garage didn't seem like a bad idea. Thank goodness nobody had a "knit your own airplane" kit or I would've been doomed!

The EAA website is very helpful. Note to self for next year -- bring lots of water and sunscreen and a fabulous hat. I actually got a little tan on my feet!