Friday, 31 January 2014

Goodbyes and Hello. . .

I'm always sad when a bookstore disappears.  Earlier this month I read that the Annex location of Book City in Toronto was closing; I spent so many years browsing and buying books there when I lived in the area, mostly during my university years. It was open late and it was a favourite place to head to if I needed a break from studying. I could always find a interesting book that I'd not come across and they had great remainders.  Fortunately their other locations in the city are staying open, but the Annex branch was really special and I don't think that strip of Bloor St. West will ever be the same.
I'm not a huge fan of chain bookstores, but I've always had a soft spot for Waterstones and I'm crushed that the Bold Street branch in Liverpool is also closing at the end of this month. There are two Waterstones in Liverpool and this was definitely my favourite even if it was smaller than the Liverpool One main store. The building is gorgeous, the staff recommendations were a little more quirky here, and the Costa coffee shop on the first floor (second floor for North Americans) was a great place to read or knit sitting at one of the tables by the windows overlooking the busy street below and with great views of the architectural details of other local buildings. There was also a very nice cozy space around the corner from the till, tucked under a sloping opaque glass roof. I am really going to miss it. Like so many other bookstores, it's fallen victim to rising rents.

I had made a resolution not to buy any wool, clothes or books this year (so far I'm holding fast to the first two), but news of these stores' closures depressed me. I just wanted that lovely feeling you get after wandering around the aisles and tables with no purpose and picking up whatever captures your mood and imagination at the time. So I cracked and bought a lovely selection of books:  Longbourn by Jo Baker, Instructions For a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell, The Light Years: Cazalet Chronicles Book 1 by Elizabeth Jane Howard (a series I've wanted to read for a long time), The Library of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry, translated by Sian Reynolds (the French are always so good at writing about the importance of books) and Train Songs, an anthology of poetry edited by Sean O'Brien and Don Paterson.
On a happier note, I'm eagerly anticipating the re-opening of the Everyman Theatre which kicks off its new season in March with Twelfth Night. This famous building has been undergoing renovations ever since I arrived in Liverpool and I can't wait to get inside and see a production.

In conjunction with the Playhouse Theatre, the spring/summer programme is looking very promising. I would liken the two (in Torontonian terms) to a nice blending of Soulpepper and the Tarragon; a nice sprinkling of classic and contemporary plays but a commitment to new work as well. Following the Shakespeare will be Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge, the world premiere of Hope Place by Michael Wynne (the Everyman is located on Hope Street), Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) which is a modern update by Carl Grose of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera (really looking forward to that one), and finally Betty Blue Eyes by Ron Cowan and Daniel Lipman, based on a short story (later adapted into a film) by Alan Bennett.  Now you can't get better than that! There are also several touring productions coming as well.

One of the nice things about following a company is getting to know the actors and seeing them pop up in different roles, so I'm very much looking forward to acquainting myself with the Everyman ensemble. And I theatre is one of the few things that is far cheaper in the U.K than in Canada (I think they are more highly subsidized).  The cost of an entire season was less than the two tickets I bought for my Mum and I to see Soulpepper's Parfumerie last month. I thought when I moved here that I'd miss the theatre scene in Toronto terribly, but it's very alive and well in Liverpool.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Some January Knitting. . .

The picture on the left is one of Lake Ontario that I took on a wintry walk in The Beach area of Toronto just after Christmas.  I then came across some balls of Noro Aya cotton/wool/silk blend and the colours really reminded me of the brown branches against the blues and greys of lake and sky. Plus I needed some mindless airport knitting. And so four skeins later, I have a long Noro chevron scarf, my first finished project of the year.

As with most Noro balls, you never really know what's going to come out when.  The pink was a bit shocking and I wrestled with cutting it out, but I decided to trust Noro and I quite like the unexpected punch. It also reminds me a little of the stunning, colourful sunrises you can often get on wintry days.  This is a better view of all the colours - when bunched up around my neck, it does seem to work and I think it has a very wintry palette. With the cotton content, it's a good deal cooler than woollen scarves and so it's perfect for a milder day. I think it will go nicely with my green spring jacket too.

I've also done a lot of work this month on my Tango cardigan, designed by Sarah Hatton.  The back is completed and half of one front.  Hmmm - not crazy about that cream stripe which I really should have cut out, but maybe if I have enough wool at the end, I can duplicate stitch over it.  This wool (Rowan Colourspun) isn't the greatest for making the cables pop and I knew that starting the project (I just wanted to use up some stash), but I do love how all the colours come alive in the double moss stitch.

Finally my most difficult project to date is well under way.  I bought this Latvian mittens kit at the Harrogate Knitting and Stitching Show last fall.  I just loved the pattern and the colours. 

I began with some trepidation.  The instructions say to knit clockwise and I always knit anti-clockwise in the round so the stranding is on the outside, meaning I'd have to wait quite a long time before I could turn it inside out and see the pattern. I also tend to pull my strands too tight even though I try to tell myself to relax and as a result I always worry it's not going to fit.  I've learned one new technique though - doing stranded knitting in 2 x 2 rib for the cuff.  There was definitely a lot of counting aloud at this stage.  Only try this at home!

And here's the first mitten (minus the thumb - I hate thumbs and am leaving them till the end). It's a joy to reach beyond the cuff and just knit each round, although there are a few rows requiring three colours which meant a lot of tangles.

It's looking a little puckered but I'm hoping that will go away somewhat with blocking.  It's been a slow process (I reckon I've worked about 30 hours on this so far) but I'm very pleased with it and have cast on the second mitten before my enthusiasm runs out.  With any luck, I'll be able to use them before the winter ends.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Familiar Can Still Surprise. . .

Of all the places in the Lake District, I've probably been to Ambleside the most and I've done the walk to Grasmere several times.  But here's the lovely thing about this area; not only is it always changing in different seasons and varying weather conditions, but there are paths at all levels and for all walking abilities. Last summer I took my Mum on a very low-level walk around Rydal Water, through the woods and out onto the path that brings you to the shores of Grasmere Lake and its famous view. She absolutely loved it.  If you want a greater challenge, you can go up and do half of the Fairfield Horseshoe and then come down into Grasmere.  You can also take a middle height path and go along the famed "Coffin Route".

But on our last Sunday ramble, the leader chose yet another path going up parts of Loughrigg Fell. It was a lovely route with equally nice views up to the hills (mostly shrouded in mist) and down to the very still waters.

I love how vibrant the colours still are and how they look like smudged watercolours in the lake's reflection.

I've been over bits of Loughrigg several times but there are so many different paths you can take and I'd never travelled over this exact one so it was very exciting to suddenly come across this huge cave carving itself into the hillside.

Just another of the many pleasant surprises walking always bring, and yet another enjoyable ramble before arriving at the familiar view overlooking Grasmere.  Have I mentioned how much I love the Lake District?

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Liverpool for 2014!

Rough Guides has placed Liverpool third on its list of top ten cities to visit in 2014 which is very exciting for the city.  I have to say that before I met the Liverpud and despite the numerous times I'd travelled in the U.K., Liverpool had never been on my radar. I thought it was just the place the Beatles came from and there wasn't much more to it than that.  But to be honest, if I compare it with Toronto in terms of things to do with visitors, Liverpool comes out way tops in spite of its much smaller size.  Not to mention the easy access to so many other lovely places nearby.

The architecture is stunning, the museums, art galleries, central library, cathedrals are beautiful and there's great shopping and restaurants. Plus there's always something happening in the city including the  just announced return of the giant puppets and their street theatre, to commemorate the beginning of WWI.  I missed them the last time when they focused on a Titanic story and can't wait to see them this July. Ever since moving here, I've felt the city really is on cusp of becoming something big. It's exciting to watch it all unfold.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Knitting Resolutions for 2014. . .

2013 was a good knitting year for me.  I did try out new skills, improved old ones,  and made some lovely things that have seen a lot of use. 

However, it was a lousy year for following resolutions.  Here were the ones I made at the beginning of January 2013. . .

1. Try Fair Isle and intarsia
2. Learn to crochet (I have a gorgeous book of Japanese designs that I would love to tackle)
3. Finish the two cardigans I am in the middle of
4. Knit a top-down sweater (I've done bottom up and a seamed one)
5. Knit more from my stash and buy less (well, at least until Woolfest)
6. Finally finish up my knitted log cabin quilt that has been languishing for two years (just need to seam it and add a border)
7. Finish my hexi-puff quilt (I've done about 70 hexi-puffs - probably need close to 500!)
8. Knit a pair of socks

. . . and I accomplished exactly one and a half and a smidgen.

I did knit a top-down cardigan which I really enjoyed doing and it looked great on my Mum.  I loved the pattern (Peasy by Heidi Kirrmaier) and think I might do another for myself. 

I did try Fair Isle (I am now officially hooked) but not intarsia. 

I also did try crochet but only got as far as learning the chain stitch (this was the smidgeon - I really need to take a course).  No socks. My two unfinished knitted quilts are languishing and to make matters even worse I started two more blankets that are also in various states of abandonment. And let's not even talk about buying less and using up more of my stash!  I failed abysmally ( I blame Woolfest, Yarndale, Harrogate, and boxing day sales in Toronto yarn shops) and hang my head and lack of willpower in shame.

However a new year brings a clean slate, new goals and lofty aspirations, and I am going to be a lot more realistic this time and give myself only 5 resolutions to deal with.

1. Knit only from my stash and buy NO YARN this year!  I have so many lovely, lovely skeins already and at least 8 bags with sweater quantities.  I just need to have them more readily on display as reminders.  This will be a tough one for me but I am looking forward to the challenge. The hardest bit will be going to shows which I still want to do as they are so much fun and totally inspiring but I can treat myself at them to subsidiary items such as buttons or needles instead.

2. I will be kind to myself about my unfinished blankets and just try to finish one this year, although I'm still adding to the pile of hexipuffs and mitred squares regularly.

3. I currently have four unfinished cardigans.  Finishing two of them this year would make me very happy.

4. I dream about having a few knitted Christmas gifts done by the end of June.

5. And finally,  I'd still like to learn new techniques such as intarsia and steeking. I'd also like to tackle my first pair of socks. And one of the little xmas gifts I bought for myself was this little kit, thanks to this great blog post by Knit British.  Aren't those colours gorgeous?

And there we go. With the exception of #1, they all seem completely manageable.  And in terms of appreciating the wool I already have, here are a few skeins that I brought back from Toronto. The city has some great knitting shops and I tried to visit them all.  Ewe Knit is the newest one in Mirvish Village.  Gorgeous, gorgeous yarns. I picked up some Fleece Artist skeins which come from Nova Scotia. The one with the sock pattern attached on the ball band (lovely bonus) was from Ewe Knit; the other came from Lettuce Knit, another great store in Kensington Market which alas I forgot to take a photo of.

Then it was down to Queen St. West for a visit to Romni Wools which has such a huge selection of everything, plus a great sale area in the basement.  Further along is the delightful and friendly Knit Cafe, famous for its creative window displays. I also like their blog.

Both had a good supply of the irresistible Madeline Tosh which is much cheaper in North America.  I got four skeins of sock yarn.

And one skein of lace weight - 950 yards of a really rich colourway called Whiskey Barrel.

I also picked up three big balls of Cascade Eco +.  There's great yardage on this and I should be able to do a fair isle jumper with this lot.

There - I really, really don't need to buy any more wool this year do I? Well, I have already resisted the Rowan sales at John Lewis so I'm off to a good start.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Home Again and Home Again. . .

So I've returned to England the Green having spent nearly two weeks in Toronto for the holidays. It was my first trip back to the city since moving to Liverpool about a year and a half ago, and it resulted in a wave of differing emotions. It was so great to see family and friends again, but there was a teeny, tiny moment when I walked by my old apartment building, creeped up to peer into the window of my old flat, discovered that it was empty as if it was waiting for me to return and briefly wondered if that was a sign. 

But no.  As much as I miss the people, the city felt really claustrophobic to me. I couldn't believe the number of huge condo buildings that had gone up or were in the process of doing so, even starting to blocking iconic views of the skyline like this one looking west from the Distillery District. 

I also don't miss the weather. My visit coincided with the worst ice storm that the city has ever experienced.  We were without power for three days and ended up spending Christmas Eve in a hotel. We still had fun though, watching It's A Wonderful Life on the telly and having possibly the best hot shower of my life. I joked that even without heat, my Mum's apartment was still warmer than my house in the U.K. but one cold sponge bath was enough for me.  Kudos and huge thanks to all the hydro workers and especially those who gave up their holidays from other provinces and even the U.S. to come and help the city. Ditto for the Red Cross who were busy staffing warming centres and checking up on the sick and elderly.  I was really touched by how Canadians rallied and made the best of a bad situation including my friend JJ who I had planned to meet the morning after the ice storm. She didn't have power either, but was not in the least fazed and cooked up a lovely meal on the barbecue.  That's what Canadians do in an ice storm. 

But on the downside, there were so many broken branches strewed all over the roads and on people's lawns, and huge wounded gashes on the trees. I read an estimate that about 20% of Toronto's canopy had disappeared which is very sad and will be felt come the first summer heatwave.  This branch came down just metres from me, pulling down a powerline and just missing the oncoming car. 

Still despite all the trouble it caused, the ice was also very beautiful to look at.

Something new that had popped up in my absence was Ripley's Aquarium of Canada built at the foot of the CN Tower.  I can't remember the last time I went to an aquarium and it certainly was a feast for the eyes.  The huge shark tank which surrounds a moving walkway so that the fish are swimming above you as well as beside you, is probably the big attraction, especially for the kids. . .

. . . but I was absolutely mesmerised by this huge tank of Pacific kelp that was swaying back and forth in simulated waves, carrying all these layers of fish who bobbed along with them. It was so beautifully hypnotic.

There was just so much to see, such vibrant colours and textures and fascinating creatures. It really makes you feel like a kid again, enthusiastically open and awed by the brilliant wonder and diversity of nature.

And then just when you thought you were coming to the end, there were these gorgeous jellyfish!

I had a fantastic trip which put a lot of things into perspective for me but it was also great to return to the U.K. which is really starting to feel like home too.  It may be raining as I write this, but it's also 9 degrees above freezing and I'm itching to start hiking again. I also have a ton of knitting projects on the go and lots of lovely new wool that I brought from Toronto which I'll talk about in the next post.  Happy New Year all!