Sunday, June 27, 2010

And Now for a Word from my Violets . . .

Six of my plants went to the Illinois State African violet show this weekend . . . and they had a good time :-)

This is Gail. It took Best Vintage Violet. It's mine.
:-) <-- a="" all="" happy="" href="" me="">

This is s. ionantha subspecies orbicularis var. purpurea (it's a species plant, hence the long wacky name). It took Best Species. It's mine.
:-D <-- all="" and="" as="" big.="" br="" can="" even="" face="" from="" happy="" is="" me="" more="" my="" plant="" tell="" that="" yes="" you="">

This is Mid-America. It took Best in Show and Best Standard. It's mine
==:-D <-- all="" br="" end="" hair="" happy="" me="" my="" on="" standing="" with="">

I had two other plants, both got blues and one was best in its class. And there were other beautiful winners, but I'm pretty sleepy, so I'll post more, later :-)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Oh Boy . . .

I've been on the stash busting wagon with Knitterary since last September. Gertrude joined us about halfway in. We've re-negotiated every four months or so, with certain dispensations and we've all appreciably cut down our yarn buying. I've been knitting pretty much exclusively from my stash all that time and it's been a really good thing :-)

For the summer months we relaxed our rules - and I have a dispensation all summer for Wollmeise (that's a whole other post . . . ) because it's so hard to acquire and I've been attempting to get enough of it to make a sweater. That hasn't stopped me, however, from attempting to just get whatever I can of the stuff :-D Still, it's not easy to come by, and I have been trading stuff, too, so not as much has come in as one might expect.

Enter The Fold's Summer Solstice Sale . . .

I wasn't even sure I was going to go, but I've been wanting to take a weekday and head up there just to sit and spin with Toni. So, Monday, when everything was 30% off seemed like the day to pick up a couple of things . . .

Yeah . . .

Mountain Colors Weaver's Wool in the Painted Stones colorway (this is one skein of the stuff - and I got two, for a sweater)

Mountain Colors Weaver's Wool in the Wild Raspberries colorway (a departure for me but it did not ring of "clown barf" somehow, and so I went for it). Yes, two skeins, for another sweater.

Cascade Greenland (also enough for a sweater)

Schoppel-Wolle's Cashmere Queen (enough for a sweater and assorted accessories)

And assorted bits of Cascade 220 for some felting projects, and a sweater's worth of Classic Elite's Renaissance (which has been discontinued :-S) also found a way into my car.

Happily, I got to spend a lovely day, spinning and chatting with people. The store was not crowded like on a Saturday, and Toni even had some time to sit and spin. Amazing how fast the time goes in the company of other crafters, isn't it? :-

So, I'm owning up to my fall from grace. And the hole in my pocketbook is substantial. Oh well - When I fall, I fall hard . . . let the sweater knitting commence!

And finally - some actual knitting content :-D I finished some socks - you might recall that I was making these for me - my first Socks That Rock socks - but my cousin, K, really fell in love with them, and since she actually WEARS the socks I knit for her, I caved and these went home with her :-) The colorway is Kaw Kaw. It was lightweight - but wow, the lightweight knits up into pretty sturdy fabric for me on 1 1/2 needles. I'll be knitting more with STR (there's plenty in the stash :-D )

Saturday, June 19, 2010

This and That . . .

As we were heading into the desert, we were also heading into a storm. That doesn't mean rain. In the desert, it means wind. Uh oh . . . Covered completely in a bedouin scarf and sunglasses, I made a focused effort to keep my mouth closed, my eyes just slits, and to breath only through my nose. Unfortunately, none of that worked. You know that feeling you have when you stare at the screen too long - like your eyes are full of sand? Yeah, well, it felt like that ;-D and I'm reasonably sure that my entire digestive tract was completely exfoliated by the amount of sand I ingested. Unfortunately, a fair amount of it found its way into my lungs, which made for asthma issues.

I was on the saddle on Ahs-gwal's back - and may I just say that you are up HIGH when you're on a camel. And it's not a saddle like on a horse. And it's not a smooth ride, like on a horse. And there are no stirrups . . . I was thanking my trainer over and over in my mind for all the inner thigh and core work we did in the months leading up to this trip. Without it, I surely would have fallen off. I'm not kidding.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you that camels have beautiful feet. While I was squinting my eyes, keeping my mouth shut, breathing through my nose and holding on for dear life (I have no idea how I was able to take the few photos I did while riding), I spent a lot of time looking at the feet of the camels in front of me and occasionally alongside of me.

I know you're all familiar with the nasty term "camel toe" (no, I'm not linking that, thank you very much), well, that is where the term came from, but it's not nasty when you are looking at the foot of an actual camel. The bottom of their feet are not hooves - they are these beautiful, flexible pads, and they shift and move with each step in the sand. Camels are amazingly graceful looking, particularly considering the rough gait they possess.

Anyway, who knew camels would hold such fascination? (or that some of them LIE DOWN to sleep! - although not Ahs-gwal - that's him, falling asleep :-) ) That's also a pretty good look at the saddles. These are Dromedaries, not Bactrian camels (only one hump). Ahs-gwal did not spit and he was quite nice, although I was a little nervous around him at first. He was the lead camel in our line of five.

Yes I had asthma issues from the sand storm,. but I wouldn't have traded that ride for anything and I had an upper respiratory antibiotic with me, just in case. Really glad I had it . . . I'm still coughing glop up out of my lungs!

We came back early the next morning, got cleaned up and headed for the palm groves of Tinehir and the Todras Gorge.

And on a completely different topic - I saw this on Michelle's blog, and of course had to try it! Check me out! :-D

I am a

What Flower
Are You?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

And Part II . . .

I'm going to let the photos do the talking today . . .

Good night, sweetheart :-)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sands of the Sahara, Part I . . .

OK - let me preface this post by saying: if you know me at all, you know that I am the quintessential "city girl" (even though I now live a somewhat suburban existence ;-) ). For me to actually WANT to camp - in a DESERT - is pretty much beyond belief . . .

We left Fes and headed South for a full day of driving. We headed up through the Cedar forests. I was constantly amazed by the different terrain we encountered daily.

Here, in the forests, we met some Barbary Apes!

We continued over the Middle Atlas Mountains and made our way down to Merzouga, making stops along the way for food and bathroom breaks :-) I was quite careful to drink only bottled water, and eat only fruits and vegetables that could be peeled or cooked (I was hungry for a salad when I finally returned home!).

The terrain changed as we went . . .

. . . until we reached Merzouga, which is - literally - at the edge of the Sahara, and where we relaxed at a simple auberge.

We settled in for an afternoon and evening of relaxation together and with the locals (and that pool was wonderful after a long day traveling).

We had lot of fun with our Berber hosts and entertainers, and I caught my first glimpse of the desert stars that night.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

We Interrupt This Program . . .

. . . because I got to meet the Governor of Illinois this morning. How kewl is this?!!!!! That's Governor Pat Quinn, and me!!

He spoke at my work this morning - I unfortunately missed hearing his speech, but I was very happy to meet him. For those of you who might not know (although how you could escape it is beyond me), Governor Quinn was actually the Lieutenant Governor. He became the Governor when our former governor was indited for, among other things, allegedly attempting to sell President Obama's former Illinois Senate seat to the highest bidder . . .

Politics in Chicago . . . don't get me started.

Anyway - it was very exciting for me to meet Governor Quinn - I support him and hope that he will be elected.

News of the desert . . . shortly :-)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Days Fly By . . .


Volubilis - visiting these Roman ruins was like visiting Pompeii.

Fes - the city of arts and crafts - so much going on here all the time. I did a lot of my shopping here - pottery, mosaic tiles, lanterns, weaving - everything is happening in Fes - which is the Moroccan spelling. A Fez is a hat - Fes is the city :-) (Kinda like Munich and Muenchen in Germany).

And OhMyGod it was really hot . . . sweat through your clothes hot . . . I mean, I still cannot figure out how Moroccans wear as much clothing as they do. I regularly saw men in warm up sweats and leather jackets, and it was like 90 degrees out! Plus, the women I did see were completely covered up in traditional garb - pants, long tunics, hijab - and no one looked as sweaty as I was.

I did see a LOT of people selling boxes of tissues on the streets - and I wondered about this and decided it must be because it's so hot. I went through my share, just keeping the sweat out of my eyes!

Two nights in Fes and we headed for the desert . . .

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Moving On . . .

The second day of this trip took us to a number of places. First, we visited Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. It's the largest mosque in Morocco, and the second largest (after Mecca) in the world. It's also one of the few mosques in Morocco that non-Muslims can enter (this has to do with old laws put in place when Morocco was still a French Protectorate).

This is an ablution room. It is below what Christians would call the sanctuary, and we could see it from the mosque through star-shaped plexiglass cutouts in the floor. There are rituals surrounding washing before praying, and this is where the men come to do that.

There is also a hammam (like a Turkish bath) in the mosque, and I think this is the one is where women can come.

As a matter of respect, our guide asked us to wear scarves and long sleeves when we visited the mosque. This is me toward the end of the mosque tour - my yellow pashmina (100% Kashmir if you're following the fiber ;-D) came in handy for this. We also had to take our shoes off and carry them in a bag when we were actually inside the mosque. One of my fellow travellers, who is Muslim, helped me with the scarf.

Not sure if you can grasp the scope of how huge this mosque is - if you click on the photos they will all biggify and you will be able to see them better. The men pray on the main floor, and the wooden balconies are for the women. The story we were told (more than once) is that women are segregated so that men are not distracted during prayer . . .

Next, we headed to the Imperial city of Rabat, which is also the capital city of Morocco. We visited the Hassan tower, all that is left of a mosque which was begun in 1196. It would have been huge (30,000 square yards) in its finished state, but it was never finished. And then the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 did great damage - all that is left is the incomplete tower, the foundation pilings and a bit of the walls.

One of the interesting things that I learned on this trip is about the mosaic, stucco and plaster decorations that are found everywhere on mosques and other architecture. There are no humans or animals depicted anywhere - no images. All decorations are stars and other shapes, intricate mosaic patterns, and calligraphy. The colors of Islam are blue and green, and all the stucco and plaster ornamentation is hand carved . . . it's pretty amazing stuff.

We spent part of the afternoon in the Kasbah des Oudaias, and it was very beautiful, and hey, every time I was near the water, I was happy :-)

Kind of reminded me a little of the Greek Islands with all the blue and white.

And then, we headed for Meknes . . .

My journal notes for this day say, "women here are non-existent in the day-to-day culture . . . it's interesting . . . and I never see them alone . . . " This is interesting, because our city guide today was a woman and she was very sharp and knowledgeable. She was also dressed in Western attire and had lived in Japan for more than a decade - so, not the typical Moroccan woman at all.

I have finished my photobook - there is a link to it, over on the right. A lot of the photos I'm including in these posts are not in the book, in case you were wondering :-) I took a LOT of photos and am happy to have this space to share even more of them.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Casablanca . . .

A lot of people have asked me why I wanted to go to Morocco. Truth be told, I've been wanting to go to India for a really long time, but last fall, Morocco pushed itself into my consciousness and would not let me rest - so when the opportunity for the trip came up, it was less expensive than India, and was easier to get to (in theory) than India - plus my boss at the time asked me to keep my vacation to two weeks if at all possible.

So, Morocco won :-)

I met up with a small group tour in Casablanca through GAP Adventures. I would travel with them again. In fact, I would travel to Morocco again - there were places where I would have loved a few more days. One thing I found was that it was tough to travel every day - I really liked the days when we had two nights in a place.

I feel like my trip really began the Tuesday before I left - all the airports in Morocco were shut down because of the Ash Cloud from Iceland on Tuesday, but opened back up the next day. I left Chicago on Friday morning. Next time I do this, I will do the long haul from Chicago and not New York. This time I flew JetBlue back and forth to JFK. I liked them very much and the planes were quite nice and comfy. Unfortunately my outbound flight sat on the tarmac for an hour and 50 minutes before we took off, but it was due to storms in NYC.

Once at JFK, the fun began . . . I booked my flights through Delta (never again) and they were all code shares. I wanted to take the non-stop from JFK to Casablanca which is actually Air Maroc. It was interesting - and neither Delta nor Air Maroc was any help on the phone when I called to ask where I should check in (Delta or Air Maroc). Navigating JFK is not too hard once you figure out their Air Train system, but I went from Terminal 5 (JetBlue) to Terminal 3 (Delta), and then got re-directed again to Terminal 1 (international) . . . and in between 3 and 1, I dropped my passport on the Air Train.


I figured that it was all over and I was not going to Morocco after all. I went back to the train stop to see if I had dropped it on the way - but no luck. There were two phones in the wall, a red one and a green one, and since I wasn't bleeding, I pressed the green button - a woman answered immediately and I explained what had happened and she said yes, that they had just found a passport and asked my name. It was mine! She said to stay put and someone would bring it to me.

A train came, and a guy stepped out and said wait for the next train - and when the next train came, a woman stepped out and gave me my passport back. She wouldn't take any money from me. I managed to calm myself down, pulled out my party fan (it was HOT and HUMID in NYC), and found the Air Maroc desk, and waited in the line. People going to Morocco take a LOT of luggage . . . At the desk, finally, and they have two people with my name in the system . . . they finally pick one. By this time, it's 6:15 and they tell me I have to be through security by 6:30 . . . so I haul my suitcase over to the bag drop (it's different in NY than here) and head for security, which I managed to clear pretty quickly.

I don't know why they were so insistent (I was originally told on the phone that I had to be there by 5) for an 8:40 p.m. flight. Oh - make that an almost midnight flight. We boarded on time and pulled away from the gate, and then promptly sat there for THREE HOURS and 10 MINUTES, which is illegal. Oh well. And then, not five minutes after getting airborne, a woman started screaming for help. I thought for sure we were going to be turning around . . . announcements requesting doctors . . . more screaming . . . but we never turned back, and eventually they must have calmed her down because she stopped hollering.

And I woke up in Casablanca :-)

It's nothing like the movie ;-D

The view from my hotel room - not too exciting. Casablanca is sort of just a city . . .

I ran into someone who works for GAP as we were getting off the flight, and she shared her transfer from the airport with me, which was really nice because the airport is far from the city. I had really good luggage karma the entire trip. Yay!

And once I was there, and my stuff was stowed in my room, I wanted to walk around - thought I would sit in a cafe and people watch and write for awhile . . . um, no. Only men sit in the cafes. In fact, only men appear to do a lot of things in Morocco . . . So, I bought the first of those countless bottles of water and started walking. It was very interesting to be a single woman alone in Morocco. Mostly I was with my tour group, but there were times when we had free time and I was alone - hey, I like to explore :-) - and at those time I was constantly reminded (constantly) that I didn't "fit" in their culture.

I walked along this boulevard and would have sat under these trees, except I didn't have a piece of cardboard to sit on and all the benches were covered with bird poo . . . white cranes nest in these trees!

I finally came to this park, where I was able to sit for awhile. But not on the lawn, on the steps - see that guy? He was the keeper of the lawn. I met two Moroccan women (because they attempted to sit on the lawn and he hollered at them) and did my best to have a conversation with them . . . I spoke French fluently when I graduated from high school (lo, these many years ago), but I really had to reach back into my brain to pull up words and phrases - I did OK, actually, and was always able to make myself understood.

About those constant cultural reminders - well, Moroccan women don't seem to be outside walking around much - and if they are, they are not alone but in groups. And a lot of them wear the hijab. I'm a tall, curvy, pale, freckly, Irish-looking redhead, most often found on this trip in cargo pants and a t-shirt. Hello.

Interestingly enough, I was asked most often if I was English or Canadian or Australian - being an American was very low on their list of choices. In fact, I was the only American in my group. GAP is a Canadian company and the majority of travelers were from Canada. There were three Aussies, two Brits, and me in our group of 15. Very, very interesting to be the only American . . .

Candy - yes, it was very romantic somehow - and very exotic - and olives apparently come in every conceivable color :-D Knitterary, I didn't taste any because you know I don't like them, but you would have been in olive heaven. Fujiyamamama, thanks for stopping by!! Oh, and others of you besides Knitterary are probably wondering how I managed to not get sunburned. Coppertone Water Babies, 70 SPF. It rocks. Hard. I also had a hat that I wore as much as humanly possible. I was so glad when it cooled off and clouded up a bit so I didn't have to wear it all the time. By the end of the trip it was so ragged that I left it behind :-D