Saturday, February 23, 2013

"E" is for Error

That letter cost me dearly!
I've been working on the "Oak Tree Sampler" by Darlene O'Steen. She is the only cross stitch designer I look for by name. Other designers use traditional sampler motifs as well as she does to create samplers than look old as soon as you're done, but she also incorporates lots and lots off different kinds of stitches. I adore this, because while I love cross stitching, I hate doing nothing but cross stitches. Many an otherwise wonderful sampler is ruined for me by being nothing but cross stitch. For me, that's up there with watching paint dry. Very big yawn! Different stitches are interesting to do, add depth and texture to the piece, and many have histories all their own.

I've had this pattern, well, the tag on it says I got it at a needlework shop in Jacksonville, and I left there in 1992. I promise the sampler hasn't been hanging around nearly that long! It's a great design, but I'm working it on unbleached linen, which means it is brown, and the dark fabric is hard on my eyes. The best time to work on it is late afternoon when the afternoon sun is streaming onto the back porch. Yes, I have an Ott Light and it is a wonderful thing, but you cannot beat real sunlight for certain applications.And I like sitting on my back porch. That's one of the great glories of living in the south, the whole back porch thing.

The alphabet is pretty straightforward, with the letters alternating with a dark blue and rust color. If the letter is Rust, it is supposed to be done in Rice stitch. This is Rice Stitch.
The numbers represent the order in which you make your stitches.

 If the letter is done in Dark Blue, it is supposed to be done is a Smyrna Cross. This is Smyrna Cross.

Each line represents one thread of linen fabric
 Things were clicking along; A, B, C, D. Then I hit "E". "E" is Rust, therefore it's supposed to be done in the Rice Stitch. All those R's should make it easy to remember; maybe Darlene even thought of that. Wouldn't put it past her, clever woman that she is.

First, I remembered to change to Rice Stitch, but when I looked it over before I moved to the next letter, I realized I'd forgotten to change the color. The "E" was Dark Blue. No way out of it, it would have to go. If you look at the diagram of Rice Stitch, you'll see why that was a challenge; all those tiny "leg" stitches (Stitches number 5-10) are golden opportunities to cut your linen. Please don't ask me how I managed not to. At least that was one area where the embroidery gods were on my side. They were probably having too much fun with the rest to be bothered. Or they know that there is a very definite point at which I will make a brief stop at the garbage can on my way to the wine and where's the fun in that?

I re-threaded my needle and went back to work. Stepped back - and realized I had the right color, but this time I had stitched the "E" in the Smyrna Cross. Now I enjoy doing the Smyrna Cross; there's a rhythm to it that's almost Zen. If there is a polar opposite to Zen, it is something very similar to taking out a Smyrna Cross. And there were 18 of the blasted things in that "E". That finally accomplished, I put everything that was not Rust thread out of sight, and chanting the steps to the Rice Stitch (mostly) under my breath - or as my buddy Jackie likes to say "consulting with the smartest person I know" though it sure didn't feel that way at the time - this time I managed to stitch a Rust-colored "E" in Rice NOT Smynra Stitch.

When you think about the mathematical possibilities, I made every mistake possible in this combination that didn't involved actually messing up the letter. The letter "E."

I wonder if Sue Grafton ever had this many stupid aggravations with one of her novels?

Friday, February 22, 2013

2013: The Year of Getting Things Done

Now that I've finished "My Big Fat Irish Vacation," I can finally Move on to what I've been working on since oh, about mid December. I've never been much for New Year's Resolutions - the whole New Year's thing has always struck me as rather contrived. But this year, I made myself a real live Resolution. Namely, Get Some Things Done.

By "Things," I mean finish the unfinished things that are lying around the house in one form or another and making me feel bad. The key to getting on the list of Some Things To Be Done is to be 1) an unfinished thing and 2) and unfinished that is annoying me. By "Done" I mean either completed, sent to Goodwill, trashed, or broken into component parts, unraveled, or whatever it takes to make it Over With. The blog account of my Irish vacation has been one of these Things To Be Done. And getting that done has been Step One. Well, sort of. The Public Step One. There are other things as well -

Some knitting
The red piece is the "Peddlar's Shawl" from Cheryl Oberle's book "Folk Shawls." I've been working on it since oh, about 2009 or 2010. Got into trouble about the time I was supposed to get off the garter stitch section and onto the lace border - though now I've a LYS (Local Yarn Shop) that should be able to help me out. The other two are much more recent - my first attempt at a pair of socks and a "Seriously Simple Shawl" that was suppose to teach me how to knit lace and read a chart. What they mostly taught me was that is is a Really Bad Idea to take two knitting classes at the came time. A Very, Very Bad Idea.

Some paintings, various mediums....

The dogs belong to some friends and were due last Christmas. The other two, well, let's not talk about how long they've been floating around. The crystal bowl of strawberries in the still life has been thwarting me, and the owl, well, that one may have to be completely re-designed. We shall see. It may wind up being sanded down and turned into a drawing before it's all over.

 This picture is just of one part of the tangle the warp got into; I didn't show the rest for fear of frightening the little children. I have been working on it, and it's actually all smoothed out and I am re-threading it - for the third time! This had better be the most beautiful Valley Forge Dogwood scarf of all time!!!

Some stitchery

I don't recall how long these have been floating around, but they deserve to be completed.

Even some home maintenance.
I started this stencil long ago, got about half way, and realized that I was going to have to stand in the kitchen sink to do the next part - which would be disastrous for me and the sink. I am determined that I am going to figure out how to either get that segment done so I can complete this thing, or paint it over and Forget About It! And get that roll of painter's tape off the cat shelf.

There are other things as well, some less photograph-able, some with a bit less priority. But while I am one of the most easily distractable people on the planet, my goal this year is No New Projects until I get some of these old ones out of the way. It's another form of de-cluttering really, finishing what I've started.

 The posts at first will come thick and fast because for a little while because while I've been working intermittently on the Ireland posts, I've also been working somewhat more steadily on some of these other projects. As the posting catches up with the work, it will slow down. But it should be an interesting ride, so see how much of this mental list I can get through - or will I make myself "mental" along the way?

My Big Fat Irish Vacation Day 10: Home Again

Wouldn't you know it? Departure Day dawned bright and clear. Which is undoubtedly a Very Good Thing when you're going to spend the day flying across a rather large chunk of the Atlantic Ocean, but all that was was on my mind was how I really wouldn't have minded taking off in the rain if we could have had those last few hours in Dublin. Because while we had seen a lot and done a lot, it was sinking in how much we hadn't done and hadn't seen. Ireland is a small island, but it isn't that small, and all the places missed were running through my mind. Donagal, Dungarvan, Wicklow, Waterford, Kerry - the place names run like a song.

Playing the bodhrain in Dublin
 Dublin Airport continued to amaze. Clean, fairly easy to find our way around in - and we were actually able to get a half way decent breakfast. And the customs agents were pleasant and managed to not make us feel like livestock. All of which was good because not only was I not thrilled about my vacation ending, I'm never happy to be in a airport. I don't enjoy being in a metal tube with several hundred other people and thrown through the air at a few hundred miles an hour.

 At least I knew what to expect now with Aer Lingus, and could look forward to another episode of Top Gear. It was the US end of things I was dreading, and rightfully so - for all the talk of international customs, the US security was much more unpleasant, and JFK was dirty, noisy, and we weren't on the ground 10 minutes before I saw a fist fight. Yep, welcome home, girl. The US flight that was miserable - nothing like being crammed in like an unwilling sardine with a bunch over-excited folk bound for Disney. Though in all fairness, the kids were fine. The parents, on the other hand....

Connemara Road
So where does that leave me? Wanting to go back. Often and badly. I literally dream about Ireland. And while much of it is beautiful and fascinating, what I really fell in love with were the people I met. I know full well that folk are pretty much the same everywhere you go, good uns and bad uns, fair and foul, but I was charmed by the people I met.
St Patrick's Cathedral at Rock of Cashel

So what now? Well, we're saving our pennies, planning for another trip, hopefully set up better now that we've gotten our feet wet. Tom sent off all the birth certificates, wedding certificates, and all the rest on Saint Patricks Day - it seemed appropriate - and is now officially an "Irish citizen of Foreign Birth By Right of Descent." So retiring to Ireland is still an option. And if I get my own mother's birth registered, I also have that prerogative - it doesn't do to forget I have my own ties in County Clare (t'is great Whalen country! as I was often told) and Dublin.

So with that, I'll end the Ireland saga with a favorite version of a favorite song. And while it was sung by Mary Black when they signed the Easter Accord in 1998, this is our favorite version.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Big Fat Irish Vacation Day 9: Kilkenny to Dublin

The sun was shining the next morning, but I was not. Oversoft hotel bed? Aching bones from a new front coming through? Still being pissed off about leaving the music before I was ready? Or maybe the vacation was just reaching its natural end. I don't know. But I was not an especially happy camper.

But I have to give the Clubhouse Hotel credit. The breakfast was not the best I had in Ireland - that credit belongs to a couple of the B&Bs - but the dining room was amazing. I'd never really appreciated the term "Georgian" before. I felt like I had been dropped into an episode of "Upstairs Downstairs" and was terrified Hudson would find me not at all suitable. I found a picture on the web that kind of captures at least some of it, but still doesn't do justice to the experience of being surrounded by something so elegant. The dead animal parts were no longer on the walls, but the plaster work and sporting prints certainly were, a testimony to the history of the place, which started as a clue for the local Hunt back in the day and eventually became a hotel. Only recently has it stooped to having to cater to noisy American in blue jeans and trainers, poor thing.

Dining Room at Clubhouse Hotel

Tom and I put together a battle plan. Get up to Dublin, drop off the car, take a bus into Dublin for a last look around and be ready to catch the plane in the morning. One thing high on the agenda was a stop by Bray to see where his grandfather had been born and raised. Bray is just south of Dublin, so it all seemed quite do-able in the bright light of morning. So off we set.

We were hoping for another evening in Dublin, maybe a walk along the Liffey.
 We had kind of forgotten that Ireland we had been driving in the countryside and small towns. Driving the freeways of Dublin to get to the turnoff to Bray was a bit unnerving, especially as it put us in the thick of the heavy truck traffic heading for the port. Things didn't get better when we got to Bray. Not only were our maps outdated, but there was a lot of road work going on. The locals were only a little less frustrated and aggravated than we were. It was with great relief we found a place to ditch the car so we could get out and walk. That turned out not to be that great an improvement as we never did get a clear mental map of the place to help us keep our bearings. We kept getting tangled up. End-of-vacation fatigue was definitely setting in.

It says a lot that we were actually grateful to see a McDonald's. Partly to get a cup of coffee without having to worry about what to call the sort of coffee we wanted, partly because the Irish haven't seemed to have discovered the rest stop yet and we had been driving for quite a while. Tom had hoped to go by the school where his grandfather had taught. But the confusion with the maps, the construction and the realization that our instructions were really bad, made us decide that was not going to happen. The school is a private residence now, and all we could have done is drive by anyway. Still, it was a huge disappointment. We walked around Bray, and decided that Grandpa had the right idea when he left the place. Though in fairness to Bray, did it really have a fair chance, considering its streets were a torn up shambles, Tom was in a bad mood and the shifting weather fronts were making my bones ache so I was  feeling nasty? Let's give Bray a break and say there was some bias on the part of the judges.

Every man and his dog was complaining about the traffic in Bray

We headed back to Dublin with an eye towards returning the car, checking into the hotel, and taking a bus back to the city center for one last look around. Weren't we going to be the savvy travelers? But by the time we got done topping off the gas tank - the second time we'd put gas in the car, by the way, and the first time we'd done it mostly out of a sense of paranoia, not out of any need - and getting caught in the round-about and taking the wrong road not once not twice but three times before we finally took the right turn for the airport. And THEN going through all kinds of hell getting to the actual hotel - why is it always so hard to navigate around airports?!!! - the promised change in the weather had set in and the mild but blustery weather we'd had while filling up the car had turned into a cold driving rain that verged on sleet. Just getting off the bus and getting up to the hotel took my breath away. Taking a bus into Dublin for a final look-see was out of the question. So our final night in Ireland was going to be spent in the confines of a very American style hotel. Not exactly the plan, but a case of pneumonia is not exactly the sort of souvenir one wants to take home.

                                                          Mr. & Mrs. Eileen O'Duill, Speakers Bureau Photo                                                                    Eileen found all the Irish documents we're needing for Tom's Irish citizenship.

All was not lost, however. I had managed to get hold of the gal who'd been gathering up the Irish documents on Tom's paper chase. The originals she has sent us had been lost in the mail, and rather than risk that happening again, we'd agreed to meet while we were in Ireland so she could hand-deliver them. Our hotel wasn't too far from her home, so she drove over. I was impressed that she insisted on coming over right away because it was rush hour and the weather was foul even by Irish standards, which I think are rather high on that count. But Eileen was lovely and delivered the birth and marriage certificates into our hands so now all we had to do was pair them with the American documents and return them to Ireland for Tom to get his dual citizenship. And hope that bunch doesn't get lost as well! Still, I was very impressed with anybody who could come out in such miserable weather so late in the day and seem so happy about it.

So instead of taking a last look-see at Dublin, and seeing if we could find where my great-grandfather had been born on the Temple Bar, we wound up eating at the hotel restaurant, organizing our luggage, and watching television. Not the last night we had planned at all.

Being a capital city, Dublin has lots of statues. Most of them are on high pedestals, but some of much more accessible. The locals, true to form, have given them less than reverent nick names. I'll finish this entry with some of my favorites. Three statues that I really enjoyed, and two that just baffled me.

The three I liked:

On Earl Street, James Joyce, aka "The Prick With The Stick"
On Grafton Street, Molly Malone, the "Broad with the Cod" or the "Trollop with the Scallops"

                  At Dublin Park, Oscar Wilde, "The Fag on the Crag." The different colors of his clothes were obtained by used stones of different colors.

The Two That Baffled Me take some explaining. First off, they actually shared the same sight, on what is now O'Connell Street by the main Post Office in Dublin. First off, the English erected a monument to Admiral Nelson here in 1808, putting one up in Dublin even before they got around to putting one up in London. Put that under the heading of "Things That Make You Go Hmmmmm."

Apparently the locals were not charmed by the presence of Admiral Lord Nelson, or impressed with his statue being atop the "tallest Doric column in the world," because the IRA blew it up in 1966. That might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but they were probably having doubts when the Irish government began replacing Pillar.

First was this sculpture of "Anna Livea," which is supposed to be a personification of the River Liffey as per James Joyce. I've included two shots so you can truly appreciate this thing's awfulness.
Side view

No, this is not elongated or distorted.
The river is supposed to be "represented by a young woman sitting on a slope with water flowing past her." The locals didn't buy it for a minute. She was quickly dubbed "The Floozie in the Jacuzzi" and the "Whore in the Sewer" (give it the local pronunciation of "hoo-er" and you'll get it). I doubt there were many tears shed when this thing was moved off O'Connell Street to a small park in 2001. Little did they know what was about to be visited upon them. Namely....

The Dublin Spire ---

The official name of this thing is The Millennium Spire. The locals prefer such names as "The Stiletto in the Ghetto" and "The Nail in the Pale;" "The Pale" being the area of Ireland under direct English control in the late Middle Ages. (hence the term "beyond The Pale.") Nobody seems quite certain what this thing represents. I found some literature that rattled on about "Ireland's promise in the new century while harkening back to her storied past," but that sounds like International ArtSpeak to me. The shape is supposed to recall ancient standing stones, and there are some sort of kind of rune-like things on it, but it's being out of polished steel messes up that image. At least it is a convenient meeting place. You can't confuse it with anything else, and since at 400 feet high it's the tallest thing in Dublin, you can't miss it.

But seeing as what came after, you have to believe if the boys in the IRA had known what was going to come next, if they might have thought twice about toppling the old Admiral and just wondered off to a nearby pub for a refreshing pint.