Monday, April 30, 2007

Sockapalooza 4!

Sock pals have been matched up for Sockapalooza 4! Have you looked up your pal yet?

I'm totally psyched about knitting for my pal. Although I'm technically on a yarn diet (which I admittedly already broke by buying yarn in Japan), I'm allowing myself one lapse to buy yarn to make a wedding present for some friends getting married this fall. I'm quite willing to let the lapse include some special yarn for my sock pal, too.

Happy knitting to all you Sockapaloozers! Can't wait to see all those socks in August!

Kyoto, Day 9: More Cute Japanese Kids

This is my final travelblog post! Just in time for me to shut down the blog for finals, which are approaching WAY too soon. There may be some intermittent posting about knitting, baking, or both in the next week and a half or so, but mostly I'll be buried in my books.

But, before that happens, I need to write about my last day in Kyoto (which seems such a long time ago now!). On that day, the Chairman's company had a special open house for its employees. The open house seemed oriented primarily towards families with kids, but the Chairman took the Chairwoman, me, and GPG along so we could see what his company is like.

I didn't take very many pictures while we were there, partly because 1) office buildings aren't all too special, even if they are in Japan; and 2) I was running out of memory in my camera! But it was generally a nice event. There were presentations about what the company does (which includes making instruments that measure various things, like pH and infrared emissions), and we also got to go around to various stations to try out the company's products, like an instrument that can remotely measure the temperature of an item. Some of these instruments were in fact pretty cool.

We also got to go on a tour of some of the company's buildings, and there was a welcome committee at each location. Each committee asked a multiple-choice trivia question about the company ("How many customers for such-and-such product did we have last year?"), and if you got it right, you got to put a stamp on a little bingo grid that the company provided. We all then trooped back to the main conference room where the open house was based and played bingo. The bingo winners got to choose a prize from a variety of little wrapped presents. Like I said, it was mostly for kids, but nevertheless it was a very nice event to have visited.

So, speaking of kids, I took pictures of a few of them. As I mentioned earlier, all Japanese kids are very, very cute. I did not see a single un-cute kid during my entire time there.

I don't understand how they can all be so gosh-darn CUTE. Some of them certainly don't keep the cuteness as they grow up. I wonder where it all goes.

I especially liked this little girl below. Her parents knew English and were very nice to us, the poor foreigners who couldn't understand a single word of what was being said at the entire open house. They told us that their daughter's Japanese name means "Seven Seas." Isn't that pretty?

The open house took most of the day. We then ran around the city buying up some last-minute souvenirs. As it probably always happens with these sorts of long trips, we finally had figured out the lay of the land . . . and then we had to leave!

GPG and I had a great time in Kyoto. It's a really intriguing mix of modern and historical, with modern buildings on one block, traditional temples on another, and teeny tiny houses all crammed in between. And although I was a bit disappointed to have missed the cherry blossoms and more blooming green things, I was glad that we missed most of the tourist crowds--we definitely noticed more foreigners showing up in the last few days we were there. For a first trip to Japan, this trip was a really good one.

Thanks for your patience and indulgence while I travelblogged our trip to Kyoto. I'm really glad that I wrote everything up, because even now I look at some of the pictures I took and have only a faint memory of the place and what we did there. I can't promise a great deal of knitting content for the next month or so, as finals and moving come up, but eventually we'll return to our regularly scheduled knitting programming.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Peanut butter cookies

I'm still on a cookie-baking rampage here at Chez Seedless Grape. I realize that it's arguably somewhat irrational to buy more ingredients (like butter and eggs) just to use existing ingredients (like peanut butter and chocolate chips) up, but I think everyone is entitled to a little irrationality around finals time. And the butter and eggs are ingredients that will eventually get used somehow before I move out of my apartment after graduation . . . chocolate chips, not so much, unless they go into cookies.

So, bring on the cookies! I made these peanut butter cookies on Friday night to use up some peanut butter. I actually ended up not having enough peanut butter, which threw the proportion of ingredients out of whack. As a result, these cookies don't really have the traditional criss-cross hatching on them that signify peanut butter cookies--they were too soft to really hold the hatch marks. But I think they actually taste quite good.

I still have quite a lot of chocolate chips left, though. More chocolate chip cookies are in store . . . maybe. My first tests are on Thursday and Friday of this week, so studying is starting to kick into high gear. If I don't make the cookies, I can always make . . . brownies, too!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Eye Candy Friday: Life as a 3L

Being a 3L means . . .

Making chocolate chip cookies a week and a half before final exams!

I never would have taken the time to make cookies when I was a 1L or 2L. At least, not just a week and a half before exams. It's unbelievably nice to have slightly different priorities as a 3L.

Have a great weekend!

Fourth time's a charm . . . ?

I am still struggling with the current socks on the needles. I tried a plain stockinette sock first, but I wasn't really digging the stockinette for some reason. Then I tried the Monkey pattern, which knit up prettily but provided no stretch. On my third attempt, I tried the Hedera pattern, with hopes that the lace would knit up nice and stretchy. I have no documentation of this attempt because I only did a few rounds of the lace pattern before ripping out yet again; I found the pattern to be too fiddly for my tastes, and my backward yarnovers (i.e., purl stitch, yarnover, knit stitch) were not showing up properly, which made the lace lopsided.

My fourth try is the Elfine pattern from Amelia at My Fashionable Life. Although I'm still somewhat dissatisfied, I've given up on finding a good pattern for myself and have decided to persevere with the pattern and give the socks to someone else. Clearly, I was not meant to make socks for myself out of this yarn.

(Please excuse the bad pictures. I was in a rush before leaving for school today.)

The pattern is knitting up nicely with this yarn (yay! no pooling!), but the circumference is a little wider for my foot than I'd prefer. Nevertheless, I decided that I was tired of frogging this skein of Koigu and have kept going, with the intent of finishing the pair and sending them off to live with a friend. I will never get through the stash if I keep knitting the same ball of yarn over and over again!

One thing I have appreciated about the pattern, though, is that it has given me a chance to try Gleek's modified short-row heel. Gleek noticed that handknit socks often use the same number of stitches for the short-row heel as for the instep, but store-bought socks work their heels over more stitches than the instep. So she suggests increasing a few stitches for the heel just a few rows before you actually work the short-row heel. I've only just finished the heel, so I don't know how the entire sock will look just yet, but it seems to fit all right:

Here's how the stitch pattern sort of looks (bad picture, I know):

The sock is a bit loose because the intended recipient has bigger feet than I do. And the flash was way too bright in the picture. But at least you can see the diamonds of the pattern a little bit.

The sock has been put on hold for the past few days, though, because I'm busy trying to knit up another graduation hat. The Odessas have been given away, and I think they were a nice surprise, so now I'm trying to work up a good sturdy ribbed hat for a male friend, who I don't think would appreciate beads. Once that hat's taken care of, I'll hopefully be able to power through these Elfines.

Posting will be sparse over the next week and a half, though, due to finals. But I hope you have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Kyoto, Day 8: Himeji

On our eighth and penultimate full day in Kyoto, GPG and I took the train out to see Himeji Castle, one of Japan's "Three Famous Castles" and one of the oldest surviving structures from medieval Japan. It is truly an impressive structure, clearly built with military defense in mind. The castle is built on a hill, with five graduated floors:

You got to climb extraordinarily steep stairs to go all the way up to the top, and on the way you could see that each floor has lots of weapon racks, lookout windows, and hidden positions where reinforcements could hide. The castle walls all had gun/arrow slits and were very, very thick. Each entrance to the castle had a massive gate and watchtowers.

I didn't take too many pictures at Himeji because my camera was running out of memory. I was also getting tired of taking pictures in general. I only took the expected panorama pictures:

As a result, I don't have much documentation for our eighth day in Japan. The train ride to Himeji from Kyoto took about two hours, so visiting the castle pretty much took up the whole day. So, I've decided to use the rest of this post to include some miscellaneous pictures of some of the things I really liked in Japan, such as . . .

. . . The light festival that was currently going on at the time. All the temples in the eastern part of the city (Kiyomizudera, Choen-In, etc.) and the Gion area were lit up with special lights at night for about two weeks. The Chairpeople told me that the city puts on this event to draw both tourists and residents out at a time when the cold weather would usually keep people indoors. Although the picture below shows just one example of some of the lights that were put out, there were all sorts of lanterns lighting up the streets in this area of the city. Each street had unique lights, and a lot of them were very beautiful.

I also liked these turtle rolls at one of the bakeries in the basement of one of Kyoto's major department stores:

All the major department stores in Kyoto are monstrous. They are multiple stories tall and feature every kind of imaginable retail ware, from many-thousand-dollar suits to kimonos to stuffed animals to stationery. In the basement floors (at least one floor, sometimes two) there are vast food court-type areas selling ready-made food for customers to take home. Although the food is pretty pricey in general, it's also pretty mouth-watering and, of course, beautifully presented. I saw these turtle rolls and thought they were very cute.

Divisadero commented a few days ago that the Japanese taste range is somewhat delicate, thus producing baked goods and desserts that are a little too bland for the Western palate. I think that this is generally correct. A perfect example is GPG, who isn't a big fan of any kind of Asian dessert or baked good for precisely this reason. But I guess that, having grown up eating a fair number of Asian breads and desserts, I'm used to it. That's probably why I really liked Japanese toast:

This is the breakfast of champions in Kyoto.

I normally don't like eating buttered toast in the States, but I was mad for Japanese toast and butter during our time in Kyoto. The butter was really, really good (I don't eat enough butter to be able to articulate just why I thought it was so delicious, but I just liked it a lot), and I loved eating it on Japanese toasted bread, which is twice as thick as regular American bread:

The bread is thick and has a fluffy-soft consistency. I couldn't eat enough of it while we were there. In fact, I really miss it now!

And, lastly, one of the things I really liked about Japan is the CUTE KIDS. All the children I saw in Japan were inordinately cute. They didn't necessarily grow up to be cute or otherwise attractive grown-ups, but I don't think I ever saw a single kid in Japan who wasn't cute. Here is a prime example:

You can't tell me she's not cute.

Next up: Even MORE cute kids from our last day in Kyoto!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Odessa X 3

I was quite scatterbrained this morning and left more than a few things at home by accident. One of these things was my camera, with some pictures of the chocolate chip cookies I made last night. Since I can't blog about those, I searched through the pictures I actually have saved on my computer and remembered these:

Three Odessas, ready to be given away as graduation presents to friends at school.

Your eyes don't deceive you--the blue one is, in fact, larger than the purple ones. The Odessa pattern fits my head pretty well, but I've discovered that I have a somewhat small head (at least, compared to all the people for whom I've made hats). I wanted to make these graduation presents a little bit bigger, just in case.

Unfortunately, making the blue one bigger ate into a second ball of the RYC Cashsoft DK I was using--enough so that I'm pretty sure I can't squeeze another full-size Odessa out of it, as I had hoped. So I made the purple ones to spec, and I just hope that they'll fit. I will make a smaller, kid-sized Odessa out of the remaining blue yarn I have left.

I had complained earlier about how the beads don't really show up very well on the light purple yarn. This is still the case, but they're more visible when the hat is actually worn. Nevertheless . . . I think a better combination of beads and yarn would have been ideal.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Kyoto, Day 7: Nishijin and the Katsura Imperial Villa

On our seventh day in Kyoto, GPG and I split up in the morning. I wanted to go to the Nishijin Textile Center, which was having an open house, and he wanted to go back to some places like Ginkakuji to see if he could get some better photographs. Plus, he wasn't so interested in textiles, whereas I had read up on how famed Kyoto is for its traditional handicrafts, so I really wanted to go to this open house. So we parted ways and I ran off to Nishijin to feast my eyes on all things crafty.

The textile center certainly didn't disappoint. I spent most of the morning ogling fabric and peering over weavers' shoulders at their work:

Isn't that fabric beautiful? I took a picture just as the weaver pulled some of her bobbins of thread to capture all the different choice she had.

As the fabric and bobbins above suggest, the weaver was handling very thin thread for a very tight weave. Nishijin is famous for "fingernail" weaving, which involves thread so fine that the weaver actually files teeth into his or her fingernails to help compact the threads into fabric once they've been woven. (Although I was quite awed by the weaving, I really know no weaving terminology, so I won't even try to speak technically.) It was really quite impressive.

This older gentleman was working at an even bigger loom:

And his weaving was even more complex. You can see in the picture below all the different bobbins he had. And, to complicate things even more, I discovered that the weavers actually weave with the wrong side of the fabric facing up. If you look in the picture, there's actually a mirror below the weaving that shows the weaver what the right side of the fabric actually looks like. You can see a beautiful golden flower in the mirror towards the left-hand side of the fabric. Incredible!

Even more amazingly, I think the mirror was there primarily for observers, like me, because it was quite apparent that the weaver knew exactly what he was doing and didn't have to hesitate to think about the pattern he was weaving.

Here's a better picture of the wrong side of some woven fabric:

And here is what that fabric looks like on the right side:

Isn't that just absolutely beautiful? I was so amazed to see this fabric getting produced before my very eyes!

The textile center also had a kimono fashion show to display all the latest kimono fashions. This was a treat because the kimonos being modeled were much more fancy and elaborate than most of the kimonos GPG and I saw on the street, either on geishas-for-a-day or regular civilians. I took this picture to show the beautiful bow the obi was tied into in back:

As you can see, the bow is elaborate and the sleeves of the kimono are quite long. The Chairwoman told me an obi bow shaped like a butterfly indicates that the wearer is unmarried! The obi of a married woman is much more sedate and simple--really, just a plain gathering of the fabric into a flat roll. In addition, the sleeves of a kimono correspond inversely to the wearer's age. Younger women's kimono sleeves are almost as long as the kimono itself, while older women's sleeves are shorter.

They displayed all types of kimonos at the fashion show--bright and elaborate for younger women, and more toned-down for older women. If you look closely, you can see that the woman at the very bottom of the frame (in the light blue) is modeling a plain, rolled obi for married women.

And what would be a visit to a weaving center without trying out weaving personally? They gave me a very simple loom:

And I wove with very thick thread:

It was nothing special, but it certainly was interesting just to get an idea of the mechanics of weaving. My little piece of fabric got sealed on the ends with glue and cut with scissors:

Although the fabric was nowhere near as beautiful as what the fingernail weavers were making, it was enough to get me interested in weaving. I can't start any time soon, but I would really like to learn some day.

While I was weaving, I noticed this:

And then THIS:

And before I left Nishijin, I went crazy and bought up loads and loads of beautiful silk yarn. I still haven't properly documented it yet for the blog, and won't be able to for a while (it's in Houston now, and I'm stuck in Austin until finals are over), but I assure you that it's spectacular stuff. I almost felt guilty getting such a good deal, even though I'm sure the textile center felt like it got the better end of the bargain!

After my glorious morning at Nishijin, GPG and I met up in the afternoon to eat lunch and go to the Katsura Imperial Villa. As an Imperial property, Katsura requires visitors to get permission from the Imperial Household Agency for entry. Conveniently, GPG and I were able to do this before we parted ways in the morning.

I didn't take many pictures at Katsura because 1) photography was limited to certain areas, and 2) I was getting a little garden-ed out. (Perhaps you are, too.) But it was a very beautiful property whose gardens are laid out to tell a story to the visitor as the visitor walks through the paths. Each vantage point in the garden provides a unique view of the scenery.

The Katsura gardens are studded with several small teahouses. I took a picture of the most interesting one, which featured blue walls and some blue-and-white checkered panels:

The brochure we received told us that such blue paint, and the checking, were very rare in Japan.

This picture shows the outside of that same teahouse, and you can see the blue-and-white checking inside:

Katsura also features a variety of stone lanterns. Each one is different.

It certainly was a beautiful property. It was the kind of thing that GPG and I had the luxury of seeing as a result of our decision to spend most of our time in Kyoto, because it was quite remote and also provided no English-speaking tour. If we had had less time in the city, we almost certainly would not have gone to see it. But I was glad that we were able to catch it.

Next up: Himeji!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Monkey see, monkey . . . don't

This morning, I reduced this:

. . . to this:

Yes, I took a mostly finished Monkey sock and frogged it.

Although I find the Monkey pattern beautiful, and although it's a fairly easy pattern to knit and remember, I just wasn't enjoying the knitting. The knit-up fabric, as I mentioned earlier, was not very stretchy at all. It was a struggle to get the sock on to my foot, even though it fit all right once it was finally on. I think that knowing that I'd have to tug and pull at the finished product just to put it on ended up dampening my enthusiasm for the pattern. I had the same no-stretchy, no-likey problem a long time ago with the Jaywalker pattern, too.

But, I continue on, undaunted. I've upgraded to the Hedera pattern, which should be stretchier and more comfortable to wear, and I've finished already one repeat of the pattern. Hopefully I can make some bloggable progress this week before my finals lockdown!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Kyoto, Day 6: Sanzen-In and Arashiyama

On our sixth day in Kyoto, the Chairpeople took us to some of the more remote areas of the city. We had a lot of fun and saw a lot of things. But first, we had a DELICIOUS breakfast at the St Marc Bakery.

The bakeries at Japan are absolutely phenomenal. Whenever we were hungry, GPG and I often stopped in bakeries on the street for a break from being tourists, and we never bought a single thing from a bakery that we didn't like. The quality of the baked goods is just amazing--so much higher than anything you'd find in regular bakeries (which are themselves scarce) in the United States.

I had such a good time at St Marc's that I took a picture of all the pastries they offer:

For our breakfast at St Marc, a waiter would bring around freshly baked rolls in a basket. You got to choose what you wanted, and each time the waiter came around, the selection was entirely new. And everything tasted wonderful!

The green roll at the top is a green tea roll. The one on the right was a flaky layered roll with strawberry jam between the layers!

The rolls were all teeny-tiny, too. I think things taste better when they are small.

The brown roll on top is a CHOCOLATE layered roll. So. Yummy.

After stuffing ourselves on miniature rolls at St Marc, we went to see Sanzen-In, another temple. Like Ninna-Ji, Sanzen-In is somewhat on the outskirts of the city, and I think as a result, it has larger grounds and it lets you wander around more.

AND . . . It snowed!

It was pretty crazy. Snow in Kyoto! We got all possible kinds of weather during our trip to Japan.

Someone creative even made tiny snowmen on a wooden bench on the way to the gardens of the temple:

Although it wasn't too cold to walk around, the snow actually stuck around for quite a bit:

There was a shrine in the garden of the temple, and someone had hung up hundreds of folded paper cranes:

As you can see, there's another bib tied to the post from which the cranes are hanging. I still don't know what those are for.

As I mentioned in last week's Eye Candy Friday, Sanzen-In is most famous for some small stone people in its moss garden. There are about five, I think, and they are all very cute. They are in cute little positions and have smiles on their faces.

The one in the foreground of this picture is lying on his stomach with his chin in his hands. There are two in the background who look like they're sharing secrets.

After enjoying the snow at Sanzen-In, we went to Arashiyama, a suburb of northwest Kyoto. It was somewhat later in the day, so we didn't spend so much time there, but we did go to a MONKEY PARK!

The monkey park was pretty fun. You got to hike up a hill and see a colony of Japanese monkeys, all running around free. For someone who likes monkeys (me), it was a terrific thing to do.

I took lots and lots of pictures of monkeys:

There were a lot of baby monkeys running around, too. One had a lot of fun playing on this parked vehicle:

And you had a great view of Kyoto from the hillside:

It was hard to get good close-up pictures of the monkeys, but I managed to get a few:

Many were huddled together in groups to stay warm from the cold:

We had a great time with the Chairpeople in Arashiyama!

Next up: The Nishijin Textile Center!!!! Weaving!!! And YARN!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Retro Rib Socks!

It's been a long time since I posted last, I know, and I apologize. Posting will probably be sparse for the next month or so because finals are rapidly approaching. (Last round of finals EVER! Yee haw!)

Still, I managed to get a fair amount of knitting done over this past weekend. The Retro Rib socks are finally done!

I'm quite pleased with the way they turned out. I like how the pattern is intricate, but simple and easy to memorize--and stretchy, too, to boot. (I ended up ripping my plain stockinette Koigu socks and starting Cookie A's Monkey pattern instead, and although the pattern is lovely, it's not stretchy at all. I'm learning that beautiful but stretchy is key for sock patterns.)

Here are the specs:

Pattern: Retro Rib socks from Interweave Knits
Needles: 16" and 24" Addi Turbo circulars, US 2
Yarn: KnitPicks Essential in Denim
Recipient: GPG's sister in Germany

This is a terrific pattern. It has some variation to make it more interesting than stockinette; it's stretchy to accommodate differently sized feet and legs; the patterning is evident but still subtle and understated; and it knits up fairly quickly on US 2 needles. I'm planning on making some socks for the Violinist in the same pattern in black, and I bet it'll look good then, too.

All in all, I'm pleased. I wasn't so keen on the KnitPicks' yarn, but I won't deny that it knit up into a very nice product. Yay for the Retro Rib!