Thursday, September 25, 2014

What's in a Name?

Since the inception of my blog, every year I post a photo on 9/11 as a tribute to the tragedies of that fateful day. As a native New Yorker, it still kinda wigs me out that there's no World Trade Center on the horizon as I drive down the West Side Highway. It was "the landmark" that oriented me from any position in lower Manhattan. This year, I visited the Memorial. It was crowded and I couldn't find a place at the edge of the fountain to peer into the cascading waters. I just wanted to reflect on the loss, say a prayer and remind myself that this was once the site of special times that involved school trips, out of town family visits, dinners atop Windows on the World and one of my first post-college jobs at an insurance company whose name totally escapes me now. I walked through the park questioning why anyone would want a smiling, goofy selfie at the fountain edge and I was truly curious about the mindset involved in such a seemingly odd juxtaposition.

I finally found a spot and bellied up to the rail to look over the edge. It was more powerful than a thought and surprisingly loud yet so peaceful. I had a moment of private contemplation and then after a minute, looked down where my hands were resting at the base of someone's name as they are carved into the entire perimeter of the memorial -- all 2,606 names. There was a man's name, no one I knew but someone I immediately connected to in the blink of eye. There … carved into the ledge of the memorial was my surname. I didn't personally know anyone killed in the 9/11 attacks, nevertheless a family member. It was surreal to say the least and cosmically "wow", that the universe and throngs of people had directed me right to that spot. Even though it's late and passed the anniversary date ...tonight, I'll say a special prayer for all the victims, their families and s special one for Michael.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fountain Pen Madness

My DIY Pen Box pictorial….

There aren't any truly noteworthy pens here but I like each of them for one reason or another but they were starting to add up. In the end, a home was required to satisfy the neat-nick that is IamKnitGuy!

The box….it was an old valet.

Built the supports with paint stirrers. Note to self, cutting paint stirrers with an exacto knife requires a lot more strength than knitting and penmanship practice develops....


Bottom layer….because who in their right mind would think one layer of pens is enough!


Support for top tray. I have no saw/cutting mechanism but the exacto knife so I improvised with some balsam wood. Really easy to cut but had to layer it.


Top layer with tabs to lift top tray out to get to bottom layer of pens… clever is that!


Finished except for some sanding, additional glue and polishing/touch ups on the wood...


The top of the box has a lovely spot for a photo but I wanted it to be just plain glass so you could see the pens. Unfortunately, I couldn't anchor the glass and stop it from rattling about when I opened and closed the lid. In the end, it was pen p0rn to the rescue and this project was written!
Hey, they're not all golden!

I'm not a handy guy, a bit crafty but not handy. In the end, I'd have to say, anyone could do this and I recommend it to any pen enthusiast! Thanks to FPN and all their posters, I would have never figured this out on my own!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Should This Be That?

So I'm thinking once the Henry scarf is done … this stunningly soft, white alpaca (that I got while attending one of the men's spring knitting retreats) should become this cowl! This yarn is one of those yarns that has to be made into something that has the freedom to move about and brush up against you. And yes, it's that yummy!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

La Maison d'IamKnitGuy

Almost a year! In my last entry, Fall had just begun and I had just returned from an amazing trip to Tuscany and Paris. I haven't done much knitting since then. Florida isn't really conducive to knitting, it's too hot and it's hot all year long.

I really hate when people insert colored paper inside their Christmas cards and type an 'update' about what's been going on in their lives. "Suzie laughed at her first fart and Dave laughed and then I laughed and before we knew it, it was Spring!" Yes, I hate that catch-up/catch-all but here's my Christmas card insert in one paragraph….

I turned 50 this year. It's kind of big but comes with surprisingly, little, midlife fanfare. I was in Paris at the stroke of 50 (yes, yet again), having cake at Cafe Carette on Place de Vosges in the Marais. It's my favorite place in Paris. I'm determined that while I live, breath and have access to a Visa card, I will go there every year. I've been studying French as well. I hired a tutor from France and I'm taking an online class from the local college, first college class in 30 years! I'm not sure I understand how you can get a degree online (there's so many easy ways to cheat) but it's working for me and my motto of "Fluent in '15", so we persevere on! I will return to Europe this Winter with destinations in Amsterdam, Dusseldorf/Cologne and Paris. My fantasy of seeing Paris under a veil of snow and me bundled up to walk her streets with Mother Nature has been foretold in my mind's eye so I'm setting off to make it so.

And with that, my Christmas card is completed and I set off with a renewed vengeance back to my blog … my knitting blog! We're going to Europe in Winter and that my friends will require hats, gloves, scarfs maybe a cowl or even fingerless mitts with pop over little mittens in one! There are so many patterns stuffed in my knitting queue, I don't know where to start! With all this swirling around in my head, I decided there's no better place to keep track of what I'm doing than back here at La Maison d'IamKnitGuy!

First project up is a blast from the past … the Henry Scarf that I started years ago and have knit over the years in spurts of 5-10 rows every 4-6 months! Needless to say, it's gotten a bit longer over time and about 5 rows to the last ball of yarn. I discovered a mistake about 30 rows back and actually, successfully pulled the needle, ripped back and got the needle back in! Yes, I had to use the 10X magnifying lamp fully equipped with the "I could land a plane in the African jungle" light but we ripped and we got the needle back into 49 beautifully, righted stitches. Big deal in these parts!

Expect to see a mix of project progress and pointless chatter about fountain pens & French!

I'll leave you with a few shots from my birthday trip … and photos don't count as additional paragraphs, I don't care what you say!

Flew first class for the first time and arrived to this view from the hotel

Visited famous monuments, statues and castles.

Had cake on my birthday and a lot of Veuve Clicquot!

Took a cooking class and learned to make chocolate croissants!

Visited the hall of mirrors at Versailles so I could take a selfie. See, old yet very progressive!

À bientôt mes amis! J.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

It's been a while and a lot has been happening at casa IamKnitGuy. For starters, we're back from Joe's European Adventure! I had the good fortune this Summer to be invited by old friends to their amazing palazzo in Tuscany. With about 10 seconds of decision making time, I decided to go and add on a week in Paris for fun!

My hosts couldn't be more wonderful! I haven't seen these friends in about 17-18 years and when I emailed them via StupidFace (I suppose it has its merits) and said we should have dinner in NY over Christmas, they were elated. In ten additional seconds, they had made reservations at an amazing french bistro in Greenwich Village and from there, the plan to join them in August in Italy was laid over several bottles of wine!

Honestly, I didn't think it was a bonafide offer but when the email came in June with all the details, I knew an adventure awaited. I arrived exhausted in Rome in the early morning and set off for Tuscany via taxi, rail and donkey.

To say these friends have done well for themselves would be an understatement -- I hate them. LOL. The house is spectacular and with the bounty of a stocked garden, we ate like kings in that simple, Tuscan style. Who knew tomatoes had so much flavor? I devoured pizza and drank coffee like a guy on death row! The view from the patio, overlooking the Tuscan countryside greeted me every morning!

At every meal, I was overwhelmed by the simple beauty in every detail.

While I was in Tuscany, I was fortunate to attend the Palio in Siena. It was an incredible parade of medieval couture and crescendo'd with a 2 minute barbaric, high-speed horse race around the square for 10 bareback riders! It was absolutely exhilarating! I have never seen the running of the bulls but it had that same quality! These medieval "games" were celebrated all over Tuscany with the locales flying their "contras" flags in support of the their "parish's" local boy in whatever race was happening in that town. You can't tell from these photos but 10,000 people were in the square and what erupted at the end of the race was something else!

This was in Chuisi and the boys were jousting in the town square!

They even "threw the flag" like in Under the Tuscan Sun with Diane Lane!

No photo can do it justice, so here's a video shot at the Palio just this year. If you look into the distance, you can see me sitting in the stands. I heard someone say that one year, they want to be on the "floor" of the square. I thought, "yeah, and New Year's Eve at Times Square always sounds like a good idea until you're there". It's worth the watch - it's only 3 minutes! And the mayhem at the end of the video is not to be missed!

One night, our hosts had dinner engagements, and we were left to our own devices.

Fran: We should have wine.
Fran: Where is the wine?
ME: In the little "cellar" off the kitchen.
Fran: OK
[in the cellar]
Fran: OMG, this bottle is 450 Euros
ME: Put that one down.
Fran: This one is 500 Euros
ME: Don't break that.
Fran: This one has a note attached to the neck of the bottle. "To my darling, on the year of your birth".
ME: Step away from the wine and let's just have gin and tonics.

As chance would have it, I happened on a box of wine on the floor. We knew we'd be safe with that one and starting filling pitchers. In the morning, with the half empty box of wine on the kitchen counter, we were questioned why we would drink boxed wine when there were so many other choices. We laughingly told him of our predicament and repeatedly said things like "my darling, from the year of your birth" in our most aristocratic accents but he just laughed telling us he didn't even know who gave him that bottle of wine. We stopped laughing at that point but made a plan to have one of the other bottles later that night. But in the end, I didn't get a hangover from the cheap stuff so it was a win/win!

I swam away the afternoons, wrote in my journal, read my tawdry gay romance novel with the two hunky FBI agents while my pals read the history of the Arch Duke Ferdinand. Pish.

Like every sunset throughout my stay, a week of amazing food and great company came to an end far quicker than expected. Travel day to Paris was a complete race. We left late for the station, barely had time to figure out how to buy a ticket at the kiosk ... in Italian. I had 4 minutes to make my connection in Florence due to a late arrival. There were only about 16 tracks in the entire station but of course with 4 minutes to spare, I arrived at track 15 and my connection was on track 1A. Really? Scrambled to make the train and I arrived at the Pisa airport exhausted for the worst flight ever with RyanAir -- a commuter airline in and around Europe. No seat assignments and when the masses boarded, I could only think I was back at the Palio! I had paid the best $10 Euros ever and was lucky to have an actual seat so I avoided the horrible bunch of pushing people. They actually charge something like $40 Euros for every kilo over 15 kilos your suitcase weighed. What? My suitcase was 16 kilos but I just smiled at the agent and a hand was waived and my bag went right through. Hey, I still got it, what can I say?

I arrived at Hotel du Louvre and was astonished. I saw this hotel, meer steps from the Louvre museum on my trip in 2011 but didn't realize it was the one I was going to be staying at this year. The location is amazing and the view from my room was directly up the road to the Opera House in the distance. Floor to ceiling french doors overlooking the street and I sat there in the window every morning with my morning coffee, wearing my plush hotel robe and watched people making their way around the city.

I'm just going to say it. Bread is a religious experience in France. There's no way to get around it, it's consistency is just something else! I indulged quite a bit ... at every single meal!

Since I was there in 2011, I didn't have too many touristy things on my list. I had a handful of fountain pen stores that I had to see as well as some yarn shops. A paper store that I was told was amazing and plans to wander the Marais in search of the perfect jeans. The Musee d'Orsay and Beef Bourguignon rounded out the week.

This was the paper store everyone said I had to see. It was right out of a period film and the owner was as nice as can be. I wanted to live upstairs but they told me ... well, no.

I found the jeans, struck out on the pens and had my Beef Bourguignon and a couple of surprises along the way. I was feeling pretty awesome in the new jeans until I saw 1) the price tag and 2) practically EVERY guy in Paris looks like this guy. And yes, I took a photo of a stranger's ass. Hey, I'm the tacky American. No one seemed to notice, I think it happens a lot!

Rented a bike one day to tool around the city. They should put up a sign...death machines, ride at your own risk. I can not tell you how many times, I almost got run over. I took a trip down the Seine, went to see the Eifel tower do its nightly, disco light thing and went out quite a bit for cocktails!

And of course, there was dessert every night.

And got some great shots of the Louvre when I visited Musee d'Orsay. These giant clocks pepper the perimeter of the museum and once to the top of the building you can look out these clock images and onto the Seine and Louvre. I was feeling artsy this day!

Once I got to the next destination, that was a bit outside the center of town, I didn't really mind because the view was spectacular and the metro got me right into town in 10 minutes!

And yes, I tried to crop out the air conditioning vents and banquet space rooftops but hey, look out there ... you can't beat that view!

And this hotel had a dessert bar, as much as you want!

I didn't really mean to hit places like Notre Dame and the Louvre but you can't help yourself when the noon bells at Notre Dame start tolling and street performers are on every corner, you just seem drawn to it!

I went off in search of the gay district of Paris and totally got lost the first day. Yes, I went back. But I wandered around and happened upon a bunch of fun things and it was the day I used the giant public toilet that self cleaned itself between every user. I was pretty happy since I have the weakest bladder in the free world!

This homeless guy was feeding pigeons and singing on the top of his lungs across from this family moving out of their apartment. The moving guy told me that the doors are too small so they use the french windows and the hydraulic lifting machine thingy brings the furniture down to the street to be loaded right onto the truck. I said to the moving guy "well, necessity is the mother of all invention" He told me, "we have that phrase in french ... La nécessité est la mère de toute invention." I didn't remember it, I looked up for the post. ;-) He was really nice to me and chatted with me like he had nothing else to do but I did have the new jeans on. joking...price tag, remember...1 euro = 75 cents!

In the end, an amazing time all around. I can't remember if I ever took 2.5 weeks off from work and really disconnected from the world. No email, no phone .... no nothing. Everyone should do it!

I promised myself I wouldn't go back to France again unless I learned enough French to get around. Well I'm certainly not staying away from that bread, so when I got home I immediately enrolled in a conversational French class at the local college. Step 1...check!

I'll leave you with some random shots ... and a hearty Bonne Nuit!

And yes, no trick's Dr. Who in French!