Category Archives: Travel

Three days in Curacao

During the final days of summer, my husband and I got away from it all for an all too short stay in Curacao, in the Netherlands Antilles.  Every year, we make it a priority to share a few days alone, just the two of us.  The demands of parenting, working and urban living can make it difficult to really spend time together as a couple.  Both of us cherish the oppurtunity to share long rambling conversations, quiet, unhurried meals, and the new experiences that travel brings

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Neither of us can remember where the inspiration for this trip came from (although we both agree it was my idea).  Either way, I’m so glad I did.  Curacao was an ideal place to escape to.  We stayed in gorgeous Willemstad.  It was a pleasure to walk it’s gorgeous, historic streets, visit its numerous museums, and sample the live music, that floats out of nearly every restaurant and bar, in the city’s core.

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Willemstad's floating market

Willemstad’s floating market

On our second day in Curacao, we booked a tour and spent the day out on a catamaran, sailing to the beautiful and unihabited Klein Curacao.  I literally gasped at the sight of this beach, and even a mild sunburn and case of seasickness cannot tarnish the memory of snorkeling with some majestic (and remarkably unconcerned) sea turtles.

The beach on Klein Curacao

The beach on Klein Curacao

Abandoned lighthouse on Klein Curacao

Abandoned lighthouse on Klein Curacao

Shipwreck on Klein Curacao

Shipwreck on Klein Curacao

Our third day in Curacao involved hiding from future sun damage in the lovely Hato caves, and taking a road trip to along Curacao’s coast.  Now that summer’s waning, I’ll be carrying the memory of the warm Carribean breezes with me back to work. While September may mean a return to reality, it also means the beginning of my favourite season, and a chance to curl up and make some progress knitting the cozy fall sweaters I couldn’t fit in my carry-on luggage.

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Visiting Purl Soho

Purl Soho

Purl Soho

Visiting New York City can be a surreal experience.  At least for North Americans, it is the setting for so many of our most beloved movies, tv shows and novels. It can feel like you are visiting a (very crowded) theme park filled with the stores Carrie shops at, the builiding where Liz Lemon works, that toy store from Big, and, of course, Holly Golightly’s most famous breakfast spot. If you’re younger than me, those cultural references may shift to Brooklyn, but either way – New York is a city that feels disconcertingly familiar, even on your first visit.

That surreal familiarity definitely extended to the only place in New York City that I was determined to shop at: Purl Soho. I’ve been to New York a number of times over the years, and I live in a big city, so the shopping in Manhattan never really calls to me.  But that was before I starting following the Purl Bee.  Their beautifully photographed patterns and designs continue to inspire.  We have many fantastic yarn stores at home, but the Purl Bee suggested that this was going to be something really special. I spent a perfect afternoon in Soho with my girlfriends, eating at the L’Ecole (a fantastic restaurant where staff are all being trained in the art of French food), and shopping for yarn.

From the moment I stepped in, I’m pretty sure that the staff knew they were dealing with an unabashed fan girl. I picked through their selection of books, looked at the fabric and wished I could sew or quilt, saving the yarn for last.  It certainly isn’t a place to hunt for bargains, but they have a gorgeous and carefully chosen selection of silks, linens and cashmeres.  I have admired the sweaters and accessories on their blog for years, and then there they were hanging on a rack where you could touch them and try them on.  Like so many other spots in New York, there was that strange feeling of familiarity and admiration. I’ve seen this so many times, but here it is and it’s real.  Trying the sweaters on had a practical purpose too.  I was able to see exactly how they fit, much more clearly than you can from measurements on a pattern.  I could see that the cable back shell I’ve been working on is very short, while the silken tee shirt I bought yarn for is already the perfect length. For anyone else using their patterns from a far, despite what you may have heard about New Yorkers, the sweaters actually fit on the big side.

Silken Straw in Husk on the left and Euroflax Linen in Caribou

Silken Straw in Husk on the left and Euroflax Linen in Caribou

The service was helpful, knowledgable and friendly; they answered questions, printed patterns and wound my yarn, while we shopped across the street.  I cannot wait to cast on with the yarn that I bought: Alchemy Silken Straw is Husk (for the t-shirt) and Euroflax Linen in Caribou (for their raglan).

How yarn used to be made

Life on the (1860's) farm

Life on the (1860’s) farm

On our family vacation last week, we spent a fantastic day together at Upper Canada Village, in Eastern Ontario.  While my son is a little young to grasp much history, he loved the farm animals, train ride, and especially milking a cow (ok, he “helped” me milk a cow, but still!).

I was able to take in some history, when I wasn’t chasing him around the Confederation era farm.  As a knitter, it was the wool factory that really captured my attention.  I didn’t associate Upper Canada in the mid-nineteenth century with the Industrial Revolution, nor do I tend to think of yarn as a factory made commodity, but the woolen factory certainly proved me wrong. The Asselstine Woolen Factory was originally built in 1828.  Between 1828 and the 1930’s, it employed mostly women who carded, spun and wove sheep’s wool into roving, yarn and blankets.  The water powered factory has been restored to working order, using almost exclusively technology from the 1860’s.

The wool, outside the factory, waiting to be carded

The wool, outside the factory, waiting to be carded

Carding machines, where the wool is turned into a thin soft fleecy tape

Carding machines, where the wool is turned into a thin soft fleecy tape

 

Spinning

Spinning

The water turbine, which still powers the factory

The water turbine, which still powers the factory

Large machines carded the wool and spun it into 1-ply for weaving. Some of the 1-ply was then doubled, tripled or quadrupled for knitters to purchase at general stores.  A recreated sign reminded factory workers that while fashionable, hoops and crinolines are unsuitable for work around the large powerful machines.

Today water still runs through the turbines, and the huge nineteenth century machines still turn the wool into 1-ply for weaving into blankets and 2-ply for purchase in the Village Store.  I bought a few skeins of the wool in black and soft pink.  It’s much thicker than the 2-ply you would buy at most yarn stores, and is much closer to worsted weight.  I can’t wait to turn it into some classic mitts to remind everyone of our family vacation – any thoughts on a pattern?

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Opening what was closed: my weekend of yoga

My friend and her much more confident arm balances

My friend and her much more confident (than me) arm balances

I just got back from a yoga retreat this weekend, and I feel like I’m just beginning to appreciate everything I took home with me.  On our last morning, our instructor suggested that one of the take homes they wanted to leave us with was “opening what was closed.” Which I think perfectly summarizes for me the weekend’s most important lesson.

Yoga on the dock

Yoga on the dock

In the car, on our way home, my friend and I discussed the weekend’s highlights, of which there were many. I asked myself what was the most significant thing I would be taking home from this weekend; was it finding a comfortable seat for meditation? The stretches of lakeside quiet time? Time spent catching up with a good friend? A refined downward dog and some solid arm balances and inversions? The inspiring conversations with a diverse group of successful women (and a even couple men)? A new appreciation for vegan food and paleo-baking? Any and all of those experiences were well worth the time, and effort, but it is the subtle change in my approach to daily life that I hope sticks with me long after the pressures and demands of home close back in.

One night in yoga nidra, I think that I was finally able to let go of some of the baggage the recent years have piled on. Which begs the question, what will I let take its place? All weekend, I worked on being present, strong and patient; three qualities I’d like to carry around with me instead.

Knitting after morning meditation

Knitting and coffee after morning meditation

I tend to express love by doing: doing laundry, scheduling playdates, swimming lessons and dinner parties, knitting socks, cleaning the house, organizing family photos, buying tricycles, shoes and groceries.  Certainly, all of those things are important, but they can distract from the most important way to express love: by being with the people you love.  If you let them, they can crowd out the spontaneous kitchen dance parties, long phone conversations with distant friends and family, quiet chats on the front porch, and noisy afternoons at the park. That is the biggest take away from my weekend of yoga by the lake: to be present with those I love. At first, I felt a little guilty about taking this time from myself, and leaving my husband and son to cope together at home, but now I think that I may be able to give them more, because I went. And now comes the hard part, keeping those lakeside lessons with me all year.

The summer travel debate & my Vodka (Curacao) Lemonade cardigan

This week, I started my first summer knitting project, using this soft cotton yarn, Cascade Ultra Pima, that I discovered recently at a yarn shop that I rarely visit.  I had to restrain myself from buying enough for at least three projects, since I think it will be perfect for this gorgeous cap sleeve top from Purl Soho, and half the fantastic patterns in the summer issue of Interweave Knits (especially the Stonecutter sweater, and Regatta tee).

After an admirable display of restraint, I just bought enough to start the project at the top of my ravelry queue – the very popular Vodka Lemonade cardigan from Baby Cocktails, in electric blue.  It’s easy to see why this pattern is so popular! I love the seed stitch and ribbing border on this sweater, and the pattern is constructed using my absolute favourite method: seamless top-down raglan. So far the pattern has been wonderfully clear, and I can’t wait to start wearing this over summer dresses. Most ravelers have made a play on the pattern’s name, and named their projects after the cocktail that corresponds most closely to their colour of their sweater.  By that rule, my definitely has to be Blue Curacao.

Vodka Lemonade cardigan in progress in Cascade Ultra Pima

Vodka Lemonade cardigan in progress in Cascade Ultra Pima

Which brings me to this week’s other events.  We still haven’t booked our summer trip!  We have two weeks of vacation time at the end of August, and still no consensus on where to go.  We’ve toyed with the idea of returning to the Rockies or Newfoundland with our son, or making our long delayed but oft discussed trip to Iceland. Until recently, we hadn’t made any headway narrowing down the list.  However, last week, we finally settled on a longer trip to visit relatives, with our son, and a few nights, just the two of us, in Havana.

However, as it comes time to book a flight, two things give me pause – all the inherent difficulties of travel in Cuba (outside of the resorts) and hurricane season.  Fortunately, the colour of my cardigan provided me with some inspiration, what about Curacao?  A gorgeous historic city centre, world class coral reefs, a beautiful national park and a geographic location outside of the path of most hurricanes. How can this be the first time I’ve thought of this?  The negotiations continue with my husband on the side of (cheaper) Havana and me on the side of (easier) Curacao.  Either way, it’s fun thing to talk about both great options, as I work on my cardigan.

Willemstad, Curcacao. I’d love to take my own picture!

Rocky Mountain summer

Planning our summer vacation, and knitting this light cotton sweater has me thinking about my favourite trips in the Canadian summer. I love Toronto, but in high summer, it can feel like you’re living in an easy bake oven.  I’m dreaming of the more moderate, clear summer nights in the Canadian Rockies.

Mount Assiniboine Lodge in British Columbia

Mount Assiniboine Lodge in British Columbia

The inspiration for my overriding fear of grizzlies

The inspiration for my overriding fear of grizzlies

On our honeymoon in the Rockies, we engaged in most of the expected mountain activities: relaxing by the clear green water of Lake Louise, checking out the restaurants in Banff, and white water rafting and soaking in the hot springs in Jasper.

But it was one of the more tucked away parks that really stuck with me: Mount Assiniboine. I’ve never seen a mountain landscape as jaw-dropping as the area surrounding this one. Unlike its neighbours, Mount Assiniboine is accessible only by helicopter or 28 km hike over the continental divide from Canmore, Alberta. Few tourists make it here and they have to be committed. The hike was definitely not for the faint hearted, and I made the rookie mistake of wearing new boots – I still cringe when I think about the blisters.  That being said, every step (even when you factor in my all-encompassing paranoia regarding grizzly bears) was worth it.

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Finally thinking about nothing at all

Finally thinking about nothing at all

My husband had climbed the mountain before we met, and he wanted to share this special place with me after our wedding.  We stayed at Mount Assinboine Lodge, since it was such a special occasion (although the much more reasonable huts will be the location of our inevitable family visit in the coming years).

I’ve really struggled to articulate how special this place is to me. Peace and serenity are not things that come to me easily, but being surrounded by such huge, timeless beauty and profound quiet had a really powerful effect.  The Rockies, particularly in the places where you can find some solitude, are so big that they seem impervious to everything, even time.  Lying in the grass and flowers in front of the mountain, and thinking about absolutely nothing, will be a moment I remember for the rest of my life.

Mount Assiniboine, sometimes called Canada's Matterhorn (but seriously, doesn't it deserved its own name?)

Mount Assiniboine, sometimes called Canada’s Matterhorn (but seriously, doesn’t it deserved its own nickname?)

Letting my feet take the coward's way home, in the helicopter

Letting my feet take the coward’s way home, in the helicopter

On the creature comforts side, the lodge, built in 1928, is pretty special – in the middle of the wilderness, you can sit down to a delicious meal or even a sauna.  It is still pretty rustic, and it’s important to remember that the price tag reflects the isolation (everything is flown in by helicopter) more than any of the modern trimmings.  That being said, I challenge you to find anything as comfortable as a warm quilted bed, a glass of fine BC wine and these surroundings. The only question is: Is it worth it to bring your knitting on the hike?

I cannot wait to share this place with our son some day, and maybe I’ll even wear the sweater.

Knitting by the pool

Knitting toe-up gusset socks in scrumptious Studioloo yarn

Knitting toe-up gusset socks in scrumptious Studioloo yarn

At first, I was a little bit disappointed that we would be spending March break in Orlando.  Before having kids, we felt very clever heading to Europe for March break.  Canadians often flee south, for the sunshine, but have to face crowds and higher prices.  In Europe, spring had sprung and the hordes of tourists had yet to arrive.

Memories of March Break past. Paris.

Memories of March break past. Paris.

This March break has been a bit of an exception, with a house purchase on the horizon and a toddler along for the ride, Europe (or anywhere further afield) was pretty much out of the question.  We do plan to share our future travels with our son, but a time zone change with a two and a half year old was way more than these exhausted parents were ready to face this week.

Baby alligators, spotted on our Kissimmee swamp tour

Baby alligators, spotted on our Kissimmee swamp tour

So to Grandmother’s house (in Florida) we go!  So far it’s been a relaxing week of sunshine, morning runs, bonding with grandparents, free babysitting, restaurants with huge portions and of course, knitting by the pool.  Today we had a great time with our little guy on a fantastic swamp tour – just nobody tell him about Disney World…