Sunday, October 1, 2017

When Everything Comes Together at the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival

When 4:30 PM rolled around on Saturday, September 9, it was perfect weather for the Walk & Knit Relay Challenge at the Jefferson County Fair Park. The sun was shining, the temperature was just right, and the pavement was dry. What more could a walking relay knitter hope for? Well, maybe just a touch less wind.

Contestants Ann Krieg and Laurie Rasch at the Registration Table
with Volunteer Jackie Hiley and Organizer Mary Germain
Photographs taken by Linda Gaalaas, the official volunteer photographer

Each team had to walk (or run) 4 laps while knitting as many stitches as accurately as they could. Teams were comprised of 2 to 4 individuals, and 2 heats were run with 4 teams competing in each heat. Cheering by team members and spectators alike made for a fun event as knitters made their way along the course.

The Starting Line
Ready, Set, make-sure-your-shoelaces-are-tied, Go!

The mother-daughter team of Kathleen and Susan Baert placed third in the event. They both practiced ahead of time but separately, as they live in different states (Wisconsin & Illinois). They did practice the bag exchange together on the day of the event. Their strategy “was to prioritize finishing first in our heat and not make mistakes in the knitting.” That’s why Kathleen actually stopped just before crossing the finish line on the fourth lap and knit more stitches before crossing the line just before the next team in their heat was about to cross.

Third Place - Susan and Kathleen Baert

The Madison Knitting Guild started the day with just 3 team members but rallied a fourth member to join them on the day of the event. They “discussed possible strategies but decided it was fruitless and just to have fun!” Having no specific strategy certainly worked for them.

Second Place –
Aud Matland, Mary Kaiser, Susan Du Charme, and Nicole Du Charme

The team that titled themselves “Awesome Foursome” really was awesome. They came in first overall by crossing the finish line in 3 minutes and 11 seconds (due in part to Javier choosing to run his lap) and knitting 81 stitches (the second highest number of stitches knit by a team) and with just one knitting error.

First Place –
Javier Jara, Nicole Gooding, Lynn Lundgren, and Abigail Goben
Photograph courtesy of Ray Mathew

The winning team’s strategy was to “optimize each other’s strengths” whether it was as a fast knitter, accurate knitter, experienced event participant, or one with speedy feet. Nicole’s comments on the event echo other participants’ feelings, “It was wonderfully silly and that made it fun to participate. Getting the prizes was great and the vendors were wonderful of course, but I really just enjoyed the ridiculousness of all of us trying to walk, knit, not fall down, find the line, etc. That and Lynn’s joy at getting a set of Addi Clicks.”

Nicole summed it up. It’s all about having fun! Thanks to all who participated, all the vendors who donated prizes, and all the volunteers who showed up to make it happen.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Practical Travel Tips for Croatia

If I were talking to a friend about traveling in Croatia, what specific recommendations would I make?

Our experiences with Airbnb were all good. We prefer quiet accommodations and don't need (or want) a lot of frantic activity nearby. If you do like hustle and bustle, our suggestions may not suit you. The private apartments worked well for us since we traveled as a couple, but if I were traveling solo, I'd prefer an onsite front desk/host. Our favorite apartments either for location, physical accommodations, or friendliness of our host(s) were:
  • The Olive Tree City Corner Apartment in Zagreb - in a quiet courtyard, convenient to the Old Town, and very accommodating hosts who went out of their way to make us feel welcome.
  • The Yellow Apartment in Dubrovnik - absolutely beautiful views of the Old Town from up high and a cheery yellow decorating theme.
  • The Little Stream Apartment in Korenica, near Plitvice National Park - quiet residential/rural area just off the highway and only a 15 minute drive to Plitvice; hosts that welcomed us with an outdoor drink of homemade slivovitz (plum moonshine) and a chat; a very new and large apartment just upstairs from our hosts and their children; and a close view of the neighbor's sheep.

We ate our breakfasts in our room with fruit, yogurt, and milk from a nearby grocery store and homemade granola. Lunch was usually a picnic with ingredients from a bakery or grocery store deli. In the evening we would find a restaurant that looked appealing and sit down to enjoy a glass of wine, beer, or cider and our dinner. Prices are very reasonable in Croatia and our kuna went a long way. Our favorite restaurants were:
  • Aqua 2 in Rovinj, on the waterfront with wide open windows for almost-outdoor seating and great views. Our pasta carbonara was excellent and makes me want to get out my recipe book and make it at home again. I knew my prawns with pasta were going to be a little more work than I expected when our waitress brought me a seafood bib. Fortunately, upon request, she gave me a tutorial on removing the edible portions from the prawn's protective "armature."
  • Gelateria Italia in Rovinj, for the best gelato we had in Croatia. I love the nut flavors - hazelnut and pistachio were wonderful together!
  • Restoran Šapina in Korenica (near Plitvice), a short walk from our apartment where we ate two nights in a row. On our first night, we found that we needed to pre-order the veal peka-style, so we did and returned the next night for the veal prepared "under the bell." It was so tender and delicious. We shared it along with a huge platter of grilled vegetables which were also fabulous.
  • Lunch at Regina del Formaggio in Split, a simple little Italian deli with THE BEST sandwiches. They have a small menu but I could eat that flavorful salami and cheese sandwich everyday!
  • Aterina Konoba in Korčula, where reservations are recommended. They serve mostly local, and mostly vegetarian, well-prepared food. However, we did have pasta with asparagus and pršut (Dalmatian prosciutto), which is allowed even though it is not local to the island or vegetarian, but it IS quintessentially Croatian.
  • Taj Mahal in Dubrovnik, recommended by friends. This Bosnian restaurant served a fantastic Diva Salad and Ćevapi (also known as ćevapčići, a grilled dish of minced meat in the form of skinless sausage). We were also tempted by the burek but, unfortunately, that would have been way too much food for us. We do have an absolutely delightful restaurant in our hometown that serves wonderful cheese, spinach, and beef burek. It's time for another visit to Milwaukee's Three Brothers Serbian Restaurant! 
  • Lucin Kantun in Dubrovnik, where reservations are again recommended. Inside and outdoor seating is somewhat limited but the chef and kitchen are visible from the dining room and the food was fresh and outstanding - cheese and spinach rolls, veal medallions in mustard sauce, roasted potatoes, and ratatouille.
We did not do much shopping in Croatia, but I do like to look at interesting, handmade jewelry, so we did a little shopping in Korčula where I found two jewelry stores that had artisan styles that intrigued me. As I decided between pendants at the two shops, I found that they were both owned by the same family. The mother was running one, the daughter the other shop, and the sons were the artisans. If you go, look for Prirodni Nakit/Natural Jewellery at Ulica Svetog Roka 13 or the Pod Room at Ulica Depola 21. I love the pendant I brought home!


A sampling of jewelry in the Korčula shop window
(sorry for the unavoidable reflection)

For local currency, we usually get cash by using a debit card at an ATM/Bankomat. Since our last international travels, we found a new confusing message at the ATM. After selecting the amount of kuna we wanted to receive, the screen displayed something to this effect: "xx kuna = xx dollars, do you want to accept this conversion?" At first it appeared that if we didn't accept the conversion, we would not receive the cash. In fact, the answer for us was "NO, we don't want to accept the conversion." We still got the cash and our credit card company did the conversion at a much better rate than the suggested rate at the ATM. Don't let this message throw you off.

When traveling by car, I recommend using either a GPS device or a phone app that has downloadable offline maps. We traveled about 1000 kilometers over 6 days, used about $85 of petrol, and, for convenience and speed, we spent about half that amount on toll roads. Having a car is perfect for getting to out-of-the-way places.

Gathering information before traveling usually means using a number of resources. Besides talking with friends who have already been to Croatia, travel books by Rick Steves and Lonely Planet gave me background and ideas. But for more details and personal accounts, I read a number of blogs. My favorites were:
If you plan a trip, I wish you a great adventure!



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dalmatian - Dog, Coast, or Island?

We did actually see a few Dalmatian dogs while traveling along the Dalmatian coast and on a Dalmatian island, but not a lot.

In Split, we continued our hiking theme by taking a walk on the Marjan peninsula. Which direction do you think we went? Up, of course.




A different red, white, and blue

Diocletian's Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built in the 4th century and is an incredibly interesting area to explore. Shops, cafes, restaurants, and apartments are located in this historical area of old buildings and mostly narrow streets. Here's a view of the central square.


Surprisingly, we were able to meet up with a friend in Split. We've known Jonathan almost since he was born. He's a young man who moved from England to Wisconsin with his parents when he was very young. In May, he finished his fourth year of studies at St Andrews in Scotland and was about to head back home to Michigan but had planned a week-long respite (maybe party?) with 16 of his friends at a villa outside of Split. We found out about his trip just before we left on ours and made plans to meet, if possible. We connected in Split and enjoyed lunch together before meeting some of his friends and letting him go on his merry way.


From Split, we took a catamaran ferry to the island of Korčula where we would have spent two nights, but in May the ferry only runs four times a week, so we arrived on a Monday and had to leave on a Tuesday. If not Tuesday, we would have been there until Friday and we needed to save time for Dubrovnik. We stayed in the town of Korčula, just outside of the steeply stepped Old Town. Of course, we had our own steps that led to our little apartment in a 400-year-old stone building with very friendly hosts - daughter handled the booking, son met us upon arrival, mom was busy cleaning, and dad, who had lived in the US and Australia earlier in life, chatted with us later.



I had booked a table for dinner at Aterina Konoba and most of their tables are outdoors which would have been great if the winds weren't blowing at almost gale force. The restaurant was just getting an indoor seating area ready for the season but it wasn't quite ready for prime time. The extension cords and contractor's lighting just added to the ambiance and we had a lovely dinner in the mostly inside/not quite outside new dining room area.

The cutest Tourist Info Center - I love this former loggia that was built in 1548 and now functions as Korčula's TI.


Another ferry ride on Tuesday and we arrived in Dubrovnik for a three night stay. Of course, we spent one day walking the City Walls.





Dubrovnik's Old Town has steep "streets" and many restaurants with outdoor seating.


Apparently that wasn't enough steps, so we spent an afternoon hiking on the Lapad Peninsula while a storm brewed. Another day we took a bus to Cavtat for something to do on our one day of rain and we still ended up having a lovely walk around a small peninsula and then found shelter in an awning-covered outdoor restaurant where we ate lunch and watched the rain dripping off the roof.

Lapad Peninsula - Dubrovnik

We especially enjoyed the view of Dubrovnik's Old Town and its walls from our apartment. And yes, the apartment was up a few steps, but everything is UP in Croatia.

Our room with a view

"And miles to go before (we) sleep . . ." - Hiking in Croatia's National Parks

". . . and miles to go before I sleep" - Robert Frost

Our trip to Croatia had one must-see destination - Plitvice National Park. But as I researched our trip, I added Paklenica National Park and Krka National Park. All three parks were well worth the miles we drove to fit them in.


We stayed near Plitvice for two nights so that we had a full day to hike, view, and enjoy the park. We lucked into some great weather and spent 7 hours on the trails. The trails are on boardwalks across the water and near waterfalls or on paths along the edges of lakes with views of waterfalls everywhere. According to my phone's Health app, we walked over 10 miles in Plitvice.





We drove from Plitvice to Zadar but stopped en route at Paklenica, a park with mountains and canyons. We hiked a popular trail from the Starigrad entrance up the larger canyon (Velika Paklenica) to the Mountain Hut (#10 on the park map).




Along the way, we had a view of Anića Luka, the really large rock face (400 meter high face) that provides a surface for many adventurous rock climbers.


It turned out to be a scary day as we managed to lose each other on a hike above the Mountain Hut. You wouldn't think that could happen when just two people are hiking together. But, when one person says "let's go just a little further, up, up, up" and the other person has "had it up to here," it can happen. Neither of us had a cell phone signal and that made for an anxious hour or two while we each traveled up and down various paths trying to find each other. Next time, we need to have a contingency plan in place in case we get separated. Not surprisingly, we had our longest hiking day that day - over 14 miles on mostly mountainous terrain. We were glad that we took hiking poles along on the trip; they were helpful in all of the parks, but especially in Paklenica.

If hiking the park wasn't enough for the day, that evening we still managed to walk from our Zadar apartment to the Old Town, have dinner, and sight-see the historic buildings at night.



We also made a point to view a music and light show provided by two public art installations on the waterfront. The Sea Organ is an architectural object and experimental musical instrument whose sounds come from sea waves that meet with tubes located under steps on the Adriatic (Sea Organ YouTube video here) and the Sun Salutation or Greeting to the Sun is a plaza with multi-layered glass plates and photo-voltage solar modules which produce a light show (Sun Salutation YouTube video here). Both art installations were created by architect Nikola Bašić and many people gathered in the evening to enjoy them.


The next day, as we drove from Zadar to Split, we visited Krka National Park, another park (like Plitvice) of stunning waterfalls and convenient boardwalks. Swimming is allowed in areas of this park, but the day was a bit cool and overcast and we only saw a few swimmers, or more accurately waders, in the water. We began our hike of the Skrudinski Buk area of the park from the Lozovac entrance where we found some nearby free parking. Skrudinski Buk is a particular waterfall but there are many waterfalls that can be viewed from a circular one-way path with a connecting series of boardwalks. The walk takes 1-2 hours but we took our time stopping for many photos, a picnic lunch, and a museum area with a weavers' studio.





Traditional woven rugs, table mats, bags,
and one lonely knitted mitten on display

Having made good use of our little car to visit the out-of-the-way Istrian Peninsula and the national parks, we ditched the car in Split and used public transportation for the rest of the trip.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Croatia - A Lot Like Croissant, Nothing Like Donut, Definitely Like Burek

As we were leaving to fly home from the Zagreb airport, I saw a Croatian design shop and a very cute and clever tote bag with the slogan "Similar to Croissant, Different From Donut - Croatia." I should have grabbed that bag, but I had just spent all my kuna. An internet search when I got home shows that the Croatian Design Superstore website is currently under reconstruction.


I traveled with my husband around the croissant-shaped country for two weeks in the second half of May. How did I convince him to go? Just search on the internet for images of Plitvice National Park and you'll see the visual argument that sold him on the idea. Croatia is a beautiful country!

For me, dreaming about and planning a trip is almost as good as traveling. I spent a lot of pleasant time reading books and blogs, talking to friends, and thinking about what route would make the best two-week itinerary for us. If knitting isn't the main focus of my travels, then hiking oftentimes is. Here's the itinerary we chose:

Zagreb
Rovinj and the Istrian Peninsula
Plitvice National Park
Paklenica National Park
Zadar
Krka National Park
Split
Korčula
Dubrovnik
Zagreb

We began with a short overnight stop in Zagreb, the capital, which gave us our very first Airbnb experience. Friends who had traveled in Croatia last year highly recommended Airbnb. Rather than booking a room, we chose to book a little apartment for ourselves in each town that we stayed. We knew that breakfast is not usually included with Croatian accommodations so having a kitchenette for breakfast in our room and a living room for lounging in the evening after hours on our feet worked out perfectly. We had a lot of great experiences with apartments and our hosts! In Zagreb, Zvonimir, our host from Olive Tree City Corner, provided transportation from the bus station, welcomed us to our temporary home with a homemade walnut liqueur aperitif and delicious dried fruits, and then offered to drive us to a special FloraArt exhibit at Bundek Park - it was the final day for the exhibit.



After FloraArt, we still had time for a walking tour and dinner before returning to our quiet and private one-bedroom apartment. After a good night's sleep and a very quick time zone adjustment, we were ready to pick up our rental car and make our way from Zagreb to Rovinj. We had the rental car for one week to make it easier for us to access the three national parks that we planned to visit. The second week we traveled via public transportation - ferries, buses, and a short flight that took us back to Zagreb from Dubrovnik at the end.

We broke up our drive to Rovinj by stopping in Pazin and locating a "chasm" hike that I'd read about. We found the start of the hike right near the platform for zip lining across the chasm. We chose the hike instead.


Rovinj is a charming little coastal town on the Istrian Peninsula. Istria is located very close to Italy and was under Italian rule on-and-off over the years. There is a strong Italian influence here and you'll find delicious pasta, pizza, and gelato. Our favorite gelato place of the entire trip was Gelateria Italia. We also had some wonderful pasta and seafood at Aqua 2, a restaurant right on the water with a beautiful view of the Old Town. Rovinj's picturesque and steep Old Town is located on a small peninsula, formerly an island.


Just like parts of Italy, there are hill towns in Istria. We spent a day driving to Motovun and a few other hill towns in the area. My husband will tell you, if there's a hill, it must be climbed!


Friday, October 28, 2016

Erna Jansons' Books on Latvian Mitten Designs and Latvian Textiles

Ordering information for Erna Jansons' books Latvian Mitten Designs and Latvian Style Wall Hangings and Pillow Designs can be found below.

Erna is a 96-year-old Latvian woman with a lot to share. I wrote about her in a prior blog post here.

Her first book, Latvian Mitten Designs (Latviešu cimdu raksti), was published when Erna was 85 years old. 100 original hand-painted mitten designs are featured along with some Latvian history and instructions on how to properly size a Latvian mitten. All photos are in full color for ease of color charting. This book is an inspiration for anyone in love with the brilliantly-colored patterns found in Latvian mittens. Specific knitting technique instructions are not included.



Her latest book, Latvian Style Wall Hangings and Pillow Designs (Sienas segu un spilvenu meti latviskā stilā) was published just this year. 73 beautiful hand-painted designs are featured along with some biographical information about Erna and historical information about traditional Latvian wall hangings. These designs are intended for use with weaving or embroidery techniques but would also be great for rug hooking and other textile arts. Traditional Latvian motifs and colors are used by Erna in her unique and beautiful style.


 


The books are written in both English and Latvian and showcase her unique hand-painted designs. The price for each book is $60 which includes shipping within the USA only. Limited edition copies are signed by the author.

Contact mgermain55[at]gmail[dot]com to order (a PayPal invoice will be issued) or for international shipping prices or with any other questions. Please include your mailing address with your inquiry. Please note that WI Sales tax will be added if the package is shipped to WI.

Alternatively, you can purchase Erna Jansons' books from my Etsy Site.