Thursday, December 24, 2009

The 8th Day of Christmas

I found a colorful surprise in the bread tin. Doesn't this look a bit like Noro Silk Garden? I started sneezing and coughing. But the hacking was not from the bread mold, it's from not smoking.

At risk of saying much more... I have not had a cigarette in 8 days. I actually started the process two weeks prior. My last cigarette was from a stale Venezuelan pack that I stashed away in my sock drawer four years ago. I took the nicotine gum out of the freezer and made a list of things that inspire my smoking.

I had to disassociate myself from certain behaviors like meeting up for beer, hanging out over coffee, and oddly enough knitting. I even walked home a different way.

Day 3 was the hardest — I would have stabbed a man in the eye for his cigarette. But after that I didn't miss it as much. I have noticed that I often run short on energy but I've been advised to expect it for two weeks.

I actually don't like nicotine gum, it reminds me of when I got into a regular "Skoal" and "chaw" habit (Colorado circa '83). But for a short while, fits of uncontrollable coughing, ruthless chewing, and being a shut-in will be a part of my life. I'm slowly putting myself back into familiar settings. I even made myself a new hat — a simple watchman's cap ("Savanna" GGH Yarn).

So on this 8th night, Christmas Eve, I celebrate with friends. Tomorrow Stephanie and I are making dinner for her parents.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Knitting on the Edge

An infamous fortune cookie reads "May you live in interesting times." And indeed, all who live in this area of Prospect Heights do. A threat of a sports arena and condemnation of a Brooklyn neighborhood races to beat a December 31st IRS deadline. Within this footprint of turmoil is Freddy's Bar, home of Knit PH and meeting place of numerous activist groups that oppose the private developer, Bruce Ratner, and the use of eminent domain

The tail of a blizzard had just passed on Sunday,  but not quietly at Freddy's Bar. In protest of Forest City Ratner's mega development, bar manager Donald O'Finn helped organize a symbolic event called "Chains of Freedom." Over the weekend Freddy's bolted industrial latches to it's bar.

Neighbors, patrons, parents and children, and politicians gathered among documentarians, photographers, and reporters... the Village Voice, Channel 12, Associated Press, New York Post, etc.

There were roughly 50 people there excluding the news media, which is pretty good considering we just got through a blizzard and most streets remained unplowed.

At half-past noon a familiar visitor from the north surprised everyone.

He toasted us all and announced the ceremony was about to begin. A long thick chain was lead down the length of the room through the latches, dressing the bar like an industrial Christmas garland as it ran between passing hands. There was cheering and applause. Oddly enough, there was even a fire next door, five fire engine companies were parked outside.

Bar manager Donald O'Finn thanked us all for our support and courage, and and shared his thoughts with the press and patrons. More than a bar, Freddy's is a community meeting place. Someone asked me if the bar would move to a new location. My thoughts — you'd end up in China Town, but nowhere near China.

On December 3rd 2009, Columbia University lost the right to use eminent domain to expand into Harlem. The state appellate court ruled that the seizure of the Manhattanville neighborhood to benefit a private interest, Columbia, was illegal. The resounding question is "Why is this state ruling not applied to Atlantic Yards? My question is "How much did it cost to buy a judge?

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn spokesperson Daniel Goldstein updated us on a fraudulent creation of a state entity called the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC). They were recently created to bypass all normal channels of state review in order to fund Atlantic Yards' tax-exempt bonds. Many legal analysts have called this shadowy move "highly illegal."

Senator Bill Perkins has asked Gov. Paterson to reconsider his approval or face a law suit. The buzz — Atlantic Yards Bonds may be worthless since hey were backed by funds that they were not allowed to issue. Moody's already gave the bonds a low rating, "Baa3," just one cut above a junk bond. Although the bonds sold well at a low interest rate, I'm reminded of the "sub-prime" failure.

Eminent domain abuse is not just a curse for New Yorkers, this has been pandemic through out the entire Untied States. The keyword "blighted" is now interpreted to describe an area as being under-used or not generating much in tax revenue. Why should anyone's home and taxes be the corner stone of the state's cash flow?

"Kelo v. City of New London" — Drug giant Pfizer evoked eminent domain and razed an entire New London neighborhood to the ground calling it blighted. Susette Kelo, a single mother, fought hard and lost. Her property was seized and plowed under as Pfizer promised the creation thousands of permanent jobs and tax revenue for the state of Connecticut. But... within two years and a recession, Pfizer moved away leaving behind the city’s biggest empty office complex and acres barren land. In the wake of a recession this drug giants fell hard and left New London in destruction. Yet no one was accountable — so much lost over empty promises.

As New York state shamelessly betrays it's own ethical guidelines and gives public land away to private developers they should never wonder why most people have lost faith in their ability to perform their civic duty.

Our civic leaders either turn a blind eye or turn their attentions towards personal interests‚ both political or monetary. To become a witness of land seizure is like watching someone openly getting robbed.

Later on that evening, Stephanie called to report that Freddy's was packed in both rooms, I joined her for a beer. Bartender Mike said a few hundred patrons flowed in and out once the sun had set. They came for a pre-holiday beer at their favorite watering hole and express support. Black, white, brown, mixed, young, old, religious, agnostic, hippies, hipsters, lawyers, work-a-day folk — Freddy's does have a cross-cultural crowd. How will all this go down in history, loudly or unsung? Who can say, but Freddy's Bar owner Frank Yost has always said "Never without a fight."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Blizzard or Not, Here I Come

And they say snow never sticks in the city... but this was no light dusting of frost, this was a coastal blizzard. For most people snow in New York means trudging through a gray sloppy mess, train problems, and canceled flights. But for that short while as it comes down I always think it's beautiful. Tall buildings and garbage disappear,  and everything smells and sounds crisp.

Saturday, after my morning coffee and bagel I armed myself with my camera and put on my boots and thermals. I got ready to venture out into the cold.

From my window I could see that the snow had already covered stoops, cars and streets as the wind began to pick up. Constant efforts to shovel sidewalks were quickly abandoned.

The streets were far from empty as people ran their errands. We were all advised to buy extra batteries and canned goods, but some kids headed towards the park with sleds and garbage lids instead. Can you blame— when will we see this again?

Everything on the street is transformed. Snowed capped fences resembled wedding cakes more than wrought iron.  Fireplugs become litte snowmen; razor wire turns into spiraling wreaths; sidewalk grates become large waffles. I think side streets like Carlton are the prettiest.

Within hours newly plowed streets were covered again and the temperature dropped to 27°. I'm not very good with the cold. I retreated to Little Miss Muffin Bakery for jerk chicken patties and ginger beer, and headed home.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Santacon Is Coming to Town

Saturday morning brought us mild sunny weather after a below-freezing week — and an unusual encounter. My friend Wendy and I sat in front of Prospect Perk gabbing over morning coffee when something caught our eyes— small groups of people dressed as Santa Claus marched up Flatbush converging towards Vanderbilt Aveneue. It was a spectacle reminiscent of the Christmas scene from "City of Lost Children."

The person next to us said it was an event called SantaCon. I've always found Santa a bit scary, although these herds of migrating Santas and helper elves were quite entertaining. Moments such as this remind me why I live in Brooklyn. Of course I didn't have my camera on me, I was on my way to drop off laundry. This photo above was  re-appropriated from, contributed by message board moderator Carnivore.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Knit PH at Prospect Perk, Dec. 8 '09

I made my all-day-slow-cooked yellow split pea & ham soup. That's how slow the economy has been — I made a soup all day (pictured above). But I also cleaned out the fridge and threw out a ton of old computer junk. This economic downturn might prove to be cleansing or deliciously disasterous for us all if it continues at this pace. Onward... I forgot to charge my camera again, so no photos from this night of knitting.

We had a full house. Considering that Prospect Perk is a cozy café, 11 people is a full house. I bought a brownie from Murat and set up the tables. Rachel, new to the group and knitting, needed some support. Nici was kind enough to let her practice stitch tension on her tubular scarf and acted as her spot coach. The topic of support groups and enabling came up. By now most of us have known someone who's been in an anonymous program — AA, NA, GA, OA, etc. I think there's even 12-step meeting for people addicted to meetings ("poetry readings").

But there's that one step... when someone from your past calls apologizing for some terrible wrong that you may not remember. One year around Thanksgiving I had a message on my answering machine: "Hello, Tony, this is N---, I've been reassessing my life recently and..." I called him back to find that he was in fact enrolled in AA and not trying to sell me HerbaLife. We spoke about old times, I wished him luck, and told him all was forgiven. I'd completely forgotten about that painting lab incident when someone stabbed my art bin.

The conversation lead to a popular topic: unemployment. As CEO's got their bonuses, Mick was laid off from Goldman. She wanted to know what the job climate was like. Slow and ever shifting, I reported. I'm actually going to print some cards to offer private knitting instruction. As advertising and publication sectors find new ground I think we can expect fewer job opportunities in these next few months. Yet we all agree that everything is changing, software, web technology, CSS, Flash scripts, XML, content management...etc. Mick pointed out that most of the financial world still operates on Quark instead of InDesign due to grandfathered and consolidated collateral materials. For older documents I keep Mona handy, she's my G3 system. "What are you all talking about? It sounds like another language." Patricia asked. "Publishing" Lisa answered. If it all sounds confusing to us, just imaging how it sounds to one who is outside of the field.

Mari, finished her neck warmer, very chunky and varied with orange and red. She asked if anyone had any felting experience. She has a bag project in mind. I felted something once and it almost took the Jaws of Life to pry that sock from my shrunken sweater. Mick and Nici had some great tips to offer, mainly think much bigger before you felt. For something to truly felt, it must be made form at least 50% wool. One has to accept felted matter is also inherently very itchy. Rachel asked if old wool is itchier than new wool — not necessarily. I don't mind wool and acrylic blends, but I find that they tend to become scratchy after much use and a few washings. I gather from Rachel and Mari's conversation that they are both in the legal field — unless passing the bar meant walking by Sharlene's on the way here.

Valerie asked how one might tell if yarn is wool or acrylic — a very good question for unlabeled yarns and sweaters. I showed her the "burn test".
1. Gather enough loose fiber to roll into a half inch strand.
2. Burn it with a lighter and observe.
If it burns quickly, melts into a hard bead, and smells like plastic, it's acrylic. Although also in the class of polymer, I find that rayon, soy and other cellulose-based fibers smell like burnt paper.

Meanwhile, Silke worked very quietly on a scarf that she's making for her daughter — variations of gray and cream in Noro Silk Garden. It's actually a lace pattern sampler. That's a great way to explore different patterns on one project. We all admired her delicate use of #3 needles. Meg finished her apple green baby hat. She actually just purchased $80 in yarn at Knit-A-Way before she arrived at Perk. Meg said I should charge for the MeetUps, everyones does. I feel weird about charging, but in these economic times I might consider it.

I didn't bring anything to work on, instead I coached Emma, Mick, and Valerie with the A4A granny square pattern. Emma and Silke say that my Spanish is better, thanks to "telenovelas" on the Univision Network. But my friend Dan reminds I once asked for "more ice with my pee" at Tacos Matamoros in Sunset Park.


Yarn Monkey's All-day-slow-cooked
Yellow Split Pea & Ham Soup
Yeild: 8 to 10 servings

4 strips of bacon
3/4 lb. smoked pork neck
16 oz. pkg. dry yellow split peas
3 carrots, chopped
1 large head of garlic
1 medium onion, coarsely sliced
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 cup diced white radish
1 tbs. sea salt
1/4 tsp. pepper corns
1/4 tsp. celery seed
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/2 tbs. dried orange peel, finely diced
1 tbs. molasses or brown sugar
3 qts. water
1 cup olive oil
1/2 tbs. liquid smoke (optional)
4 quart stock pot with cover
1 large colander

Inspect peas for foreign junk. Soak in water for 1 hour and drain.

Examine refrigerator and search for source of odd smell... hmmm not kimchi... check food containers and vegetable bin. Discard mushy discovery.
In a large stock pot fry bacon until crisp, remove and reserve 2 tbs. of fat. At medium heat, add smoked pork necks, whole garlic head, and sliced onion, brown in fat. Add enough water to cover 1 inch above pork necks. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until meat falls off the bone (4 - 5 hours). Stock should be reduced to half.

Pull out tech boxes from top of closet, ponder why I have 12 serial cables, 3 Jazz disks, a 50' ethernet cable, a 28.8 baud modem, a busted 3-line phone, and a Lucinda Williams CD. Scratch head and discard items.
Strain stock through colander and set meat aside to cool. Pick and clean meat from bones and shred into small pieces. Bring stock a to boil, add split peas, shredded meat, water, and remaining ingredients, except for olive oil, liquid smoke, and carrots. Reduce heat and simmer, covered for 1 hour.

11 pound Macrodmedia Director 2.0 box set... Adobe no longer honors license. Laugh at paying full price for PageMill and discard items.
Pour half the contents into a blender and puree. Reduce heat to low and return blended soup to stock pot. Add carrots, molasses (or brown sugar), crumbled bacon, olive oil, and liquid smoke (optional). Cover and simmer on low for 1 more hour stirring occasionally. Add more water if needed. Allow to cool overnight at room temperature. This soup stock should be thick enough to hold a fork upright.

Gather old XML, Flash 5.0, CSS, Dreamweaver books into a box and take to recycling area downstairs. Use old O'Riley book to level couch.
To serve, heat milk in a sauce pan. For every 1/2 cup of milk, add 1 1/2 cups of soup. Salt and pepper to taste. Top with bacon or croutons if desired. This soup freezes well, so store it away in serving size containers.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Knit PH at Freddy's Bar, Dec. 6 '09

Peg Byron and her producer Zena Kennedy are documenting craft nights and music at Freddy's Bar — working title "Freddy's: Not Just Any Bar and Backroom." Cringe Night, Opera Night, Diorama Lodge, Guitar School, Old-time Jam... and of course Knit PH. Organic yet fragile, Freddy's Bar formed like a tropical reef with a collection of the most rare and fascinating life. Among the questions I was asked, two stuck in my mind...

"Why knit at Freddy's?"
In 2003 Café owner Mary Cohen and I started a knitting circle at her coffee shop, Prospect Perk. That's also when the Atlantic Yards boondoggle started... a wealthy private developer, Bruce Ratner, falsely declared a large public area of Prospect Heights as blighted to drive people from their homes so construction for his arena could begin. Freddy's bar was declared the ground zero of demolition.

Mary blurted "How can you call our neighborhood blighted when it has a knitting circle?" Soon Knit PH was born. I started a MeetUp account and called Freddy's manager Don O'Finn to pitch a knit night — wish granted.

"What do you get out of it?"
There's no monetary gain, I've actually paid for all the MeetUps. The answer is much simpler — I take great pride in adding positive value to my neighborhood, Prospect Heights. I feel that people need a destination where they can socialize away from work and family, refocus and clear their minds. In a computerized world of virtual communication it's easy to lose your humanity amidst info-blather and techno-garbage. In the cold winter months the simple act of knitting with a group over a beer, wine, or coffee reconnects and re-humanizes each of us.

Diana, Meg, and Valerie waited for Peg and Zena to move the lights out of the way and took a seat at the long table. Soon everyone popped in for beer 'n' balls. Valerie's crochet hat has grown into a large doily. It's good to see Maggie, Charlotte, and Carol again. Some in the group are seasonal knitters. Carol is in mid-sweater, and Maggie is crocheting a handsome man's scarf for a friend.

Meg finished her green Big Bad Baby blanket — a great cause for celebration! She mentioned that her husband Brett created an iPhone app for counting street trees. "Trees Near You" it's called. I told her I'd get her in touch with someone at the Audubon Society. Meg still has enough yarn left over to start a few baby hats. Nici admired the apple green color, she coached Meg through 4-needle knitting. Nici is making a very warm charcoal gray tubular scarf with a cable edge. Turns out that Meg and Nici are neighbors in South Slope. I told them to check out my friend Pete's gourmet bake shop on 18th and 5th — Little Buddy Biscuit Company. Screw the diet! Pete's "Orange Cardamom, Coconut w/ Currants & Macadamia" cookie melts in your mouth.

Diana finished a perfectly knitted square for our Afghans for Afghans charity drive, then started another. She's amazing, I don't know where she gets the energy. Sarah is almost finished with her parents' tea cozy, she'll be sending it to Seattle soon. Turns out she and Meg are from the same neck of the woods in Seattle — 6 degrees of Meg Lemke.

Maggie asked when we're having Casserole night gain. We had it last year closer to spring, but this year we should plan on February 2010. By then we'll be over with the holiday gorging.

It's now December 2009...
Ratner's firm (Forest City Ratner) still declares that Brooklyn desperately needs a basketball team from New Jersey to give us "hope." Although the Atlantic Yards Nets Arena recently won an appeals case, it is still mired in court as angry residents continue to sue in protest. Ground breaking is still halted but a threat still looms.

In a recent State Court decision, Columbia University was denied use of Eminent Domain to expand and build into Harlem ("Court Deals a Blow to Columbia's Expansion Plan"). Harlem is now spared from the same reasoning that Forest City Ratner has claimed to evoke Eminent Domain in Prospect Heights. With a raised cynical eyebrow, I wonder if buying a judge and few of our boys in Albany is part of the cost of building the Nets Arena. People may not realize it, but when they knit at Freddy's they become a witness to an interesting time in Brooklyn's history.

Well... that's my part of the documentary.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Fine Move

In November, Maxcine Degouttes moved her yarn shop to a new location. Stitch Therapy now shares a beautiful space with Brooklyn Mercantile in Park Slope at 335 5th Avenue. Maxcine, Brandy and Tamara paused for a photo.

Getting the place ready was a minor Herculean task of rearranging, but after only a few days both shops were up and running with barely a hitch. Two shops under one punched-tin ceiling offer fine yarns, and quality fabrics & trims.

Handmade throw pillows and quilts invite you on a treasure hunt through exquisite bolts of fabric and spools of trim. Brooklyn Mercantile is more than a notion shop. Tamara Lee has a beautiful collection of fabrics for upholstery and drapery as well as wares that will lend an accent to any home — antique coat hooks, note cards, wire baskets, essential oils, and scented candles. Brooklyn Mercantile also holds sewing classes in the basement studio.

Stitch Therapy's cubbies are stocked with jewel tone colors that brighten those somber winter days. Luxury yarns like Cupcake are yummy, and Chiara and Noro satisfy your appetite. The new poly-fiber blends are perfect for a beginner's wallet. Books and magazines perk your interest while you settle in the comfy chair as knit hats and sweaters spy from above. Always in demand, knitting needles, crochet hooks, and stitch markers sit conveniently on the counter in baskets. Liberty Print project bags hang on a Shaker peg rack. Maxcine's mother makes them for the store.

Maxcine loves the new hold-everything counter that I built to outfit her space. She worked out the traffic patterns and customer flow to figure out the dimensions. I lightly stained the birch to bring out its natural burl, and to blend in with Stitch Therapy's other furniture. The light honey colored scheme contrasts with Brooklyn Mercantile's dark wood setting.

The counter is made from furniture grade birch ply topped with a solid maple butcher block surface. The maple is raw but buffed, the birch is finished with 8 coats of water-based urethane — satin smooth, durable, and stroller-proof.

It almost holds everything: cash register, laptop, printer, books & magazines, needles & hooks, shopping bags, business files... etc. Mostly of all it plays well in the new environment.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

River Folk Boatneck Sweater

James is a barista at Prospect Perk Café. A "barista" is some one who serves coffee,  not a member of a Guatemalan resistance group. He's serving up a hot panini with a half-caf latte to some cranky old wizard guy. That's the boss man in the red vest.

James is modeling another LOTR-inspired pullover that I designed called "River Folk" — a boatneck sweater with half-moon pockets. I bought this yarn last winter from Stitch Therapy but had no real plans to do anything with it until recently. Elsebeth Lavold "Silky Flammé" is a highly textured yarn with an untwisted core wrapped into various thick and thin plies.

River Folk is a typical box-cut sweater with a few extras. Ram's horn cables travel from front to back flanking each side. A bucolic Garter stitch trims the neck, cuffs, and hem. Sleeves start with a 2 X 2 garter rib leading into a plain stockinette on the arms.

The hem is vented, the back sitting lower than the front. Vents are a convenient feature, expanding on command for those beer 'n' pizza nights at the Green Dragon. They also make it easier to grab your wallet without exposing your beer gut to all at the table.

I knit flat pieces separately to get the most texture from this yarn. It almost looks like a well-worn tweed. I found that when I knit in the round I get a "hairy puff ball" pattern, which is more suitable for Orcs. The gauge is 22 sts wide by 28 rows deep over a 6" square on US 10 1/2 needles. This made for a quick knit.

The front pouch isn't very functional, but very roomy. It works better as a hand warmer. I wouldn't put my keys in there. The construction isn't complicated. Stitches are picked up through the middle of the garment, knit downward, and knit in with the body at the hem. The pouch sides are sewn to the body making them appear almost "invisible."

It takes a total of 984 yards of Old Gold (12 balls X 82 yds) to make this medium men's sweater. "Silky Flammé" is spun from Peruvian wool, alpaca, and silk which makes it feel light weight and warm. The silk gives the yarn a burnished sheen like autumn oak leaves. Overall, I think this is the quintessential "messy guy" sweater that no Halfling should be without.