The Best Birthday

Last year, in the middle of my graduate program, I needed a break. Luckily for me, Houston Fiber Fest was taking place over my birthday weekend. Perfect.

After the initial sensory overload of walking into a large space full of yarn, I started exploring. I was drawn to the sheen and colors of the yarns at one particular booth and was delighted to learn that they used only natural dyes. Wool Tree Yarn is a line of naturally dyed yarn made by fiber artist Casey Galloway and sold exclusively through Lucky Ewe Yarn in New Braunfels, Texas. They had an interesting logo – a small lamb growing out of a plant – and explained its significance.

Wool Tree Yarn Logo

The Wool Tree logo is based on a lithograph from medieval Europe. During the late medieval period, cotton became an imported fiber in northern Europe. Without any knowledge of how it was derived, other than that it was a plant; noting its similarities to wool, people in the region could only imagine that cotton must be produced by plant-borne sheep. John Mandeville, writing in 1350, stated that “There grew a wonderful tree which bore tiny lambs on the ends of its branches. These branches were so pliable that they bent down to allow the lambs to feed when they are hungry.” This image is retained in the name for cotton in many European languages, such as German Baumwolle, which translates as “tree wool” (Baum means “tree”; Wolle means “wool”).

I loved this super bulky wool cord at the Independence Farmstead Fibers booth. They had samples of gorgeous tapestries made from it. The fiber mill is located just outside Brenham, Texas. According to their website:

Our fibers are traceable – each labeled with a known “Pasture of Origin”- providing a strong sense of place for the handcraft artist.

There were countless booths tempting me with their beauties.

A booth from True Vineyard Ministries out of San Marcos, Texas, caught my attention with its colorful fabric yarns. True Vineyard Ministries provides “holistic support to Africa’s poorest through job creation, community building, and spiritual counsel.” Through the Handspun Hope initiative, women hand spin and dye yarn from the wool of local Merino sheep. While they had soft balls of Merino yarn, I could not resist these balls made from cotton fabric. Those colors!

And here are my purchases. The ball of 100% Cotton fabric in the upper left corner is from Handspun Hope (~30 yards). The regal purple skein is called Bevy of Swans by Alisha Goes Around, 435 yards of 50% silk, 50% Superwash Merino in a fingering weight. The blue/orange skein on the far left is a fingering weight 75% Superwash Merino, 25% Nylon from Kyla’s Lab (463 yards). The two center skeins in soft carmine hues from the cochineal insect are by Wool Tree Yarn (70% Superwash Merino, 30% Silk, 438 yards each). The skein across the bottom is a single ply 70% Superwash Merino, 30% Silk from Barn Owl Yarns. I bought it for the color – Monkey Business (400 yards).

Waves of yarn.

Close ups.

It was a great birthday getaway.

HFF-LesterLogo

(Source: HoustonFiberFest.com)

Field Study in Guatemala City

The capstone assignment for the MBA program was a team-based global business project. For our project, our client was a private equity firm that invests in companies with growth potential primarily in Latin America. Our charge was to develop a country expansion strategy for one of the companies in their portfolio. To accomplish this, we spent a week in Guatemala conducting a field study. We interviewed key stakeholders – the CEO, CFO, clients, partners, third-party administrators, vendors and others in their supply chain. It was an immersive week where we learned a tremendous amount and were able to apply the concepts learned in our MBA courses.

My husband accompanied me on the trip and we arrived in Guatemala City a day early so that we could take in some of the sights before my busy week began. Here are my impressions of Guatemala City.

First, there’s the foliage. The city is lush and green, and the leaves are huge!

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These are the very large leaves of a monstera deliciosa (otherwise known as the swiss cheese plant).

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My husband and I stayed at a lovely boutique hotel called La Inmaculada. The ambience, service and food were wonderful. I took these photos in the inner hotel courtyard where we had most of our meals. The rooms were not as fancy as some of the big-name hotels, but they were clean and had everything we could possibly need.

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Guatemala is renowned for its coffee – and it was delicious. We drank freshly ground coffee in the courtyard every day. Here, a late-night craving for sweets – a warm latte paired with fried plantain covered with cinnamon and a dab of fresh cream.

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We took an excursion to the Mercado de Artesanias La Aurora, a beautiful arts and crafts market next to a rose garden. We practically had the place to ourselves.

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Coffee beans growing in the garden.

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At the market, we were overwhelmed with colors and textures from all the hand-woven textiles and crafts.

 

We bought this little hacky-sack turtle for our puppy. It didn’t last long. I managed to get it away from him before he destroyed it. Now the turtle is missing one leg.

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We brought home several textiles including these cloths to place in a basket with bread or tortillas.

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This queen size textile will serve as a light, cool bedspread during the summer.

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One of my favorite parts of travelling is street food, and Guatemala did not disappoint. There were snow cone vendors all over the main plaza in the historic district. I had one with tamarindo and pineapple – yum!

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The smell of freshly baked bread permeated the air.

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As we walked through the historic district, families outside a church were selling these handmade tamales. I did not resist.

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This gentleman was leading his goats through the downtown area. For a few quetzales, you could have a fresh cup of warm goat’s milk.

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Dinner consisted of a chicken breast covered in an exquisite cream sauce with loroco – a wild vine of edible flowers. Restaurant: Café Kacao. My husband’s meal was smothered with an anacate cream sauce. Anacates, or chanterelle mushrooms, were in season. One night, I had a traditional mole dish.

 

You can’t visit a country in Latin America without visiting churches. The baroque Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint James dominates the city center.

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That particular Sunday was the feast day of Santo Domingo. My husband and I joined the jubilant procession through the streets.

 

 

A few blocks over we passed Rectoria Santa Clara, a Catholic Church in the historic district. Construction of the church was completed in 1734.

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The streets had so much character.

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During the week, while I was busy with the field study, my husband took a side trip to Santiago Atitlán, one of several Mayan villages surrounding beautiful Lake Atitlán. Lake Atitlán is in the Guatemalan Highlands at an elevation of 5,105 feet (1,556 meters). Three volcanoes are situated around the lake.

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(Source)

Part of the reason my husband selected Santiago Atitlán was to visit Cojolya for me. Cojolya is a cooperative of 30 artisans, 25 of whom are women, who weave beautiful and intricate textiles using the traditional back-strap loom. My husband took a photograph of one of the women, descendants of the Mayans, weaving a vibrant textile.

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While the women weave on the back-strap loom, the men weave on large foot looms.

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My husband said he had a great time talking with the weavers. He also enjoyed the serenity of the town by the lake surrounded by mountains. Being the amazing husband that he is, he brought me back these items he personally selected – a gorgeous scarf hand embroidered with local birds, an intricately woven catch-all bag, and an exquisite blue woven scarf. He bought them straight from the women who created them – what a treat!

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I had scheduled this post before I heard the news of the volcano erupting near Guatemala City. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families who lost loved ones.

 

Politics, history, and the arts through murals

Visiting Mexico City means taking in the larger-than-life murals of Diego Rivera. We visited three locations featuring these exquisite frescoes.

The Palacio Nacional (National Palace), which houses the office of the President and other cabinet departments, contains a historical timeline of Mexico as depicted by Rivera. It is difficult to capture the grandeur of these detailed murals of the Mexican civilization. I will share only two murals with you, one showing the indigenous cultures that flourished before the Spanish conquest, and one after.

After the Mexican Revolution Rivera was concerned with two issues, and these determined his artistic themes: the need to offset the contempt with which the conquistadors had viewed the ancient Indian civilizations, and the need to offset the anti-mestizo and anti-Indian attitudes of the European-oriented ruling classes during the porfiriato (the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz).

The role of the arts was to restore understanding of and pride in the heritage and cultures that the concept of Spanish superiority had subverted . . . early indigenistas [like Rivera] tended to glorify the Indian heritage and vilify that of the Spaniards as a means of rectifying a historical imbalance and advancing certain political ideas” (103). (Source: http://bit.ly/2sBTjbn)

Totonac Civilization

Ruins of the structures depicted can be found at El Tajín, Veracruz. At the Museum of Anthropology, we saw the rings and balls used in the ball courts in the upper left corner of the mural.

The Arrival of Cortés

… he depicts in dramatic fashion the violence and exploitation of the Spanish conquerors. Natives hanging in the background, the branding of the native in the foreground, and the reduction of the indians to slaves and pack horses show the cruelty and savagery of the Conquest.

In the center is La Malinche (Doña Marina), a native woman who became Cortés’ mistress and mother of his child Martín. Malinche knew both the (Aztec) Nahuatl language and Maya, thus enabling Hernán Cortés to communicate in both. She became a very valuable interpreter and counselor. The blue-eyed child staring outward at us represents the mixture of the races. (Source: http://bit.ly/2tubi3n)

At the Palacio de Bellas Artes, a magnificent art deco building that hosts visual and performing artists, is the famous mural, “Man, Controller of the Universe.” This is the recreation of the mural that Rivera painted at the Rockefeller Center and which was destroyed in 1934. It is almost impossible to capture the entire mural given its size and frequent visitors, so I show you the panel that caused the controversy.

Man at the Crossroads

Man at the Crossroads … is a whodunit tale that also illustrates the tensions between art and politics.

… the piece would have been stunning had it survived. He had this vision of the importance of technology in the future and the hope that there would be a coming together of workers and industrialists and businessmen to further mankind in general, … It was a very hopeful mural. (Source: Destroyed by Rockefellers, Mural Trespassed On Political Vision, NPR. http://n.pr/1G1R5Rj)


If you are ever in CDMX and want to get unobstructed views of Rivera’s murals, go to the Ministry of Public Education, a few blocks away from the National Palace. We had the entire grounds practically to ourselves. The building has two large courtyards with Rivera’s murals covering several floors in each.

Attempting to sum up his 235 panel cycle, Rivera later writes that his goal was “to reflect the social life of Mexico as I saw it, and through my vision of the truth to show the masses the outline of the future.” (Source: http://mo.ma/2sBNvia)

While all of the frescoes have their own story, these were my favorite. They depict the daily arts of dyeing and weaving.

Los Tintoreros (The Dyers)


Los Tintoreros 3

Los Tejedores (The Weavers)

The one mural I have not seen is Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park) located at the Museo Mural Diego Rivera. Therefore, I must return to CDMX one day!

Next stop on the F Line – Bergen Street, Brooklyn

My search for local yarn stores in the big apple continued but this time, I decided to venture off the island and check out the shops in Brooklyn. I popped out of the subway to lively streets with pedestrians enjoying the warm day.

The first shop on my list was La Casita Yarn Shop (“little house” in Spanish) which besides serving up yarn, also served coffee and pastries. It was also selected as one of the best 5 knitting stores in New York by CBS NY. Unfortunately, when I walked up to the door, it was closed 🙁. The note read something about enjoying the outdoors over the long weekend. From peeking through the window, I knew I would return on a future trip. Alas, I later found out that the shop closed permanently sometime during the summer. They even had a farewell party on July 1st! Even though I never shopped there, it made me sad that a yarn shop closed. 😢

La Casita, Brooklyn (closed permanently)

Given my bad luck in finding several stores closed during my trip I called ahead to my next destination and was relieved when a friendly voice answered. Argyle Yarn Shop is a few blocks from the southwest corner of Prospect Park. If I’d had more time, I would have liked to walk through the park and see the botanical gardens or even the zoo.

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288 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn, NY 11215, Info@argyleyarnshop.com, T: 347.227.7799
The shop was bright and roomy and I was warmly greeted by the staff. They had the wall of cubbies full of yarn and baskets and displays everywhere. A large table and comfy chairs welcomed knitters and crocheters.
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I was lucky in that they were having a 20% off sale on sock yarn! And even though I had absolutely no business buying more yarn, I took home this skein of Heritage Wave by Cascade Yarns (75% Superwash Merino Wool / 25% Nylon).

Argyle Yarn Shop - Sock Yarn

They also had a basket of other sale yarns where I found these two lovely MadelineTosh A.S.A.P. super bulky skeins in gorgeous fall colors (100% Superwash Merino Wool). Really, could you have resisted?

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As I left, I smiled at their yarn egg display. Imagine sitting in a nest full of yarn!

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More Yarn in the City

Over Memorial Day weekend this past May, I spent a few days in New York City. My husband was supposed to go with me, but couldn’t after all. I had to attend business meetings the following week and had already bought my ticket. Alas, there was nothing else to do except make the ultimate sacrifice and leave without him.

I spent the weekend walking everywhere. I walked a lot. I forgot my Fitbit so I don’t know how many steps but I walked for hours each day and it was hot. I meandered around SoHo, walked up and down Canal Street in Chinatown, past the Greenwich and West Villages, through the Meatpacking District and Chelsea, then all the way to Columbus Circle and the Upper West Side. When I became really tired, I rode the subway. It was fun and exhausting. Here are snippets from my walks.

Cool window displays in Soho.

Flowery window displays in SoHo

Window shopping.

Purl Soho - Window

So much yarn, so little time.

Purl Soho

Cooling off in Washington Square Park.

Washington Square Park

Walking past the Chrysler Building in search of yarn…

Chrysler Building

…but it was closed. 😞 I found out after I walked up the six flights (elevator wasn’t working). 😓

School Producrs Yarns

Nothing to make me feel better than a whole restaurant dedicated to meatballs on the Upper West Side.

The Meatball Shop on Amsterdam

Heading back to the Financial District, I walked past Gramercy Park and found this little gem in the East Village – Downtown Yarns.

Downtown Yarns - Wall of Yarn

Downtown Yarns - Cubbies of Yarn

Tiny and adorable with the sweetest staff.

Downtown Yarns - Knit Piñata

Downtown Yarns - Spinning Wheel

Didn’t catch the address but I call this the “Jenga” Building.

"Jenga" Building

Yarn bombing at PS 87 between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.

Yarn Bombing - PS 87

Where else can one get warm cookies delivered to your door until 3 am?

Insomnia Cookies - Window

Hanging out on Columbus Circle.

Columbus Circle

Yarn purchase from Downtown Yarns.

Yarn from Downtown Yarns

Next stop on the F Line – Bergen Street, Brooklyn.

A New Journey

I recently started something I have wanted to do for many years – I enrolled in an MBA program. Way back after working a few years out of college, I wanted to be a lawyer. I was accepted into law school and was even awarded a small scholarship – but that was around the time my dad died, and as the oldest in my family, I felt I needed to stay employed in case Mom needed anything. A couple of years later, after entering the private sector, I figured an MBA was the logical next step. Since I was a Literature major, I started taking college math courses to prepare. Around that time, I got married, got pregnant, miscarried, got pregnant again, almost miscarried again – and then stopped all extra activities to focus on my pregnancy. A few months later, my beautiful son was born. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last and I became a single parent for the next 8 or so years. Fast forward to 2016: I am married to an amazing man and we have two boys in college. Now it is my turn.

Campus Collage

The next 18 months will be challenging – the first two weeks of my residency made that clear – but I am so excited about this journey. It is never too late.

Residency Week 1 – Ithaca, New York

Hoffman Challenge Course
Residency Week 2 – Kingston, Ontario

A Yarn Barn…Only in Texas

Where else would one find a barn full of yarn but in Texas? In actuality, the Yarn Barn is housed in a sweet cottage with a porch and old wooden floors. You walk through the various rooms realizing that this was someone’s home once upon a time. It is a quaint cottage full of beautiful yarn.

Yarn Barn 1

Yarn Barn 2

Today’s Yarn Barn is under new ownership. When I lived in San Antonio, the old Yarn Barn was my LYS. I remember when they were closing – their lease was up and they would have to find a new location – so the owners decided to retire. I was so worried that the Yarn Barn would cease to exist! But not to worry. Enid came to the rescue and kept its doors open.

Yarn Barn 3

Yarn Barn 4

The new Yarn Barn has a wonderful selection of yarns in all fibers and colors.

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The Yarn Barn also caters to needlework beyond knitting and crocheting and has an extensive selection of canvasses and threads for needlepoint, cross stitch kits and some weaving supplies.

Yarn Barn 6

Yarn Barn 7

The Yarn Barn is located at 1615 McCullough Avenue in San Antonio, Texas. Parking is a challenge, especially if you park out front, but they do have overflow parking across the street. The location is a bit off the beaten path – not much retail around it – but accessible from IH35 and the McAllister Freeway (U.S. 281).

A Houston Fiber Festival

This past summer, the Knit at Night Guild (KANG) organized the first ever Houston Fiber Fest. The event took place the weekend of July 17-19, 2015. That very weekend, I was on my way out-of-town on business to South Africa and almost missed it. On Friday after work, I raced over to the Berry Center located in a suburb of Houston for about an hour before they closed. The exhibit area was large but very doable. Many yarn shops from the greater Houston area were there with their wares.

At Little Monkey’s Stitch and Spin, they had hand dyed two-stranded sock flats (those little bags hanging from the sides of the display). Each flat is already knitted together from 80% merino and 20% nylon. As you knit up your socks, you are basically, unraveling the flat. The result is two socks or mittens whose stripes or color patterns will match perfectly – very clever! You can find this shop on Etsy.

Little Monkey's Stitch and Spin

I thought the booth for The Barbed Dragon was a lot of fun. According to their website, the shop is “a Texan’s flight of fancy into the fiber arts.” The dragon motif carries through to the names of their gorgeous hand-dyed fibers and yarns such as Dragon’s Indulgence and Dragon’s Treasure. They are located in Burleson, Texas (had never heard of it) but you can find them online. I think this shop partnered with another called Brazen Stitchery because they had this wonderful sparkly yarn in the booth. The names of these yarns were also so creative like a sparkly hank of Zombie American Princess variegated sock yarn.

The Barbed Dragon

The Purl & Loop booth featured needlecraft kits by yet another Texan. I love Angela’s (the owner’s) story. As a career woman, she had little spare time to devote to crafting and would order kits that had all the materials needed to complete a project. Out of that need, she launched her shop primarily devoted to kits for the busy modern person who wants to create but has little time. She even features how-to videos on her website for weaving and needle felting.

Purl & Loop

Park Avenue Yarns lived up to its name with tastefully curated yarns and these lovely silk braids. The sheen is gorgeous and they are oh-so-wonderful to touch. They also carried packets of precut quilting squares in fabrics with modern designs and vibrant colors.

Park Avenue Yarns

Finally, the members of the KANG yarn-bombed the area outside the conference center with smile-inducing knitting and crochet. Trees, benches and even trash cans were covered in yarn! I particularly liked the crocheted mandalas hanging off the trees like ornaments. And no yarn-bombing in Texas is complete without a crocheted Texas flag!

HFF Yarn Bomb 1

HFF Yarn Bomb 2

HFF Yarn Bomb 3

HFF Yarn Bomb 4

HFF Yarn Bomb 5

It was one of the most delightful hours I’ve had. A bit rushed but very much worth the effort. Kudos to the KANG for a wonderful festival. The 2016 Houston Fiber Fest is scheduled for June 24-25, 2016. Mark you calendars!

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(Source)

Yarn in the City

I only had a couple of days in New York City and had little hopes of finding yarn, but yarn I found. I googled “yarn” and Seaport Yarn came up only a few blocks from my hotel. You really have to be looking for it. The shop is on the fourth floor of a large building. You walk in through a nondescript door at street-level and walk or take the elevator upstairs. It’s not a very inviting entry area, even a little scary. Not the kind of place that will get street traffic. Once inside though, the place was bursting with yarn. There were cubbies of yarn practically floor to ceiling.

Seaport Yarn 1

I was the only customer and was able to take my time looking through all the inventory. The proprietor, Tom, was a kind gentleman who seemed to know his yarn. He was very sweet and was watching the shop for his wife. He had spent so much time around yarn and knitters that he was quite knowledgeable about the brands and fibers. Since it was just him and me, we had a lively conversation as I walked around sampling the yarn.

Seaport Yarn 2

I have been on a sock kick of late. For years, I have avoided knitting socks. Not being a patient person, the idea of finishing a project only to have to start all over seemed exasperating. But recently, I saw a photo of a knitter’s sock drawer. It was filled with socks in many colors. I was so entranced that I had to start a pair so I spent quite a bit of time in the sock yarn cubbies. There were a number of options and I finally settled on this Aussie Sock by Oasis Yarn. It’s 400 yards of a fingering weight merino blend called “Blue Dream.”

Seaport Yarn - Oasis Aussie Sock

I selected this sock yarn by Malabrigo for my husband. The skein has 440 yards of fingering weight yarn in subtle greens and browns called Primavera. Primavera means “Spring.” In my opinion, a more appropriate name would have been Otoño or “Fall.” But it’s still a very nice yarn.

Seaport Yarn - Malabrigo Sock

As I paid for my skeins, the proprietor threw in this handy measuring tape and fun pen. I think the funky hair is meant to dust small areas, like a keyboard. While I was happy with my purchases and the great customer service, I did find the store a bit messy. There wasn’t a clear surface anywhere and no place to sit (other than an old couch). It’s not the kind of yarn store where you can take your knitting and sit for a spell but it does have a good selection.

Seaport Yarn - Giveaways

That blue dream skein is already on my needles and I’m almost done with my first sock. I’m enjoying the process more than I thought I would!

Seaport Yarn - Sock in Progress

Seaport Yarn is located in the Financial District at 181 Broadway, Fourth Floor, New York, NY 10007, tel. 212-220-5230.