Saturday, July 31, 2010

Au Clair de la Lune

It must be the moon phase. Last Saturday in a fit of over-confidence, I tried to spin a sample skein of feather yarn, using marabou down. Never mind that other attempts to spin down have ended ignominiously. Feather down has the added joy of being, um, downy – in the aggregate the fiendish little strands may look white, but individually they are translucent, at times almost invisible and, even more problematic, happy to fly away on the least puff of air... to alight upon dark surfaces at a later time. I gave up and beaded the skein to emulate the full moon.

Beaded sample skein

There still was time for the finished sample skein to join the victory mound watching the finish of the Tour de France in Paris. Look, it's the Arc de Triomphe!

TdF victory mound

In an attempt to harness that lunar energy for good, I cast on (::cough:: for the third time) a Piscean Sock. This one is modified to fit my Frankenfeet: cuff-down, flap heel, some jiggering of the stitch count. It's my July Sockdown! sock.

Piscean Sock in progress

And I started pondering the possibilities for the 4! Ounce! Challenge!, a spin-knit-pattern-write-along. I'll be spinning this Spunky Eclectic Light BFL, in the Zodiac colorway Virgo. The base fiber is not white or cream, but a warm gray-brown, which gives heathery depth to the handpainting.

Spunky Eclectic Zodiac Light BFL, Virgo

The quantity of fiber/yarn for the challenge – four ounces (113 g) or less – suggests some standard one skein projects: scarf, cowl, hat, mitts, shawlette, socks.4! Ounce! Challenge! button Then there's the nonstandard project. Not my style, but I suppose if other projects merit handspun, perhaps it does too, at least by the light of a full moon.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Usually I'm barely ahead of the voiture balai (celebrating its centennial this year), but commencing now I am going to be officially insufferable. This involves things such as cross-posting, quaffing bubbly beverages, snacking on madeleines, and other expressions of high spirits. That is because Tour de Fleece glory is mine...

Finished TdF yarn

... and it's still Saturday.

There's so much time left before the grand finish in Paris tomorrow, I think I'll try a small experiment.

Sample skein

DH wants to know, "What are the feathers for?" Tralala.

ETA: Gentle readers, that's marabou, not rabbit angora in the second photo – feathers, not fur.

Penultimate Spin

Today is the penultimate stage in the Tour de Fleece. I'm ready to ply up the last of my Into the Whirled singles, currently resting on handy low-tech storage devices. Barring an unforeseen mishap, things are looking good for a leisurely virtual arrival in Paris tomorrow.

TdF singles

That's the only kind of spinning I have planned for today, as there's a heat advisory in effect roundabout Exit 151. Keep hydrated and stay cool!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer Games: West Essex Trail

After my usual Saturday outing to the farmers market (where Kelli caught me in my usual preoccupied daze), I pedaled off to the West Essex TrailLet's Go Ride a Bike Summer Games for my final LGRAB Summer Games New Territory challenge, to ride a greenway.

The West Essex Trail is a linear county park that follows an old Erie-Lackawanna Railroad right-of-way from just below the ridge of First Watchung Mountain in Little Falls diagonally through Cedar Grove, ending near Verona High School. Gentle readers familiar with the area know that that route by car would mean a lot of traffic and topography. By contrast, rail trails in general are car-free (note: except when they cross auto roads) and have minimal climbing and descending. This one is also shaded by trees (mostly new growth maples, but some fine old tuliptrees and black walnuts) for almost its entire length. It's a pleasant ride, even in scorching hot weather.

West Essex Trail

For a county park, the access points can be a bit obscure. Some of my bike buddies favor following the high tension power lines from where they cross Ridge Road (just north of the Cedar Grove Reservoir) down to the trail, which if lacking in charm has the advantage of being impossible to miss. The north end of the trail, on Francisco Avenue in Little Falls, has no sign and when the weeds are overgrown, the only way to spot it is by the curb cut.

Francisco Avenue entrance

The trail is popular with walkers, runners, and cyclists, and sufficient in width to accommodate all three. Yellow blazes denoting the Lenape Trail, which coincides with the rail trail, can be seen. The trail surface varies from gravel to crushed stone to packed earth – sensible shoes for walkers and wider tires for bikes are helpful, but boots or knobbies aren't necessary. When the rails-to-trail conversion was done, the valuable, recyclable metal rails were removed, but the wood railroad ties were left behind. Treated wood takes a while to compost.

Railroad ties

Residences, businesses, and state institutions are built immediately adjacent to the trail. The land rises and falls around the trail, so sometimes one is in a trough, sometimes one can peer down into well-kept backyards. Some homeowners have made private entrances to the trail.

Private entrance

At Bowden Road in Cedar Grove, there's a nicely marked pedestrian path to the Cedar Grove Community Center immediately north of the unmarked West Essex Trail. The community center is a convenient place to park if one drives to the trail.

Bowden Road entrance

As the trail approaches Pompton Avenue in Cedar Grove, the land drops away dramatically, culminating in the rapids of the Peckman River, a north-flowing tributary of the Passaic River. There used to be a decaying wooden trestle bridge over the river, a vividly memorable crossing for those undeterred by the wobble and an impassable barrier for others. It's been replaced with a sturdy new bridge.

Peckman River bridge

The rapids form a popular local swimming hole. I'm not sure I'd swim there (the river is clean enough to be stocked with trout, even so, ew), but there was a crowd of tweens swimming and trying to jump from a rope swing into one of the pools (it's harder than it looks on TV), plus several adults sitting on water-smoothed boulders reading with their feet in the water. Alas, the fencing on the bridge flummoxed my poor digicam – you get the idea.

Peckman River rapids

Placid as it seems on a nice summer day, the Peckman River recently has begun to behave badly. It's a sadly familiar pattern: reckless overdevelopment, an increase in impermeable surfaces, rapid runoff, a sudden increase in the frequency, severity, and area of floods, and finally a human-caused expansion of the flood plain. The once-calm river now causes Verona Lake to overflow after rainstorms and inundates Little Falls each spring; it repeatedly damages its bridge on Route 46 (near Best Buy). Dredging and canalizing the river are only partial fixes – preventing rapid runoff by preserving forest and open lands is equally or indeed even more needed.

Pompton Avenue bridge

Moving along, the original iron trestle bridge over Pompton Avenue in Cedar Grove is still in place, like a tiny piece of the High Line before it became so chic. The shopping mall on the east side of Pompton Avenue is another convenient place to park – there's a middling fair deli there. On the west side is a stairway to the trail; no surprise, many people use a badly eroded footpath on the east side.

The southern end of the rail trail is dominated by the Essex County Hospital Center, including the abandoned Overbrook Insane Asylum Hospital, a famed Weird NJ site and Halloween showcase on Ghost Hunters. (The new psychiatric facility nearby is nice, although not nearly as picturesque.) My camera decided to quit at that point (hm?), so I decided to head back.

Had I continued, the West Essex Trail would have taken me to its end on Fairview Avenue in Verona near Verona High School. (The Lenape Trail continues on to Verona Lake and into the Eagle Rock Reservation.) The old rail line proceeded via a tunnel under Bloomfield Avenue into Caldwell, but the tunnel was filled in and the land is not part of the rail trail.

For those not averse to wild food, a trip along the West Essex Trail at this time of year offers a seasonal delicacy: ripe wineberries. The plant is an invasive exotic and the berries are almost as good as cultivated raspberries, so I feel positively virtuous about picking freely. (Despite the name, the fruit is not alcoholic, at least not fresh off the plant.) The entire plant except the fruit has wicked thorns, so would-be pickers beware.


As sweet a treat as wineberries may be, it's been a delight to participate in the LGRAB Summer Games. Thank you, Dottie and Trish, I've had a blast riding and blogging and following the adventures of other participants!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer Games: Governors Island

The other day DH and I packed up the bikes and headed out to Governors Island, a lovely ice cream cone shaped island in the middle of New York harbor. As its name suggests,Let's Go Ride a Bike Summer Games it was once reserved as an exclusive getaway for the royal governors of New York and, despite subsequent use as a shore battery, a federal penitentiary, and Coast Guard housing, it somehow retained an air of high style and restricted public access. Although it's technically a part of Manhattan borough, we'd never set foot on the place. A BBQ festival on the island seemed a perfect opportunity to explore a new part of town by bike for the New Territory challenge of the LGRAB Summer Games.

Governors Island ferry terminal

Visitors to Governors Island depart Manhattan via a free ferry that uses the handsomely restored old Staten Island ferry terminal just east of the current SI ferry terminal. (There's also a ferry from Pier 6 in Brooklyn.) After a short, pleasant ride, one has arrived.

Welcome to Governors Island

We pedaled around a bit, then chained up in a shady spot and went to the BBQ festival, Meatopia. It was a hellacious dystopia. Everything smelled tantalizingly good, but the food ran out before all paid customers had been served. By my observation, exhibitors began striking their tents around 1:00 pm, but the organizers continued selling tasting tickets for another hour. As gentle readers may imagine, much ill temper ensued.


Despite that unpleasantness, we enjoyed exploring Governors Island. It's a shutterbug's paradise thanks to magnificent views of New York harbor...

Liberty Island

... stately architecture and historic military fortifications...

Stately architecture

... and random art lying about. This red and green string sculpture caught my eye. I'd hoped to do some spinning in public for the Tour de Fleece...

String sculpture

... but it rained intermittently and all I dared do was flash my spindle. (It's dangling from my handlebars in the photo above.)

TdF spinning

I can't decide whether these S-twist toes are whimsical or disturbing, which is a bit troubling all by itself.


There's a pretty picnic lawn supplied with picnic tables, Adirondack chairs, hammocks, shelters made from shipping containers, and wheelbarrow benches. Hardly anything is nailed down because one would look pretty silly at the ferry landing trying to smuggle things off the island.

Picnic Point

About the only thing that's lacking is a beach. Like many of the New York islands, Governors Island has no soft shore – it's completely girt by seawalls. However, there is a public beach club.

Beach club

We ended our day with a ferry ride back to Manhattan and a proper dinner in Chinatown. I have no desire to try the foodless food festival again, but I'd gladly return to Governors Island – the season continues with activities for all ages through October 10.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Glorious Weekend

Ooh! Recession or no, this July 4th weekend there were fireworks aplenty somewhere roundabout Exit 151 every evening starting on the 1st and continuing through the 5th.


Aah! I started spinning up my Tour de Fleece project, Into the Whirled Superwash Blue Face Leicester top. I'm repeating my Ravelympics goal, to spin, ply, and finish sufficient yarn for a pair of socks, just to show that Ravel*****s glory was no fluke.

Into the Whirled BFL top

Oh! It was scorching hot on the 5th, but I decorated my bike and rode in the 4th of July parade anyway. This year we tossed candy to the crowd, which seemed 'way more popular than the granola bars of two years ago. I ran out about a third of the way through (must learn to pace myself better).

Decorated bike

Hope your 4th was happy, if and whenever you celebrated.


And now that the heat wave has settled in, stay cool and hydrated!

Redacted 6/26/12: The Ravelry event formerly known by a name that rhymes with and supposedly infringes on the Olympics™.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Yipes, Stripes

There's never a dull moment roundabout Exit 151. Among other oddities, it would seem I can see Russian spies from my house. Who knew? Since every sock deserves a brush with notoriety, I took my singleton conference sock to have a gawp at "Russia House."

Lupin sock at Russian spy house

If gentle readers are politely unimpressed by this throwback to the Cold War, how's this for news: I finally finished Skew by Lana Holden. They look well enough, but they're not a good fit on my Frankenfeet. For the moment their novelty outweighs their shortcomings, but I may yet frog 'em.

Skew socks

My 1776 cycling socks are also finished. I plan to wear them in the 4th of July parade, which is on the 5th this year.

1776 cycling socks

Meanwhile, the big fireworks display in the park is this evening. Um, Happy 4th, if and whenever you celebrate!