A Study of Contradictions

After our wonderful first day at COAR, it was down to work for the next two days.  I found myself thinking after this trip that El Salvador is really a country full of contradictions.  On one hand it is a beautiful country full of lovely people which on the surface seems like a perfect place for some fun in the sun, but lurking just under the surface is political unrest, gang violence and third world infrastructure.

The property that COAR is on used to be a coffee plantation and the plantation house is still standing.  Until 2009, the nuns who ran the village lived in the house.  It is now used as a guesthouse for visitors.  It’s not quite the plantation house that one can find in the southern United States but still beautiful.  My first example of the contradictions, the beauty of these window (my morning view each day) is tempered by the barbed wire just outside which is on top of the cement wall that encircles the village.

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We spent both mornings in meetings with the local people who run the village and the school.  These were quite long and difficult for me as I speak no Spanish.  But, they were very productive.  One interesting thing that came up was this program that the government is running to try and encourage tourism in El Salvador.  They are investing in programs which train locals to work in hotels and restaurants.  This leads to example number 2.  This is a picture I took from the oceanfront restaurant we had lunch at on Monday.

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This picture could have been taken in any beachfront town is any country.  However, if you crossed the street and walked 1 block this is what you find:

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These are the streets of La Libertad, the main beachfront town.  It’s a busy, crowded town full of market stands and crime.  We were there to visit an American priest from Cleveland who is the pastor of the church of in La Libertad.  He told us of the struggles of the people in his community.

Both nights we were there we had very local dinners.  Monday our lunch at the beachfront was later in the afternoon and quite filling.  On our way back to the guesthouse we decided to stop at the grocery store and pick up something to make at the house.  It was after work and the store was bustling full of locals and we even ran into a few friends.  On Tuesday we had a huge lunch which was prepared for us by four nuns who recently came to COAR to serve the children.  They are Spanish and I believe are worse than any Italian grandmother on Christmas when it comes to pushing food.  I think it was a five course lunch.  Needless to say we did not have much room for dinner that night.  We ended up at the Central American version of KFC which is called Pollo Campero.  It’s just like any fast food place here in States, complete with a play area.  These people love their chicken so much there is always at least one person with a box of chicken on the flight home!  Both of these nights, had you told me where I was I would not have known.  Despite all the normalcy, it was made clear that we should be back to the house by 8:00 and we should only be riding around with drivers that we know.  Just calling up and ordering a taxi is also a no-no down there.  The priest we visited would not let us leave until he found us a driver he trusted.  Both nights it just really made me think about how this all seemed so normal but there was serious danger on the streets.

On Tuesday afternoon we went to visit an American couple who has been living down there for a number of years.  They run a mission called Epilogos.  Mike and Susie have a real commitment to the people of El Salvador.  Mike picked us up and took us back to their home.  They told us about the gang activity that has moved into their community.  There are two gangs at war over territory and after it gets dark things get dangerous.  They live in San Jose Villanueva and it’s a cute little town.  It was hard to tell that at night it turned into a war zone.  As we were driving back we drove by a few groups of young men and Mike let us know those were gang members.  I would have never known – they looked like any other group of young people.  Like I said, contradictions.

It was a busy two days and it brought back many memories of my trip in 2007.  How can anyone forget the stop/go light in customs at the airport?  To create an appearance of completely random selection they have a stop/go light in customs, when you get to the desk you push a button and find out if you have been chosen for screening or you are free to go.  I’m not sure it is as completely random as they want you to think but either way I hold my breath until the green light comes on.  It makes me miss small things like street lights (there are none down there), hot water, and water that runs all day and night.

One last story of contradiction, and we really thought there was some sort of sign with this one.  Sunday evening as everyone was playing games one of the kids noticed that a baby bird had fallen out its nest.  Mary quickly interceded and was holding the bird safely in her hands until we could find a ladder to replace the bird in its nest.  The next afternoon as we were visiting the priest we sitting outside at his table which had a ceiling fan above it.  All of a sudden we heard a thud and then it was raining feathers.  Yes, a bird had flown into the fan.  Lucky for us it only caught it’s tail.  But we both thought of the bird she had saved the night before.  You win some, you lose some down there.

February’s Finished Project

This month’s finished project*!!!

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Pattern: Follow Your Arrow 2 Yarn: Space Cadet Aurora in Colors of Cleveland January colorway Susquehanna Sparkle Sock in Trumpet

*it still needs to be blocked :)

This was my first knit-a-long and it was a mystery one so it was tons of fun!  I learned a lot of new stitches and got to use some fun yarn.  I would definitely partake in another mystery knit-a-long!  Now, to figure out the blocking issue.  I’m not a blocker and this thing needs some serious blocking.  I’ve seen the actual finished ones on Ravelry and they definitely make me want to figure it out!  Any tips or suggestions for blocking?

Afternoon Fiesta

So, I’ve decided that Tuesdays will be Travel Tuesdays on the blog!  I think that will give me the chance to mix it up and share some of my recent travels on the blog which I have not been able to work in with all the knitting!  The first few Travel Tuesdays will focus on my recent trip to El Salvador.

Way back in 2007 I had the opportunity to visit El Salvador and that trip has stuck with me.  Our youth group was looking a mission trip and, through some connections, we became aware of COAR Children’s Village in Zaragoza, El Salvador.  This project appealed to us because it did not involve building anything and was more of an immersion trip.  We went and spent a week playing with the children who lived at the village and visiting various sites in El Salvador.  When we returned home the first thing I did was sign up to sponsor a child and I’ve continued to support COAR since that time.

In November of last year I was asked to join the board which I was happy to do.  I knew I needed to go back and visit the village.  I remember talking to people before my first trip about how it was down there and everyone I talked to had been there multiple times.  After having been there for a week I thought all those people were crazy.  It’s a scary place down there with none of the first world comforts we have up here.  And yet, on a cold and snowy Saturday I found myself headed back down there along with our executive director and program director.  There is something about the country and the people that pull you back despite all scary stuff.

The Village was started in response to the war that was going on in El Salvador back in 1980 and it took in war orphans. The end of war led to a change in the kids that were being taken in, now they were victims of the crime and gang culture that sprang up at the end of the war.  Families were unable to care for them and they come to us.  Today, the Village is still evolving as the child care laws in El Salvador have changed and we are mostly seeing children who have been victims of abuse and/or neglect at home.  In the States we would say it is more of a foster care system.

Some of those changes are allowing the kids to go home on the weekends.  Because of this we did not know how many children would be there when we arrived on Sunday.  Lucky for us it seemed like many had stayed the weekend.  As we arrived, they were planning for a group of visitors from a parish in Cleveland and had arranged a fiesta.

I should say now I don’t speak any Spanish and these kids only speak a little English so communication is tough but they were so excited to see us!  The kids all knew the staff members I was with and they were anxious to meet me.  While we waited for our visitors to arrive the kids decided to watch a Korean TV show which really confused me – I was watching a Korean show, dubbed in Spanish and could understand none of it!  They have one TV with a DVD player which is kept in the community center.  As I questioned the choice of TV show, I was informed that Korean TV is dubbed and distributed very cheaply – they all loved it!

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Those plastic chairs are everywhere down there!!!  One of the differences from my last visit is that most of our kids are pre-teens or teenagers now as opposed to 2007 when most of the kids were pre-school/elementary school age.  This is somewhat due to the child care law change down there.  And, many of the same girls were still there, I even recognized a few of them.  As with many countries around the world, boys are more highly desirable so we tend to have more girls as they are not “useful” to the family.

Our visitors finally arrived and the kids needed a little time to get their skits and songs together so we took them for a tour of the village before coming back to the community center.  The kids sang a few songs and did a skit and presented the visitors with small gifts they had made.

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And then it was time for a game!  The beauty of games is that the rules can be explained by demonstration and once the game starts no conversation is needed so they bridge the language gap.  I’m not sure I ever heard what they called this game but I’m pretty sure you could not get away with it in the States as the possibility of someone losing an eye is extremely high.  Basically, there were two people who had very long sticks on each side.  The goal was to get the ring around the stick and this involved a sort of basketball like guarding of the stick.  The ring could be passed between teammates and then tossed like a Frisbee towards the stick.  It’s great because it requires no special equipment and no special field – it can be played anywhere with materials you can find around.  Everyone who played had a great time!

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While some played, others gathered around one of our visitors who had brought her guitar and had a sing-a-long!

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After the game, our guests had to leave and we were able to have dinner with the kids.  We had pizza, Coke and tres leches cake which was pretty tasty!  The most interesting thing going on during our dinner was the book list that was circulating around.  Our program director had offered to donate Kindles for the kids to read books but instead the kids wanted actual books (be still my heart, I guess I belong in Central America…)  So, he told them to make a list and make a list they did!  All during dinner kids kept coming up to add books – most of which are popular here in the states, titles such as Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, Hunger Games, Divergent and Percy Jackson to name a few.  All excellent choices!  Kids who want to read – it warms the heart!

One last picture for this post – this little girl is new this year and really stole my heart.  Down there the school year runs January – November so it’s still early in the year and she’s still getting used to her new surroundings and is quite shy!

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I’ll be posting more about my trip in upcoming Travel Tuesdays but if you wan to learn more about COAR you can visit our website by clicking here!

What’s on My Needles This Weekend?

I’m a little late with this post due to a quick trip to warmer weather (more on that later!) but this weekend I’ve been obsessed with attempting to catch up and finish my Ysolda KAL – Follow Your Arrow 2.  It has been a mystery knit-a-long and the first clue was released on January 19.  It’s been really fun!  Each week there are 2 different clues and you pick which clue to do next so there are many different combinations.  It looked so fun one of my knitting friends, we’ll call her C, decided to do one too.  Each week we text to find out which clue we have each chosen.  So far, we’ve always chosen the same clue and you know why?  It’s the only one we understand!  Ysolda uses some really interesting stitches in the clues and if I didn’t understand them on the read through I knew they would not go well in the actual knitting.  My favorite section was clue 3 that has these cool smock stitches.

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I think these would be cool on a hat and might play around with that when I have some extra time (not sure when that will be but it’s going on the list :) )

I was not able to take it with me on my trip as it does make for good plane knitting so I ended up being a clue behind and since it’s a shawl it’s been growing each week but I have 4 rows left to fingers crossed it will be my finished object of the month before the end of the week!  Here’s a peak of it now!

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February’s Yarn (a.k.a my favorite one yet!)

The new month brought the next installment in my yarn of the month club.  I can’t believe this marks the halfway point!  I knew as soon as I peaked in the bag that this one was going to be my favorite because I saw purple!  It is has so many different beautiful purples in it and then hiding are just a few hints of blue.  This month’s base is 100% superwash merino.

I picked it up on my usual knit night this month and my friend, we’ll call her Gia, was eagerly awaiting the reveal.  Once the colorway is unveiled, the next question is always “what neighborhood does it represent?”  The answer on Thursday was: “University Circle” to which Gia responded “what?”.  That was my initial reaction as well.  One of the fun things with this club is trying to figure out where Rachel found the color inspiration for the featured neighborhood.  Some months I totally get it as soon as I see it and other months, not so much.  I think this was the case with December’s yarn.  Rachel does provide us with an info page which has the palette, the explanation of the palette and some info about the neighborhood. So I turned to the explanation and then it all made sense to me.

For readers not from Cleveland, University Circle is what I would call ground zero of any trip to Cleveland.  It’s the must see, do not miss spot.  In one small, area we have our world class art museum, world class orchestra, beautiful botanical garden, fun natural history museum and a cool historical society which just added an amazing carousel.   Other attractions in the area include Lakeview Cemetery where James A. Garfield is buried, MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) and the Cleveland Cinematheque which shows all those cool foreign films which are hard to find at the commercial theaters.  In the winter there is skating rink and in the summer they have Wade Oval Wednesdays where there is live music, food trucks and other entertainment.  The campus of Case Western Reserve University is also in and around the area and has some really interesting buildings.  And, depending on what route you take to get there you can drive through the cultural gardens which represent the many different nationalities you can find in the city.  Like I said, this is pretty much were all the tourist action is at so it should be at the top of every visitor’s list.

With all the art and culture purple does seem to be a logical color choice.  As Rachel tells us the art and culture bring to mind a time of renaissance and royalty and purple is the color of royalty.  With so many different attractions it is hard to find just one colorway that represents University Circle.  Most of the buildings are quite old and really do remind you of days gone by.  I get the purples and bonus it’s my favorite color!

Here’s the yarn:

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Snow Day

I’m definitely not complaining, we really have not had a snow day yet this year so when they told us we were expecting around 8 inches today I knew I would batten down the hatches and stay in today.  I’ve been looking for a day like this to reorganize my yarn room which was becoming quite unruly as of late.  For once the forecasters had it right and it started snowing before I was up so I got to it.  Here is a before picture:

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Note the bag on the floor is completely full of yarn as well as all the shelves!

I pulled everything out and started over.  When I moved in and got this shelving unit I tried to put the yarns together by type and then maybe by color so basically, no particular order.  I just thought there was order.  Once everything was out I began entering my stash on Ravelry.  I had not used this feature on Raverly in the past but thought this was a great opportunity to try it out.  I started with everything that still had labels which were mostly whole balls/skeins.  I then went to stash yarn that I knew exactly the brand/type and I used my scale to weigh it to determine how much I had left.  I have so much fun sock yarn left over and I’m thinking it would make cute baby hats so we’ll see where I go with that.  It turned out this was a very time consuming process and I did not even photo the yarn.  I just wanted somewhere that I could take a quick look and see what I have in the house already.  About halfway through my floor looked like this:

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Of course, there was a whole pile of unidentified yarn, some of which I could not even remember what I might have knit with it.  I then decided to try to return it back to the shelves by color, for real time.  I made sure my books/magazines/patterns were up to date in Ravelry too.  That has to be my favorite feature of Ravelry – the ability to put all that info and search electronically instead of trying to remember where I saw that one pattern for whatever.  I did take a lunch break and a dinner break.  I do not have a tv in my yarn room but I was able to watch some hockey on my laptop and I was able to catch up with the Down Cellar and Fluffy Fibers podcasts and that kept me entertained throughout the day.  Finally around 7:30 I was finished!!

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It was super hard to get a good picture when I got done because it was dark out and the only light int he room is right next to the shelves.  But even with the bad photography I think it looks 100% better.  I did manage to weed out a few yarns, a few unfinished or halfway finished projects and some other random junk.  I got done just in time to sit down and watch the halftime show of the Superbowl which was the only part of the game I was interested in (don’t get me started on the NFL…)  Looks like I will probably end up working from home tomorrow as it is still snowing at quite a clip here which is good because I’m going to need a day to recover after all that work today!

Finished Object of the Month

Trying a new feature this year – featuring a finished project each month.  Fingers crossed I finish something each month…  So, without further delay, this’s month’s project is….  The Guernsey Wrap!!!!!

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It needs just a touch of blocking but I usually use my futon to block on and it’s covered in a mix of Christmas decorations and stuff that needs to be stored in my attic so as soon as I dig it out I will block this.  It turned out so amazing!!  I love it!!  I did a prior post about the yarn and pattern – you can read it here.

The Zealania Tui was amazing to knit with and is so warm and snuggly.  This project helped improve my chart reading skills.  I’m not much of a visual learner and would prefer to read and write words, not pictures so charts are sometimes a challenge for me.  The other interesting thing about this pattern was that it called for a sewn bind off.  I had to do a little research to find a tutorial.  I always find the ones on Knitty.com to be really helpful, especially because I do prefer the written instructions as opposed to videos which I find hard to watch and do the technique at the same time.  The sewn bind off is a little kitchner like in it’s rhythm but with only one row of stitches, not two and not even remotely as painful as the kitchner.  It comes out looking just like the long tail cast on edge.  I had to mark the cast on edge to tell the difference.

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Long tail cast on edge

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Sewn bind off edge

I would definitely use the sewn bind off again, especially for something that needs loose bind off – it worked great!  I’m so glad I got this done and we still have plenty of winter left during which it will gets tons of use!

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