Monday, August 31, 2009


I was so busy being on vacation that I never got around to posting any of my other shots of and inside the Gateway Arch. (There are a lot to pick from.) Since these photos belong in this month and it's an otherwise lazy posting day for me, I present the first of two picture days. Today I'm sticking with shots of the Arch. Another day will feature photos inside it.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Turn, turn, turn

The calendar shows that it's still summertime, but today was distinctly fall-like here. Shorts and a t-shirt was a somewhat chilly ensemble to wear, especially when I went out for an early evening walk. It felt more like October than late August.

Autumn is my favorite season, so I don't mind if temperatures start turning a bit cooler, even though we've had a relatively mild summer. Fall weather may be what helps get me knitting with more regularity. That season's climate feels more appropriate for needles and yarn than the hot, humid days.

While I've kept busy during the summer, I don't feel like I've been especially productive in anything I do. Two weeks remain until classes resume at work, and while I'm not ready for the harried schedule that most assuredly awaits me then, I expect it may make me more efficient and creative.

There's nothing like limited time to turn on the pressure to utilize it best. The lazy days of summer have been needed. This season has served its purpose of giving me rest and relaxation. As the cooler air arrives and the academic year nears, it's time to knuckle down and get something done again.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sporty tops for your casual life

Before I found a thirty-year-old letter from my grandma to my mom, this was yesterday's intended entry: a couple cheap laughs at old knit fashion. These photos come from the spring/summer 1979 issue of Good Housekeeping Needlecraft. The text on the right-hand page reads:
"There'll be lots of carefree, sunny days coming your way soon. Be prepared for all the fun by filling your wardrobe with sporty little tops like these. The Hooded Sweater (opposite page) is easy to knit. Wear it over another sweater, belt it at the waist and use the hood on breezy days. In Plymouth's Apollo, Knit the Multipatterned Vest for yourself, Multipatterned Pullover for him (left). It's how the two of you can look colorfully matched. Nantuk Sports yarn by Columbia-Minerva. The attractive blue and white tops (above) are great with shorts or a favorite skirt. Patterned Middy Top (left) is crocheted in Bucilla's Tempo. The pretty Yoked Pull-on has a decorative floral motif embroidered in duplicate stitch. Knitted in Spinnerin's Elf. Instructions for all are listed in Index, page 105."
From looking at the picture and glancing at the pattern, the Hooded Sweater appears to be a garter stitch garment. I have a feeling that the variegated colorway is what makes the sweater look horribly outdated more than anything. It's possible I could be convinced that these colors would be passable if knit in stockinette, but that may be pushing it. Anyway, the combination of variegated yarn and the texture just doesn't work, at least from today's perspective.

The other projects don't strike me as outrageously unfashionable, although the combination of colors in the Multipatterned Vest and Pullover don't seem very modern. But what do I know?

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Grandma's letter

Last night at knit night one of the women brought some old knitting magazines and cards she'd been given. Seeing as I didn't know what to write today, I thought I'd dig out one of the old needlecraft magazines in my possession. I was thinking that I held onto it when they were cleaning out my grandmother's possessions, but now I believe it must have been something my mom gave me when they last moved.

I was going to post a couple pictures from the spring/summer 1979 issue of Good Housekeeping Needlecraft, but then I opened up Crochet from Sunset Books and found something that stopped me dead in my chair. It wasn't the ditto or xerox copies in between the pages but a handwritten letter.

Maybe it seems silly, but I wasn't sure if I should read the letter since it was addressed to my mother. Still, knowing that I had this in my possession and that it very well could have been written thirty years ago by my grandmother, how could I not read it? My heart beat faster as I began reading, not because I was finding or expecting to find something traumatic but because the chances of seeing something like this are so small.

The letter is two pages with writing on both sides, although at least one more page must have gone with it. (The letter ends without what a natural conclusion or signature.) I was confused by what I was reading and set it aside. I was trying to understand why my grandmother would be starting the correspondence mentioning how she had been worried about not getting my mom's letter until it arrived on Friday. (This letter is "dated" Sunday night.) I was becoming a little more nervous about reading this and set it aside.

Then I realized that the letter wasn't from my paternal grandmother, who lived in the same small town as my family, but my maternal grandma. She died in 1982, I think. Suddenly this letter went from being a big find to a bigger find. My mom's mom lived a couple hours away from us and died when I was in second grade, if memory serves. While I remember her, I didn't know her as well.

Obviously I had to continue reading. From clues in the letter it must have been sent in late January/early February 1979. Apparently I had been sick and missing school, which she mentions knowing that I hated. She talked about the weather. It had been snowing a lot.

She also wrote about not taking her pain pills for a week and deciding to do her laundry rather than having her sister coming over to do it. What she wrote says a lot about her and, I think, a lot about my family:
"I can't sit here in this rocker the rest of my life. So thought I would see if I could manage. I hurt afterwards but then I hurt anyway so might as well have a reason for hurting."
She wrote about crocheting little toys for us kids and that it sounded like my mom was crocheting a lot. The latter portion of the letter is her writing directions for some crochet project from a book or magazine as best as she could remember.

I imagine if I hadn't started knitting that this would have ended up in the trash. If I didn't knit, I'd have no reason to have this paperback crochet book in my possession. I think I've had this for at least a couple years and hadn't ever looked through it, thus tonight's discovery. I'm still kind of dazed by getting this glimpse of my grandmother so many years later.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Return to knit night

Until this evening I hadn't been to knit night in a long time, possibly since early March. There wasn't any particular reason for my extended absence other than my knitting had slowed considerably. As in practically nonexistent. What should I make? I don't know. OK, nothing it is.

I returned to knit night after my months-long layoff and cast on for a dishcloth, the old reliable project. Before I knew it nearly three hours were gone and I had probably 75% of the dishcloth finished. I hadn't planned on being there that long, but the time passed in the blink of an eye.

I felt it in the shoulder some from knitting so extensively, but I trucked along and was surprised how much I got done. That's easier when spending more time listening than talking, which was perfectly fine. It was like slipping into that mysterious persona of the secret knitter again.

I browsed some dishcloth patterns earlier in the day to see if I might find something different to do. While tonight's project of choice was the same basketweave pattern I followed on my last FO, my search uncovered a new pattern I'm going to knit. Looks like I'm getting back in the swing of it.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More knit flicks

From time to time I'll point out knitting in films. Here are a couple more...

Earlier this year I wrote about Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles and the knitting and yarn-related moments in it . This week the hard-to-see film was released on DVD. I'll issue again the warning I put in my earlier entry about the film: most of you are likely to find this serious art film extremely boring (which is, in one sense, the point). For more adventurous moviegoers only.

Speaking of which, apparently Pedro Almodóvar's first film, which I've never seen (and which probably hasn't been commercially available in the U.S.), has a knitting-related scene fitting of the unrestrained director. This solid piece about Almodóvar describes the outrageous scene thusly:
It became an after-hours cult hit at local cinemas, not least for an impromptu golden-shower scene that takes place in the middle of a knitting lesson.
How about something that maybe you've heard of or seen? In the classic Hollywood noir Double Indemnity Barbara Stanwyck's femme fatale mentions being a knitter. (We might see her knit briefly, but I don't remember as it's been more than a week since I watched it.)


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Three weeks

Today is the final day of my three week vacation. I know, nobody feels sorry for me about that.

The length of the vacation was chosen because I needed time off and needed to get away from the limit of vacation hours I can bank at work. I've never been one to use all the vacation time I've earned in a year, so it had been amassing into quite a large number.

The time away from the office has flown. The thirteen days and two thousand-plus miles on the road went by in a blur. These eight days at home have vanished fairly quickly too. What about all the stuff I wanted to do? I planned to read at least one book, but I didn't even crack one. I'd given some thought to straightening up my place. That didn't really happen.

No, I bummed around going to the movies, getting in some exercise, and spending a lot of time online and watching TV. It's been good to take it easy and ignore work (or as much as possible when e-mails and phone calls are received and must be addressed). Am I ready to go back? Not really but it's probably time.


Monday, August 24, 2009

School days

Around here school starts in the next day or so for primary and secondary students. For the first time since its 1919 construction, the place where I attended elementary school, which at one time held K-12 classes, will not be opening its doors this fall or ever again for that matter.

Due to dwindling enrollment and the presence of a septic system rather than sewer service, the school district decided it was for the best economically to close the building and move the students to another school. Going by the newspaper articles and online comments appended to them, this has not been a popular choice with those who live where I grew up. Actually, it's kind of painful to read what they are saying.

The school is likely to auctioned off and torn down. The district offered it to the village for $1, but the proposal was rejected. Rightly so, I'm guessing. The cost of maintaining the property, even unused, probably made taking ownership an unwise move.

Although I no longer live there, haven't set foot inside that school since who knows when, and accept that the closure is probably a wise fiscal choice for the district, part of me is sad that its history has come to an end. To have a significant place in my life story shuttered makes me feel older than I am.

I can still see the inside of the school in my mind's eye and feel like I know it well. The ground floor, which was slightly recessed below the ground, housed both sixth grade classes and kindergarten. The gymnasium, kitchen facilities, library, and (I think) the only restrooms were there as well. I remember the cozy little coat room, a small white wooden space with a bright incandescent bulb, for the kindergarteners.

The next floor up had both first grade classrooms straddling the principal's office, two second grade classes, a third grade classroom, and the teacher's lounge. Was there only a single third grade class? I can't recall where it would have been in the building, but it must have been on the upper floor. (I'm really confused because I can't even think of the other third grade teacher's name, assuming there was one.) The second floor also had the pencil machine. I always loved putting in a coin and getting a pencil displaying an NFL team's name and colors.

The top floor had both fourth and fifth grade classes. The auditorium was also on the top floor, although it was above the gymnasium and required going up a few steps to get to it. That's where we had music class and school assemblies. It was the place for the talent show and school-wide events, such as showing animated films, projected on film, before going into breaks. The hard wooden chairs in the auditorium were never comfortable, but I have fond remembrances of that space.

I don't know that the memories I have of my time as a student there are all that specific. It's more of a vibe, one that's been surprisingly easy to tune into as I've been writing this entry. TB tests in the teacher's lounge, learning to play the recorder in music class on the auditorium stage, class lists posted on the sixth grade classroom's window that announced your teacher and classmates for the year... Beyond the facts and figures I learned in the building, those little flashes are things I am strangely fond of remembering.

I hate to see part of the village's history (and mine) disappear with the inevitable demolition of the building. My dad went there, and his parents may have too. (I really need to check on that.) The truth is, though, that even if not a brick remains, it's a place that can be as vivid to me as when I first entered the school.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Revised resolutions

My knitting has fallen off this year because I haven't prioritized it. True, I've been busy and directing effort toward getting back in shape, but as it can be with exercise, getting out of the habit makes it harder to resume. Of course, there was that FO I finished about a week and a half ago...

Anyway, I dared look at the knitting resolutions I set at the beginning of the year. OK, I've blogged every day, sometimes for the worst, and have been taking better care of myself, but I've neglected all of the knitting-related goals.

Sometimes you have to know when to punt, so that's what I'm going to do. I'm wiping the slate clean and starting over in the most basic way. I'm establishing two new resolutions. That's it.

1. Knit regularly again.

Straightforward and to the point.

2. Knit a scarf for the Red Scarf Project.

The time for submissions is almost upon us. I've participated the last two years and feel obligated to do so again.

Yes, I'm setting the bar low, but I'm also being practical.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Double take

Let's say you're a non-knitter but have heard how fun and trendy it is and are thinking of picking up the needles and making a scarf. It's a new hobby, so you don't have the tools and such that you'll need and aren't really sure how much it might cost to get started. How does $150 sound for a garter stitch scarf?

Other introductory knitting kits with hefty prices from this manufacturer are also available. You're buying the balls of Peruvian wool, one pair of wood needles, one pattern, one sewing needle, and patches for who knows what.

I suppose this is the ultimate in selling the appearance of luxury. Just read the description of where their yarn comes from. Doesn't exactly tell you much if you know anything about yarn, does it? If you are taking this all at face value, I suppose it sounds all right, albeit very pricey.

Offhand I'm not sure of the most I've paid for yarn to make a scarf. Maybe $30. Noro is probably among the more expensive stuff I've bought. Still, that's a long way from $150. I guess if you can afford it and don't mind, knock yourself out. Still, it seems like highway robbery to me.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

The knitting of poetry

The Poetry Society in London is celebrating its centenary with what is being called the world's first giant knitted poem. The knitters don't know what poem they're contributing 12 inch square letters to, so the resulting FO will be a surprise to almost everyone involved when it is revealed in October.

It appears that they're still accepting participants, although I have no idea if international knitters can take part. Sounds like an interesting idea that should make quite a dramatic impact if it's fortysome feet long.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Let him eat cake

My vacation time since I returned home has been a routine mix of movie attendance, Wii playing, internet surfing, TV watching, and daily exercise. That's perfectly fine, especially since it seems to be passing so quickly.

Tonight I got the itch to bake something. I was set on making espresso chiffon cake with fudge frosting until I realized I needed a food processor to make it. (I don't have one.) Instead I made a cranberry vanilla coffee cake.

While I may have left too little batter to top the cranberry layer, it's a small and inconsequential miscue for something that is absolutely delicious. It was easy to make, even if I'd never used a vanilla bean and had to deploy a blender for making the cranberry mixture, and yielded outstanding results. Doesn't that describe the ideal recipe?

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The big house

Not feeling the blogging impulse today, but I did find a story about another ridiculously ambitious knitting project that's worth sharing.

A lifesize knitted gingerbread house is on its way from the U.K. to Bangkok. The article only features one photograph, which doesn't really convey the scale of this 140 square foot project. A quick conversion of the weight reveals that it weighs over 1700 pounds. Mercy.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The philosophy of the road

Been playing catch-up on movies and losing all sense of time today. Here are some random thoughts I had these last two weeks regarding travel. If anything, these are tips I ought to remember for any future trips.

-Have everything ready to go the night before.

Being able to pick up and go first thing in the morning takes the stress out of trying to recall if you're forgetting something. This is also helpful if you're headed out early, which, by the way...

-Driving earlier in the day is better than driving later in the day.

As much as I dislike getting up before or as the sun rises, experience has taught me it's easier to grind out the miles at the beginning of the day. Traffic is lighter, especially if you can get outside of a city before rush hour.

-If stopping overnight at multiple locations, take each stop's needs from a big suitcase and pack them into a smaller bag. Leave the big luggage in the car.

I tend to overpack, so condensing the amount of clothes I needed for each destination into a small/medium bag and leaving the biggest bag in the car gave me the best of both worlds. I had more available to me if needed but wasn't lugging it all into every home or hotel.

-Set the cruise control on four to five miles per hour over the speed limit--or at the posted speed if that's more comfortable.

Not worrying about being pulled over for a ticket or being passed by more aggressive drivers made covering long distances a lot easier. That's not to say I never went faster than my guideline to pass other cars or developed a lead foot, but the less time spent making driving "work", the less stressful my time behind the wheel was.

-New Order's Singles makes excellent driving music.

Maybe it's because the music is generally up-tempo, but for whatever reason I turned to this 2-CD collection a couple times.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Arriving home, on the left

This entry's title was what my GPS uttered as I pulled into a parking spot and brought to an end a trip that racked up 2255 miles driven. No, that number isn't missing a decimal point or featuring any typos.

Some other numbers:

-approximately 630 feet high (at the top of the Gateway Arch)

-147 minutes: amount of time I've now been in the state of Mississippi

-44 ounces: cupholder-unfriendly size of freely upgraded Diet Coke purchased with lunch at Sonic

-Thirteen days on the road (rounded up from 12.5)

-Nine states on the trip, including my home state

-Six destinations

-Five baseball games

-Four host homes

-Three Wendy's spicy chicken fillet sandwiches

-Two time zones

-Two new states visited (Alabama and Mississippi)

-Two movies seen in theaters

-Two hotels

-Two fast food prizes won (free soft drink at Wendy's, although likely only redeemable in Tennessee; free breakfast sandwich with specialty coffee purchase at McDonald's)

-One toll booth

-One FO

-One grateful traveler, for all of the kindness and generosity shown him during his trip

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

The national pastime

The purpose of my trip wasn't to see baseball games, but the availability of so many along my travels was a nice benefit. Here I was today in Fort Wayne, Indiana attending my fifth ballgame--four minor league contests, one Major League showdown--during this vacation. I imagine if the Northwest Arkansas Naturals had been home when I was in Fayetteville, I could have attended a game at every stop, although I suspect my hosts may have needed some persuading.

The home TinCaps, formerly the Wizards until this year's Johnny Appleseed-themed name change, played my hapless Reds' single A affiliate Dayton Dragons at a new downtown ballpark. Beautiful place, standing room only crowd, warm but generally comfortable day (at least sitting in the shade as we were).

The funny thing about all these games is that I really only cared about the outcome of one--the Reds/Cardinals match-up--and even that win wasn't something I was hugely invested in. (The team has taken a dive and, while mathematically in the race, is hopelessly finished this season.) Ultimately, going to these games was about seeing different spots, soaking up the atmosphere, and, when applicable, enjoying spending time with those in my company.

Spurred on by hearing the "day-o" part from "The Banana Boat Song" played at a couple ballparks and not having the slightest inkling why, I have finally learned (from the Wikipedia page) that it's intended to encourage a late rally by the home team. Through repetition I think the meaning may have been lost, at least in South Bend, where I'm sure I heard it over the PA system in the first inning. I'd heard this at games before, but now I know why it is commonly deployed.

Baseball's businessmen and the game's fans cling to its reputation as the national pastime, although it's certainly debatable that football--either professional or collegiate, if not both--has assumed that title. I like football, but to me baseball is the sport more attuned to daily living, not the least of which is because it follows the day in, day out working rhythms.

Like life, success in the game is not determined in an instant but over the long haul. Individually or collectively, a bad day on the diamond is not disastrous. Winning 56% of the regular season games often qualifies as a good season. Winning 62% of the time is a great year.

A hitter having a phenomenal year succeeds 40% of the time. A productive season at the plate is getting a hit 3 out of 10 times. No matter how good you are in baseball, you're going to fail and lose a lot. The successful players learn from these setbacks and figure out how to move on from them.

Watching baseball allows time for reflection, rejoicing in singular achievements in the course of the game no matter the outcome in the large picture, and going with the flow unrestricted by time. Any of this sound applicable elsewhere?

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Saturday, August 15, 2009


I'm at my final vacation stop before returning home for the remainder of my time off. For most of the trip I've been in the company of friends and family pretty much all day long. (My drives from city to city have been solo, obviously.)

This is not a situation I'm usually accustomed to. Evenings and weekends are mostly spent with me, myself, and I. It isn't an ideal way for things to be, but it is what it is. I can keep myself entertained. While I don't need all that time for myself, the truth is that I do need some. I'm more extroverted than I probably felt like I once was--we're going back to high school here--but I'm well aware I also have an introvert's tendencies, as contrary as that may be to what I do for a living.

So it's interesting for me to look at what it's been like to have all this time when I've been surrounded by other people. I've enjoyed the talking the most, which doesn't surprise me. I am aware that if I've not had a chance to carry on any meaningful conversations for awhile that I can be a real motormouth. It is an unfortunate inclination.

Yet, and this may sound strange, I've also enjoyed the silence. Being quiet tends to freak out people. I've been told as much by some because they don't know what I'm thinking. In my view, though, not needing to fill every pause with words indicates (or can indicate) a certain amount of comfort. I think this is especially true with family, but it's also the case with friends.

I've had a good trip. It's dizzying to realize how quickly it's gone and how many miles I've covered. The traveling can be tiring, but the energy I've drawn from those around me has helped offset that weariness.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Chicken and vegetables

I'm here at my parents' place in Indiana and just sort of wiped out, even if I'm not sure why I'm tired. Vacation must be hard work.

After all the driving I've done, it's been nice not to venture far from my temporary base. Yesterday was more active than I expected. Visiting the College Football Hall of Fame and attending a minor league baseball game in South Bend took up the better part of the day.

Today wasn't as busy. Having not seen any movies in nearly two weeks, I played a small bit of catch-up by seeing Julie & Julia with my mom. (Obligatory movie knitting spotting: an older lady can be briefly seen knitting.) Otherwise it's been relatively slow going, but ready to conk out early regardless.

Tomorrow I'm off to visit two of my brothers near Fort Wayne, Indiana for a couple days, and then I will be returning home after twelve nights out of town. I'm not necessarily ready to go home, but I may need to be there just to slow down a bit.

Since I don't have much excitement to share, I thought I'd include a few photos from the area. My dad got some sweet corn and apples from a stand in the front yard of someone's farmhouse, and I was pleased with how the pictures turned out, which is why I'm including them.

My parents live in a town and aren't that far from the city, but essentially they live out in the country. Being here is certainly a change from everywhere I'd previously been on this trip.

The ballgame was fun. It had the added terror of a bat accidentally helicoptering into the stands and the bonus featuring of the San Diego Chicken and post-game fireworks.

I'm pretty certain I've seen the Famous Chicken before, but seeing him at a small ballpark put me close enough to discover that he talks. I had no idea. Of course, it isn't central to his shtick, but it was a little jarring nonetheless. Although I doubted it is still the same guy in the suit, the website seems to suggest that it is. The things I've learned this vacation...

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Actual vacation knitting content

Basketweave Dishcloth

Yarn: Lily The Original Sugar'n Cream (100% cotton; worsted weight)
Colorway: Cornflower
Needles: US 7s
Stitches: 40

For those of you wondering if I still knit--it's been ages since an FO--here's proof that I do. I started this dishcloth a couple months ago, I think, and packed the WIP to take with me on vacation on the chance that I might work on it. (I did meet up with two other knitters, so it was out of the realm of possibility.)

I finished the bind off in Missouri, wove in the ends today in Indiana, and presented it to my mom. She had requested some dishcloths, so at least I can leave here having given her one. I didn't follow any written pattern, although I imagine something like this exists. I simply alternated five stitches of knits and purls every five rows. Or at least that was the idea. Sometimes I lost count and went an extra row. Mistakes like that were left in as is.

One of the things I did during a busy day with the parents was visit the College Football Hall of Fame. I thought the blog readers might enjoy seeing a photo of some old football sweaters, which appeared to have been very nicely knit, so there you go.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I've been driving around the country a lot over the last week, but today was the first time I've run into any significant delays on the roadways. Go figure, I had just eight or so miles to go on I-55 North before I would have exited onto an eastbound highway running south of Chicago when I ran into this mess.

Construction was minimizing the lanes down to the left only, but it seemed like something else was at play because this was a serious backup with no signs of clearing up quickly. I lost about forty minutes sitting and creeping in this lineup.

An open exit ramp beckoned, and the GPS advised me of an alternate route. That was all I needed to venture off the path. While exiting I saw that the entrance ramp dumping onto I-55 was also seriously backed up and that a bridge lay ahead. Boy was I glad to get out of that situation.

The driving has been relatively easy, but my nomadic existence for the past week finally caught up with me this evening. I lost an hour in the time zone change, meaning I should feel like it's an hour earlier, but I've been pretty tired since early in the evening. I still have St. Louis stuff to write about, but it'll have to wait until I've rebounded some.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The spirit of St. Louis

Semi-long day on the road today and another one ahead tomorrow. In the meantime and to whet your blog reading appetite for more, I present a few photos from an action-packed not-quite-half-day in St. Louis.

Yes, that's the famous arch, and yes, I went to the top. This was a very tourist-y thing to see and so totally worth it.

The new Busch Stadium is a beautiful ballpark.

It looks even better from the inside. Nice skyline too.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

A knitting shop and a kitten

After spending the evening out in Fayetteville with my hosts and their friends, little time exists for blogging today as I need to hit the road early to get to St. Louis, Missouri.

Above you'll see the new location for the local yarn shop in Fayetteville. Unfortunately that's as much of it as I saw. It's closed on Mondays. I spent some time knitting in this LYS last time I was down here and it was in a house.

You will be interested to know that I am a bind off row away from an FO. It's been awhile since I finished a project.

And for a shameless appeal to readers due to the lack of other content, how can you be dissatisfied with this paltry entry when it includes a picture of a kitten my friends have?

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

In the company of friends

If you've been keeping up with my ongoing travels, you're probably thinking, "Conway, Arkansas is a vacation spot?" Ordinarily, no. The only way this qualifies as a hot spots i if you're thinking of places in the southeastern U.S. where the temperature soars in the summertime.

Unlike my brief, nonsensical trip to Birmingham to kick off this vacation, coming to Arkansas had a purpose. It gave me the opportunity to visit some friends I don't see (and haven't seen) very often because of the distance. Is that reason sufficient enough?

I stopped in Conway to visit Donna, her husband, and their family. Donna and I went to see a minor league game in Little Rock last night while her husband watched their kids, but other than that, my time with them was not especially tourist-y or even terribly different than how I might have filled those days at home, children's activities excepted.

But you know what? It didn't matter. I got to spend time with people I like, respect, and care about. I've known them primarily through online communication over the years, so being able to talk with them face-to-face and take pleasure in their company was plenty rewarding.

I also enjoyed being around and interacting with their precocious children. These delightful kids got along well with each other and were very welcoming to me, which I know isn't always easy when unfamiliar people come into the home.

Their son and I had fun playing Mario Kart. For the record, his victories over me were legitimate. Their charming daughter was always quick with a smile, a laugh, or a joke. (And mercy, her reading ability for her age is astonishing.) Having a four-year-old crawl into my lap and put her arms around me is not a common situation I encounter, but receiving such unexpected purity of expression provides a nice lift.

Being given someone's time and attention and being welcomed into their home are not small or inconsequential things. I'm grateful for the generosity and hospitality Donna and her family showed me. Where we went and what we did while I was in town may not sound like anyone's concept of a vacation, but I can't imagine a better use of leisure time than spending it with wonderful people.

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Checking in

It's been a full day here in Arkansas hanging out with friends and their family, so I'm going to cheap out with today's blog entry and leave it with a photo from the Arkansas Travelers minor league game in Little Rock. Hopefully more tomorrow.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

On the road again

Another travel day means another timeline.

8:35 a.m. Depart Birmingham, Alabama.

8:40 a.m. Finally get to turn off of the street from the hotel onto the highway.

9:12 a.m. Birmingham's "modern music" radio station plays a Cardigans song that is not "Lovefool". Color me surprised to hear "Erase/Rewind". The station format is different, kind of a mix of alternative rock and singer-songwriters that play on pop/adult contemporary radio.

10:17 a.m. See the third Alabma highway patrolman pulling someone over in a ten-minute span. What is going on? It's not that busy out here.

10:29 a.m. Enter Mississippi. First time I've ever been in the state.

11:20 a.m. Exit at New Albany, Mississippi for food and gas. Get held up waiting for a semi truck that has partially slipped off the road to get back on. Although there are a few restaurants, gas stations, and other stores built up around the exit, it's not an area where'd you expect much traffic. It takes me forever, comparatively, to get around here and back to the highway.

11:59 a.m. Back on the road.

12:28 p.m. Several of the gas, food, and lodging signs by the highway have had all businesses removed from them. I know there's not a lot out here, but surely it's not that vacant.

12:35 p.m. Off the highway I see a trailer with big signs advertising psychic readings inside. That's a part of the south I haven't been seeing on my travels so far.

12:56 p.m. Enter Tennessee. I'm on the south side of Memphis and choose to give the GPS the benefit of the doubt when it comes to turning before my printed instructions direct me. Looks like a good decision. Music-wise I've picked up an HD radio station dedicated to the blues. It's not like Tom Waits DJing in Mystery Train but it'll do.

1:18 p.m. Enter Arkansas as I cross the Mississippi.

2:01 p.m. Radio station playing jazz (or something) transitions into a syndicated program heavy on 80s R&B. Hold on, did the host just say "the n word"? Maybe, maybe not. Now I'm thinking that it was a word similar to that but not with as charged of a meaning.

2:15 p.m. A plane is flying around doing all sorts of looping maneuvers. What is going on?

2:31 p.m. Pull off at a rest stop. Not too much more to go.

2:38 p.m. Back on the road.

3:16y p.m. Hear "Western Union" by The Five Americans on an oldies station. I don't think I ever realized that they were mimicking Morse code in the chorus.

3:48 p.m. Arrive in Conway, Arkansas at the home of friends.

And so marks my thousandth post on this blog.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Magic City

Birmingham, Alabama probably isn't the first place that comes to mind when you think of a vacation destination. Frankly, it didn't for me either, but my nonsensical decision to come here just means that my time here will be about discovery.

Last night I went to Regions Park to see the Birmingham Barons play minor league baseball. The ballpark is tucked about a mile into a subdivision, which struck me as a slightly strange location. Then again, I'm amazed at how much commerce and traffic piles up out here in the greater metro area

Regions Park is pretty familiar by minor league baseball standards. There's not really a bad seat in the place.

Sports franchises have decided that the games don't just sell themselves. You have to deliver a bunch of other in-game "entertainment", whether in the almost nonstop playing of music and sound effects/movie drops except for during play. Inevitably the songs and other stuff are the same among ballparks and across sports. Birmingham displayed some local quirks--more country music made the playlist--but what surprised me was that they weren't obnoxious with the things that are done to keep non-baseball fans interested.

Such extras didn't seem to take away attention from the game. In keeping with the team's honoring of National Mustard Day, a hot dog eating contest and a mustard trivia quiz were held between innings. There was also a frozen t-shirt contest. Never fear, it's family-friendly. Two t-shirts were frozen in ice. The winner was the first to get it out and put on the shirt.

As for today's doings, I didn't have a set plan. I was having a difficult time deciding what to do. The Birmingham Museum of Art won out. What a good selection it turned out to be. I spent about three and a half hours looking at what they had on display. (I think I overhead an employee mention that about 80% of their collection is in storage.) I'm partial to the European art, of which they had a nice sampling, such as a small Degas sculpture and a painting each from Monet and Pissarro.

I was kind of stunned by the size of this vase from Wedgwood pottery. It's enormous, somewhere between five and six feet tall. Alexander the Great is depicted on it. In the next picture you can see that the story on the vase continues on the other side, and you can see how big this thing is.

The museum also had an entire gallery for other work from Wedgwood.

Their Asian art galleries reopened this year and had some impressive stuff, such as this Japanese drawing or painting of waterfalls. The BMA also has Native American, African, and contemporary art, including some outsider art. I thought I'd seen it all, but there were sculptures outside.

In the foreground is a Salvador Dali sculpture. A Rodin is in the background.

This work's artist, whose name was unfamiliar to me, had his own little space for his mixed materials pieces. It looked a lot more interesting than I thought at first glance.

From there I went to Vulcan Park to see the largest cast iron statue in the world. The Vulcan statue represented Birmingham (and Alabama) at the 1904 World's Fair.

As big as the statue is, it can be a little difficult to put the size into perspective because of how high up he is. The observation deck at the bottom of the photo is as high as one can go, so your only real look at him is on the ground far below. Still, it was a neat thing to see, and the visitor's center provided some background on the city and the area that I found very informative.

I had considered going out to see some live music tonight, but I'd been out and about and on my feet all day, so I didn't feel up to it. I have no familiarity with the band, although I've read some good things. It probably would have been worthwhile, but with approximately six and a half hours of driving to do on Friday, taking it easy (and composing this post) have been perfectly fine for the evening.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The trip begins

A long travel day calls for a timeline of the goings-on on the road:

5:30 a.m. Wake up a half hour earlier than planned. Not ideal in the sense that at best I got four and a half hours sleep--that's pushing it--but I'm awake and might as well take advantage of the light traffic at this time of day.

6:15 a.m. Depart Columbus for parts to be revealed. A banana, Tim Horton's medium coffee with cream, and a double chocolate donut provide my fuel. GPS and I have first disagreement on which way to go. I win.

6:35 a.m. Go what way?!?! If I'm heading to the southern United States, why would I want to take I-71 north from the southern part of the city's outerbelt? This could be interesting.

7:22 a.m. There is a large carpet (or something resembling one) in the middle of I-71 south.

7:35 a.m. The coffee demands pulling over to a rest stop. I didn't want to break this soon, but when you gotta go, you gotta go.

8:14 a.m. Cross the border into Kentucky. I was pleasantly surprised to zip through Cincinnati without much slowing down or any complete stops on the highway.

9:05 a.m. See the second semi pulled over by a cop in a ten to fifteen mile span. The highway patrol is thick this morning. Within an hour I will see two more drivers have been pulled over.

9:25 a.m. The coffee is going through me like a sieve today. Take a quick break at a rest stop just north of Louisville.

9:36 a.m. Pretty cool. The speed limit sign on the GPS changes at practically the same spot where the sign is along the interstate. It's an overcast day with a fair amount of fog wherever I've been.

10:17 a.m. I believe that Garmin gave my GPS voice the name of Samantha. She is not going to be happy with me as I've chosen to stick with the directions I've printed from Google Maps rather than follow her. It appears she has a thing for going around cities than through them. The arrival time wasn't affected by my choice, so it would seem that either way works fine. That being said, maybe Samantha has called out for this semi to ride my tail in a construction zone. He's been way too close for too long. Pass me, buddy. I'm in the right lane.

10:43 a.m. There's the sign for Hart County and the Central Time Zone. So make that 9:43 a.m. Also, these drivers in Kentucky are nuts. More passing on the right than the left and speeding like crazy.

10:00 a.m. And we've reached the halfway point as far as miles are concerned.

10:46 a.m. Cross the border into Tennessee. I would have stopped to get something to eat by now, but I don't expect most places are serving lunch until 11:00 a.m. Central.

11:10 a.m. Stop for lunch just north of Nashville. Win a free value drink at Wendy's via a Tennessee Titans scratch off card. Think that will be accepted outside this state? Also time to refuel the car. Looks like I got around 34 miles per gallon. Nice.

11:42 a.m. Back on the road. Again I choose to ignore Samantha's directions, which would take me around the city and bring me back to the road I'm already on at the southern side of it? Weird. Again, my choice isn't penalized with a later projected arrival time.

12:52 p.m. There's nothing on the GPS window but the road on which I'm driving. Kind of creepy. I pass the exit for the Jack Daniels Distillery and David Crockett State Park. Why so formal? Also, Tennessee drivers have seemed less aggressive but drive exceptionally fast.

1:07 p.m. And for the first time I have entered the state of Alabama.

1:39 p.m. Beginning to feel a little tired. Cruise control has helped with making the driving seem like less work, though. Luckily I don't have a lot of distance yet to cover.

2:12 p.m. I have a front row view of the car in front of me clipping a critter scurrying across the road.

2:14 p.m. Now there's a shredded tire in my lane. This is unrelated to the roadkill. I've encountered a few work zones while here in Alabama, yet despite the signs warning of doubled fines, I'm the only one slowing down. Even when I've gone with the flow of traffic at 65 in the right lane, I'm getting passed like nobody's business. Granted, some of these zones have had no workers and no barrels, so maybe there is no construction to slow down for. Still, the speeds people are driving are kind of freaky.

2:58 p.m. Arrive at the hotel in Birmingham, Alabama. I didn't listen to Samantha again. This time she slapped me with a five minute penalty on my projected arrival. Oh well, I made it here with a relatively easy drive. The air is lighter and temperature is lower than I was anticipating, but you'll get no complaints from me on that front.

You're probably wondering what in the world brings me to Birmingham. Nothing in particular, actually. It's on the way--in a very roundabout fashion--to my second destination. I opened up an atlas, looked at where I might go, and on a whim decided to come here. (Having a minor league baseball team playing at home helped. Nashville and Memphis' squads are on the road.) I also liked the idea of being able to cross off Alabama and, after Friday's travels, Mississippi from the list of states I've been to.

I'm going to see the Birmingham Barons play tonight. I don't have any particular plans for tomorrow, although I'll likely check out the Vulcan Statue and may go see some live music at what looks to be an interesting venue. What I do doesn't much matter, though. I'm just glad to be on vacation and seeing someplace different.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The night before

In spite of my best efforts, here I am, up late the night before leaving for vacation. As I wrote yesterday, this is a common occurrence, although this time I was strapped by some things out of my control. I will hit the sack earlier than I have on other occasions. I recall one year my brother and I drove eighteen hours in a day to reach our destination in Texas. I think I'd been in bed about two or three hours before getting up to start the drive. (Note: not recommended behavior.) By the time we got to Glen Rose I don't know if I've ever felt so fried.

Granted, it may not make any difference when I call it a night. I tossed and turned all last evening and expect I may be in for more of the same for the next several hours. I've got the itch to go. The road beckons.

I have packed some knitting, so you never know, I might actually write about my own work with the needles while I'm roaming the country. Expect travelogue entries, though. By this time tomorrow I'll be somewhere I've never been before. Where might that be? You'll have to check in tomorrow.


Monday, August 03, 2009

Down to the wire

When it comes to preparing to leave for vacation, I am a terrible procrastinator. The evening before departing I'll often be up to some ungodly hour finishing laundry, figuring out what to pack, and generally keeping busy, which is not conducive to getting a good night's sleep. This is especially problematic when I have a significant amount of driving to do the following day.

So help me, I am trying to improve upon my terrible track record while I also grind through work at the office. At various points today I felt like I was making no progress, was doing reasonably well, was a little ahead, and, in the end, accomplished a respectable amount but not enough to ease up on the pressure that will surely be bearing down on me tomorrow.

I've decided that I'm going to ship off early in the morning, so staying up late the night prior isn't a workable solution. With approximately nine and a half hours of driving ahead of me that day, it simply would not be smart to be operating on a half night's rest. Sure, I want to experience the relief of taking off, something that would definitely be felt if I were burning the midnight oil, but I also want to be functional.


Sunday, August 02, 2009

Summer breeze

Can you believe this summer's weather?

I haven't come across any information for Columbus, but I read that Cincinnati had its coolest July on record. I have to believe the same is true for this area. The light air and warm (but not blazing hot) temperatures have been perfect for a stretch of months that has found me rededicated to daily exercise and eating right.

I went out for a walk this evening and was still amazed to have the cool air greet me as I stepped outside the door. I still work up a pretty good sweat when I'm going around the park, but it's nothing like if it were muggy and the heat was beating down. I don't recall a summer as mild as this one.

I better enjoy it while I'm here because in a few days I head out on vacation to a part of the country where it seems the sun's rays are sizzling in a manner appropriate to the season. That's something that can be managed with some AC, sunblock, and cold drinks. Plus, I expect this uncommonly cool and breezy summer in the Midwest will be here when I return.

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

True grit

You might have come across stories about knitting installed in public spaces--I'm sure I've linked to a few of them over the last year--but this combination of graffiti and knitting, or "gritting", tops anything else I've seen. The spray painted knitting-themed fresco is just such a weird sight. The other photos are worth a look too.

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