Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Busy Knitting Needles in 1st Quarter 2015

My knitting needles definitely weren't idle through the winter months here in South Texas.  Our season is so short, and there were some projects I wanted to get onto the needles, get knitted, and get off the needles so that I could wear them before it was too late.

Peasy.  The first of these was a really pretty, lightweight cardigan knit in a Rowan DK weight yarn called Felted Tweed in the colorway Tawny.  It's the first of several projects finished this year so far, and has seen a lot of use already.  It's such an adaptable style, with its 3/4 length sleeves and light weight.

Peasy cardigan, knit in Rowan Felted Tweed DK colorway: Tawny

Eased.  I finished a really comfortable and cozy funnel neck pullover in November and decided that I needed another one in a different color.  Cascade Alpaca Eco yarn in a pretty deep turquoise colorway called Satine.

Eased pullover knit in Cascade Eco+ colorway: Satine

Baby Cables.  My next project was a repeat of one I'd knitted last August.  I wasn't happy with my choice of yarn for that project and felt that the gauge was too loose and the yarn too fuzzy to show off the cables effectively.  So I purchased a really soft baby merino yarn in a luscious soft powder blue, a yarn that will be perfect for this sweater.  I'm very happy with the results of this second version, and will probably unravel the previous version and reuse the yarn for another project.

Baby Cables knit in Schachenmayr Select Extra Soft Merino Alpaca colorway:  frost

Pinewood.  While I was in Colorado last August, I bought a few skeins of a ridiculously decadent yarn by Madelintosh, a DK yarn in a gorgeous deep green colorway called black walnut.  Last spring I'd knitted a cute short sleeve sweater with lace detail along the sides, and found another pattern by that same designer that will look great in this yarn.  It has a really pretty neckline and I'll give it long sleeves.  It's a beautiful sweater and I've worn it a lot this winter.

Pinewood pullover knit in Madelinetosh Tosh DK colorway:  Black Walnut

Jasmine.  Since knitting a sweater from an unknown designer is a crap shoot for me when it comes to fit, I often stick with the same designer, even stick with the same sweater pattern if it fits and looks nice.  So here's another version of a sweater I knitted last November, this one in the same yarn only a different colorway.  I made a couple of minor modifications to this one, including adding an inch to the length of the cowl neck, and doing long sleeves instead of 3/4 sleeves.  I love the fit, love the details of this sweater, both front and back, and love how comfortable it is.  This is another sweater I've worn several times already.

Jasmine pullover knit in Cascade 220 Superwash Aran colorway:  baby denim

Abate.  That really cool funnel neck sweater that I've now made twice also comes in children's and toddler's sizes, so I thought it would be really precious, knitted in pink yarn for my granddaughter.  I bought the yarn and then brought the project with me on my recent Caribbean cruise, where I got about 1/3 of it done.  I finished it once I got home and it's currently at their house, wrapped up, waiting to be opened for her birthday.  I can't wait to get a photo of her wearing it.

Abate pullover, child size 6 knit in Berroco Comfort Solids colorway: rosebud

Yellow Brick Road.  I had the yarn for this next project in my stash for several months before the project finally worked its way up to the top of the queue.  It's a pretty deep red wool yarn with fine wispy silver filaments woven in.  Gives it an interesting sparkle.  I had started it but set it aside for other projects, so once home from the cruise I could finally sit down and work on it through to completion.

Yellow Brick Road cardigan knit in Kollage Yarns Glisten colorway: carmine

Still have a stash to work on, a couple of projects on the needles, and a few upcoming trips...perfect conditions!

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Springtime Switch Has Been Flipped!

It seems like it happens overnight.  The grass goes from dormant to growing like crazy, the trees and shrubs start to leaf out, and the spring flowers start their riot of color and fragrance.

These are the early bloomers.  First is my gorgeous jasmine.  It has recovered very nicely from a major pruning.  A few years ago it was trained up a light pole along the edge of the deck and patio.  I had to remove that light and pole and have a junction box buried there, so the jasmine had to be cut right down to the ground and then relocated a few inches.  I purchased a 4 foot tall domed conical metal trellis, pushed its legs into the ground straddling the jasmine root ball, and hoped for the best.  It came back last year, but didn't bloom.  I knew it had experienced quite a shock.  This year it has gone all-out crazy and is loaded with blooms.

Photo taken in mid-March; absolutely loaded with flower buds

Another view of the jasmine bush in mid March

Jasmine, photo taken mid-March.  Lots of buds, a few blooms open

Photo taken the end of March.  Absolutely stunning
and full of blooms.  The heady fragrance follows me
into the house when ever I walk past it.
One of the first things I planted when we bought this house new was a clematis vine.  Clematis has marginal luck here in South Texas, but if kept damp and given some shade in the heat of summer, it will survive.  This lives at the corner of my deck and gets full sun in the spring, but is shaded all day once the adjacent large Althea leafs out, just in time for when the summers start getting hot.

The first clematis blooms of the season

Another faithful plant, put along the edge of the patio when we first moved in, is Indian Hawthorn.  No-maintenance, slow growing, and blooms every single spring without fail.

Indian Hawthorn, along the edge of the patio
This Yarrow started as one little seedling, given to me by a friend who lives in Lufkin.  It has spread very nicely, filling a difficult spot in one of the flower beds along the fence.  I also have a pink Yarrow which is leafing out but has not yet sent up flower heads.

Yarrow, white variety

White Yarrow

My "can't kill" succulent.  I have yet to remember what this is called, but it is evergreen, spreads if I let it, and roots easily from cuttings.  I have planted several cuttings along a back bed and these are clumping very nicely and starting to fill in along the front of the bed.

The ever ubiquitous azalea...a staple here in the South.  These have been blooming on and off all winter, but the dark pink one has many buds so it may give me one good show before the hot weather sets in:

This pink variety of Indian Hawthorn has been struggling in the back bed, competing with a large crape myrtle for light, but now that I've had the crape myrtle pruned to remove the lower limbs, this little Hawthorn is starting to look healthier and just may grow into a nice specimen.  But it blooms every year without fail!

Indian Hawthorn, pink var.

My little ornamental pomegranate!  I gave it a good pruning a month ago and it's already setting buds.  I had 4 or 5 little pomegranates this past winter, the most I've ever had.  Seems like hard pruning is the key.

Pomegranate bloom and buds

Pomegranate bloom
One of the hardest chores for me is cutting back all of the roses.  I have several bushes and they are very thorny!  If I can find or save a really large cardboard box, it makes the job so much easier and safer.  Here, a very large box, saved from my new vacuum cleaner purchase, filled nearly to the top with pruned rose bush canes.

rose bush cuttings

And then there's this...a pecan buried and forgotten in my garden by a fox squirrel with amnesia.  Or just a glut of winter stash.  Lots of acorn and pecan trees in my neighborhood so the squirrels are big and fat and very well-fed.  Unfortunately for this little pecan sprout, it was in the wrong place with no good place to go.

Pecan sprout
Now that they've been cut back, the rose bushes are busy sending out new growth from the canes.  Another six weeks or so and they will have their first "flush" of blooms and they will be gorgeous!!

Yep, spring has come to South Texas!!

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Major Anniversary

"Keep a Diary and someday it will keep you."

Today marks the 9th anniversary of my keeping a blog or, as I prefer to think of it, an online journal. This journal is in its 10th year!

This is my 570th entry since I first started doing this back on March 26, 2006.  While the content of my journaling has evolved over the years, from being primarily about motorcycle trips to being a journal of family time, destination races and vacations, one thing has never changed.  It represents my own personal view of how those events unfolded.

My very first entry was to record my experience finishing my very first Saddle Sore 1000, an Iron Butt Association entry level ride that, once successfully completed and documented, gained me membership into this long distance endurance riding organization.  Not only did I write about the chronological facts of the whole affair, but I also wrote about what was going on in my mind as I rode along on my motorcycle across I-10 to my finish destination.

Certainly the facts can easily be verified for this or any other event for that matter.  But the emotions and feelings and opinions and all those fleeting thoughts...not so much.  Completing this event was for me very similar emotionally to completing my very first full marathon.  It's a hard challenge, one that not many people accomplish.  The need to capture all of these emotions and feelings swirling through my head led to my creating this journal and making my first journal entry.

While many of the entries simply document the day-to-day chronology of, say, a motorcycle trip or a race, many other entries were the culmination of accumulated thoughts, ideas, feelings, and opinions that resided without shape in my head.  These formless thoughts would often start to take shape while I was out for a long run or on a long motorcycle trip.  The need to capture them into my diary was sometimes urgent and I spent many nights in hotel rooms on my laptop, pulling those unspoken words from my brain and channeling them down through my fingers and into the keyboard. Some of my more creative journal entries have come from sessions such as this.

Some of my favorite journal entries:
Moon Showers  
What is That Smell??   
Fleas For the Mind  
Bad Start, Good Ending

For me, keeping an online journal is, first and foremost, done for my own personal fulfillment. Hopefully, it collaterally provides some edification and a little entertainment to the reader.  It's not monetized.  It's not publicized.  I do it because I enjoy writing, enjoy putting my thoughts and experiences, feelings - and yes, opinions - down into words.  I do it so that I will have a written record with photographs - an online scrapbook - of my wonderful trips, my beautiful family, and my running and motorcycling accomplishments and, more importantly, to capture what I was feeling when all of these events were happening.

I keep a journal to help me gain mental clarity.  I do it to improve insights into my life.  I do it to see how much my life and my goals have changed and evolved over time.   I do it because the very act of sitting down at a keyboard and putting all of those thoughts, ideas, opinions, and viewpoints into words has sometimes helped me sort through all of the "noise" to find meaning and answers to the puzzles and mysteries that need resolution.

In the first couple of years of keeping this online journal, I published some selected entries related to specific trips into softcover books using Blurb.  I did it so that I could easily pick up the book and browse through it to remember and reminisce.  In 2011, I published a softcover book of all journal entries going all the way back to the beginning.  Not the best idea....the resulting book was huge and unwieldy!

Now, at the end of each year, I publish the year's journal entries into a softcover book and take extra effort to enlarge the better photos so that the resulting diary book is more enjoyable for me to browse through.  And occasionally I will pick up one of my printed journals and read a few pages here and there, look at the photographs, and relive the events all over again.  Even my grandkids have started going through them, laughingly pointing out the photos of themselves and each other when they were younger.

If I've taken a special trip during the year, I will publish a separate softcover book of just those journal entries and photographs.  My trip to Alaska in particular made a very nice stand-alone journal book.  My published books are never available for public purchase; they are only for my own private collection.

When I'm very old and unable to continue my journaling, when the online photo albums and journal/blog websites have long gone out of business and closed down, I'll have my books and my captured memories.  When my grandkids ask me what life was like when I was younger, I can point to this journal.

Read more about the benefits of journaling:

1:   Psych Central: Health Benefits of Journaling
2..  LifeHack: Start Doing It Today
3.   Famous Writers On Keeping a Journal
4.  Journaling For Mental Health

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Another Go Girl Run Wineglass Earned

This is such a sweet series of races...the Go Girl Run Half Marathon series.  I've done three of them now:  Columbia MO, Kansas City KS, and now Oklahoma City OK.

Just a relatively easy drive up to Oklahoma City - 462 miles - and I was checked into the Skirvin Hilton Hotel by 4 PM on Friday, March 20, after leaving my house at around 8:30 AM that morning.  A friend from our MTF motorcycling community lives in Wichita, so we made plans to get together for lunch the next day - Saturday.

Saturday a little before noon, I left the hotel and walked over to the Bricktown section of the city to meet my friend Robert for lunch at Zios Italian Grill.  Nothing like a heaping bowl of spaghetti and meatballs to get myself all carbo loaded up and ready to run a half marathon the next day.

Myriad Botanical Gardens....Crystal Bridge on left side of photo

Robert left his motorcycle in the restaurant parking lot, changed into jeans and sandals and then we walked over to the beautiful Myriad Botanical Gardens, right in the heart of downtown Oklahoma City.   The race organizers had a large tent set up on the north side of the gardens for packet pickup so we ambled that way, enjoying the just-budding tulips and daffodils along the way.

Packet pick-up on the north side of Myriad Botanical Gardens
Race packet now in hand, we continued north from the park, heading for the Oklahoma City National Memorial.  Robert has never seen it before and could also get a national park stamp as well, while we were there.  This view of the grounds never ceases to affect me emotionally.

I remember so vividly the day this bombing occurred.  It was all over the news for days.  What made it so especially horrific were the 19 day-care children who died in the bombing.  Robert really didn't remember the facts surrounding this event so I shared with him how, just like the JFK and subsequent assassinations stole our youthful innocence and replaced it with premature adult wisdom, so did this bombing steal from us our sense of safety and security.  Suddenly the acts of terrorism we witnessed from thousands of miles away via television were now right here on our own soil, in our own back yards.  He had no idea of the impact this event had on Americans.

OKC National Memorial - each chair represents a person killed.

Afterward, we wandered in search of a coffee shop but couldn't find one - not even using Google maps on my smartphone - so we went to my hotel and sat in the very pleasant lobby bar area and had cups of very good coffee and a charcuterie platter to nibble on as we chatted and sipped our coffee.  The time flew by and soon it was after 6 PM.  I needed to send Robert on his way back home to Wichita so that I could start my pre-race evening rituals of getting ready, getting hydrated, getting off my feet.  It was a very pleasant afternoon!

I was just a couple of blocks from the start line, so I set my alarm for 5:30 AM with plans to be out of my hotel room by 6:30 AM.  A group photo for all the Half Fanatics was planned for 6:45 AM near the start line.  As I walked toward the designated spot, I ran into 3 other Half Fanatics, none of whom knew of the group photo.  The more the merrier!  We had a huge turnout of Half Fanatics for such a small race.  It was fun seeing so many fellow Fanatics at the photo spot and also later, along the race route.

I was unsure of the weather for this race, in particular the temperature.  It's always hard to factor in what effect higher humidity will have on the "feels like" so I brought gloves and wore a bandana but quickly realized it would be too warm for these.  I ended up carrying these items the entire 13 miles.  I thought my long-sleeve shirt might be too much as well, but as we got north of the downtown area, it felt cooler and I was happy I had it on.

Not especially scenic race route.  Data from my GPS watch

The race route was not especially scenic, and it did have a few hills surprisingly.  But the organization was, as always, stellar by this group as was the on-course support.  Soon I was making the last couple of turns toward the finish line.

The really gorgeous and huge finisher medal

I collected my medal and my wine glass and checked my finish time in case I placed in my age group.  I've placed 3rd at the other two races.  This is one of the very few races that provide immediate results printouts to the runners.  Unfortunately, I did not place, so I walked back to the hotel, with plenty of time to shower and get dressed before checking out of the hotel.

I now have 3 Go Girl Run wineglasses.  Just need one more to have the set.

I debated whether to drive straight through to home, knowing it would be almost 7 hours of driving after waking up at 5 AM and running a half marathon.  But I also knew that if I did stop I'd want to be south of Dallas to avoid Monday morning rush hour traffic.  However, if I was going to drive that far, I might as well continue on toward home.

There is significant construction on 35E north of Dallas and it was a huge traffic jam on my way up to OKC.  So coming back south, I decided to exit 35 in Gainesville and take US82 east to US75 south.  It added 20-some miles but was definitely the right thing to do.  With very little aggravation, I was soon through Dallas and on I-45 heading south for home.

Coming up next:  State #47 in Newmarket NH.  Now the weather watch begins!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Rockin' It In the Nation's Capital

I am getting so close to finishing my 50 States Half Marathon goal that I can almost smell the finish line.  (pun intended).  Getting Washington DC as part of the 50 States completion is a bonus, and I sure didn't want to leave that one on the table!

The "must do" race for Washington DC is the Rock 'n' Roll DC event on Saturday, March 14.  Now that I've done a few Rock n Roll events, I'm well embedded in their email distribution list so when I received an email last fall offering a very limited time window to register for the DC race for a ridiculously low price, I jumped on it.

Rock n Roll Events does this for a number of their races.  Open the registration window months and months before the race - before most folks are able to make the time/money commitment - and offer a deeply discounted registration fee, often less than half price.  They keep this window open for only 24 hours or so, then close it until regular registration opens several months later.

With the race registration taken care of, I got to work making hotel reservations and looking at airfare.  Every time I've ever gone to Washington DC, I've always stayed at the Marriott Metro Center.  Its location relative to the metro station, the convention center, and the Mall, where the race will start, can't be beat!  A few months later, as I monitored air fares, I finally snagged a really good first class airfare into Washington National airport.  Now I was ready; all I had to do was sit back and wait for departure day to arrive in mid-March.

my race bib, event shirt, and bag

I learned that a running friend, Sandy, will be in nearby Tysons Corner on business the week leading up to the race, so I talked her into staying another day to run the race with me.  She got signed up and we worked out a plan to let her leave her things in my hotel room and then have a place to shower and clean up afterward before flying home to California after the race.

Packing light for the trip

Another friend Dan, who lives in MD, made plans to come into DC the day before the race and hang out with me and then join us all for dinner that evening.


He took the train down and we met at the hotel.  I'd already walked over to the Convention Center to pick up my race packet and my friend's, so my afternoon was free.  He'd been wanting to visit a museum in the city called the Newseum, a museum all about the news.  It was in a large, beautiful brand-new building and was overwhelmingly chock full of all kinds of displays: movies, videos, interactive displays, historical displays.  They had large glass cases which held that day's front page from all of the major newspapers in the U.S.  Incredible!

Piece of the radio tower atop one of the trade center buildings; pieces and sections of the Berlin Wall.  The displays just went on and on!  An afternoon was definitely not enough time to see and experience it all.

Great view of Pennsylvania Avenue from the Newseum balcony

view of Pennsylvania Avenue from Newseum balcony

view of Pennsylvania Ave from the Newseum balcony

Dan and I had won a bet made with a mutual friend, so it turned into a running joke involving ice cream.  So what else to do but go find ourselves some delicious gelato, take a selfie, and then send it to that friend!

Dan and I enjoying our gelato

I'd done a little research and found a very good restaurant to meet for dinner - Chef Geoff's.  Sandy had a surprise for me - she'd brought another running friend named Maureen along and didn't tell me.  It was a great surprise to see her sitting there next to Sandy at the restaurant!  Last time I saw Maureen was at the Rock 'n' Roll half marathon in San Antonio last November.  So a pleasant dinner then a walk back to the hotel, where I said goodbye to Dan as he headed down the escalator to the Metro Station.  Maureen and Sandy continued to the hotel with me so that they could see where it was relative to the metro station and so that I could give Sandy her race packet.

In the hotel, dreading the cold wet that awaits us

Race day morning was cold and wet!!  I was so thankful that I'd brought my running jacket!  Sandy and Maureen arrived at my hotel room at 7:30 AM and the three of us headed out the door and down 12th street toward the start line.  Our timing was perfect!  We stepped right into an appropriate corral and were just a few corrals away from the start line, as the partitioned groups of runners shuffled their way toward the start line.

Getting photo-bombed at the start line

We made it across the start line at just a little after 8 AM and I took off running; my two friends staying together so that Maureen, recovering from surgery, could walk.  The course was gorgeous!!  It ran past every major monument along the mall, ran across the river to the entrance to Arlington Cemetery, back across the river and along its bank going north through Howard University, past the Zoo.  It was spectacular!!  Before I knew it, I was within a mile of the finish line area.

the race route.  Data from my GPS watch

I was thankful that it was nearly over.  The last couple of miles I was starting to get very chilled.  The wind seemed to have picked up and it never warmed up above the mid 40's temperatures we had at the start.
finisher medal

As soon as I crossed the finish line I began to shiver uncontrollably.  I didn't care about any of the post finish snacks or drinks; I just wanted to get somewhere where it would be warm and dry.

I had a long walk from the parking lot next to RFK Stadium to the metro entrance on the other side of the Armory.  As I turned the corner, I groaned.  I could see the long lines, several-runners-deep that snaked off in the direction of the metro station entrance.  OMG!  I was so cold!

It took me over half an hour to creep along toward the metro entrance.  Police were keeping us in two lines as we neared the escalators, and kept the center clear for folks who were emerging from the station.  We were captive!!  There were no other options to getting back to the Mall area of downtown DC.
Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to buy this Metro fare card

Finally, I made it to the head of the escalators and started heading down into the station.  Huge crowds of runners were mobbing the ticket vending machines and the turnstile entrances to the platform.  Their soggy money and tickets weren't working in the machines!!   I was so thankful that I'd had the presence of mind to buy a Senior SmartTrip card the day before.  I had to elbow my way past all of the stymied runners to get through the turnstile.  A train pulled up just as I got through so I hurried as best I could with cold stiff leg muscles to jump onto the train before the doors closed.  Whew!

I was still cold, still very wet.  No heat down here in the metro station or the train cars.  But eventually the train pulled into Metro Center station, I got off, went up the escalator and walked the block to my hotel.   All I could think of was Hot Coffee Hot Shower.

It was close to 1:30 PM by the time I made it back to the hotel.  I stopped at the Starbucks in the hotel lobby, bought a vente cappuccino, then took the elevator to my room.  I'd gotten there ahead of my two friends, which was a surprise.  So I quickly brought my capppuccino and dry clothes into the bathroom and hopped into the shower.  Ahhhh.  that felt so good!!

As I was drying off, I heard my friend Sandy arrive.  She got into the shower and, shortly afterward, Maureen showed up with two Starbucks drinks in hand...definitely had the same idea as I had.

We did it!  We were so proud of ourselves for surviving what was by all accounts one of the most miserable races, weather-wise.

Everything was sopping wet, including my shoes but fortunately I'd had the foresight to bring running shoes that were at the end of their life, so all I had to do was toss them into the trash.  Later, I would spread my running clothes out to dry overnight.

We headed downstairs to the hotel restaurant and had a big, hot late lunch to celebrate!  Maureen brought cupcakes from Georgetown Bakery, a real treat!

Maureen carried these with her on the Metro
to get them safely to the hotel for post-race celebration

And then it was time for them to leave to catch their flights.  It was fun doing this race with them, definitely added a bright spot or two to an otherwise tough race.

Later that evening, I went back down to the restaurant to get a light dinner, then get a good night's sleep, head to the airport, and fly home.

apple walnut pie a la mode 

Next:  Go Girl Run half marathon in Oklahoma City next weekend...adding a third wine glass to my Go Girl set.