Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wearing butter-stained shorts in bear country

The Sunday before we headed out to New Mexico, I baked three loaves of banana bread for us to snack on during the long train ride. Sylvain managed to eat an entire loaf on Monday, so I took that as a good sign that he won't complain too loudly when I offer him some of the remaining loaves in the coming days. Being in full teenager mode -- eating banana bread in your seat with your parents isn't nearly as glamorous as purchasing an armload of junk food from the train cafe....

Not wanting to be a total cheapskate ogre, we had dinner together Tuesday night in the dining car. "These will go good with that banana bread," Chuck said as he slipped several butter packets into a side pocket of his cargo shorts.

"I don't think that's a good idea," I warned; to which, he just shrugged and waved me off as being nonsensical.

Can anyone guess who was right?

Of course you can....

Chuck remembered the butter packets several hours later while we were sitting in the train's observation car. "Damn it!" he gasped as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a semi-melted wad of oily butter and foil wrappers. "Shiiiiiit," came a second exclamation -- he had also forgotten that his MP3 player was in the same pocket.

Yes, there was great restraint played on my part to not go into "I told you so" mode; I just smirked and continued with my knitting while he began a futile attempt at cleaning up the mess with a handful of thick Amtrak dinner napkins.

So, that was Tuesday; flash-forward to Friday.

While dressing in our Albuquerque hotel room, Chuck eye-balled his butter-stained shorts. "You can hardly tell there's a stain!" he proclaimed as he slipped them on. He did have a point -- the thick, cargo-pant material had kept the amount of butter seeping thru the fabric to a minimum.

Friday was started off with a quick breakfast and three and a half hour ride to Philmont Ranch provided by the outfitters. The Ranch is a sprawling property located in north-central New Mexico. Sylvain was eager for us to depart as quickly as possible. So as soon as the father and son duo we were sharing the rental car with arrived, Chuck and I said our goodbyes and hit the road. The car we rented is a Town & Country, which is what I drove during my trip to Atlanta and really liked it.

We spent the rest of the day touring Taos -- visiting the touristy shops and sights. We had lunch at Eske's Brew Pub, but we both ended up skipping the beer. I had my first green chile cheeseburger of the trip; Chuck had a beef brisket sandwich. I was somewhat disappointed in my burger -- the green chiles didn't add anything special to the overall taste.

Having our fill of Taos, we stopped at the Albertson's (grocery) to stock-up on food and headed west on State Road 64. We made a few stops at places that interested us: road-side vistas that Chuck attempted to capture on his camera, the Rio Grande River Gorge Bridge, and the visitor's center to the Earthship commune.

We found a good campsite at the Hopewell Lake Campground and had our tent pitched in no time. Chuck was eager to find a good clearing nearby in which he could set-up his tripod to take good night-sky photographs, so we took a quick walk around the campground. While making our way along the dirt drive, the camp host drove up next to us. After calming the over-excited chiuaua sitting in her lap, she asked us what site we were in and how long we were staying. Once she heard our answers, she handed us a pamphlet titled "Keeping Bears Alive and You Safe!"

"We've had an extreme problem with bears ever since the 4th of July. It's almost like they're falling right out of the sky there's been so many of them! It's so bad that the State of New Mexico doesn't even own enough traps to distribute to all of the campgrounds affected. We've had bears come into camp looking for food nightly. They've even figured out how to open the 'bear-proof' garbage bins, so we're now placing all trash in a trailer that's fitted with a metal cage," she said.
"I've been recommending that people not only store their food in their cars, but also the clothes they wore while cooking and eating too. I don't want an attack to happen here. Not on my watch!"

I'm so very glad that she stopped us and said something. Up until that point, we had forgotten that Chuck was wearing his butter-stained shorts. Typically, he'd change clothes for the night in the tent, but wouldn't necessarily be in a hurry to take the laundry bag back to the car. Usually, he'd shove it in a corner of the tent and take it out in the morning.

I'm certain that wearing butter-stained shorts in bear country is second only to smearing bacon fat on one's legs.....

Friday, July 16, 2010

"I'm here to promote New Mexico, NOT Texas"

Its amazing the things that are overheard when out wandering around in a town. The title of this post was something that Chuck had overheard the little, elderly lady who was manning the Information desk at the New Mexico Visitor's Center in Old Town Albuquerque. Once she had finished giving Chuck directions, she was approached by a family of 4 who announced that they were from The Netherlands and were on their way to Orlando, Florida. They wanted to know how far away they were from the Gulf ("Nowhere near!) and what there was to do in Texas. Chuck was fairly entertained by that particular conversation because the father kept pushing the issue, but only succeeded in walking away with a state road map of New Mexico. Is the cultural barrier between us and the Dutch really that large to where someone visiting this country would truly find it difficult to believe that a clerk at an Information Center desk was there to promote only one state?

Anyways, our day touring Albuquerque overall was a fairly good one. Chuck and I took a rather expensive cab ride (setting us back $30) from the hotel to the heart of the University of New Mexico's campus. Chuck thought it would be a good idea to check out UNM's geology and meteorite museums; after seeing that they were housed in the same building as the geology and planetary sciences department, we dropped by the professor who had been my advisor during my stint in graduate school. We were lucky that this impromptu visit was this week; typically, his summers are spent collecting field data elsewhere and he was preparing for a two-week trip to Ontario starting this Saturday.

After our visit, we headed off-campus to the Nob Hill neighborhood of town, visiting the eclectic shops and having lunch at a local brew pub called Kellys. Chuck had his first green chile enchiladas of the trip and I tried a bowl of their renown chicken and green chile soup accompanied by a roasted turkey wrap. We both enjoyed our lunches and washed them down with a pint of their beer, though with how hot it was and the touring on foot that we did, that might not have been a smart choice.

After we had our fill of Nob Hill, we hopped a bus that took us just outside of the Old Town neighborhood. We spent the rest of the day and evening touring the sights and shops in Old Town and doing a fair share of people watching. Of the sights I enjoyed: San Felipe de Neri -- Albuquerque's oldest church with the current building being built in 1793. The interior was equally beautiful and was markedly cooler inside, even though the windows were all closed, there wasn't any ceiling fans, and no noticeable air conditioning system. I could've sat inside all day.

Another sight was the Patio Escondido, which was another sacred place within Old Town, though we arrived after the nearby shops had closed, so don't know a whole lot about it other than what was on a small placard about the sanctuary and the ghosts that have been seen within. The Patio was unique from the San Felipe de Neri in that there were many candles, notes, and other tokens left underneath murals of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.

For dinner, we ate at the Church Street Cafe. I had their combination plate: one cheese enchilada, one tamle, and one chile relleno -- done "old fashioned" style where the chile is chopped up and mixed in with the filling, hand-pressed into a ball, battered, then deep-fried. Chuck had a some sort of pork dish. We both struggled to save room for a dessert of sopopilas, which put the ones I had known from El Azteco to shame. Throughout dinner, we split a pitcher of margaritas and enjoyed the music of a classical guitarist who was seated next to our table.

If you're following my Twitter feed, you'll see a message from me expressing shock at having felt pushed during dinner and nearly dropping my glass. Yes, I still fully believe that I had been pushed and don't accept that it had anything to do with the alcohol. The pitcher was quite weak and I was still on my first glass. And, like I had noted in my tweets, we were at a corner table and there was nothing but wall behind my seat....

During dinner, dark rain clouds had rolled in; it was nearing 8:30 anyways, so we decided to head back to the hotel. We phone for a cab and waited outside of the San Felipe de Neri. A band was performing inside of the gazebo in the Plaza next to the church, so it was pleasant to hang out and do more people watching while we waited.

The rest our evening and this morning has been uneventful. The Scouts and parents attending Philmont have departed for their base camp cabins. Chuck and I are hanging out in a pavillion at the main staging area, waiting on the father-son duo whose rental car we're sharing. Once they arrive, our New Mexico adventure truly will begin....

Side note: I've been taking photos along the way that are making it to Twitter but not to Flickr. I'm not sure why, but when I get to a real computer, I'll be sure to update these posts with pictures and links.....

Thursday, July 15, 2010

And we're here!

Hi everyone,

Sorry for the complete and total black out on details over the past month. I feel like I've been running around like a mad woman, and now that I'm finally on vacation, I can breathe a little.

So, an update: I spent a week in Atlanta for a conference in late June for a meeting for work. It was a very good meeting and the location was lovely BUT the heat and humidity made me absolutely miserable. The temp never got lower than 89o and the humidity was upwards of 95% every day. I honestly don't know how someone can live in those conditions -- I felt like I had a hot, wet towel over my face the entire time. I drove the carpool with two colleagues from our Wisconsin office, so they were victim to my driving and my lack of technological prowess -- our rental car was upgraded to a minivan that didn't have a key, but a key fob with about 10 different buttons to lock/unlock/open/close doors and to cause the car to screech for help. It even got to the point where I accidentally hit people with the tailgate door, not once but twice because I accidentally hit the wrong button. I can see how all of those bells and whistles would be necessary if you have a couple of kids and groceries, but I didn't get the hang of it all with only 4 short days of driving it.

Anyhow, we did do some sight-seeing: Marie, one of my Wisconsin coworkers who also happens to be a knitter, and I conned the third person in our carpool (who was her boss) into stopping at a nice little yarn store in Lawrenceville, GA called The Yarn Garden. This trip was a milestone for me since I was able to successfully pack a week's worth of clothes, laptop, and meeting materials into a single carry-on bag -- and I wasn't about to ruin that by purchasing a ton of yarn. So, I was fairly well-behaved by purchasing a book and several patterns. The book was "Not Your Mama's Crochet", which proved to be an entertaining read for my return flight that was delayed by several hours (but that's a whole story on its own)....I'll have to update with the names of those patterns later, since we're on vacay and they're already filed safely away in my pattern binder....

Not wanting to push our luck with Marie's boss, we decided that the Yarn Garden visit would be our only foray into a yarn store. After shopping, we stopped for lunch at a local pub, where I actually ordered mahi tacos and liked them. Yes, it's okay to gasp at that, since I'll admit to being one of the biggest food snobs around when it comes to eating odd things. Yes, I know I've blithely stated before, "Fish does NOT belong on tacos, dammit!" I can honestly say that I don't know what came over me, but I decided to go with the flow on that one since the Wisconsin folks both decided to go with fish tacos too (thought theirs was tuna).

After lunch, we decided to tour Stone Mountain Park to check out the Stone Mountain Carving -- a 7-story tall homage to Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis. Needless to say, I'm not a racist, but I was mildly annoyed at how much of history was ignored at the park. I feel that here's a wonderful opportunity to educate and teach about slavery, Civil War history, and how we evolved as a nation from those roots, but the opportunity and public space is being squandered to place the emphasis instead on dime-store knick-knacks and "family fun" centers. What I really saw was not so much as "family fun" but a place for kids to whine and whinny every dollar out of their poor parents wallets. I'm glad I visited and that's now just one more place on my list of sight-seeing accomplished.

For now, I'll skip the gory details of my return home and associated $65 bar tab that was run up in the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport (Atlanta) while waiting for my delayed flight. Once, I returned safely home, I spent the following Saturday with Chuck driving up to Camp Northwoods to spend a few hours with Sylvain while he transitioned from spending the previous week as a camper to get ready for a two-week stint as a counselor in training. He really just wanted us there to taking shopping for "necessities" (new towel, bug spray, 3-12 packs of soda) and to take him to dinner at the local Dairy Queen. Once he was back at camp and shooing us off the property, Chuck and I decided to spend the rest of the evening exploring campsites within the nearby Huron National Forest. We drove the Scenic River Road Trail and were nearly at each others throats fighting over the map whenever we decided to take a turn off the beaten path -- not a good sign since our vacation that we're on now involves 3 weeks of just that sort of travel. By nightfall, we found ourselves in Oscoda and ready for dinner. We stopped at Wiltse's Family Restaurant and Brewery, and I was somewhat sad that we didn't already have a campsite or hotel room nearby because I had wanted to enjoy more of their beer while there. Needless to say, we made it home from that adventure in the wee hours of Sunday morning, and I was getting very tired of late nights....

The next week was spent getting caught up with messages missed while I was in Atlanta, some movie watching (which will be its own blog post shortly, since, yes, I did get to see Eclipse). The following weekend was the July 4th holiday, which was spent visiting friends and family in Cleveland. The two weeks following that were a blur of preparing for vacation, getting ahead in my tasks at work so that I wouldn't be too far behind when I returned, and getting my house in order so that the house-sitter wouldn't have to put up with the filth I've been ignoring.

Notice a pattern in any of the above? There was little to no knitting being accomplished! I'm mad at all of the projects I have on the slate: the Cotton Summer Sweater from Hell is going no where, the Zauberball socks are being permanently frogged, and I feel like I'm playing "Whack a Mole" with the cotton blanket that I've taken on to fix on gratis -- more holes keep popping up just when I think I've fixed a lot of them....So, for our trip to New Mexico, I decided to bring one and only one project: the Celtic Knot stole.

I actually started this project in 2007, but needed to put it down in favor of other, time-critical projects. When I finally able to return to it, it had been so long that when I pulled it out of the knitting bag it was in, I found that the magnets on the chart board were all shifted around and I had no clue what row I was on!! Rather than giving the chance to start on the wrong row, I had Cheanne reduce it back down to a ball of yarn for me. The yarn shown is Ornaghi filati's Merino Oro in olive and the photo is of my pre-frogging progress. Note at how far along I was before the magnet-board debacle!

This stole seemed to be the perfect choice since I already had the pattern, yarn, and needles, right? Since I knew what that I had wanted to work on this project on the trip and that I had all that I needed, I saved packing up this project 'til the day before we were to leave. Well, while doing the final packing, I could locate everything BUT the yarn -- so after another trip to Threadbear, I picked out a hank of the same yarn, but in a different colorway.

Knowing that it would be a mini-ordeal to take out my ball-winder and table-top swift, I took up Sabrina at Threadbear's offer wind the yarn for me. Not recalling just how big of a total bitch this yarn was to wind, I'm very glad that I did that. I'm not sure what exactly happens at the mill, but the hank was a mess. Even with someone else's hand at the winder, the yarn frayed into nothing in 3 spots, causing me to walk away with 4 smaller sized balls of yarn rather than one big one. I don't like weaving in ends on lace, and since this project will be finer than anything I've ever attempted, I'm a little nervous about that. I'm hoping that that wasn't an ominous sign of what's to come....

So, since this project was my second attempt at getting project started, one would think that I had the pattern down pat. Well, wrong again! In my haste to pack, I neglected to recall that the cast-on was an invisible cast-on, so forgot to bring a length of contrasting yarn with which to work my crochet chain from. Boredom on the train from East Lansing to Chicago quickly set in, so I got over being my self-loathing and just worked with the yarn I had knowing that I'll dearly pay that consequence when I return to the cast-on edge when it comes time to knit the border.

Our train ride to Chicago was very uneventful, though the train arrived an hour and a half late. Thankfully, we had what appeared to be plenty of time to grab lunch at a Giordano's that was located just a couple of blocks away from Union Station. Luckily for us, we arrived to catch the tail-end of their lunch hour pizza special: pre-made personal deep-dish pizzas, which were perfect for the time we had (since each deep-dish typically takes upwards of 35 minutes to bake) and the group size we had (a dozen hungry Boy Scouts and 6 equally hungry parents). Thinking that the pizzas would be fair in size, even though they were "personal" ones, Chuck and I opted to share one. This proved to be a smart idea because I certainly would have been in a food coma early-on during the Chicago to Albuquerque train ride....

Even with the abbreviated wait for lunch and the close proximity of the restaurant, we were very lucky to arrive back at the train station when we did because the train was already working through the pre-boarding process. I'm also very thankful that Heidi, one of the best Scout-parent planners I've ever had to work with take care of this trip, because she immediately sought out an Amtrak gate agent who let us skip the line and head right to our car with the baggage area open and waiting for us. Even though Heidi had "checked in" when we first arrived at the station, the gate agent and conductors "had no idea" that we had a group of our size boarding. What a potential headache she was able to avert!

Anyhow, soon after getting settled into our seats, I headed up to the observation car with my knitting project and remained there for a good chunk of the evening and day -- knitting, talking, eating, and taking in the sights. Vacation mood was slowly working its way into my mindset. While waiting for the train in East Lansing, I had started a mental list of things forgotten that morning -- grab our copy of "Roadside Geology of New Mexico," to leave the house wi-fi instructions for our house sitter (sorry J!), and to grab my phone wall-charger. I had the car-phone charger tucked away in my travel bag, but didn't remember that there were available outlets on the train and just how much juice gets sucked out of my phone while traveling.

Before long, my battery power was down into the red-zone of being on the verge of a complete shut-down and my Celtic Knot stole had suffered a couple of major set-backs. At some point of me shuffling the knitting bag around between the dining car, observation car, and a run to my seat, I had dropped several stitches off of the end of my needle and was having an extremely hard time recovering them. It was well into the night, and the lighting was terrible, so not wanting to pick up and knit them back incorrectly, I decided to tear out the entire project again, since I was only 30 rows in.

After a night of uncomfortable sleep (mostly because Chuck kept tossing and turning in his seat while trying to get himself comfortable), I rose at my usual 5:30 time (not quite thinking that it was really 4:30 since we were well into Central time zone territory) and headed back to the observation car to restart the project. Somehow, this third attempt went very quickly and by lunch, I was already past where I had ended the night before. Then, I became very stuck and confused by the pattern. The directions call for a cast-on of 112 stitches: 8 are used for a 4 stitch garter stitch border and the rest are split between a frame chart that is 14 stitches at its widest and flanked by knit stitches as it approaches a center chart that begins on row 43. My confusion set in when I was trying to count out the knit stitches that are separate these two sections so that I can center the center chart when I found that the center chart was 63 stitches in size!?! Yes, I'm anal enough to let that derail the project by several hours while I depleted the remaining juice my poor Blackberry had to troll Ravelry comments on the pattern (none of which complained about the uneven number of stitches issue) and to hassle my friends into checking it out for me on their computers. Also on Ravelry, there's a link to an Excel chart that graphs out the entire stole that must've either bypassed -or- it wasn't available when I first downloaded the pattern in 2007....

Thank you to Rachel for verifying that what I was reading was the real-deal and for checking out the Excel chart (my phone can't read those files and I'm certain that it would have shown up too small to read even if could've opened it). So, it was another huge personal hurdle for me to accept that the center chart is not placed exactly in the center of the stole. When all is said and done, if someone honestly is able to tell that the center chart is off-center, I'll do my best to not be upset by that....

Anyhow, once all of that was accomplished, my phone completely and totally died. I mean, not even turn on dead. That was a true shame because, we passed through some wonderful scenery that I would have loved to share photos of here. Also, we arrived on time in Albuquerque, and found the outfitter our Trooop contracted already at the station waiting for us. We had hired Blue Sky Adventures for a pre-trip excursion that included pick-up of our group at the station, a trip to visit Sandia Mountain, 2-nights of accommodations, white-water rafting and a visit to Bandoleir National Park, transportation to the Philmont Ranch (which is where the Scouts and rest of the parents are headed), and all meals during our stay. Since we arrived on time, we were able to take the time-limited hike to the Kiwanis Cabin. The tramway was not as bad of a ride as I had feared -- I have a mild discomfort with heights. The hike wasn't long, but it made me very happy that I wasn't attending Philmont with Sylvain and the Scouts, since I was quite winded and, even though I steadily drank from my water bottle, was feeling light-headed and dry. The view was spectacular and I'll have to swipe some of Chuck's photos from his camera to share in a later post.

Once we were done touring the mountain, we arrived just in time for the dinner buffet that had been arranged for our group and the several other Scout groups that are also staying with Blue Sky. Quickly after dinner and getting settled into my room, I had a long pined for hot shower and was in bed by 9. Being a terrible parent, my parting words to Sylvain was to be sure he was back in his room with his friends by lights-out. Caring, huh?

Overnight, Chuck had found a micro-USB cable that fit my phone and a wall-charger adapter that was buried deep in his bag. He had *thought* he had grabbed it for me, but couldn't find it while on the train. So, being the good guy that he is, he plugged my phone in for me and now that's all set to go.

Anyhow, I didn't rouse until our wake-up call at 5:30 and found that my hair had dried overnight into something that looked like it came off of a Troll doll. Once that was tamed into place, Chuck and I joined the group for the breakfast buffet and waved the guys good-bye when they left for their white-water and Bandolier adventure. Today, we're planning on touring Albuquerque, so I'll be sure to keep the twitter feed hopping with those updates!