Sunday, September 20, 2015

Another Nutrition Challenge Recipe

I already posted a recipe for whole-wheat pie crust. If I make another pie (if? bah! when!), I will use white whole wheat flour rather than "plain" whole wheat flour. The crust then would not look quite as strange as this one does.

As for the filling, this is a modification of the Land O' Lakes butter company's Blue Ribbon Apple Pie. The husband (who is not doing the Nutrition Challenge) gave it rave reviews and said he actually preferred this non-refined-sugar version because the taste of the apples was not overwhelmed by the sweetness. There are obviously a number of ways this could be tweaked; feel free to experiment. Here's the pie filling recipe:

1/2 cup honey (this replaces the 1/2 cup granulated sugar)
1/4 cup coconut sugar (this replaces the 1/4 cup brown sugar)
1/4 cup white whole wheat flower (this replaces the 1/4 cup all-purpose flour)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 cups tart cooking apples, peeled, sliced 1/4-inch (I used half Granny Smith and half golden delicious)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine all filling ingredients; toss lightly to coat. Spoon apple mixture into prepared crust. Add a top crust over the filling. Trim, seal, or flute edge. Cut 5 or 6 large slits in crust. Cover edge of crust with 2-inch strip of aluminum foil or a pie shield. Bake 35 minutes. Remove aluminum foil or pie shield. Continue baking 10 to 20 minutes or until crust is lightly browned and juice begins to bubble through the slits in the crust. Cool pie 30 minutes; serve warm. Store refrigerated.

And it's also darn good served cool or cold.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Sweater from Hell

I've been calling it the Sweater from Hell because that's certainly what it felt like more than a few times over the past 33 months or so. That frustration is fading with time, though, and I expect to end up liking this sweater as much as any other I've made for myself. I first saw the book, Knit Swirl, at the 2011 Fall Fiber Festival. A woman was looking for mink yarn (yes, this really exists, though no minks are killed in the making of it) with which to make one of the sweaters in the book. Intrigued, by the sweaters not the minks, I put it on my Christmas list. The husband came through with it and I read through it with excitement followed by sadness. The instructions might have made sense if I was a more expert knitter, but I shelved the book thinking there was no way I would ever make what has come to be called "a swirl."

The book has a companion website that might help you understand why these seem so complicated. The sweaters are essentially cardigans in that they have an open front. They are knit in one piece ending with one seam to sew to produce the sweater. They can be made as circles or ovals, with the neck opening either centered or off-centered.

Fast forward 11 months or so from Christmas 2011, and the Needle Lady, one of our local yarn shops announced a Knit Swirl class to be held one weekend in January 2013. We would pick out yarn and check our knitting gauges on Friday night, then knit all day Saturday and Sunday. The Sunday class was held at a local country club and included their Sunday buffet. Once I learned that I knew why the class was a bit more pricey than I thought it should be. One of the instructors has a yarn-dyeing business, and we were somewhat steered toward her yarns as the best for our swirls (many of the sample ones had been made from her yarns), making the cost a bit more pricey. Nonetheless, I was all in because I was finally going to get the help I needed to understand the instructions.

The sweater I picked to make was called Depth of Field, a centered circle. I chose to make it using two different yarns held together for a nice mix of colors. People who knit will understand what it means when I say the the first step was to cast on over 500 stitches onto a very long circular needle. After knitting three or so rows, I connected the oh-so-long strip into a circle. I was very careful to make sure that I did not twist it (knitters will understand). I counted the stitches several times, each time orienting the stitches to all face in the same direction. There were a couple of women in the class who weren't as compulsive as I; they discovered after knitting about six inches that there was a turn in their work. I felt for them as they realized they would be un-knitting and re-knitting many thousands of stitches.

The sweater is knitted in welts--five rows of stockinette stitch, four rows of reverse stockinette stitch, repeat. The sweater from hell ended up having fifty welts. I think I may have finished about ten welts by the end of the class on Sunday, and that didn't even begin any of the "fun" part separating the circle to work in sleeves of the correct length. I can't remember if we were told in class to check the tutorials on the website or if I discovered that myself. There were various formulas for figuring out the number of stitches to add or drop to shape the sleeves, get the torso a certain length, etc. I extend my thanks to all my math teachers, even the one who kicked me out of his class.

But first, the rest of the story. I made good progress on knitting the giant circle, regularly decreasing the right number of stitches in the right places and possibly even starting the sleeves until February 17, 2013, the start of an adventure I can't believe I did not blog about at the time. The quick and dirty, highlight version is that younger son was driving back from Seattle to start a new job in Northern Virginia. On February 17, he got stopped for speeding just outside Rawlins, Wyoming. Running younger son's license showed that it had been suspended by Virginia in December, a paperwork glitch that did eventually get resolved a month or two later. In the meantime, I had to quickly fly to Denver, where younger son's college roommate picked me up at the airport and drove me the four hours it took to get to Rawlins, Wyoming. Roommate got his gas tank filled courtesy of younger son and headed back to Denver. I got into what was once my dad's car, a Pontiac Firebird with various markings removed and new ones added so that it looked like a Ferrari. This was also a car that my dad never let a woman drive. Drive, I did, to Denver, and then eastward right into what the Weather Channel named Winter Storm Q. Along the way I managed to spin out on the interstate, ending up facing the proper direction but in the shallow ditch along the side of the road. Fortunately, I was able to drive back up onto the road. We made it just into Kansas the first day before playing it safe and stopping at the last town for 100 miles. The next day, we made it those 100 miles in four or five hours only to encounter "Interstate Closed" signs. We did finally make it back, but by that time I was behind on work and other things, and the sweater from Hell got pushed aside.

I eventually did pick it up again, but it took some reacquainting myself with the specifics of sleeves, increases, decreases, special knitting on the arm cuffs, and so on. Life intervened in not too short a time, and I put it away yet again. I picked it up again maybe about a year ago; I've repressed even the approximate when. I made progress until ... I should know better than to knit at night without several Ott lights (one was not enough) ... I dropped some stitches. I took a deep breath and tried to pick them up. I dropped more stitches. To make this all the more difficult, I was at that point knitting two separate sides of the sweater, each using two strands of yarn. I dislike both of those types of knitting, which may be why the dropping of additional stitches resulted in my sobbing hysterically, carefully putting the sweater and all the accessories and pattern book into a cardboard box that I shut and put out of sight.

Not too many days later, I emailed a friend who at one point had working in a knitting store. She said she would rescue me. Several attempts at setting up a time fell through; she was working through some family difficulties. At one point, I got an email newsletter from the Needle Lady owner. What the heck! I replied explaining about the sweater and could someone at the shop help me. She replied immediately saying to bring it in right then and there. I replied truthfully that that day was not a good one and could she suggest another time in the coming week. Never heard from her.

While working the polls last November, the sweater came up in conversation with the other assistant precinct chief who, it turns out, is an expert knitter. She said to give her a call, she'd be glad to help me. After the election, one thing and then another got in the way and I never called her. By then, I was feeling more than a little sheepish. I kept thinking that I should start another knitting project but every attempt to pick something out fell flat. I finally decided that I had a mental block against starting another project before I had finished this one.

As it turned out, my friend picked up the extra stitches and got me back on track in less than thirty minutes. When I came home and gathered my wits, I was embarrassed to realize that I only had about ten or twelve rows to knit to finish the knitting. After working all the loose yarn ends in, I had to tackle blocking the sweater. More experienced knitters will shake their heads when they hear me say that I had only ever blocked one sweater before, and that was a special case of needing to put a zipper in where I had cut a steek. The shape of the sweater from Hell was going to make blocking a bitch, so I sought more help from my friend the expert knitter. She loaned me something called blocking wires and explained how to use them.

To show you some of the frustration of the knitting, blocking, and seam-sewing to come, here is what the sweater looked like after knitting and right before I blocked it.

The two parts folded over in the center are the sleeves. I had to pin each side if the shape to be the same length and line up various points. All that was easy compared with the next step, figuring out where to put the seam. I read what the book said. I read the tutorial from the website. After much profanity and some tears, I said, "Screw this I am just going to start pinning and be done with it!" And pin I did which was okay until I realized the next day--as I was about to start on the sewing-- that what I had pinned was not one continuous seam. It was two short ones off each end of a long one. Fortunately, it was easy to see what I had done wrong, so re-pin I did and commenced sewing. I normally hate sewing knitted things together (one reason I absolutely love Icelandic knitting), but I really wanted to see the end of the sweater from Hell. And here it is...

It came out a bit smaller than I thought it would, possibly due to a gauge issue I shall discuss with my friend the expert knitter. I still like it, though, and will wear it when the weather turns cold. I just need to find a nice shawl pin to hold the two sides of the front together.

I was adamant while finishing this that I would never make another. Now that it's done, and I can see what it looks like, I think I may make another one. That one would be done with one strand of yarn only, and I might try an oval to get a longer back. That will be in a while, though. I'm meeting with my friend the expert knitter next week about a multiple cable sweater I've been wanting to make for longer than the sweater from Hell took me. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

STPT Nutrition Challenge Recipes!

In the recipes below, I've replaced white flour with whole wheat and sugar with honey. Once I figure out the best substitute for white flour in my apple pie filling (whole wheat flour? cornstarch? something else?), I'll add that recipe here.

Pie Crust 
(adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook)

The following makes one (1) crust. Double or otherwise multiply as needed.

Cut together 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1/3 cup cold butter. Use a pastry cutter, two forks, or two knives. If the butter is unsalted, add 1/4 teaspoon salt. (The original recipe noted that 4/5 white flour plus 1/5 whole wheat flour was a nice mix.)

When the mixture is uniformly blended, add about 3 tablespoons cold buttermilk (the recipe says one can use cold water instead, but I've always made it with liquid or even powdered buttermilk plus cold water)  or enough so the mixture holds together enough to form a ball.

The recipe says to chill the dough for at least one hour. When I do this, it is incredibly hard to roll out, and the second crust always rolls much more easily than the first. Chilling it for a while is good, but a half hour suits me better than a full one.

Hearth Bread 
(adapted from a King Arthur flour recipe)

This makes two loaves. I make this in a Cuisinart mixer using the dough hook. It can be made by hand, but kneading it will be a real workout. Put 1 tablespoon yeast, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 tablespoon honey in a bowl. Add 2 cups hot water (I use the hottest water that comes out of my tap) and let it proof. Add 6 cups of whole wheat flour, 2 cups at a time, beating a bunch after each addition. 

When it's all beaten together and reasonably smooth, give it a couple of kneads by hand. Put it in a buttered bowl, flipping over so that there's butter on the top as well as the bottom. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel. Put the bowl in a warm place. I let my dough rise on my stove, beside (not on) the burner that vents from the oven, with the oven temperature set at 500 degrees F. Let the dough rise an hour or until doubled in bulk. 

Punch the dough down, split it and give each half a knead or two to get it into a loaf shape and put it into loaf pans sprayed with cooking spray. (Aside: I have trouble getting the whole wheat version into a "pretty" loaf. Taking taste over appearance, I don't mind.) Let the loaves rise for 30 minutes.

Fill a 13 x 9 inch cake pan halfway with water, and put this on the bottom shelf of the oven. After 15 minutes, put the loaves in on the middle rack. After 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees F. After 10 more minutes, they're done.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Travel with a Small Dose of (Emotional?) Baggage

The husband will turn 65 on his next birthday, so our financial advisers had us complete a questionnaire about retirement needs, wants, plans, and such. Since he plans to work until he is 70, we're still talking "future," but we know all too well how plans can change unexpectedly.

One of the questions concerned "extras" that we'd like to have in retirement. We don't want a second home, a nicer car, or anything material. What we want is to be able to travel. We've enjoyed being able to do that now that the sons are out of college, and have no desire to stop, especially since we'll have more time and more flexible schedules then.

We already have a couple of trips on the horizon. I saw a great deal on a three-night trip to Reykjavik, Iceland in January. We'll be flying WOW Air. They're one of the new low-fare airlines where you pay extra for just about anything. You're allowed one carry-on weighing no more than 5 kilos (11 pounds). If you want to carry on a heavier bag, you pay. If you want to check a bag, you pay. If you want to check two or even three bags, you pay more. If you want a seat assignment, you pay. Getting an idea now of how the deal I saw was so great?

We've got our fingers crossed that we'll return to Hue, Vietnam in June 2016. It's the tenth anniversary of the start of the University of Virginia - Hue University connection, and it sounds as if they'd like the husband to do another class. As for people who tell me how hot and humid it will be in Vietnam in June, I already know that. The husband was the concerned one, at least until I pointed out that he would be living in an air-conditioned hotel, teaching in an air-conditioned classroom, and working in an air-conditioned office. I'm the one who would (will) be outside in the elements for long periods each day.

The limited luggage on WOW Air actually ties in with how I was thinking of packing for Vietnam. Ready? I say that because I realize that there are people who are going to tell me I am crazy, especially when I note that the list of things I'm thinking of packing includes what I would be wearing while travelling. Two pairs of light-weight cargo pants that can unzip into shorts (not that I plan to wear shorts in Vietnam); two t-shirts; two long-sleeved, collared, buttoned shirts; one skirt; one of my ao dais; one pair each of sandals and walking shoes; and socks and underwear in corresponding numbers. Except for the fact that some of the Asian airlines only allow one carry-on, that's a carry-on sized wardrobe.

The other thing I expect some people will see as crazy is that I'm planning that the husband and I each take a camera. Sounds fine, right? At least until I say that those cameras will be small digitals, the kind that can fit in a breast or a jacket pocket. Why? Largely because I'm tired of lugging a heavy (with longer lens) DSLR or even a mid-weight one with me. I never videotaped any of the sons' performances as they grew up because I didn't want to focus more on the taping and less on them. It's the same here. I feel as if I'm thinking more about a photo than I am about what I'm seeing. I will be honest and say that I can't recall the last time I looked at any of the photos from our previous Vietnam trips. Getting the lead photo here was the first time in a long time that I'd looked through the photos from our trip to Australia in May 2014. And I've only looked at the Vietnam 2012 photos or the Iceland 2010 ones a handful of times.

I wonder, though, whether this is just due to a felt need to jettison some baggage in more general, life terms. I occasionally have a Barnes and Noble coupon for which I can't find a use. (Older son always can, though.) I walk through a store to get one item in particular and see things that I might once have wanted but now approach with a "Meh." If I see something that will make a perfect gift for someone else, I still buy it. I just don't impulse buy for myself. I will continue to ponder this all as the Iceland trip approaches. If I change my mind and decide to take a larger camera, I'll so confess. In the meantime, I need to post this and get on writing about the sweater from Hell.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Coloring the Rainbow

I've always loved Harry Chapin's "Flowers Are Red" as a comment on our educational system. The young boy starts school coloring believing

"There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower and I see every one"

only to be told by his teacher 

"Flowers are red, young man
And green leaves are green
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than they way they always have been seen"

Eventually the young boy adopts the party line after which he no longer uses the many colors of the rainbow, at least not for flowers.

I had a love-hate relationship with coloring and coloring books as a child. I remember finding it hard to stay within the lines even when they were lines I'd drawn myself. And having been a bit brainwashed myself, I looked at the neat, within-the-line coloring of other kids and thought how much better it looked than mine. I have no idea if that is what others thought, but it was easy enough for me to believe.

Coloring books are back and one of the new "in" things for adults. Supposedly meditative and calming, they're touted as a stress-reduction tool. I recently received a coloring book of mandala designs for my birthday and can say that there really is a meditative element to it as long as I make a concerted effort to stay within the lines. It takes concentration which makes other, unnecessary thoughts vanish into the ether at least for the time I am coloring. I should perhaps try color on a regular basis, especially since I've gotten better at staying within the lines.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Letting Time Go Lightly

I let time go lightly when I'm here with you, 
I let time go lightly when the day is through.
I keep a watch on time when I've got work to do, 
I let time go lightly with you.
- Harry Chapin

The men in my life gave me the watch shown above for my birthday. It has a 24-hour dial. Each number, from 1 to 24, has three ticks in between. There is one hand which makes one revolution per 24-hour day. I have seen it advertised as the "slow watch." It is impossible to tell a precise time using this watch. The norm becomes "It's between 3:00 and 4:00" or "It's getting close to 1600 hours" (4:00 p.m.). Using the watch to arrive somewhere at a certain time really only works if you're willing to get there early. 

The men told me that they hoped this would help me to slow down a bit, something I occasionally say I should do. Two weeks in, their plan may be working. Today, I put on my old watch so that I did not miss the proper time to leave to take the dog to a 3:30 vet appointment. As Harry said, "I keep a watch on time when I've got work to do." As soon as we got home from the appointment, I swapped the watches out. I'll put the old watch on again tomorrow morning so that I can time the run(s) I will be doing. After that, it will be back to the new watch.

I am enjoying letting time go lightly. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Run-On Thoughts on Running On

Around 58 years ago, I learned how to walk. Now, some 58 years later, I am learning how to run. I have a mixed history with running. In high school, I was one of four girls to go out for cross country when the high school athletic league ruled that if there was not girls team then girls could run with the boys. I did pretty awfully, but I did it. For the most part, though, I have thought about running without really doing it. There have been significant periods in my life when I did not run simply because I did not want people to see me run. I was embarrassed to be seen running, because I felt so gawky doing it.

When I started working out with SEAL Team Physical Training, people there started to offer me advice about running, "Did you know that your shoulders hunch over when you run?" "You need to straighten your back." "Don't look down. That decreases the amount of air you can take in." "Don't swing your shoulders from side to side and cross your hands in front of you." I tried to do the things others told me I should, but there were just so many of them that I wasn't sure where to start. Almost a year ago, the gym to which I belong for martial arts, had a special with a trainer whose specialty was running. I did about half a dozen sessions with him before a shoulder surgeon told me I should not be doing any activity in which I could fall. People at SEAL Team were starting to tell me that my running looked better. It very occasionally actually felt better to me, but I still most of the time felt very clumsy if that's an appropriate way to describe one's running.

I was unable to run while recovering from shoulder surgery; there were people who told me I should not even be walking given the effect of the impact on the shoulder. The sources with whom I checked informed me that walking was quite okay and asked why was I emailing them instead of taking a walk on a perfectly good afternoon. During those walks, as well as the ones with the family dog, I tried to do all the running things I'd been told or instructed to do. I figured getting used to doing them walking would make them easier to do when I got back to running. Toes up to help land mid-foot rather than on the heel. Feet picked up as I walked, and no scuffling my feet. Back straight to help my airway stay as open as possible.

I tried to continue to keep those things in mind when I was finally able to start jogging and, even more so, when I went back to doing SEAL Team run options in which we run for an hour, non-stop. I also signed up for a running clinic sort of thing (the gym calls in "Running Club") led in part by the trainer I worked with last fall. I've done eleven one-hour sessions and have five more to go. The warm-up exercises really focus me on getting my feel up, keeping my back straight, and keeping my shoulders back and square on to the front.

The epiphany, though, is that I am learning to run with my arms. I would have thought that the legs control how one runs. They are, after all, connected to the hips which constitute pretty major joints. The arms connect to the shoulders, which are not quite as major size-wise. There are various ways to think about moving one's arms back and forth while running. "Hips to lips" is the one that works for me. And it does work, in quite amazing ways. When I remember to start moving my arms hips-to-lips, my feet get lighter and no longer scuff the ground. I have played with this, and it is truly amazing. Move my arms faster, and my pace picks up. I can make myself run faster without thinking about it just by pumping my arms more. Who would have thought it?

I still enviously watch those people with long legs who make running look beautiful. I don't know that I will ever get to the point of thinking my running looks that way, but I at least no longer feel uncomfortable running with people watching. I still get advice at SEAL Team PT, but I also get comments on how much my running has improved. The moments in which I realize that I am getting it all done--feet, legs, hips, arms--are getting more frequent. I may never make my running look beautiful, but "pretty" isn't all that bad a way for it to look.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Hello, Birthday, My Old Friend...

I'm heading to the gym for some shoulder rehab and my post-workout shower. If you show up on your birthday, they give you a coupon for a free smoothie. After that, I could, if I wanted to, pick up a free pastry at Panera and a free coffee at Starbucks before heading to the quilt store for 20 percent off my entire purchase of regularly priced items. All of those are good all month long, so I don't need to pack it all into one day.

As for the day, I'm not at all sure how to interpret The Washington Post horoscope's "if today is your birthday" item. In case you don't get or read the Post, here it is:

This year you might find yourself on the fence. If you jump off it, you can see how to merge opposing ideas by focusing on the root of the issue. There will be a push-pull in relationships. You will need to establish your boundaries and deal with issues suck as resentment and guilt. You will appreciate the process when you look at the results. If you are single, you will meet someone of importance after August. Get ready! If you are attached, you will be sharing more of yourselves with each other.

Sounds like a pretty ordinary year to me, but ordinary can be good. So can adventures, but they run more of a risk than ordinary does.

I usually spend some birthday time assessing whether I'm meeting the resolutions I made seix months ago for the birth of the new year. I looked, and I didn't really make any, which means I'm right on track to meet all of them.

For my 49th birthday and the advent of my 50th year of life, I made a list of 50 things to do. I managed to accomplish most of them. I'm honestly not sure if I could come up with a list of 60. I decided, then, to go for quality rather than quantity. A dozen things, or one per month, seemed a lot more doable in both  creation and execution. Because the first dozen I jotted down were all in the artsy-creative vein, I decided I need to expand my horizons with four things in each of three areas: Artsy-Creative, Physical, and Not Artsy-Creative nor Physical. So here they are. Making them public makes me accountable for accomplishing them or having a good reason why I didn't.

The Artsy-Creative things are all things I haven't really tried before. While I have needle-felted and felted items I knitted or crocheted (technically, this is fulling, not felting), I have never wet felted. This means starting with fleece and finishing with felt. This seems like a good year to play with that. I would like to make (bind) a decent book. The few I've done weren't really bound; the pages came from folding and there was no binding. When I reorganized my studio, I realized just how many wine corks and labels I have saved over the years. I'm going to have to do something with them. I also have a box of things I have picked up, mostly on trips. A lot of them are spoons. I kid you not, I found a spoon in the street just about everywhere we went in our 2009 adventure in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Europe. I'm thinking I should make a sculpture.

The Physical areas is where I reserve the right not to do something if my shoulder will not permit it. The two that fall into that category are doing a pull-up, just one, though more would also be nice. I'd also like to climb a rope, which can be done mostly using one's legs. Still, if doing it would be shoulder-risky, it's not gonna happen. Younger Son suggested that I climb to the tallest point in the three states in which I've lived. Granite Peak in Montana is a technical climb and carries the warning of possible death. No, thank you. The one in Kentucky, Black Mountain, is on private land and requires a special permit. Too much trouble. I'll stick with Mt. Rogers in southwest Virginia. It's supposed to be doable as a day hike. Finally, I want to run the Charlottesville Ten Miler in the spring. That should be very doable if I can manage to run through the winter without injury.

Not Artsy-Creative nor Physical things start with reading (for the third time) George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, aka Game of Thrones. I'll probably do this late in the year, though if a release date is given for the sixth book in the series, I'll time the re-read to lead into the new book. I am almost embarrassed to say that despite being a second degree black belt in Myo Sim kendo, I've never watched Seven Samurai, Sanjuro, or Yojimbo, three classics. We actually have all of them on DVD, so I'll be watching them this year. I do like writing but do not make time for it on a regular basis. I'm going to try to put up one blog post per week and include with it a photo I've taken. Yeah, we'll see how many weeks I make. Finally, I have The Art of Zentangle, a book with various zentangle exercises. I may not manage one per week, but I will manage one for each month. You can see what a zentangle is here. I know that these last two are perilously close to the idea of Artsy-Creative, but it's my list, my rules.

And now, after a quick proofing, I'm off to the gym!

Monday, June 1, 2015

If I Were a Business, I Might Celebrate ...

the fact that in a month I will begin my 60th year of life. I marked the 50th year by compiling a list of 50 things to do to commemorate the year. I did manage to do most of them; it just took me a decade. (I really should update that list to note the last couple I've managed to complete.) I need to be realistic here and accept that 60 things is a bunch too many to tackle. I want this to be fun, not something I feel that I have to, must, accomplish. I don't want it to become an obligation.

Having spent some time this past spring purging and re-packing my studio, work space, call-it-what-you-will room, I am thinking that a list of 12 things, one for each month, is much more do-able. It also means that I could commit (as much as I commit to anything) to working my way through all 12 before I say hello to age 60 13 months from now. I'm even open to having other-than-creative things on the list. Charlottesville Ten Miler, anyone?

Specific ideas? I discovered while re-orging that I have more wine labels and corks/stoppers than I thought. I also still have a large batch of papers collected on trips to Europe, Asia, and Australia. I have a box of things--spoons, eyeglass frames, bottle caps--collected on those same trips. I found my supply of sun-printing stuff. Somewhere in our garage is a someone-else's-garage-sale table loom I've never set up. Heck! I'm even open to obtaining any needed supplies and trying something completely new. If I'm going to do this, I just want to have the list of 12 developed by June 30.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Is for Anniversary, Arctic, and Aurora

I wrote this yesterday aboard the M/S Midnatsol but am posting it from the Clarion Aurora Hotel in Tromso. Not much wireless connectivity in the Arctic Ocean. If the husband wants to nap when we get to Oslo tomorrow, I'll see about writing up the rest of the voyage.

Back to composing in Word. The husband cannot get an Internet connection even on one of the computers in the Internet cafĂ©, so I might as well not even try. Given our distance from any real port at the moment, the lack of a connection isn’t surprising. I am writing this late Monday afternoon, and I expect that it will be Tuesday before I actually can post this. This may or may not help keep things in the proper time perspective.

Before I get to the theme of this post, I need to report a bit on yesterday morning and afternoon. The action (also starts with an A) didn’t really get going until evening. When we awoke, the ship was docked in Trondheim, a city we have visited several times in the summer. It was somewhat surprising how little snow there was and how not cold it was. That’s somewhat become one common thread on this trip. We passed on the excursion to the cathedral and at 10:30 welcomed the husband’s second cousin (who just turned 88) and her son (who is about our age) to the ship. We spent a quite wonderful 90 minutes catching up over coffee. There was plenty to talk about since our last visit was six years ago. Noon came too quickly, and we had to say farewell. We did promise, though, to come back in two years should someone be throwing a 90th birthday party for Ingrid.

Sailing out of Trondheim, we passed a shipyard and a quite interesting eight-sided lighthouse. 
As you can see, there’s not much land around the lighthouse, none in fact. 

All Norwegian lighthouses are now controlled automatically. Still, it was intriguing to imagine what life might have been like for this lighthouse’s keeper in the older days.

During the afternoon, we also went through the narrowest channel of the journey, a mere 42 meters from side to side. Oh, and there was an almost-right-angle turn in there as well. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a photo that illustrates just how close the rocks on each side were. There was nothing I could really work in to provide scale. Obviously, we did make it through, with added appreciation of the talents of the captain and crew.

Last evening, the parade of A’s started.  First were some sightings of the aurora, our first on this trip. There are no photographs to verify this because I didn’t even try to take any. Five years ago, in Iceland, I did and afterwards didn’t really feel as if I had watched the aurora. My attention had been centered on the tripod, the camera, the proper exposure time, and so on. This time, I wanted my attention on the experience.

The first sighting was in the evening, before most people had retired for the night. It was not a strong aurora—it never varied from green—but it lasted for quite a while. We watched on deck 6, one of two open-air decks until the bitter wind drove us in and up to deck 8’s floor-to-ceiling-high windows. After it had faded significantly, we headed to our cabin for bed. We had been warned that should the aurora appear during normal sleeping hours, there would be an announcement over the loudspeaker. That announcement came at 2:15. We quickly dressed and headed up to deck 6. In the rush, I had forgotten to pull my hair back or grab a hat, so the first while outside was frustrating not to mention dangerous. I really couldn’t see anything, and the deck was slippery in spots. I couldn’t get the hair to stay put even under my coat’s hood. Fortunately, the husband had worn a hat which he gave to me and used his jacket’s hood instead. It was still only a green aurora, but it seemed to be everywhere. We saw it to the right. We saw it to the left. We stepped out from under the eaves and saw it straight overhead. The husband is Canadian with numerous aurora sightings under his belt, and he said he’d never seen anything like it.

The husband has been monitoring the Norwegian aurora forecast and says that there is supposed to be active aurora both tonight and tomorrow night. That makes viewing it subject to Mother Nature’s weather inclinations. Right now—late afternoon—the sky is quite cloudy. We have learned that that means nothing. We shall just wait and see. We have tonight on the ship, at least once we return from our three-hour Viking excursion that includes dinner, and tomorrow night, on shore in Tromso. There is an “aurora safari” there if the conditions are favorable.

This morning, we crossed the Arctic Circle. There was a contest to see who could most closely predict the exact time of the crossing. Needless to say, one of us did not win that contest. The exact crossing time was 7:17.1 am, and both of us had entered times right before 7:00. Crossing the Circle is marked by passing a small sculpture of the world sitting on a very small island.
There is a larger version of this sculpture at the northernmost point of land, but we will be leaving the ship before it passes there. Various posters and pamphlets suggest that it might be possible to have your photograph taken underneath this sculpture, but perhaps those are just publicity shots.

The crossing was marked again mid-morning by the appearance of King Neptune.
He came—in peace—to baptize those of us crossing the Circle for the first time. Actually, “baptizing” is probably not the right term for having ice cubes and ice water poured down your back with your shirt having been pulled open at the back of the neck. The first person to get the treatment was the winner of the crossing time contest.
Her prize is in the left pocket of her coat. It is a Hurtigruten flag signed by the captain and various other people with the crossing time noted.

I am not sure why, perhaps they liked that in response to the question of “where are you from?” I replied, “Virginia,” but I got two scoops of ice and water down my back. It actually was not as bad as it sounds. Still, I welcomed what came next which was being handed a shotglass of liquor. It was quite warming and made removing the ice cubes a bit easier. A couple actually made it all the way through and ended up falling out of my pants legs. After all who wanted to be baptized and a few who didn’t had gotten the treatment, there was time to pose with King Neptune to mark the occasion. I took this as an opportunity to publicize the existence of SEAL Team Physical Training, the people with whom I work out when I am not hindered by a bum shoulder.
As for the last A, today is our 30th wedding anniversary. This trip is our gift to each other, though I did cheat and bring along a card for the husband. It’s from a new Hallmark line and featured a Venn diagram of “you” and “me” circles with the intersection labelled as “the perfect amount of stupid.” I think that’s a descriptor we’ll remember, maybe for another 30 years. “The perfect amount of stupid” sums up the intersection of the husband’s rational and logical thinking with my flights of fancy—ooh! A shiny butterfly!—better than any other descriptor that pops to mind. It’s been a good 30 years, and here’s to 30 more.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Happy Rails to Cruise

Bjorn, the young man in charge of all the excursions and “entertainment” offerings on our ship (he is cute, has a very modern hairstyle, and speaks at least three languages fluently), said in his intro presentation that this ship, the M/S Midnatsol, has the worst Internet of any of the Hurtigruten ships. Guess what. He’s right. I’m actually typing this in Word so that I can copy and paste it into Blogger when I’m lucky enough to get not only a network connection but also an Internet one.

We left Oslo the day before yesterday, on a train journey known as one of the most scenic in the world. But for the lack of the Internet, I would include a link. If you ask Mr. Google to tell you about the Oslo –Bergen train, he will. We were lucky enough to get seats on the north side of the train meaning that we did not have the sun shining directly into our eyes (the sun is quite low on the horizon here). I’ve been saying on Facebook that it is warmer here than at home in Charlottesville. Here’s what the marquee in the train car had to say while we were sitting in the Oslo station. 
 As you can see, there really wasn’t much standing snow in the Oslo area. 
 That changed the more into the mountains we got. 

It also got colder. 
For the record, this is the coldest reading we have personally seen.

As we got closer to Bergen, the snow retreated,

and the rain started.
Bergen is the second largest city in Norway (Oslo is the largest, while Trondheim is third). Still it looks like a much smaller town.

Did you notice that there is now no rain? (The streaks you see are because I took this photo through a window.) We have seen more weather mood swings on this trip than we have on any other. To say ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait for 10 minutes” would be quite appropriate.

We embarked onto the M/S Midnatsol in Bergen. To “embark” simply means you get on the ship; to “depart” is when the ship actually sails. Before we were allowed to embark, we had to watch a safety presentation including information such as how to put on a survival suit and, perhaps more importantly for some people, how to put one on a baby. We also learned how to board a lifeboat and, perhaps more fun for some people, how to use an evacuation chute.

Why the people in these illustrations are not wearing survival suits escapes me. I can only hypothesize that they were told by a crew member not to bother since we were told that in an emergency we were to obey any and all instructions from the crew.

We are in cabin 320 which means that we are on the bottom layer of the ship that is above water. Looking out one of the two portholes, we can imagine that we are on the same level we would be on in a Viking longship. 
This is actually pretty scary and gives us a new perspective on just how badass those Vikings were. Today, though, we value our cabin’s location because it is near the middle of the ship’s length and as low as possible, making it about the most stable spot on the ship. There have been and will be stretches during which the ship sails away from the shore and is technically in the open ocean. Let me just say that I immediately notice when this happens and that motion sickness pills are my friend.

We are on a trip package called something like Hunting for the Light, “Light” being the Northern ones. One might think that this would include someone looking for the aurora to let you know when it is there. Not! They will announce over the cabin speakers, even in the middle of the night, if the aurora is visible, but they can only do that if someone is awake to alert the staff. (If we were on the 11-day, round trip voyage, we would be guaranteed an aurora sighting, and given a free shorter voyage such as ours should the aurora not be seen.) On the first night, we stayed up until after midnight chatting with a couple from Ohio. Mother Nature was in one of her moods, and the sky would pour rain before showing us all the stars in the heavens before deciding to pour rain again. Last night was the same. Rain. Stars. Rain. Stars. If we don’t see the aurora from the ship, and perhaps even if we do, we can go on an “aurora safari” in Tromso and try once more then.

Aurora aside, the daytime scenery is pretty damn impressive.

It is downright incredible some of the places there are buildings. It again has given us a new appreciation of our Nordic ancestors. (Total non sequiter here, but today I learned that “Scandinavia” refers to Norway, Denmark, and Sweden and using the term “Nordic” means you’ve added Finland to the mix.)

Yesterday afternoon, we went on one of the ship’s excursions, a walk through the town of Alesund. (“Sund” means sound, and “ale” means eel, so we were in Eel Sound.) Our guide was a local and 70 if he was a day old. He’d lived there all his life, and we expect became a tour guide in retirement.” Alesund’s claim to fame is that it was pretty much destroyed by fire in 1904. When they rebuilt the city, it was all done in what was referred to as “new style” architecture. (The formal name escapes me and I’m too lazy to go look it up.)
Characteristics of this style include domed windows on the lower level, at least one turret, and exterior decoration on the sides. It’s a little hard to see the exterior decoration on this photo, but trust me, it’s there. Taking photos was a little dicey at times given that it was alternately raining and snowing. To make a long couple of hours short, it was wet.
Some thoughts apart from the scenery, history, and culture. I was thinking that this whole experience was not as I imagined it from reading about Norway’s “coastal ferry” or “mail boat.” It seemed a bit higher faluting. Indeed, there is an Australian couple on board who did this cruise in the summer a few years ago and are now seeing what the winter cruise is like. He told us that it is very different now than it was then. It is more of a “cruise” now and not as much of a “coastal ferry” or “mail boat.” We have cruise cards on which we can charge anything we want, including water to drink with meals. That’s probably the cheesiest thing and the one I will mention front and center if offered the chance to evaluate or rate our experience. We have assigned seating at the dinner period to which we have been scheduled. The excursions cost a pretty penny. We did the walk yesterday somewhat on the spur of the moment. We pre-registered for one tomorrow which is a visit to a Viking museum followed by a dinner in the Viking style. That will do it for us.

I thought we were going to cross the Arctic Circle today. It turns out that it will be early tomorrow. They have invited everyone to toast the crossing with champagne provided obtained using a champagne coupon one has to purchase. Given that the crossing is projected to be between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m., I think I can live without bubbly then, though if it were free I might feel differently.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Random Shots and Thoughts

Random shots from a walk to check out which train platform we need to be at in the morning and to obtain more coffee. I wonder how the ad theme below would work at acac.

Who doesn't love The Little Prince?

They start them early here. It's no wonder Norway has such good speed skaters.

I couldn't resist what with the reference to The Karate Kid (the original, good one)

No, the Lego Man and colleague were not in front of a Lego store.

Random, unfocused shot as we went up in the elevator. I do kind of like it.

Finally, legging, jeggings, skinny jeans and other such leg-wear is really "in" here. The thing is that everyone here looks good in them. The only really overweight people we've seen mark themselves as tourists by their wheeled luggage. Compared to the natives, both the husband and I are shorter than the norm not to mention chunkier.

On the Road in Oslo

I'm sitting at the desk in a 12th floor room at a posher-than-I-usually-stay-at hotel in Oslo. Looking out the window to the left, I see this.

Looking out the window to the right, I see this.

And, not to rub it in for all my friends and family at home, but it's 40 degrees Fahrenheit out there. While Charlottesville is enduring colder-than-normal temperatures, Oslo is enjoying warmer-than-normal temperatures. There is about as much snow on the ground here as there was when we left Charlottesville two days ago.

The husband is napping off his jet lag. I'm finding that four pieces of Jolt gum pretty much killed mine. Give that we'll be up early tomorrow, I'm thinking power through until early evening and go to sleep then.. Our train to Bergen leaves at 8:25 a.m. tomorrow, which means hitting breakfast when it opens at 6:30. Fortunately, the train station is directly across the street from the hotel. Tomorrow night, we'll be on the M/S Midnatsol, sailing from Bergen sometime in the evening. Fingers are crossed for some clear nights and Northern Lights. (The jet lag is starting to show.)