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Occasional musings on "life, the universe, and everything" from a fiber junkie.

May 31, 2007

Victory over the Infernal Machine
After a great deal of aggravation, the Infernal DigiCam has been coerced into surrendering the photos from my recent travels.  It took threats of bobby pins and nail files to convince the dratted gizmo that I meant business. 
The Schaefer Anne socks that occupied much of my travel time "there and back again" gave me a very interesting heel:
The other vacation knitting was my buddy Mmario's "Queen Anne's Lace" pattern, which looked like this in its early stages:
Since the Infernal DigiCam chose to have a major hissyfit and refused to take decent photos aboard ship, there are no images of SeaSocks to publish here, but if you search Flickr for the tag "seasocks2007" you'll see the fun we had.
On the way home, I passed through Glacier National Park, with its glorious mountains.  Here's one of my favorite shots:
Not bad, for being taken from a moving train.
On the knitting front, all current projects are growing, but nothing has achieved major change from where it was last shown.  Because of this, Startitis is beginning to rear its ugly head; all the luscious yarns acquired during SeaSocks are cavorting around the living room, suggesting patterns that they'd like to become.  Much as I'd like to believe myself disciplined enough to finish at least one of the current projects before casting on something new, I know that sooner or later I'll capitulate to the enticements of one or another of those lovely skeins. 
Onward to the future - SeaSocks 2008!  My stateroom is already booked, and my roommate Pat and I are already planning the fun we'll have.  Look out Alaska, here come the knitters!
10:27 am edt

May 17, 2007

SeaSocks, part 3 - Homeward Bound

Sleepless in Seattle?  Not me!  After a leisurely breakfast, I checked out and trundled over to the train station. There was plenty of time to spare, as the Empire Builder doesn't leave until 4:45pm.  When it came time to board, a pleasant young redcap came and helped me out to the train. As I struggled with the (high) step up to the train, he told me that if I had to fall, I should fall toward him because he was "big and soft and squishy" (his words). Well, of course, I started to giggle.

The train trip back was mostly okay, except for the doofuses in the compartment across the hall from mine. They had a cell phone ring tone that sounded like a childish giggle that kept getting louder and louder the longer they didn't answer it. And some idjit kept calling them about every 20 minutes. Sigh. 

Passing through the Cascades and Glacier Park provided lots of gorgeous scenery, some of which actually did get photographed.  Once The Infernal DigiCam gets over its hissy-fit and lets me get at the shots, they'll go up on Flickr.  Eventually.  I hope. 

Again, the train arrived in Chicago less than 20 minutes late. Weird.  Another few hours in the Metropolitan Lounge there resulted in the completion of the Schaefer Anne socks - toes grafted and all!  Finally the Lake Shore Limited was ready for boarding, and off we went, heading homeward. When I woke in Cleveland, a glance at my watch told me that things were back to normal - we were about an hour late. This is more what I expected.

When we arrived in Syracuse, I had another brain-dead spasm, and walked right past baggage claim, went to the local bus company's booth, bought myself a new 30-day bus pass, got on a bus and came home. It wasn't until very late that night that I started looking for something and suddenly realized that I hadn't picked up my checked baggage. Duuuuh. Fortunately, Amtrak will hold baggage up to 48 hours at no charge, so I went back on Thursday and collected it, with a friend's assistance in getting it home. 

The next SeaSocks will go to Alaska, next May.   With any luck at all, I'll be on board.  I'd recommend it to any knitter who enjoys spending time with others who "get it" regarding yarn and needles.  

Re-entry into "normality" has been ... well ... nowhere near as much fun as vacation.

11:14 am edt

May 16, 2007

SeaSocks, part 2 - Sailing, sailing. . .
There's something magical about a hotel lobby filled with knitters.  This was evident on Sunday, April 29, at the Doubletree in San Pedro.  Knitters everywhere, all happily stitching away while we waited for our appointed time to shuttle to the pier.  The hotel's staff managed our transport with the ease that comes from a lot of practice.
On arriving at the World Cruise Center, we happily dumped our luggage into the capable hands of the porters, and proceeded to check-in.  There was a wheelchair waiting for me, the "Special Assistance" checkin desk was a breeze, and I was wheeled through the security checks and onto the ship.
Well, mostly. I had forgotten that we'd have to go through an airline-style metal detector to board, and was wearing one of those ThermaCare heat wraps on my back. Because of the metal disks in it, it set off the metal detector. One of the security ladies told me to sit back down in the wheelchair, and then wondered why her detector-wand kept going off, until I asked her if maybe it was reacting to the metal parts of the wheelchair. She blushed.  Still, the whole process was comparatively quick and painless, and I was finally deposited in the central atrium space of the ship - five stories high, huge windows on both sides, and a waterfall down the middle. 
Since we had been told our staterooms weren't quite ready for us, I settled into a chair in one of the lounge areas, soon to be surrounded by other knitters.  Those passengers who were not knitters began to look askance at us, but we paid them no attention at all.
After a bit, I decided to try to find my stateroom, and went down to deck 2, where I found both my room and my cabin steward. The steward was a little five-foot-nothin' fellow from the Phillipines, who almost caused me to bust a gut not laughing out loud when he informed me that his name was Samson. Little he might have been, but he took very good care of me and my stateroom. In the room I discovered a bottle of champagne and a fruit plate.

Later that afternoon, we all gathered in the ship's Conference Center to check in with Patricia, our Fearless Leader, and collect our goodie bags. And good they were. Two totes, small and large, imprinted with the SeaSocks logo, a water bottle, name tag / passport wallet to hang around our necks, tape measure, yarn from both C*Eye*Ber Fibers and Meilenweit, a notebook, luggage tag, pattern book, other stuff I can't remember. The C*Eye*Ber Fibers stuff was the one that had been custom-dyed just for our group, and although all three of the colorways were great, the one that happened to be in my bag - shades of lime and teal, called "SeaSick" - was my colors exactly.

Lifeboat drill was held before we even sailed, and proved to be far less taxing than I had expected. What they really want to accomplish with this drill is to be sure that the passengers know two things: How to put on the life jacket, and Where's my muster station? If you can prove that you know these two things to the crew member responsible for your muster station, you can go and relax elsewhere, and don't have to stand around for the 20 minutes or so until the captain ends the drill.

The ship's crew was definitely multi-national. There were about 60 countries represented in the dining room staff alone; at my table, the waiter was Stiliyan from Bulgaria, his assistant was Edwin from Thailand, and the supervisor for our section of the dining room was Ryan from India. They took very good care of us, as did the chefs.

Meals were amazing. Dinner each night was a three-course affair, and the selections were different every day. I think my favorite appetizer was the creamy garlic soup, though the vidalia onion tart was also excellent. Entrees ranged from chateaubriand to roast turkey, and the desserts were ... well ... outrageous. The Grand Marnier souffle had to be experienced to be believed.

I didn't attend most of the classes, just because I decided I'd rather loaf and hang out in the Showboat Lounge (right outside our reserved conference rooms). It was there, the first morning, that we saw the pod of dolphins that came out to play with the ship. There must have been 15 or 20 of them, splashing around and jumping out of the water.  The poor souls who actually went to class missed all the fun!

Tuesday morning, I got up extra early to watch us pass under the Golden Gate Bridge, but when I opened the curtains, the sight of the water below made my bladder insist on visiting the privy RIGHT NOW! No waiting allowed. Argh. I ran, did what needed doing as quickly as possible, certain that I was missing seeing the bridge. When I returned to the window, there it was - we were about 2 minutes away from passing under the bridge. So, I got to see it in spite of my innards.

While most people assaulted a yarn store in San Francisco, I decided to be a lazy slug again, and spent a large part of the day basking in the Solarium. It turns out I was wise to have avoided the yarn frenzy of 60 knitters on the loose in one poor defenceless yarn store. I'm told it got a little frantic in places. Patricia (our fearless leader) snagged a goodie bag for me, since I had originally been scheduled to go along on that excursion. Later that afternoon, when I returned to my cabin for a little nap, I discovered that a plate of cookies and milk had been delivered.

Wednesday was a rough day - literally. The seas were very choppy, and the motion of the ship far more noticeable than it had been previously. Lots of people were really green around the gills. Of course, that would be the night when the dining room was serving lobster tails. No, I didn't indulge, knowing full well the horrible consequences of  putting lobster into my tum (I'd have been greener than the seasick ones). After the main courses had been eaten, the waiters came around asking if anyone would like another lobster tail - apparently there were lots of leftovers because so many people were seasick. I'm told that a gentleman at another table had seven.

Thursday we docked in Victoria, BC, and suffered through an amazing ritual called trying to get off the ship for a tour. Apparently all 600 members of the South American group were going on shore excursions, and they packed into the gangway area even before the port authorities had cleared the ship. What a mess! I was finally spewed out of the door and proceeded to hobble up the pier with my cane. Some doofus was so intent on his text-messaging gizmo that he walked right into me and nearly knocked me over. The cane "accidentally" thwacked him across the shins, and he had the nerve to glare at me.

My tour group was the first to assault Beehive Wool Shop in Victoria, and we went through the place like a plague of locusts.

I was seduced by cashmere.   And silk. 

There was other stuff bought as well, some of it for gifting of various sorts, and the entire sack of yarn was entrusted to the dubious attentions of Canada Post and the US Postal Disservice.  (It actually only took about 10 days for it to arrive!) 

After the successful foray into yarnishness, we all re-boarded our coach to venture forth to a veddy British High Tea at Blethering Place in the Oak Bay district of Victoria. Lovely wonderfulness. They even gave us Butter Tarts (a Canadian delicacy consisting of mostly brown sugar, butterand molasses in a pastry crust). Yum.

Back to the ship, for our last night aboard. After dinner, Patricia hosted a cocktail hour for our group, and distributed the door prizes. I actually won something, for a change - a shawl kit that included yarn, pattern and needles. It's a kind of boring beige yarn, part bamboo, called, of all things, Salina. Reminded me of Salina Street in Syracuse - kinda ironic that I ended up with that prize.  After that came the sad chore of packing the suitcases, which needed to be out in the hall before 11pm for sorting for disembarkation.

Arrival and exiting the ship in Vancouver turned into a mess. Apparently, the ship's crew had expected that we'd be disembarking on the port side of the ship, and had lined up all the checked baggage to shove it out that way in the proper order. Then the harbormaster threw them a curve, and put our ship in a berth where we'd have to disembark and unload on the starboard side. Wups. Then, Canadian Immigration & passport control got seriously backed up, and the line was miles long.

I was the very last passenger to exit the ship, via wheelchair, and the fellow who pushed the chair zoomed me past the line, through Immigration, through baggage claim, and through Customs. When people got in his way, he tried to make himself heard, but clearly had no voice projection to speak of, so I contributed my Festival bellow and people jumped out of the way (grin).

Our tour of Vancouver was a bit odd - the driver was not really a tour guide, and we ended up going through some of the seedier portions of the town before stopping on Granville Island for lunch. After that, we hit another yarn store, then dropped the train contingent at the station to catch the Amtrak Cascade to Seattle. Because we were a group of 20, we got to board ahead of everyone else, and the train trip was very enjoyable.  Then again, almost any train trip is enjoyable for me.

On arrival at our hotel in Seattle, more odddness - Patricia had booked a handicap-accessible room for me, but by 11pm when we got there, there weren't any such rooms still available. I told the desk clerk that if it had a bed and a shower that wasn't part of a tub, I'd be happy. I must have looked terribly forlorn, because she upgraded me to a suite. Lovely sitting room, marble and cherrywood everywhere, and a separate bedroom, terrycloth bathrobe next to the shower, and so on. I could get used to this kind of luxury. Not that I'll be allowed to, but still.

All in all, it was a fantastic experience, and one that I would very much like to repeat, and would encourage any knitter out there to give it a try.  Although I enjoyed the luxury and pampering, the very best part of the cruise was being able to spend time with so many other knitters.  "My People!" 

11:37 am edt

May 15, 2007

SeaSocks, Part 1 - Getting There is Half the Weirdness...
What follows is sadly lacking in photos, as The Infernal DigiCam is living up to its name by refusing to cooperate at the moment.  Sigh.
My first clue that this trip was going to have strange elements was the Lake Shore Limited chugging into Syracuse bang on time. On time? A TRAIN?? Wha?   (Who am I trying to kid?  All of my travels end up having weird moments.)

Okay, I can deal with moderate amounts of strangeness; what I have more trouble with is proving conclusively that I can be a complete idiot. That first night on the train, I kept trying to get the reading light to turn off, but it just plain refused. Or so I thought. Yeah. Right. Definitely having a "Brain-dead Moment" here - because the light that wouldn't turn off wasn't the reading light, it was the wall light, so beating on the reading light switch was an exercise in futility. Duh.

The train persisted in its punctuality, oddly enough, and we pulled into Chicago only about 10 minutes late, which counts as "on time" for Amtrak.

The four-hour layover in Chicago resulted in the completion of the entire heel and part of the gusset of the current "sock in progress" (with the usual amount of bewilderment on the part of the others waiting for trains in the lounge) and the redcaps delivered me to my connecting train with ample time to spare. It was the typical basic sleeping compartment, so I settled right in, swapping from shoes to sheepskin slippers, wrapping my quilt around my legs, and, for a change of pace, working on Mmario's "Queen Anne's Lace" pattern.  When the conductor made his rounds, his verdict was, "You've done this before, haven't you?"  Just a few times.

Amtrak, in one of its more intelligent moves, arranges the schedule of the Southwest Chief in such a way that you sleep through Kansas (nothin' to see there, anyway, as it's seriously F-L-A-T). The scenery of southeastern Colorado the next morning was still boringly flat, so after breakfast in the dining car,  I went back to working on Mmario's pattern.

Things were chugging along reasonably well when I looked up and realized that we had moved into an area where there was actually interesting scenery. Since I had promised my buddy Lyn that I'd get some photos of the southwest for her, I scrambled to dig out the camera. This distraction led me to miss the tiny detail that I needed to knit two plain rows between pattern rows 50 and 53 on the Queen Anne's Lace pattern. It's all Lyn's fault that I had to tink a whole row of yarnovers and k2togs. That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it.

When we got to Albuquerque, the train stopped for servicing, and many Native American artisans had set up tables of lovely beadwork and silver alongside the train. This is something they do every day, meeting the train to try to sell some of their work. There were some lovely pieces there, I sure hope they sold a bunch.

Another night on the train, and, wonder of wonders, we pulled into Los Angeles 15 minutes EARLY! This was totally unexpected, as was the madness encountered in the terminal. It seems that our "beloved" Transportation Security Agency was conducting a security training exercise at Los Angeles' Union Station that morning. They had brought out the whole circus - TSA agents, state police, county sheriffs, LA city police, transit police, sniffer dogs, the whole nine yards.  It was a madhouse.

Because I had assumed that the train would be late, I had scheduled my shuttle pickup for 10am, so I sat with my bags in front of the station for two solid hours that morning.  What I found interesting, though not very comforting, was that not one of those "security" geniuses asked me why I was there for so long. Not one. I guess I just looked harmless. (No comments from the peanut gallery, please)

Shuttle arrived per schedule, and we zoomed off to San Pedro, to the Doubletree, where Patricia had booked many of the SeaSocks participants to spend the night.   The shuttle driver was a typical big city cabbie, more than adept at what my friend Angela calls "urban commando driving."  I chose to close my eyes and not watch as we navigated the LA freeways.  Less stressful all the way around, don't you think?

The Doubletree was a lovely hotel, though it was totally overrun with people trying to get from the hotel to the pier at 11am when I arrived. For a wonder, my room was ready for me - Patricia's request to the hotel had produced excellent results. 

My room was poolside, with a lovely little terrace outside it, so I sat out there, basking in the sunshine and knitting away, for part of the afternoon. Then I trundled out to the lobby with an envelope that needed mailing (the desk clerk took care of that with a smile). During that expedition, I encountered Rose by Any, Yarn Goddess and Luv2ndl (aka Amie, Beth and Teresa) from Knitter's Review, already gathering in preparation for a group dinner excursion.  Because my back was being obnoxious, I passed on the group event and had a quiet dinner on the terrace of the hotel  overlooking the marina. 

Stay tuned; tomorrow's episode will cover much of the cruise itself.


9:30 am edt

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"Everything happens for a reason, except possibly football." -- Terry Pratchett