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

May 29, 2008

SeaSocks ’08, part three: If that’s Juneau, today must be Tuesday


It’s a good thing the ship’s daily newsletter tells you what day it is, because it’s very easy to lose track of time on a cruise.  The days sort of merge in my mind, so some of what I’m descibing may not have happened on the day I’m talking about it, but it did definitely happen.  I think.  Mostly. 


Tuesday morning we sailed up the passage into Juneau’s waterfront, where the Captain proved conclusively that it is indeed possible to parallel-park a cruise liner, sliding us through a 180-degree turn to come to rest at the dock.  Once again, we were right in the thick of the port area, and once again it was cold and wet and icky outside, so once again I chose to remain aboard in dry comfort instead of going out and getting drowned.  Herewith the view from Deck Ten:



Pat and I established our customary beachhead in the buffet area, where we were assured ample supplies of coffee and/or other hot liquids.  After lunch, both of us suffered an attack of the munchies, so Pat accosted one of the sous-chefs who was passing by and asked him how she would go about getting a supply of potato chips.  He scuttled off and returned shortly bearing a sizable bowl heaped high with them.  It’s all in knowing how (and whom) to ask… and Pat’s expertise in this area is unparallelled.


The Cabin Cove sock made some progress, while Pat chuckled her way through a book titled The Husband Test.  Later in the afternoon, other knitters joined us to report on their adventures ashore, including some who had ventured onto the tramway to go to the top of the mountain:



Wednesday was not a happy day – we ran into very bad weather, including rough seas which made it hard to walk around the ship.  Since it was an “at sea” day, all of us knitters hunkered down over our needles and yarns, some in classes, others infesting most of the public areas all over the ship.  It wasn’t until late that afternoon that we entered more sheltered waters, a blessed relief to those who were suffering from motion distress.  The scenery also improved at this point, as the day-long fog finally lifted:



That evening was the second “formal night” of the cruise, and dinner was capped off uniquely.  The lights were dimmed, and all the waiters marched through the dining room carrying flaming Baked Alaskas.  It was quite a sight. 


After dinner, the SeaSocks contingent moved en masse to the Constellation lounge at the top of the ship, where Patricia hosted a cocktail party for the group.



The bags clustered at her feet were the door prizes, one for each participant.  Mine turned out to be a 400-yard hank of Cashlana, handpainted in some glorious colors.  Alas, I seem not to have taken a photo of it yet.  After running hither and yon delivering door prizes, Patricia’s husband Michael took advantage of the edge of the stage to rest for a moment.



In spite of the chaos we knitters put him through, he keeps his good humor and helpfulness to the bitter end.  Here we see (left to right) Pat and Beth enjoying the party, while Ron looks on. 



The bad weather on Wednesday also slowed our progress to such an extent that we didn’t arrive in Victoria until 5pm Thursday, about three hours after our originally scheduled time, causing serious disruption to several of the planned shore excursions.  Still, as soon as the ship had been cleared by the harbor authorities, most of the passengers headed out to explore the city.    Pat and I took  the opportunity to meet with Jose the sales director to book our cabins for next year’s cruise. 


Dinner that evening was definitely different – there were many unoccupied tables in the main dining room, and large numbers of waiters were standing idle.  Of the eight people assigned to our table, only Terry, Pat and I stayed on board, so we got lots of extra attention from the waiters.  I could definitely get used to being spoiled rotten this way… not that I'll be allowed to, but it sure is nice.


Friday morning was an early “up and at ‘em” morning, as we were scheduled to disembark around 9:30 at Pier 66 in Seattle, and we wanted to have breakfast first.  Because Pat is a longtime cruiser, we were able to make use of the VIP waiting area, where we chatted with Patricia and Michael until our wheelchairs arrived, right on schedule.  That has to have been the quickest, easiest passage through US Customs I’ve ever experienced, and the crew member pushing the wheelchair zoomed me right out to the taxi queue, followed by the porter with my bags.


On arrival at King Street Station, I happily entrusted my luggage to the Amtrak baggage department and settled in to await boarding time for the Empire Builder’s eastbound run.  By the scheduled hour, I had a very bad case of what Rennies call “bench butt” and was more than ready to hike to the train and clamber up the stairs to my sleeping compartment.  The train was not terribly full at that point, and so was fairly quiet.  The Granny Weatherwax stole came out of hibernation and gained a couple of rows that afternoon and evening, in spite of the bottle of champagne the attendant brought me shortly after departure.


Friday evening on the train was fairly quiet, with a bit of knitting getting done both before and after dinner.  Mid-morning on Saturday, I was quite surprised when the sleeping car attendant stuck his head in the door to say that he was making Mimosas, and would I like one?  Oh, heck, why not? 



No, one Mimosa didn't significantly affect the knitting of a lace sock. 


The car became rather more crowded that day, as a large tour group boarded at West Glacier Park, followed at East Glacier Park by a horde of children, teachers and parents, none of whom seemed to comprehend the concept behind the name “sleeping car.”  Strangely enough, it was the alleged “adults” who generated the most annoying noise late at night.  Sigh.


We pulled into Chicago more or less on time, and it was off to the Metropolitan Lounge again for me.   As I knit away at the sock, a young woman approached and asked about the sock, then showed me the purple one she was knitting.  It turns out she was Susan M. Strawn, author of Knitting America, waiting to board the City of New Orleans to continue her travels.  She told me about her book, I told her about SeaSocks, and we chatted happily until her train boarded.


By the time my train was ready for boarding, I was ready for sleep, so I asked the attendant to prepare the bunk for me.  I vaguely remember feeling the train start to move, and the next thing I knew, the sun was up and we were in Cleveland.  The remainder of the trip was uneventful, though we did run true to form and arrive in Syracuse about an hour late.   Back to “normal” – whatever that is.





10:31 am edt

May 28, 2008

SeaSocks ’08, part two: North to Alaska


We last observed our intrepid travelers awaiting boarding of Celebrity’s ship Infinity at Terminal 30 in Seattle. By 8:30pm on Friday, May 9, this cavernous space was filled with passengers anxious to board.  Suddenly there came a stir among the huddled masses, and like magic, a procession of empty wheelchairs appeared, each being pushed by a white-coated, white-gloved crew member.  When I had checked in that morning, I had requested a wheelchair-assisted boarding, and was given a boarding pass labeled “Wheelchair 8,”  so I was among the first people allowed on the ship.  Passing through security was a breeze (these people are really well-organized) and within minutes I had been maneuvered up the long yellow ramp onto the ship.



Thus, the pampering began.  Each passenger who boarded was offered a glass of champagne, then escorted by a crew member to his or her stateroom.  Finding that the two twin beds had been made up as a queen, I called housekeeping to request that they be separated, and had a brief discussion with the cabin steward about that same issue.  After stowing my carry-on bag, I trundled myself to the Cova Café for some coffee, and settled into one of the lounges with my knitting.  It proved to be an excellent location, where I could see (and be seen by) the other passengers as they arrived.   My friend Beth and her mother passed by, followed by my roommate Pat, and several others whose faces were familiar from the previous year’s cruise.  After a little while, we had a small collection of knitters assembled there. 


Later still, when Pat and I returned to the stateroom, we found that the steward had indeed taken care of the little glitch with the bed(s),



and some of our luggage was waiting outside the door.  Of course, Murphy's Law being what it is, the bag with my pajamas in it was the last of ours to be delivered, thumping to the floor outside our door around midnight.  Since that bag also contained the just-completed Celtic Icon hoodie, I was very relieved that it hadn’t gone astray. 


Next morning, we found this had been affixed to the door of our stateroom:



Patricia and Michael had zoomed through the ship early that morning, posting the signs on all the staterooms containing SeaSocks participants.   At breakfast, one of the other people at my table, on seeing my hand-knit sweater, asked what this “knitter thing” was all about.  Some of the people at table seemed surprised that there were that many knitters on board.  


After breakfast, it was time to wander down to the conference center, to check in with Patricia and pick up the goodie bag.  The bags were filled with interesting items, including a travel mug for coffee, tape measure, samples of soaps, yarns, patterns, and another of the little totes like we’d received last year, this one in bright red. 


Later that morning we had the obligatory safety drill, and Pat and I arrived early at our muster station – the ship’s casino.  This is probably the only sort of occasion when I’d ever willingly park myself in front of a slot machine.  They were all turned off for the duration of the drill, of course, otherwise nobody would have been able to hear the safety information.


That afternoon, Amy Singer of Knitty talked about designing lace shawls, a session that was well attended and very interesting.  Alas, it gave me far too many ideas.  Then again, just being around this amazing collection of knitters gives me too many ideas, so what’s a few more?  Many of the participants started shawls during the class, and worked on them through much of the cruise.  Since my knitting bag already contained the Granny Weatherwax prototype, I just carried on with that, and made a bit of progress.  Since it’s in the Faroese style, each row takes ruddy forever to knit, but that will change as it progresses.


That first day, Pat and I establilshed the pre-dinner routine that we followed throughout the cruise – about 5pm, we’d repair to the Rendezvous Lounge for a bit of liquid refreshment.



During the pre-dinner hour most nights, there was a musical group there playing big band-era music.  It was quite pleasant to relax there for a bit, sipping our drinks and chatting with other knitters, while the lemmings packed themselves into the hall outside the dining room waiting for its doors to open.  We’d usually wait until the crush had subsided somewhat before meandering to our table, where we dined with Beth (aka Yarn Goddess) and her mom Alice, knitters Terry, Judy and Nathan, and Nathan’s partner Ron.  Our conversations were … um … lively … and amusing … and led several folks from other tables to comment that we seemed to be having “way too much fun.”  In return, we gently mocked them for being too gloomy to be on vacation.


Each night’s dinner menu included at least four courses, with several delicious options for each course.  Our waiter, Percian, seemed rather disappointed with anyone who didn’t make at least one selection from each course, often asking “is that all?” after one of us had given his or her order.  Still, none of us ever left the table hungry, and all the meals were excellent.  


Sunday, we arrived in Ketchikan to find gray gloomy skies and intermittent rain, but some of the town’s avian residents flew circles over the ship to greet us.  It’s quite awesome to see wild eagles soaring by only a few feet over your head – so much so that I never once thought to grab the camera, but just watched them.  Our ship was docked right in the middle of the town, just in front of the jewelry shops:



Since the weather was not being kind to my poor arthritic self, I chose to stay aboard, guzzle hot chocolate and knit.  Those who went ashore did manage to enjoy themselves, and several showed off their jewelry or yarn purchases when they returned. 


I had completely forgotten that it was Mother's Day, a "holiday" I haven't paid much attention to since The Mom passed on.  That evening at dinner, the head waiters presented each lady in the dining room with a long-stemmed red rose.   Now that I think about it, that's the first time in my life I've ever received a Mother's Day gift.   Hmm.


Monday we sailed to the Hubbard Glacier, following another Celebrity ship, the Millennium.  On sailing into the bay, our Captain discovered it sufficiently free of drifting ice that he was able to bring the ship very close to the face of the glacier - as close as maritime regulations allow, just under half a nautical mile. 



Once in close, the Captain steered the ship into a neat pirouette so that all sides of the ship spent at least some time facing the wall of ice.  As we turned, the hull pushed aside the small drifting bits of ice, which hissed and popped much like a bowl of Rice Krispies after you add the milk.



There were frequent thunderous sounds as huge chunks of ice broke off the glacier’s face and dropped into the bay.  Unfortunately, as the naturalist said, “if you can hear it, you’ve missed seeing it.”  I didn’t manage to catch any of the ice falls with the camera, but the couple I actually saw were spectacular.


Much of the ice floating in the bay was blue-white (and yes, it really is that blue), but some of the bergs had come from the bottom of the glacier, with soil embedded in them, like this one



All these photos of the glacier and floating ice were shot from the balcony of the stateroom that Pat and I shared – so we didn’t have to compete with the other passengers for good sight lines.  The photos just don’t do it justice – if ever you have a chance to do this, do!


. . . to be continued . . .

9:45 am edt

May 27, 2008

SeaSocks '08 part one: Westward Ho!
Vacation.  What a lovely concept.  Three weeks away from the madness that is the Systems Cave will inevitably result in a strong reluctance to return. 
The trip started off normally, with Amtrak's LakeShore Limited puffing into Syracuse about half an hour late.  This is expected, no problem.  After boarding and surrendering my ticket to the sleeping car attendant, I crawled into my bunk and was dead to the world within minutes.  Next morning came the first of many unexpected events:  the train pulled into Chicago's Union Station a full twenty minutes early!  This is ... well ... unusual, at the least. 
Next came a leisurely few hours in the Metropolitan Lounge, during which time the current sock got its toe grafted
The yarn on these is a blend of merino and alpaca called PacaPeds, colorway Deep Sea.  Well, I couldn't just sit there doing nothing after finishing them, so I got out some luscious handpainted yarn from Cabin Cove Mercantile and cast on a lace sock.  As usual, several people in the lounge were bewildered at the sight of the "sticks and string" action. 
Later that afternoon, once settled in my compartment on the Empire Builder, I dug out the pieces of the Celtic Icon hoodie and began to assemble them.  Once again, I proved conclusively (to myself, if not to the world at large) that I'm an idiot.  Had I remembered to bring any of the leftovers to use to sew it together?  Nope.  Much grumbling ensued.  Stitched a few of the seams, with some of the dangling ends where I'd added a new ball of yarn, had dinner in the dining car, and pondered what to do if there were not enough in the ends hanging off the various pieces to actually sew them all together.  Like Scarlett O'Hara, I decided "tomorrow is another day" and went to sleep.
This was the scene that greeted me the next morning - sunrise somewhere in North Dakota.
I believe I've mentioned this in the past, but it bears repeating:  North Dakota is seriously flat - at least along the path that Amtrak follows.
After breakfast, it was time to return to the important work of the day - sewing the Celtic Icon together and praying that there'd be enough yarn tails to finish it off properly.  Midway through the sewing, I was certain there wouldn't be enough, and decided that if necessary, I'd finish the stitching with leftovers from the socks shown above.  Well, since running out of yarn tails wouldn't have prevented me from wearing the sweater during the trip, of course there proved to be enough.   It's only when you have no possible recourse that the silly things run out and leave you cursing your own carelessness.
There it is, draped over the table in the sleeping compartment, ready to be worn.   While I was sewing in the zipper, using normal sewing thread and a #10 sharp needle, I heard a voice say, "How the heck did you do that?"  The elderly gentleman standing in the hall outside my compartment looked almost awed.  "Do what, exactly?"  I asked. "How'd you thread that itty-bitty needle on the first try on a moving train?"  Restraining the urge to giggle, I replied, "Lots of practice."
The remainder of the train trip westward was uneventful, even peaceful.  Glacier Park and the Cascades were beautiful, as usual, and the trip was quite restful.  On arrival in Seattle, I proceeded to the hotel and settled in right away.  Thanks to Patricia's influence with bookings, my room was ready for me when I arrived, even though it was well before normal check-in time. 
After a quick "wash-and-brush-up" session, I went foraging for something vaguely lunchlike, wearing the Celtic Icon and carrying my sock along as well.  In the hotel restaurant, while waiting for my lunch to be served, I got in a few rows on the lace socks.  The young man who brought the lunch from the kitchen asked if I had knit my sweater, and when I admitted to it, told me he was a new knitter, just beginning his first lace shawl.  We are everywhere!
That evening, my friends Howie and Celia met me for dinner, and we had a grand time bringing each other up to date on what's been happening since we last got together - ten years ago!  The evening was a great success; we laughed a lot, and (as usual) confused the heck out of everyone at the neighboring tables.    We definitely haven't lost our touch.
Next morning, knitters converged on the hotel lobby, gathering for the much-awaited Yarn Crawl.  Alas, we hit the first snag of the day when the bus driver discovered that we had among us at least three times as much luggage as space for storing it on the bus.  Oops.  After some discussion, he and Patricia (our Fearless Leader) decided that we'd take half the people and as much luggage as we could cram into the bus, drop them off at the pier to get checked in, then return to the hotel for the rest.   We duly trundled off to the pier, the people unloaded from the bus, and got ourselves checked in.  The luggage wasn't so lucky.  Apparently the longshoremen at Terminal 30 decided they weren't going to unload a busload of luggage that close to lunchtime, so sent the bus to Pier 66 to deliver the bags.  Round and round we went, shuttling people to Terminal 30 to check in and bags to Pier 66.  Finally, after far too many circles around the waterfront area, we proceeded to invade the three shops scheduled for the Yarn Crawl.  Our driver, who maintained his good humor in spite of the insanity with the piers, happily posed for the obligatory "hold the sock" photo:
After stops at three yarn shops (the third one had wine and cheese for us), we finally returned to the pier to board Celebrity's ship Infinity, which is where this tale will resume on the morrow.
12:17 pm edt

May 2, 2008

Boingity, boingity!
Don't mind me, I'm just ricocheting off the walls and ceiling a little, because at 5pm today I get to walk away from w*rk for three solid weeks.  Vacation, here I come!
Lots of happy things are planned for the next three weeks, including
  • Some serious pampering at the salon
  • Three glorious days on a train to Seattle
  • Reunion with longtime friends I haven't seen in ten years
  • SeaSocks to Alaska
  • Three more days on a train
  • Finally, a few days with exactly nothing on the schedule

After the chaos of the past few months, it'll be very nice to be able to relax, rest, laugh, knit and enjoy my friends.  The blog will be largely silent during this time, as the internet connection from home is ghastly awful (as in, "dial-up") and the 'puter is not going traveling with me.   One of the best things about vacation is that I won't be spending time staring at a keyboard and screen - there's enough of that in the office, thank you.


10:16 am edt

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