Many travels – Saint Louis

Many thanks to Kate for both hosting me and for taking all the awesome pictures.  Tim gets thanks for hosting too, and Tony gets thanks for driving me to the airport, and Cat gets thanks for just being awesome.

The *new* *improved* attraction of Saint Louis is the City Garden downtown.  Not only does this place have tons of awesome sculptures like the dancy chimes, the rabbits, and the giant-legged starhorse, but it was also chock full of fountains.  Prime fountaining location.  And they actually want you to play in them!

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Bunny!

Bunny!

Bunny again!

Bunny again!

Giant-legged starhorse

Giant-legged starhorse

We also ran off to IL for a gathering with a bunch of Tim’s friends, which was lovely.  There was a nice fire, a delicious hammock, plenty of great people and good conversation, some learning about companion plants, a shrimp boil, and tons of other awesome food to play with.  I did get bitten by mosquitoes quite a bit, and the tent was a bit rough on my ancient bones, but otherwise, a splendid time.  I especially enjoyed playing with my food.

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Finally, on Sunday I was part of the crowd watching True Blood at Cat and Tony’s place.  I had prepared for this, my first-ever viewing, by reading the wikipedia articles and all the online synopses I could find, and filling in my gaps with Kate’s extensive knowledge of the show.  I felt as if I’d seen the whole show from the beginning.  Alas, I had not, a deficiency which Ivy in Portland has decided she will soon correct.  And then I have to read the books.  In my copious spare time.

This concludes my travel section for the summer.  As of now, I am in Portland, settling in, mentally preparing for law school, and generally making a nuisance of myself.  Hooray!

Many Travels – Oliver Winery, Brown County, and other parts Indiana

Let me just say that I’ve discovered anew how much I like hicks.  Sure, they can be frustrating and annoyingly persistent in certain forms of hardheadedness, but so I can I.  With distance and time, somehow they don’t seem to be so bad.  And then I come back over Brickyard weekend, and they’re everywhere.  Muscle shirts, beer bellies, tractor baseball caps, mullets, the heavy traffic, the campers everywhere two days before and one after, the works.  And somehow that seemed homey, and kinda nice, as if I’d been missing out on the hoo-haa just because it was mine, because I’d grown up with it even if I was never really aware of the racing scene.  Sometimes, especially on the west side, it’s just unavoidably present, and that makes it even more fun for the rare periods I’m home now – it’s a little bit of hometown flavor, with very little discomfort or disruption of my life.

Oliver Winery – Near Bloomington, IN

So the family decided that as a part of my time at home, we needed more wine.  Not to say that we couldn’t stand each other’s presence without liquid aid, but rather that wine is something we all enjoy.  Coffee is as well, but I’d provided some of that with the stuff I brought back from Puerto Rico.  So, tasting tour for us.  And of course our favorites were not exactly the same, so we got several.  Here’s Shelly with hers:

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Most of the grapes are grown on-site, but they do use some from further afield.  Certain bottles are made exclusively from their vineyards, which is the Creekbend Vineyard line.  You can learn more about them here.  They do not sell any of their wines in stores out of state, but you can order online and have it shipped direct to certain states.  MA is not one of them, nor is OR, alas.  I am partial to the oddly somewhat dry Valvin Muscat, which of course you can’t buy online at all – only at the winery. And the grounds were lovely.  Next time, we’re having a wine picnic.

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Brown County

So onward, and uphillward, into the deep and spooky forests of southern Indiana.  Shelly and I bumbled along one of our favorite trails at Brown County State Park, since the wine tasting and long hour of driving had already taken quite a bit of spunk out of the older adults.  Mom did come along  for a bit of the hike though.  So, here’s a few sweet pictures of that:

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Above the amphitheater.

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In the amphitheater.  PS, who knew about the first H in this word?  News to me…

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At the horse bridge.  Yes, Shelly is on the phone and loving it.

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Many Travels – Puerto Rico Part 1

If any of you have a great fear of spiders, skip ahead to part 2.

For the past few weeks, it seems like I haven’t really had time to breathe.  What with visiting my parents in Indianapolis, my youngest sister in Barbourville, Kentucky, vacationing throughout Puerto Rico, quitting my job, and moving from the East Coast to the West, things have been unusually busy and I’ve been much more widely mobile than is typical even for me.  I’ve just barely begun to catch up.  So, let’s try and put it all in perspective, shall we?

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico (Corina, Stacey, Josue)

First we needed some food, so we decided to go local immediately.  We tried a place in Old San Juan near the parking garage that Josue hadn’t been to before, just for expediency’s sake, and it turned out really well.  I had mofongo, which is a traditional dish made with plantain which is mashed and then formed into a cup with a really large mortar-and-pestle arrangement.  The inside is filled with some kind of meat usually – mine was pork – and then cooked with the open side down, so that it looks like a small hill or mountain of goodness.  At this particular restaurant, the mofongos were particularly large.

Mofongo

Then we stopped for coffee at a local fast food chain, the name of which I can’t remember.  Josue knew it, and the coffee was surprisingly good.  Then we toiled over to the old fort, hoping to get as much of the old city in as possible before jet lag kicked in.

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While I doubt that pictures like these are going to win me any sympathy points, I still thought I would try.   I mean, bars on the windows of the old fort – that’s like being in a prison, right?  Plus, the wind was in our hair the whole time, blocking vision, making us eat our own locks.  Josue had even more of a fro than usual.

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And all in the name of good pictures, we had to risk life and limb.  This brick wall, for instance, was covered in fire ants.  I swelled up into a giant rash and had to bathe in Caladryl.  Ok, not really, but it could have happened.

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Plus, even a picture like this that looks pretty amazing, was fraught with potential annoyance.  Palm branches are itchy, and the ocean wasn’t really blue enough.  Really.

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And then Corina accidentally trapped herself in this little guard station.  And by ‘trapped’ I mean ‘totally able to release herself once I’d taken enough pictures’.

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Here’s a close-up:

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There were some spectacular moments of watching the pelicans dive for fish as the sun set.  Most of the time they are even more ungainly than an albatross, but there’s that one moment of fishing when these odd birds are sheer elegant motion.  You can see the instinct coming on as they circle, seem to hesitate in midair, and then become this thin-stretched spear into the water.  I never got tired of watching that unfolding, so you’ll have to suffer through several attempts to catch it on film.

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We ended our first-day tour with two of the creepiest (and yet fascinating) areas that exist in Old San Juan.  The first we came upon all unawares while walking along the path below the main fort outside the old city walls.  This particular area is covered mostly with sea grape plants (Coccoloba uvifera), which are highly resistant to salt and can be eaten directly from the plant or made into jam. They are often used to shore up coastline or as an ornamental in this area, as they also supposedly have a hearty resistance to pests other than the seagrape borer, according to online sources.  However our particular plants were heavily infested with what I think were white flies, tiny little winged things that attached mostly to the underside of the plants, but also to the stems.  This large concentration of insects led in turn to a ridiculous concentration of large, scary spiders setting up shop in the sea grape thicket.

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Some of the spiders, like this one, even turned cannibal.  Strange, scary, and yet none of us could stop taking pictures.

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Creepy number two was pigeons.  Normally I don’t have a problem with pigeons, but then normally I don’t have a problem with rats, either.  And as a championship pigeon herder, I have some experience with larger numbers of the animal in enclosed quarters.  But this was like Funk Island of the Great Auk pre-extinction.  Bird doo everywhere, people feeding the birds handfuls of brown pellets so they can expel more, birds landing on shoulders, arms, even heads with no fear.  Not a place I wanted to spend a great deal of time, though the nearby chapel was picturesque.

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So, instead of this grimy bird image, I’ll leave you with the short form of the chapel legend.  Back in the day when Old San Juan was not so old, but the streets were just as steep and bumpy, a young gentleman lost control of his carriage.  It could have been that the horses were bit by something, possibly fire ants.  It could have been that he just gained too much speed and the horses couldn’t stop themselves.  Regardless of what caused it, this man had second before he was going over the edge at the end of a steep narrow street and there was nothing but certain doom in front of him.  So, like a good Catholic, he spent his last moments in prayer.  I can’t remember the particular saint he appealed to, but his wish for his life to be spared worked – he was able to cling to an outcropping near the edge and haul himself back to safety.  As a survivor, he built a church to the saint on that very spot, which stands to this day.  And to this day, if you’re in a runaway carriage down that narrow street, instead of plowing straight over the edge to your doom, you’ll shore up safe and mostly sound against the stern steel gates of this little chapel.

Why I should be in a comic strip.

There are times when life (my life, in particular) really is stranger than fiction.  Tonight was one of those times.

Stacey:  I wish I had a magic jelly bean that would take me anywhere I wanted to go.

Nick:  Wouldn’t you want more than one?  I mean, after you ate the first one, you wouldn’t be able to go anyplace anymore.

Stacey:  Why would I eat a magic bean?  That would just waste it.

Nick:  Oh wait, you mean you don’t activate them by eating?  Oh NO!  Where’s my stomach gone…[internal hemorrhaging].

Book!

I’ve just started reading a new book by John Barth called The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor.  As the title might employ, it’s a book full of frame stories, ridiculous and unreliable narrators, fantastic events, and clever revalations.  So far, I thouroughly enjoy it, though it’s not a style that’s for everyone.  If you like linear narrative, or realism, beware.  but beyond the merits of the book itself, I felt highly moved to share a selection of the contents of the back cover, entitled “Praise for John Barth”:

“Barth can pick literature apart in a narrative, play with it, and finally make restoration just in time for it to accomplish its ancient purpose of amusement and revalation.”

The New Republic

” There is no one writing today who has the resources of Barth’s imagination or his depth of understanding about the nature of narrative.”

Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Barth’s cunning is to turn daily life into mythology while turning mythology into domestic comedy.”

Time

“There’s every chance in the world that John Barth is a genius.”

Playboy

Back from the dead – for Alex

My coffee machine has returned from the dead. this ‘wondrous modern marvel’ is back on-line, bringing over-caffeination and binge-consumption of liquids to my veritable fingertips. For this reason (and because Alex made the foolish mistake of telling me not to), I have a new name for that beloved machine of the morning – Lazarus. We all feel the power. Oh yes.

‘We really like puzzling’? That’s puzzling.

I’m not opposed to the occasional jigsaw or even three dimensional puzzle.  I like mind games, and seeing how all the tiny pieces of something fit together is, in and of itself, interesting.  Ravensburger (a major puzzle brand name) is a name well-known to me.  I even like the puzzles with 1000+ pieces,  which are often quite time consuming.  However, I don’t necessarily think a bigger puzzle is better.

Ravensbuger evidently does.  In order to celebrate their 125th anniversary of operation in that town, they’ve created the biggest puzzle in the world in the town square.  The puzzle is 1,141,800 pieces big and nearly covers the square, and was created in five hours from an assemblage of smaller (252-piece) pre-assembled puzzles. About 15,000 people contributed and participated.  Great publicity stunt, and probably a fun thing to participate in.  Still, I wish there was more.

Why did the thing have to be made out of smaller puzzles?  What’s wrong with a town square-sized giant puzzle with one pattern?  Sure, it would take considerably longer to assemble, but so what?  Think of what an awesome public park installation that would be – giant puzzle.  Hey, you may have to carry this tiny piece over a yard-square area to find where it fits, but so what?  Think of it as both mind and body exercise.

Now I just have to figure out logistically how to make this thing and where to put it…

Tap your right toe to the ground for five seconds…wait for the beep.

Here’s a nice little review of  some new shoe innovations going on here in MA.  Take a read.  While New Balance’s smash lab I thought was pretty cool to hear about, the whole Verb For Shoe thing was a little more curiosity-rousing.  Sure, telling your computer how you walk funny might be useful.  ANd knowing what parts of your shoe are wearing out is useful, but something that could be put to better use on say, a spaceship or submarine, where your life depends on the integrity of the parts.

That fol-der-ol aside, the contact exchange system is hilariously brilliant.  At first I was contemplating the idea of being able to subtly check out some guy on the T, noting his shoes, and then grabbing his contact information on the sly.  Of course, then there’s a correlary of a scary old guy getting yours.  But after checking out the website, I wa a little more reassured.  For privacy reasons, there has to be user prompted interface on both sides.  The ‘dance’ that prompts this interface, however, is hilarious.  If you go to the website, look under ‘tech’, then ‘share’, then ‘click to learn more’.  The resulting video just flattens me.  Be sure you have your volume up.

In mountains of debris, no cell phone found…yet.

I love people.  I especially love people who make ridiculous statements.

In a commuter train crash in LA on Friday, there may be evidence that the engineer was exchanging text messages with two teenagers on the train minutes before the crash.  Since investigators think it likely that the crash was caused by human error (i.e., the engineer ignoring a signal to stop), the text messages may have played a role.  Metrolink does not allow train operators to use cell phones while on duty, so if the engineer was texting, he would have been breaking policy.  However, no one has been able to recover the engineer’s cell phone as yet, so it might not have been him texting at all.

This is what the wreckage looks like:

Um yes.  I can barely distinguish the people in this photo.  Really, you think you’re going to find a cell phone in this mess?  Try again.

Even better, the woman who first stated that the crash was caused by human error resigned when Metrolink’s board said she spoke too soon.  So, a day after the crash, a spokeswoman says human error caused the crash and gets bashed for it.  Two days later…another spokeswoman is telling us, guess what, human error caused the crash.  Thanks, guys.

Also of note – the train was speeding.  It was going 42 mph in a 40 zone.

SO awesome…

If anyone were to say to me, ‘the future is now’, I would look at him like a house centipede.  However, the crazy would be right – I have documented proof.  I don’t currently own a car, which has been a bit of trouble in the past.  But now, I’m glad of the wait.  Now by the time I have a) the $$$ and will/need to buy a car and b) my pilot’s license, these things will be actually affordable.  Ahh, just thinking about it gives me delicious weeblies all over!

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