Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Just Love These



They are enclosed storage units! How cool is that? They have the entire alphabet plus the "+" and "." characters.

If you go to reddot's site and click on "3D-Ansicht" you can see the interiors of each letter.

(Via swissmiss)

Monday, November 28, 2005

A Must See Site

The Smithsonian American Art Museum has a blog!

(Via Coudal Partners)

The Christmas Kickoff

After a marvelous Thanksgiving dinner over at Aunt Patty's it was time to kick off the Christmas season. My tree went up the very next day (a tradition in my house)——an all day project because of all the lights on the inside and outside of the beast. I'll post some pictures later.

Saturday brought a special treat. Mom and I took the train into Chicago and went to Christkindlemarket in Daly Plaza and then stood in line to see the Marshall Field's Christmas window display.

The lines at every food booth in the Christkindlemarket were really long, but we hopped in one for roasted almonds (one of my very favorite, once-a-year treats). We also found a booth tucked in a corner where we could get some hot apple cider.

When we were slowly making a circuit inside a glass ornament shop, we looked up and there were cousin Bruce and Judy and family! It's a very small world. We chatted a bit and went our separate ways but met up with them again in line for the Marshall Field's windows. Here are a few pictures of the tree in Daly Plaza and the toy train set up in the Christkindlemarket:





After completing the circuit of the windows at Field's, we all went inside to see the tree. This year it was decked out in Swarovski crystal ornaments, and we made the trek up to the eighth floor observation deck to take some pictures and oooh and aaah at the tree. Sorry the photo is so dark——the battery was going:



Bruce and Judy had plans to continue their shopping along Michigan Ave., and Mom and I were planning to find a place for dinner before heading home so we parted company again.

Mom and I headed north to Shaw's Crabhouse for dinner and then walked back to the train station to join the throngs of humanity going home.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Thanksgiving

Here's a link to the history of Thanksgiving in the U.S. Just in case you've been anxious to read up all over again.

The Pilgrims' Real First Thanksgiving

I think it's a little redundant to say I'm thankful for my loving family, good health, holiday get-togethers, etc. because I'm always grateful for those people/things/times. So I've decided to pick out a few of the lesser-known items I'm grateful for that you might not know about:

I'm grateful for my electric blanket and jersey sheets, because in the dead of winter I can pre-heat my beddy-by and thaw my frozen toes.

I'm grateful for the impending expansion of the train schedule on my line.

I'm grateful for the friendly greetings I get from Nicole at Specialty Bakery when I stop in for my Wednesday Morning Mocha (a mid-week boost to break up the monotony).

I'm grateful for the new computer I finally got at the office after a year of paperwork asking for it and nagging anyone who would listen.

I'm grateful for the opportunities the boss man gives me to write for our magazines because I am, after all, just the art director. He could tell me to do my job and stay out of everyone else's business, but he doesn't.

I'm grateful for my crock pot which fills my wee house with delightful aromas on weekends when I get the itch to cook up a batch of Veggie Chili, a pot roast, or a stew.

I'm grateful for Gimli the jungle cat--fearsome defender of the house and occasional lookout (when the mood strikes him).




Tell me what quirky things you're grateful for this year. And have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Made Me Laugh

Nodwick

Hee hee...Wasabi of Sinus Irrigation...hee hee.

This Just In...

I was surfin' my alma mater's website when I came across this interesting tidbit:

"WIU Fall Commencement Ceremonies to be Streamed Live on Web

"MACOMB, IL - - Families and friends who cannot be in Macomb to attend the Friday or Saturday, Dec. 16 or 17 Fall 2005 Commencement Ceremonies of their loved one graduating from Western Illinois University, can still enjoy the pomp and circumstance via live broadcast streaming on the web.

"Western'’s University Television services will broadcast the Academic Honors Convocation and all Commencement ceremonies live on Western'’s Cable Channel 3 and stream the ceremonies on the web."

In point of fact, I think this is a nice thing to offer graduating students and their families. However, I'm thinking the celebratory dinner following the graduation is going to be a little tricky, and the "Virtual Hug of Pride" will be a little like the comedy sketch where the comedian turns his/her back on the audience and wraps his/her arms around themselves as far as they will go.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

If You Happen to be in Delft...

...here's something interesting to stop and see. I really wish someone would invent a transporter beam already, cuz I'd love to see this!

www.re-f-use.com

It's nice to see big industries, small firms and entrepreneurs focused on reusing products.

Apparently, there's plenty of raw material to work with based on EPA stats from 2003. To be fair, we seemed to be doing a fairly decent job recycling in 2003, and it's only gotten better since then (based on all the different types of plastic I can now dump in my bin at the ol' homestead).

However, there's so much more that could be done. The city of Chicago has been struggling with its "Blue Bag Program" since 1995. I can tell you from personal experience that I have yet to see a single blue bag in any of the buildings I frequent in the course of a work day (nor have I seen any other recycling bins). Why is this? The blue bag program is only for residential buildings--small residential buildings. Office building managers and large hi-rise managers are responsible for contacting independent waste contractors to put a plan in place for their recycleables. Chicago Recycling Coalition's website has a detailed description of Chicago's situation.

I guess if Chicago could sort out their trash problem they'd no longer be in Dutch...get it...in Dutch....Ahem. I'll be going now.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Pretty Pictures

The subject matter of his "Trees" project is wonderful, but the composition of the finished pieces are fascinating.

James Balog, photographer

(Via Coudal Partners)

Creepy and Intriguing

I was particularly entertained by Betty Boop's skull...hard to find a hat to fit that noggin'.

Character Skeletons by Michael Paulus

(Via Drawn!)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

KPK's Monster



Scarier?

The Great Wardrobe Shift

It's fall and time for that fun game we all get to engage in twice a year—The Wardrobe Shift. This is the game in which you attempt to remember exactly what you own that will see you through the next season. At about the time I finally have the summer clothes all figured out and on a nice rotation, the temperatures start dropping, and I know it's time to begin THE SHIFT.

As if it weren't bad enough that we have to go from one complete wardrobe to another for the cooler temperatures, we also have to make the incremental adjustments along the way. There's no time to really settle into the spring and fall clothes (as if there are actually "spring" and "fall" clothes). They are the outfits that are strange blends of summer and winter items brought together for a short period of time—just to see us through until the weather is fully committed.



The clothes, themselves, rarely enjoy this in-between-season time. The sweater really prefers the heavier pants to the lighter summer pair you are currently wearing because you think it's "not quite cold enough yet". So the sweater and the pants nag you all day long that they just don't belong together. Every time you look in the mirror, you wonder why you forgot to turn on the lights before you looked at your murky reflection. Maybe just one more cup of coffee before you left the house would have snapped you out of your wardrobe malfunction. Maybe there should be a Garanimalesque system for adult clothing, you think to yourself. And you could corner the market if only you had the time.

There's one solace in the dark season of clothing confusion—you're strangely comfy.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Demystifying the World

There are gadgets being created and released on an unsuspecting public all the time. And, I'll admit it, there are some old gadgets that I still don't understand. Did you know there's a site that prides itself on giving away the secrets? Howstuffworks.com

More Ride for the Roses Reviews

Ted Arnold's RftR experience via PezCycling News.

He rode with the big dogs, and has some great photos too.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Texas: The Finale

Texas: The Finale

Saturday morning dawned at its usual time, but wasn't witnessed as early due to the concert the night before. Over a leisurely breakfast, we hatched a plot to drive out to the start for the ride the next day to scope it all out and get a feel for what we'd be facing. I wanted to time approximately how long it would take us to get to the start, so I could work backwards to determine when we had to leave the hotel.

We had passed Decker Lake Road on the way into Austin. The event center was just off of Decker Lake Road and we found the entrance quite easily. The tents were set up already and there were some people wandering around, but it was fairly quiet. The drive to the start had only taken 20 minutes, but we'd been warned to get there early to avoid the traffic jam just before the start. The plan was to leave the hotel between 5:30 and 5:45 the next morning to get there before the crowds.

Since I was hoping to have Mom meet me in Elgin (pronounced with a hard "g"), we drove to that town next to determine where she could set up. The ride course was going to have us pass through Elgin on both our outgoing and incoming trips. We were not prepared, however, for the Hogeye Festival and BBQ that was taking place in the center of town that day. We got all snarled up in the traffic being detoured around the center of the town (where the rest stops would be the next day). The air was filled with the tangy smell of BBQ sauce, and the carnival rides were filling the air with screams. Apparently, we missed the perfect opportunity to attempt to catch a greased pig and test our hog calling abilities. Instead, we beat feet out of town as quickly as possible.

We returned to the hotel armed with the information we needed for the next day, and comptemplated what to do for the rest of Saturday. A brief consultation with a map of the city turned up the Zilker Botanical Garden.









The Isamu Taniguichil Oriental Garden was the highlight as far as I was concerned, but it's probably an unfair judgement since we were seeing the gardens in the fall. We also wandered through the Mabel Davis Rose Garden, the Hartman Prehistoric Garden, and Pioneer Village a bit. If you'd like to see more of the gardens, visit Zilker Botanical Garden.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped for an early dinner/late lunch, and then called it a day so I could get my stuff together for the ride the next day. I called the hotel desk for a 4:30 a.m. wake up call for the big day, and it was an early-to-bed evening.

The weather through most of our vacation in Texas had been in the 90s and sunny. It continued to be sunny, but Saturday night a cold front went through the area. This was, in fact, a good thing for me because the heat had been getting to me--my northerner blood can't handle all that heat in the fall. The temperature Sunday morning was refreshing, but not too cold (for me).

The wake up call came VERY early Sunday morning, and it was extremely tempting to roll over and drift off again. After a little stumbling around in a daze, I managed to find a granola bar and a banana and get a little coffee started in the room. The hotel's breakfast service wouldn't fire up for another two hours, so we'd squirreled away some breakfast in anticipation of this.

As planned, we were out the door shortly after 5:30 a.m., and we followed several other people heading for the event. It's not hard to identify cyclists in their cars because of the bikes dangling from all varieties of racks. We followed a long stream of cars, but never really got bogged down in heavy traffic. As a matter of fact, we ended up with a fairly close parking spot and had time to eat our granola bars in the car before everyone else around us started their preparations.

Now you might think that "preparing" should be a simple process of dragging the bike out of the car and hitting the road. In actuality, there were a few other things that needed to be done. The front wheel needed to be reattached to the bike, brakes checked, wheels slowly spun to check for rubbing against the brake pads, and tires pumped to optimum pressure. That was just the bike. I have a mental "after" picture of myself that helps me remember all the stuff I have to bring along with me, and it usually saves me from forgetting anything. Before you start to worry, it saved me this time too.

With all the bits and pieces in place, it was time to waddle up toward the start and get the lay of the land (the waddle comes from a combination of cleat and inflexible sole on the bottom of the shoe). Cyclists are an interesting breed. Not a one of them likes to be the first one to line up, so all but the most wet-behind-the-ears riders will hover in the general vicinity of the start without really committing to it. Mom and I joined the hover of some 4000-5000 riders as we all repeated the brake checks, fiddled with this and that piece of equipment or clothing, and most importantly, looked impassive and unimpressed about the whole process. It's a fine art, and only a careful study of the masters over numerous years will properly train the newbie cyclist. Of course, I've long since perfected the art...ahem.

Around 6:45 a.m. there seemed to be an unspoken but understood consensus that it was time to slowly make our way into the lanes--exuding indifference the whole time.

The parking lot we were starting from had lanes separated by grassy areas with a few small trees. The lanes had also been delineated by caution tape, and I took up position along one edge of the lane so Mom could continue to hang with me until the real start. She'd be able to stand up against the tape in the grassy area to avoid being slowly rolled into/over/around/through by sleepy cyclists when we finally left.

And then we did what we do at the start of every big ride...we waited. Lance was to have made a speech to get things started around 7:10, but didn't get at it until something closer to 7:30. he made some general, "thanks for being here" comments, and he read the mission statement of the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Then Mike Ward (former guitarist with the Wallflowers, and now working with Ben Harper, and also a children's book writer--of "Mike and the Bike") climbed up on stage in full kit (cycling clothes) to play the National Anthem on his little guitar. It was all going very well until the electricity cut out just before "And the hoooooome of theeeeee braaaaaave." There was a pause for a few moments while 7,000+ people held their breath and waited for the power to come back on--twas not to be. A few people lamely chimed in with the missing line, and there were applause.

The announcer turned the microphone over to Robin Williams (who rides this event every year), and he did a minute of usual Robin Williams stuff--very funny, but I hadn't had enough coffee to be able to focus my mind to retain it. Then it was time to go.

Now you might thing that, at this point in the proceedings, things sped up a lot. Not so, grasshopper. There was quite a bit more standing around and waiting while the lanes were released one at a time with a 3-minute pause in between the start of each lane. You simply can not release 7,000 riders all at once and expect anything but gridlock. We were going to have to share the roads with traffic, and the organizers needed us thinned out so we didn't hog the full width of the road.

I finally got to start around 8:15 a.m. or so, and Mom said it took about another half hour for everybody to clear out. She'd struck up a conversation, in the meantime, with a woman who turned out to be the owner of the business that made all the Livestrong jerseys.







So while she was having a nice chat, I was settling into the ride and enjoying the morning. The crowds of riders on the roads were still pretty thick despite the staggered start, and it would remain that way for the rest of the day. There were quite a few people wearing tags with "I'm riding in memory/honor of...", and there were many others wearing "I'm a survivor" tags. I wasn't wearing a tag, but the day did not pass without thoughts of grandma and Aunt Marg; without thoughts of Ky and Kristen; without an awareness of just how many people have been affected directly or indirectly by cancer and the chaos it leaves in its path. The Ride for the Roses is a triumphant roar for more people than just Mr. Armstrong, and it was great to see and experience it first hand.

I was very suspicious of my performance through the beginning of the ride because my speed stayed very high, but I didn't feel like I was working very hard. I was enjoying the benefits of riding in a group--not just the occasional draft, but also the collective energy.

The Ride for the Roses is comprised of several rides in one. There are different distances and the route markers indicated cutoffs for the shorter routes (of 25 or 50 miles) early in the ride. I was intending to ride the 100-mile ride, but as I said, my pace was higher than normal, and I hadn't realized exactly how hilly Austin is.

The organizers of the ride had set a time cutoff at the 35-mile rest stop of just two hours from the start--that's an average speed of 17.5 mph. For those of you who aren't really familiar with relative speeds, Lance probably rides that distance at an average speed of 20 mph and still has energy to burn and would refer to the experience to that point as a casual club pace. For little ol' me an average speed of about 14 or 15 mph would allow me to still have energy to burn over 100 miles. By the time I reached that time cutoff, I'd averaged 15.7 mph (according to my bike's computer) and I made it with just 15 minutes to spare. You might have noticed that my math is off based on the average speed necessary to make the cutoff. Well, they start the clock for the cutoff based on the last rider over the start line, and I'd started somewhere in the middle, so I had about a half-hour advantage. In addition to this, the organizers were fudging the timing a little at the cutoff to allow a few more riders through.

Taking the above factors into consideration and adding to them the fact that a wicked northeast wind had developed--a headwind on the departure for the 100-mile course, or a tailwind on the departure for the 75-mile course--I decided to ride the 75-mile course. Let it not be said that I'm not willing to work hard, but there's working hard and then there's bludgeoning yourself for the fun of it.

Our plan for Mom to meet me in Elgin half worked. I ended up beating her to the stop on the way out, but she was there to greet me on the way back. I also picked up some Gatorade from her.











There's a story behind the flamingos. When Mom belonged to a ski group, they set up a little rest stop with flamingos and a mini section of white picket fence around their rest area. She got a kick out of it, so a couple of years ago (when we went to Georgia to see the Tour de Georgia) we bought some flamingos and took them with us. The flamingos remained in the car and never made an appearance by the side of the road. They came with us to Texas, and I thought perhaps their fate would be the same--always luggage never roadside decoration. I was wrong. She had them all set up and every cyclist that stopped was eyeballing them and having a bit of a chuckle. Those are some very well traveled flamingos.

All that was left was to finish the ride, which I did without any further ado. As always, I was glad to see the finish line and cross over it to the applause of thousands...ok, hundreds...ok, tens.

Texas is a great state to visit, and you can tell from my babblings that there is plenty to do.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Speaking of Travel

Here's an interesting twist on guided tours:

http://www.talkingstreet.com/about.php

(via Coudal Partners)

Texas Part 4

Thursday morning dawned as many days in Texas had to this point--sunny with a high temperature in the 90s expected later in the day. It was time to take the bike out on the streets of Austin and its 'burbs. We drove south through town to the start of the bike ride that was recommended by one of the local bike clubs for getting into San Marcos. I did about 15 miles of it with a 5-mile tag on to get back to Buda (a 20-mile ride all together).

It was a good ride, but I'd been hoping for a little more distance. I was going against the wind for most of it (SW wind at about 5-10 Mph), and there was a good deal of climbing. For example, the section along F.M. (Farm to Market) 2770 was uphill from Buda to Mountain City. It was an elevation increase of maybe 400-450 feet, and it was spread over a 5 mile distance--that combination makes for some slow, hard going. I stopped at the top of the hill (near the high school), called mom and told her I was going to turn around and head back to Buda at that point. The ride back was downhill with the wind at my back--it was over in no time.

After the ride it was back to the hotel for a shower, and to gather up the laundry. We went to a laundromat where we had the interesting experience of running into an escapee from the looney bin. We'd already put the clothes in the washers, and I'd found us a place to sit in the breeze of the open door. Perched next to the open door was our certifiable friend. At first, he made idle conversation about setting some record for driving across country on $400 in his Cadillac. I congratulated him--my first mistake.

He disappeared into the back room of the place and came out with a Bic razor and a bucket of water, stood squarely in front of me, and asked me if I would shave the back of his neck. Yeah, that was passing strange into the realm of "uh oh, I'm feeling really uncomfortable about this". At this point, I'd determined that I was dealing with a piece of God's more creative work. I demurred, saying that it really wasn't my thing (and it was the truth--shaving strange men's necks is certainly not my thing).

His initial reaction was to shrug and take his seat by the door again, but the next thing I hear is, "How would you like me to cut off your toe? Would that be your thing?"

How does one respond to something like that? I pretended I didn't hear him. I went on writing my ride into my cycling journal. I could see the guy out of the corner of my eye. He lit up a cigarette and we got a stream of smoky air, and I used the opportunity to ask mom if she wanted to move because of the cigarette smoke (loud enough that he could hear). Yes, sir, the only reason we're moving is the cigarette smoke--it has nothing to do with odd threats toward my person...ahem. We moved over to the other end of the laundromat. He left for a little bit and we settled ourselves to wait for the big rinse and spin. He came back after a while but, thankfully, stayed over in his end of the place.

When it was finally time to leave and we were safely back in the car on the way back to the hotel, I told mom, "Well, the boogie man didn't get us."

She replied, "But he certainly tried."

The world is filled with colorful personalities--some a little more colorful than others.

We went for an early dinner/late lunch at the ol' standby, Bennigan's, and the rest of the day (there wasn't much left to it) was given over to reading and relaxing.

It's your lucky day! Since I don't have any pictures to accompany Thursday's excitement, you get two day's worth of vacation in one entry! What a deal!

Friday was the official start day of the Ride for the Roses weekend. The weekend was filled with activities for the family, a cycling Expo, speeches, dinners (for people who raised buckets full o' money), autograph signings, and so much more. The Expo, being held at the Palmer Center, wouldn't open until noon on Friday. This gave me the perfect opportunity for, you guessed it, a bike ride.

I left from the back of the hotel and rode Georgian to Rundberg to Dessau. I ended up turning right off of Dessau which was a fairly busy road, and found some quieter roads so I went a few extra miles. Then it was just a matter of reversing my route for the return trip to the hotel. It was only 15 miles in it's entirety, but it was ALL HILLS! It was a good ride and I did start to settle into a pace over the hills, so I was more confident I'd be able to find my pace on Sunday for the big event.

After I got back from my little ride, we had a light breakfast and drove into town. We took a pass by the Bass Concert Hall on the U of TX, Austin campus to see where we would be going that night to see the Austin Symphony Orchestra. I'd done a little surfing before the trip, and decided that amidst all the fast food stops, cycling stuff, and tourist traps, we'd need a little culture. Going to the symphony also gave us an opportunity to dress up a bit and have a proper dinner. This trip was a birthday/Christmas gift from me to Mom and from Mom to me, so we needed a special evening.

After scoping out the concert hall and the parking situation, we drove to the Palmer Center to hang around until they opened the door for the Expo at noon. There were plenty of other people waiting too--anxiously chomping at the bit to spend a little money, claim their registration swag, and dig into the weekend with gusto (or they were just hoping to get it over with before the real crowds showed up). We actually walked around the place while we were waiting, and sat by a little reflecting pool for a bit. There was a lot of construction going on along the river, so it wasn't entirely peaceful. The view from the park bench wasn't too shabby, though, and it had great potential.









At noon we were already inside the expo and in line for the packet pickup since they opened the doors a few minutes early. I made the mistake of going to general packet pickup. It was a mistake because there was a special section for Peloton Project members. We made it to the front of the line, and I gave the lady my last name so she could find me in the roster. She combed the pages, and then combed them again as I began to worry that the drax had been snaffled.

"Well, I can't find you here. You'll have to go stand in line at the information booth." She vaguely waved a had in the direction of the booth, and she was ready to move on to the next person in line.

The line for the information booth stretched back some distance down the aisle--20 or 25 people deep. After a sigh, and a comment to Mom that it was a good thing we were here early, we joined the line. We'd made progress of perhaps two people in 5 minutes or so, and we'd begun to make friends of the people around us in line when a nice lady in a bright yellow t-shirt (marking her as a LAF volunteer) asked, "Have any of you raised more than $500?"

A few of us vigorously nodded our heads, and she pointed us over to the Peloton Project booths which were arranged by the different fundraising levels. There were nice, short lines, and as we passed by the general registration booth with the woman I'd initially spoken to, I nodded, looked at the booths we were heading to, and looked back to her.

"Oh, you're a Peloton Project member?"

"Yes, I am."

"Oh dear, I'm sorry."

Smile, "No problem." After all, she was volunteering, so it wouldn't have been nice to give her a hard time.

The Lance Armstrong Foundation must have done a personality screening for the volunteers working at the Peloton Project booths because they were all smiles--they oozed excitement, gratitude and unmitigated joy. The rest of the registration was a snap--give them my name and receive loot; t-shirt, jersey, messenger bag, route map, pin, water bottle...all kinds of fun stuff. We did a little more shopping in the "everything Lance and yellow" section of the Expo, I signed up for a drawing for a free trip to Italy (I never win these things, and this time was no exception), but we picked up a brochure listing all of the trips they offer. It will make wonderful reading and dreaming on a cold winter's night in my near future. We browsed the booths and then we left. I'd like to say that we returned the next day to get George Hincapie's autograph, but I'm not much of an autograph hound and it was a heavily traveled road between the hotel and the Palmer Center.

Earlier in the day when we'd been wandering the U of TX, Austin campus, Mom had seen signs for the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum so we made our way back there to take a look. We were both very hungry (it was approaching 2 in the afternoon), so we got directions from the docent at the library to a cafeteria in the building next door. Refortified, we went back and toured the library. It was a fascinating look at a president who, heretofore, had been a mere blip on the presidential list as far as I was concerned. I'd never realized all he did for education and the standard of American living--really amazing. If you'd like to know more, visit The LBJ Library and Museum homepage.









After we'd seen all three floors of displays and seen a short film about President Johnson's life, it was getting fairly late in the afternoon.

It was time to get ready for dinner and the concert. I called both the restaurants I'd looked up back in Chicago before the trip, and neither one of them was open any more. Ugh. We went downstairs to the hotel's computer kiosk for Austin attractions/restaurants/etc. We looked up steak places, and found one on 6th--a few blocks south of the concert hall. It was a very nice restaurant with valet parking which was lucky because 6th seemed to be the main strip for restaurants and night life.

We dined very well. We ordered a bottle of Fall Creek Granite Reserve cabernet sauvignon (from Fall Creek Vineyards). I had a 10 oz. prime rib with steamed vegetables and a Caesar salad with creme brule for dessert (life is good). Mom had a 10 oz. ribeye with the same sides and a chocolate cake of some sort for dessert. It was just the kind of civilized feast we (or at least, I) needed, and it really set the mood for the concert.

We made it to the theater with just enough time to find our seats before the concert started. The first piece played was Symphony No. 2 "Island of Innocence" written by Kevin Puts, and Kevin was there to tell us about it's creation and his intent. He was initially commissioned by the Cincinnati Orchestra to write a piece and he admitted to procrastinating until a few months before it was due. Those few months happened to coincide with the 9/11 World Trade Center catastrophe. He began writing a two part piece which was to connote the "before the tragedy" and "after the tragedy" split. He decided that he couldn't leave the audience in such a bad place, so he tacked on a third movement to bring the listener into the "new" world.

Personally, I enjoyed the first movement, the second movement was a bit overcooked for my tastes. He went the discordant route to create the feeling of tension and discomfort. In my opinion, using discordance is a little like hitting the audience over the head with a sledgehammer. It's just my opinion that an audience which can appreciate classical music will pick up on subtleties, so it's not necessary to go so over the top. In all fairness, I'm not a fan of discordance anyway, so this might have affected my perception, too. I'm afraid the third movement was jaded by my opinion of the second.

The next piece played was Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488, and I enjoyed it far more. After the intermission, they played a Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 and G Major, Op. 88 which I also enjoyed. Normally I can take or leave Dvorak because his compositions are sometimes a little too grating on my delicate (ahem) ears, but I liked this one. More about the Austin Symphony Orchestra is here: Austin Symphony Orchestra.

Mom and I were both surprised that there was quite a lot of traffic around the campus when the concert was over. We knew there was going to be a game the next day, but we only found out after the trip that it was also Parent's Weekend. The joint was jumpin'.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Texas Part 3

We arrived in Austin Tuesday afternoon and...left Wednesday morning for a day trip to San Antonio. The car veritably flew down the highway since we'd left suitcases, a bike, a cooler and other STUFF at the hotel.

In a little over an hour we were standing outside the Alamo. Now, I'm happy to say, I can accurately remember the Alamo. I hadn't expected it to be so green, and I found it strange that it was right in the middle of the city. The Alamo, while still quite stirring for all its history, has gone commercial. The mission has remained fairly pure and contains a memorial to those who fought and died there. The only other large building is a huge gift shop. Outside the gift shop is a wall that contains a timeline with the world history and the Alamo's history running in tandem—nicely done.




After fortifying the Alamo's coffers with some souvenir purchases, we went across the street to the Riverwalk Mall—portal to the Riverwalk. If you ever go to San Antonio, you MUST see the Riverwalk. The San Antonio River runs through the city and has been developed into a park/mall/walkway/ garden/restaurant deck/haven. If you can't tell, I really liked the Riverwalk.

Mom and I started our visit to the Riverwalk with a 35-minute tour boat ride around the place. We had a wonderful tour guide who pointed out all the structures as we floated along. I can't even begin to tell you all that is there. Go to Paseo del Rio for a virtual tour of the Riverwalk.

Our tour ended around lunchtime (how convenient) so we went back to The Original Mexican Restaurant which just so happened to be the original Mexican restaurant opened along the river in 1946. We lingered over lunch enjoying the people watching and ambience. We stopped in a couple stores along the way and took some pictures (classic tourist activities).







The day was not over yet! We piled back into the car and headed a bit north (maybe a 5 or 10 minute drive) to the San Antonio Zoo. We spent a couple of hours walking the zoo and filming the animals. The day was very hot (about 90), so we mostly saw the animals at their siestas. The paths between the "grottos" were windy and heavily planted. It could get kind of confusing, but I liked that. They were making a real effort to keep the animals in as open spaces as possible. They had an area called "Africa" that was slated to open next year sometime. For more information: San Antonio Zoo.

After the zoo it was time to head back to Austin. We got a little lost on our return trip. We were on Highway 183's upper deck, and we needed to be on the lower deck. That's the strange thing about Austin. All the main highways have upper and lower sections in the heart of the city. There are ramps and crossovers between the opposite direction lanes, but the upper lanes are really the express lanes of the highway. The signs up on the upper deck will list an exit that actually has two or three lower "exits" off of it. It takes a little getting used to, and I finally nailed the navigation of it—by the time it was time to leave Texas (wouldn't you know?).

Thanks for reading.

Timing is Everything

Oh sure, I start a blog and then read this...

  • Attack of the Blogs!
  • (via Speak Up!)

    There's a lively discussion of the article and of blogging in general which you can read by clicking on "Comments" at the end of the article.

    I've read some interesting blogs in my time, but I've never lost track of the fact that they are the musings/opinions/reflections-made-on-a-particularly-bad-day of an individual. It's a wonderful tool for sharing experiences, but as with many tools it can be misused.

    Wednesday, November 02, 2005

    Speak Up's Word It for November...

    ...is "quick".

    Texas Part 2

    Sunday evening (that would be the 16th of October) we arrived at Barbara and Paul's house by 4:30 or so. After a short clean up and unloading of miscellaneous belongings in their guest room, we enjoyed a drink while we sat and attempted to sum up the big events of the past 11 years.

    The nice thing about really good friends is that you don't really have to catch up on all the little bits and big bits that have happened in the intervening years. You can just pick up from the present moment and move on from that point without any feeling of awkwardness.

    We went to the Texas Land and Cattle restaurant for huge slabs of Angus beef with all the trimmings for dinner. After dinner it was back to their house to put our bloated and swollen selves to sleep. Paul had to be up at an entirely unnatural hour to get to work, and we left when Barbara and Beaux were off to work and school respectively.

    It was a wonderful visit, but entirely too short.

    Over breakfast at Denny's, Mom and I broke out the map to plot our path to Port Arthur, Texas. Great grandma and grandpa Kapschull lived there for several years. Mom had vivid memories of the place from many summer trips--vivid memories of the stink of the oil wells and the heat of summer in Texas. It wasn't quite the same as she remembered it this time, particularly because Hurricane Rita had come through a few weeks before we arrived.

    A large part of Port Arthur was still without electricity as we passed through town, and there were more tarps covering gaping holes in roofs than I'd ever seen. Downed tree branches littered many neighborhoods still. But the college in town was open for classes, and grandma and grandpa's house was still standing and not too much the worse for wear.




    After taking a few pictures (still and moving) of the old homestead that grandpa had built, we set off to find the cemetery where they were interred. Mom couldn't remember the name of the place, but she had a vague recollection of where it was in relation to the main strip through town. We found a boulevard that seemed familiar to her, and we pulled into a gas station to ask directions. I was climbing out of the car when what should I spy across the street? You guessed it--a cemetery. We asked if it was the only one in town, and sure enough, it was.




    We made a few attempts at aimlessly wandering through the mausoleums to find them, and finally admitted we needed some assistance. A quick query at the main office and we were off with a map and the specific instructions. As it happens, it was one of the places we'd already checked, but we were concentrating on the opposite wall.

    The information about where to find Charles and Laura Kapschull has been added to my family tree files.

    From Port Arthur it was a fairly simple matter of retracing our route back a bit to find the highway that would take us to the ferry leaving for Galveston Island where we had plans to check into a hotel for the night and meet Deana, Tom and Dale for dinner around 5 that evening.

    We got in line for the ferry and waited maybe ten minutes before we were loaded on board. The ferry ride was all of 20 minutes or so, and we were driving along the gulf coast on Galveston Island.

    Galveston had felt the effects of the hurricane too, and it was obvious in subtle ways. We saw a car wash that had been converted into shower stalls, and the owners were selling showers for $2. Where Port Arthur was lagging behind in having their power restored, Galveston (and it's large tourist business) had recovered much more quickly.

    Hotels and restaurants were open and running (and hiding any lasting effects very well), but if you asked the wait staff delivering your meal if he/she had weathered the storm well, they almost all had losses (mostly property) to report.

    The economic effects on average Americans of the hurricanes' damage were palpable even as we reached the southern end of Illinois. We were eating greasy burgers in the parking lot of a Hardees, and a man walked up to the car, leaned on the open sill of the driver's side door and said his car had been stolen and he was looking for help to feed his family. This would not be the only time we ran across the new homeless. The country is hurting, but I digress.

    We drove along the main strip through town, eyeballing the hotels as they went by. From east to west, the hotels slowly became newer and newer, until we saw a Holiday Inn that spoke to us.

    It was still fairly early in the afternoon when we checked into the hotel, so after unloading most of our STUFF into the room from the car, we rolled up our pant legs and went wading in the Gulf of Mexico. The water and the sun were warm and gentle. There were kids and dogs playing on the beach. Yep, it was pretty perfect.



    About the time we were relaxed and ready for a siesta, it was time to get cleaned up and go to the Rainforest Cafe to meet Deana, Tom and Dale for dinner. Mind you, I've never been to a Rainforest Cafe before. I don't know which one of us was more blown away; 4-year-old Dale (who had actually been there before) or 37-year-old Nan. Wow--what a place. It was another evening of very enjoyable visiting and catching up, but it ended much earlier since Deana and Tom had a long drive home. As I said at the very beginning of the Texas recap, any one of the things we did on this trip would have been worth a trip on their own.

    Tuesday morning was all about getting from Galveston to Austin, but not before I took the opportunity to do a sunrise ride along the seawall in Galveston.

    There was just a touch of red on the eastern horizon when I left the hotel, and I was riding without lights. The street lights cast enough of an orange glow to see by as I rode slowly to warm up. The path wasn't entirely deserted. There were couples sitting on the edge of the wall sipping coffee. A few commuters on bikes passed by me as I headed southwest along the path.

    The path came to an end 4 miles later, and as I turned the bike around an older woman walking her two dogs and husband said, "My you're energetic this morning."

    I smiled and said, "It's so beautiful out here that I just couldn't resist."

    "Yes it is."

    "Enjoy your walk." I took a picture back down the path as the sunrise was starting in earnest, and I headed back into it.





    I never did go very fast, but the ride wasn't about speed. Some rides are very much about how fast I can get from point A to point B, but this ride was certainly more about soaking in the experience of it.

    When I drew about even with the hotel again I stopped to see a statue. It was a memorial to the people who had lost their lives in the storm of 1900. The photo below is very dramatic as a silhouette, but the statue's details are lost as a result. It is a man holding his wife and baby daughter in one arm and pleading to the heavens for help with the other. The statue was positioned on an enlarged area of the seawall, and there were benches surrounding it. A homeless man was sleeping underneath one of the benches with plastic bags of his meager belongings piled around him. Seemed like an appropriate time to ask God to watch over all of those who ask for help, and for those who don't but need it anyway.



    After stowing the camera back in a jersey pocket, I clipped back in and continued on my way. I was making my way back toward the ferry, but knew I wouldn't head all the way back. I noticed as I passed by all the older hotels and touristy shops that as they got older, they also developed more personality. I was leaving behind the cookie cutter idea of luxury and modern comfort that guarantees a Starbucks on every other corner, and heading into an area where private, family-owned businesses still existed to cater to their patrons in their own special way. These, unfortunately, were also the businesses that were taking a bit longer to snap back from the effects of the hurricane, so they wore their age heavily on their frames. Construction tape hung from corners and railings like the battered streamers the morning after a party. Progress was being made at a slower pace, but even that seemed more fitting for these businesses that had grown up back in a time when life itself moved at a slower pace.

    Galveston Island has 5 (that I can remember) businesses that stretch out over the water on docks. One of these is a huge hotel which was open despite the work still being done on its foundation. Another is a fishing dock back toward the newer section of the seashore. But 3 of them are grouped one after the next in the older area. Two of these are a restaurant and a gift shop, but the third is Murdoch's Bathhouse, est. 1910. Murdock's probably started life as a bathhouse with horse-drawn carts that ladies would use for privacy down on the beach. They almost certainly wore rather involved swimming costumes. But the sign's graphics captivated me the first time I passed it by, so much so that when I passed by on the way back I stopped to snap a couple of pictures. Undoubtedly, the bathhouse underwent renovations in the 30s or 40s when a newer more up-to-date graphic and identity would have been created for it, and from the look of the structure it must have undergone far more recent renovations as well. In the latest renovations the sign was preserved, probably with some degree of nostalgia, but entirely inaccurately from the perspective of 1910. All of this is speculation on my part, but it would be fun to trace the lineage of this establishment and see how close my guesswork was. Galveston's history is heavily layered, and each generation has left its personality on the shoreline--too bad my generation is leaving McDonalds and Starbucks.





    After packing up the car, ingesting a little breakfast and a couple cups of coffee, it was time to leave for Austin. I'd go into rapturous detail about the drive from Galveston to Austin, but it was pretty unamazing. The highpoint was crossing over the bridge from the island to the mainland--it was a first for Mom.

    Thanks for reading. More later....