Thursday, December 8, 2022

Hot Springs, Arkansas -- "America's First Resort"

 I learned about Hot Springs a couple of years ago when I was looking for a half marathon to run in Arkansas. A half marathon in a new state in a town that had a traditional of bathhouses and hot springs? SIGN ME UP. 

We flew into Little Rock (Bill and Hill Airport, I like to think) and then made the short drive to Hot Springs. It was easy to spot our very cool AirBNB thanks to this amazing mural on the back wall:

The next morning we ran the Summit2Summit Half Marathon (read my race report). I loved that these banners and race posters were all over town!

After the race we took a little nap, then went for a walk along Bathhouse Row in the national park. It's hard to tell in the picture below, but the fountain in the background is steaming because it's hot springs water on a cold day!

One of the former bathhouses has been preserved as a museum (and, of course, gift shop!). People used to come to the bathhouses to take the waters and get treated for illnesses. There's a huge, sadly empty former VA hospital on a hill -- lots of WWI veterans were brought here for therapy, for example. I loved seeing the old bathing equipment -- though by old, it's 1920s, not 1820s! This needle shower doesn't look all that different from some fancy showers today. 

During their heyday, the bathhouses were super fancy, full of marble and sculptures and stained glass. They were also male dominated -- the largest sections of the bathhouses were reserved for men, while women had smaller, separate areas. 

Even though we're a long way from Florida, here's Ponce de Leon at the fountain of youth... in the former men's baths. 

The museum also included restored treatment rooms. One of the popular treatments was electro-massage therapy. This, my friends, is an early vibrator. 

On the top floor of the building they had a gymnasium, which has been restored to look as it did in the 1920s. Love that gym equipment!

That night we decided to sample the finest nightlife Hot Springs has to offer: the Maxwell Blade Theater of Magic

Tickets were reasonable, and reviews were good -- after all, Maxwell Blade has been performing his show for 26 years. Let that sink in. 26 years. 

It was a bit weird -- show was supposed to start at 8, and the houselights duly went down, and nothing happened. At about 8:10, Maxwell Blade walked in in an outdoor coat, a satchel over his shoulder, hustling down the aisle. As he headed backstage, he said, "Is everybody ready for some magic?"

His show was advertised as having 14 cast members, but we saw 2 including a tech person. But he gamely did some card tricks, some "cup and ball" tricks, and a few larger scale tricks with an assistant who wasn't quite up to the task. (I will say the first half of the "disappearing magician" went off really smoothly and looked great, but clearly something went weird and he just abandoned the trick.)

He kept up a decent amount of patter, but the pacing seemed off -- it didn't feel like a show he'd done hundreds of times. But maybe he was late, had to get a backup assistant, etc. 

I quite liked when he pulled some kids on stage, though the effect was damaged slightly because two girls and a boy came up, and he really only wanted one of each. He told them to move a certain way when he tapped different parts of their bodies with two foam baseball bats. (I am 100% sure that in the old days, he just touched them, but of course you can't have that now...). The boy was a total star, enthusiastically nodding his head when tapped on the head, waving his arms when tapped on the shoulder, and dancing when tapped on the back. The girls were just okay, so all eyes were on the boy when they started playing "Bohemian Rhapsody" and the boy WENT FOR IT. Hilarious!

He also did some close-up magic with the kids -- having them squeeze balls in their hands, saying a magic word, then opening their hands. The looks on their faces when they saw all the balls, or the bigger balls. Really good. 

Later he called up a couple onto the stage. The highlight of this was a sequence of misdirection sight gags -- he bet the man $150 each time he could guess which hand the ball of paper was in. He let the guy win 2, then asked for "double or nothing" and of course the guy couldn't resist, thinking he was a genius. Then Maxwell started simply throwing the paper over the guy's head and pretending it was in his hands. Of course the guy missed over and over and over. Meanwhile the audience would see exactly what was happening, and howling. So good. 

Then, weirdly, Maxwell Blade went to the piano while showing pictures of Elton John on the big screen... and then he started singing and playing Elton John songs. So. Weird. 

By this point, growing increasingly disturbed by our fellow attendees (a surprising number of drunk people jeering and getting too involved, if you know what I mean), and realizing that it was already 9:45 and the show was scheduled to end at 10, when Maxwell announced an intermission, we glanced at each other, gathered up our coats, and left. 

Maybe the final tricks would have been SPECTACULAR and redeemed the entire show. But it didn't seem like that would happen, and we were happy dash out. Do we regret going? Of course not -- it was a weird little adventure. Would we recommend it? Nope. 

Monday morning we got up early and made our way to Buckstaff Baths, one of two remaining operational bathhouses on Bathhouse Row. I chose Buckstaff over Quapaw because Quapaw now had large shared baths, rather than the traditional experience with attendants and private baths. 

The baths were segregated by sex, and Wil and I had distinctly different experiences. The women's part was really crowded, and I and my fellow bathers waited almost 90 minutes to be taken back into the baths. There were two mirror-image dressing rooms, and I think the other side moved more quickly as they had 2 attendants and we had one. I had just gotten into my bath when Wil sent me a text saying he was done and would head back to the AirBNB. Later Wil would tell me that his attendant told him stories about Babe Ruth and Al Capone and explained why the treatments happen in a particular order. I just had a kind if overworked attendant who was just trying to keep all the plates spinning at once. 

That said, I enjoyed the bath -- even if I would have liked it hotter. I really loved the old-fashioned steam cabinet -- where you sit in a box with only your head poking out. That was the only time I felt warm -- there was too long between treatments otherwise. Eventually it was time for my massage, a strange open-hand affair with a chatty masseuse. And then I was done. 

Again, am I glad I did it? Yes. Am I glad I chose Buckstaff over Quapaw? Yes. Would I recommend it? Sorta. I mean, where else will you get that old-school bathhouse vibe? I was sad that the needle showers and the loofa treatments had been dropped from the experience, however. 

The rest of your time in Hot Springs we really just hung out. We stopped at the Superior Bathhouse Brewery -- the only brewery in a national park! -- and tried a beer flight. Good names, pretty good beer. 

We also went to Maxine's, site of a former brothel. When I read "former brothel" I always think "19th century". But Maxine's only closed in 1970. Now it's a bar / nightclub that had great, inventive cocktails, and amazingly good Chicago-style pizzas. We got a pizza to go and enjoyed it for a couple of days. 

On our final morning we had breakfast at The Pancake Shop, a great little restaurant that's been open since 1940. We had buckwheat pancakes and banana pancakes, and I also had a side of cheesy grits. And it was AMAZING. 

Then a quick stop at the Mountain Valley Spring Co. visitor center (water from springs -- so good!), and then carried bottles back to the car. We also hustled cross the street and got a bottle of hot water out of one of the public springs. Because we felt like we should. 

Next stop, Natchez, MS. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Summit2Summit Half Marathon Race Report

Way back in early April I signed us up for a swing of three races over our anniversary. The southeast was pretty empty, and this set of races would allow me to pick up Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama over a long week. It would have been challenging enough without my knee playing a factor. 

I've told the story before: I managed to do something to my knee at the very beginning of April, but thought it would "heal itself" if I just rested it. It didn't. I hobbled through all the hoops -- getting the initial doctor's appointment (6 weeks) to get the physical therapy referral (4 weeks) to complete physical therapy (6 weeks) to get an MRI appointment approved by my insurance company. I had the surgery at the end of July, by which point I needed crutches to get around. Not a great summer for my running fitness!

Post surgery it took a long time to get cleared to run again -- 12 weeks. A few very tentative, very short runs later, and it was nearly time to go on this trip. I decided that my 50 states project was about completing races, not necessarily having great performances. I mean, six states in six days wasn't exactly the correct scenario for PRs, right? So I set out on this trip with the goal to at least get myself to the starting line in each state, and ideally to all three finish lines. That was all I needed to do. 

First up was the very well organized Summit2Summit Half Marathon, in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We decided to fly in the night before race, then spend a total of three nights in a very cute AirBNB. Even though they allowed packet pickup on race morning, we arrived into town just early enough to hustle over to the very cute race expo in the convention center and picked up our handsome swag. 

Race morning, cold but bright, we walked the short distance to the start line. As we got ready to go, I put on a running vest. Wil said, "Aren't you going to wear your special jacket?" and I got all embarrassed. See, I had purchased a track jacket from the 50 States Marathon club and, because my painting skills are less precise than my stitching skills, I had embroidered in the states where I had run a race. I am both wildly proud and slightly embarrassed by this. But I still feel like it's one of the best things I have ever made:

Wil's instincts were perfect -- wearing the jacket made for some good icebreaking conversation in the starting area, as well as during the race, with people asking which race I ran in a particular state, or recommending ones in "blank" states. 

The race wasn't a big one -- capped at 500 for the half -- but it was a chatty, lively group in the starting chute. An announcer was calling out various runners, music was playing, and all was right with the world. There was a slightly rambling prayer (I think the leader got a bit lost, mid blessing), a singing of the national anthem, and then we were underway, right on time. 

We ran past the convention center then looped around to get on Central Ave for a quick run down Bathhouse Row. A quick turn onto Fountain Street, then another turn onto the old carriage road up to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower. 

Now, I half joked at the idea of a "Summit2Summit" race -- imagining Arkansas as flat. I was wrong. The road was steeply panked hairpin turns, a long slow switchback up the hill. 

We just kept going up and up. I had this idea that the Hot Springs Pagoda was the summit of the first mountain. Nope. 

It did, however, offer a lovely view of the valley below. 

Nearly a mile later, we crossed the timing mats just shy of mile 4 and started heading down. One summit down, one more to go. 

The way down was pretty speedy, even if my knee wasn't particularly happy about it. We popped back out on Fountain Street and then made a right past the Arlington Hotel to run up the other stretch of downtown Hot Springs. During this stretch we joined up with a large group of people at the back of the 5K pack. We followed them around a left turn onto Whittington and noticed that we weren't seeing any half marathon bibs in the people headed back after some turnaround. This made us worry a little, but we kept on. 

Eventually we reached a sign that said, thankfully, "5K Turnaround, Half Marathon Straight On". So on we went, making a loop on Whittington around a little park, and then turning up on West Mountain Drive to head up to our second summit. 

If anything, this was worse -- though it might just have been my tired legs. By this time I was just walking and had long since decided that that was fine with me. Still, the day was gorgeous. 

And the higher we climbed, the more frequently we saw signs like this: 

I liked almost everything about this race -- even the hills. The two tiny criticisms are the lack of confirmatory "you're still on the right track" signage (though I might have missed them), and the fact that we saw a sign saying "It's all downhill from here" when we were still a good half mile from the second summit. Cruel, that. 

But the elevation meant that we had great views of the valley -- what our friend Jenny Hadfield calls "earned views":

At one point we had a fine view over to North Mountain and the Hot Springs Tower at the top: 

But, again, we were still headed up up up. 

Finally, however, we hit the second summit just after mile 10, and then had three fast miles to the finish. Well, "fast"...

The finish area was well organized, with lots of pizza, hot soup, and both meaty and veggie burgers, plus a crazy array of snacks. Oh, and chocolate milk, which is the best post-race treat in the world. 

We stood around, eating pizza and a burger, and admiring the day and the other finishers. Eventually -- so that we didn't get caught up in the "Squirt Dash" for kids -- we headed home to our AirBNB for hot showers and a nap. 

The race was well organized, the director sent plenty of clear informational emails leading up to the event, the course was interesting and highlighted the town, and there were plenty of well stocked and staffed water stations, plus abundant food at the finish. The shirt was nice, the medal unique and interesting and HUGE. And of course... state 39!

Summit2Summit Half Marathon
15:04 pace

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Great Wave Stitch-a-Long, part 30

Hi everyone! I’m writing this post really early — it’s actually November 8 as I type — because I’m headed out on vacation and won’t be bringing Great Wave with me. Do I wish I could tell you I had finished it? Yes. Have I? No. 

Here’s where I was last time, just starting to stitch the crest of the wave:

And as of right now, I have finished the backstitching apart from the title and signature area at the top left of the image:

It’s true, like everyone said last time, the backstitching really makes the piece!

I made the mistake, a moment ago, of counting all the tiny French knots I have left to do. I’m afraid it is many more than were in the bottom of the piece. How many? 278. They’re so tiny — just one strand of floss — I keep asking myself if it’s “worth” it. But I know it will be. 

By the time you read this I’ll be on my way home, giving me a full three weeks to get those pesky French knots done.

Looking for some crafty inspiration? Be sure to check out the projects my fellow stitchers are working on. They're all different and all amazing: Avis, Claire, Gun, Constanze, Christina, KathyMargaret, Heidi, JackieMegan, Deborah, Sharon, Daisy, AJCathie, LindaHelenConnieCindy, and Mary Margaret.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

13x13, November 2022 edition

Hi everyone. Welcome to the second installment of my 13x13 project! In October 2022 I pledged to make the Raven Ornaments Mosaic Kit by Northern Whimsy Studio.  It was my first time attempting mosaic in a very long time. The kit was perfect, and the instructions were nicely detailed. So I’m happy to present the result:

Let’s be honest — there’s one that I managed to forget to leave space for a hanging hole: 

That said, I’m really happy with how the little fellows turned out — they’re small — only about 3x5 inches. 

But I do like the look of them, and managed to hang one (the one with the hole…) on my Halloween tree. 

Now, what’s my next project? I have several Halloween kits from the fine folks at Mill Hill Beads. Moonlight Ghost apparently is set up as a magnet, but I see no problem in turning it into an ornament. 

This little Moonlight Ghost (and his “treasure”, a star…) will make a super cute addition to next year’s Halloween Tree. I’ll check back in on December 13 to share my progress as well as my next spooOOooooky project!

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Suminagashi class with Robert Mahar

 It’s been a couple of weeks since I took this class, and I’m sad to say I haven’t made the time to either go back and do more, or even write this post up. But I enjoyed this class so much I want to spend the time (and hopefully inspire myself to get back to it!).

My favorite local shop, Monster, also hosts a busy number of creative classes. I’ve taken a few — a block printing course where I made an amusing stamp or two:

A patch embroidery class where I ran out of time but really enjoyed it:

A map embroidery class that I can’t wait to tell you about:

And this: suminagashi. 

Suminagashi 墨 流 し or “floating ink” is the process of marbling plain paper with water and ink. Like many things, the simplest version is incredibly easy… but I can imagine it taking years to really master the art. 

Lovely Robert Mahar, on whom I have an artist crush, was offering this course. It felt like the universe was answering a request — I wanted to work with him on embroidery, and I also wanted to learn how to make suminagashi. And there it was, a class at my favorite store, on a weekend where I was home. Perfection. 

I was a little nervous about it — would I be able to make the patterns? Would mine turn out nicely? But Robert was soothing and encouraging and enthusiastic… and did I mention if felt like magic?

A little tub of water, two paintbrushes, and some oily ink or paint. You put one brush in each hand, soak up some ink in each, and then just touch the tip of the brush onto the water, You alternate the touches — left, right, left, right — creating concentric rings. Moving air, a slightly bumped table, nervous hands create some motion. And then, you have this. 

The ink floats on the surface, looking a bit pale and transparent. You can see the shadow of the dark rings on the bottom of the white tub of water. 

Then you take non-glossy paper and gently lay it on top of the water. You can actually see it absorb the ink, which lets you know when you can pick it up. And then, this:

I love seeing the ink as well as the print — now it changed, slightly, when I imperfectly lay the paper to pull the print. So satisfying!

The act of dipping the brushes in the water, watching the rings form, changing the amount of ink on the brushes or the time you left them in contact with the water and seeing the effect that had on the rings. It was soothing and fascinating and completely, totally magical. 

After pulling a print, you simply brushed paper towel across the top of the water bath and started again. I played with colors (not traditional in Japan, mind you, but fun as they were available) and feared that they weren’t very vibrant … until I pulled the prints. 

I didn’t really do much to manipulate the inks; though one can use air or “combs” to move the floating ink. Each print was pulled, then layered with paper towels to keep them separate. I took them home damp but was thrilled when I saw that the yellows remained so vibrant after drying. 

We also printed on some silk hankies — slightly too large for the inexpensive bins we used in class, so they have an un-printed edge. 

(Not the best photos — but these are very pale with subtle patterns and colors.)

It’s been a couple of weeks since I took the class, and as I said earlier, I haven’t gotten back to playing with this technique. I’m thinking about printing on linen and embroidering over it… or printing on card stock and then block printing over it to make Christmas cards, etc. I’ve been working on some paper craft projects lately, so I think I’ll make some “notebook covers” on heavy card stock. 

(Now I’m antsy to get my inks back out — mission accomplished!)