Sunday, October 28, 2018

October OMG complete: the semi-secret project, part 1

At the beginning of the month I joined the "One Monthly Goal" link-up -- which provides group motivation by encouraging you to focus on... you get it... One Monthly Goal. Like many stitchers, of course, I have multiple projects on the go at a time... but this is a way for me to set a mini goal on one time-sensitive project and still work on my big project. In theory?

It's still the case that I can't actually show what I'm working on -- so apologies for the boring, low-image post!

My OMG for October was to get the project started, prep my fabric, get it on the frame, and stitch the center section. I'm pleased to report that the center section is stitched, and that as of today I've moved the frame to one of the sides. There's still a lot to do, but I'm off to a good start.

If you participated in the October OMG link-up, don't forget to post your triumphant finish. Especially if you can actually, you know, SHOW what you're working on!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Detroit Free Press International Half Marathon race report

Getting to the start line was the hardest part. So I was just happy to be able to run in state #37: Michigan.

The day was dry, but bitterly cold. I knew that chances were good that I'd be walking more than running, so I bundled up: thermal tights, a short-sleeved top, a long-sleeved thermal top, my insulated running vest, and my waterproof running jacket, plus gloves and a hat. Oh, and my race belt with my PASSPORT inside!

We headed down to the starting corrals, noticing that everyone was huddled against buildings rather than standing in the windy corrals. Luckily we only had about 20 minutes to wait before the first corral set off. The corrals were well labeled and neatly divided; there didn't seem to be the corral shifting you often see in races. At 6:45 the Canadian and American national anthems were sung, and the wheelers were sent off at 6:58. The start was really well organized, with countdowns and the corrals moving forward on schedule.

Then it was our turn -- and because the corrals were well managed, we weren't crowded, even at the very beginning. Nice job, race organizers!

We started off with a straight shot toward the Ambassador Bridge. Not a lot of support on the course -- hey, it was early, dark, and 36 degrees out. We turned in toward the immigration plaza and ran through a few dozen US border patrol agents, dotted around and across the route. They kept repeating "WE NEED TO SEE YOUR BIBS", which meant I was looking down and adjusting my jacket so make sure my bib was visible and I ended up colliding and then sliding across the front of an agent. Yeah, smooth. 

It seemed a little haphazard; though we had read that you wouldn't be allowed to bring a backpack into Canada (unsurprisingly), we saw some people get their bags confiscated, while others ran through without being stopped. Of course, the real question is -- WHO RUNS WITH A BACKPACK?!?!

Then we corkscrewed up and onto the bridge. Now, you know I love a good bridge!

Seriously, this is a good looking bridge... and IT STRETCHES BETWEEN TWO COUNTRIES!!!

We had 2 of the 4 lanes of the bridge to run on, with a "buffer" lane monitored by bridge staff, and then a lane where traffic was alternating and slowly moving across.

From the bridge we could get a nice view of Detroit:

and the lovely parklike town of Windsor, Ontario as we crossed the river. Hello, Canada!

Eventually we looped off the bridge, welcomed by super friendly, high-fiving Canadian border guards, who were keeping up a constant chatter with the runners via megaphone. Oh, Canada. 

The route along the river on the Canadian side was nice and quiet, with a park on one side and sweet, modest houses on the other. Too soon it was time to return to the US, passing another Canadian checkpoint, more high fives, and then down into the tunnel.

I expected the tunnel to be bigger, somehow -- just two lanes? It was hot and humid, but we ran our underwater mile...

Okay, we stopped to take this picture:

Coming back out of the tunnel there was another gauntlet of US border agents ... at least a few of them were smiling, saying welcome back, and a couple were even HIGH FIVING!!!

Then more running, running, running. Okay, a lot of walking. But that's okay. We just kept on keeping on. Hey, I didn't realize how many Stanley Cups the Red Wings have won:

The last miles just slowly ticked by, then we turned into the home stretch, held hands, and ran across the finish line. 

As with everything at this race, the organization was top notch. Good signage meant no half marathoners missed the turn. (Big props to the marathoners who had to essentially pass the half marathon finish line and then go on and run another 13.1 miles!) Medal distribution was fast, and we were handed a bag of snacks rather than the weird "buffet style" that moves so slowly. 

Great things about this race:
- Excellent communication before the race
- Nice merch at the expo
- Nice layout at the expo
- Good swag in the bag: nice shirt, custom "buff", temporary tattoo, sticker, and a bag of Haribo
- Great corral management
- Unique course
- Plenty of signage / mile markers
- Plenty of well-organized water stops
- Handsome medal
- Free race photos!

I honestly can't think of anything I would change about this race -- this is going to go down as one of my all-time favorites. 

Post Race: We headed back to the hotel, had HOT SHOWERS, got changed, checked out, and wandered around Detroit checking out the sights. And then we had a smooth flight home. Phew!

KAWS' "Waiting" statue

Aretha Franklin Way

Tokens for the People Mover

Waiting for the People Mover

fist bumping with the Joe Louis monument

Wil taking one on the chin from Joe Louis

the Fist

the Spirit of Detroit

Shroom Burger and Cheese Fries at SHAKE SHACK
Thank you Detroit, and that's State #37 in the bag!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Neither rain nor hail nor lightning

Saturday was supposed to be simple. A four-hour flight to Detroit, landing at 2:30, would give us plenty of time to get to the expo for the Detroit Free Press International Half Marathon before it closed at 7pm. We had to go in person because we needed to show our passports (!!!) as the race crosses into Canada and back into the US.

The timings were good -- we got up early, got to Sea-Tac, cleared security quickly, and then got on the plane to Detroit. The flight wasn't bad, I read my book about Harley Earl, design director for General Motors, and the time passed quickly.

About an hour before we were supposed to land, we were told that it would be bumpy going in to Detroit, so they were going to clear everything and seat the flight attendants early. So we all got our seat backs upright, our tray tables locked, and our electronics unplugged. ("There's a blue light in the aisle that we can see if you have something plugged in.") Then we hit the turbulence.

At first it was just some wobbles and sways. But then it got worse and worse. The plane got super quiet -- even all the kids were quiet, which was a pleasant surprise for all of us. The fight attendant came on the intercom to say that there were "little white bags" in the seat backs in front of us. I thought, "Well, I won't need one; I don't get airsick." Five minutes later I thought, "Well, it would be good to at least find the bag so I know where it is." And five minutes after that I thought, "Let me just get that bag and hold on to it." And five minutes after that I thought, "I'm gonna get that bag open and ready so it's there if I need it." Luckily, it didn't come to that. But I've never been so close to needing it.

The flight attendant also told us that turning on our vents would cool the air around us, which would also help -- which made me and half the plane reach up and turn on the vent. I even ended up taking off my long-sleeved shirt because I was really heating up as the plane lurched and shuddered.

We were circling Detroit for a long time -- and it seemed that we tried to make three descents. On the third one there was a very bright flash, and the captain seemed to accelerate quickly and climb. We had been struck by lightning -- but, apparently that happens at least once per year to most planes. Just a first for me!

Then we flew and flew and flew. Over big water for a while. And then we started to descend… this time too it was really rough, and the actual touching down felt like we got one wheel, started to tip, skid, and then righted ourselves. When we were rolling smoothly, the entire cabin burst into applause, and you could feel the tension release. It was about 3:30.

A flight attendant came on the intercom and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, as you can tell we have safely landed. What some of you can tell is that we are not in Detroit… and I'm not sure where we are. When the captain tells us where we are, I'll let you know." Cue half the plane firing up their phones and looking on maps: we were in Toledo, Ohio.

Now, I don't know much about Toledo, apart from the phrase "Holy Toledo!" (etymology fuzzy); that Corporal Klinger from MASH was from there; and their minor-league baseball team is called the Mudhens. I have just learned that in 2016 the Mudhens played a game wearing a special "Holy" jersey. Bless.

Turns out that Toledo Jet airport isn't a big airport … it's shared military, private, and the occasional commercial flight. But they seem to have only one gate big enough for a 737, and it was about to be used. And they didn't have staff ready to handle an unexpected plane … so we came to a stop and just sat. And sat. And sat. For 45 minutes. While we waited for someone to be able to guide us somewhere out of the way. I suspect it would have been a longer wait except they had a plane coming in, and needed the runway. Seriously.

So we were moved to a space near the private aviation building, where we sat some more. Wil and I pondered our fate. Do we try to get off the plane, get an Uber, and rush to Detroit? Do we hope the plane would refuel and take off and try again to land in Detroit? Will they come with buses? What might our options be?

The sleepy little airport eventually sent someone out to give us some information. We could take the little shuttle bus to the terminal, but it only seated 12 at a time, so it might be a while. We could also get off the plane and get picked up at the private aviation office. Wil and I -- and a couple of other runners on the plane with the same idea as us -- got off the plane and ordered up an Uber. It was 4:30.

We met a nice woman named Semida and the three of us got picked up about 10 minutes later by Jason, our Uber Superhero. The four of us chatted and laughed at Jason's #UberHumor -- my favorite was when we were talking about how many races we'd run, how many states, etc., Jason said, "Umm, haven't you guys ever heard of cars?"

Despite some stormy weather, Jason deposited us safely at the COBA center a little before 6 -- plenty of time to spare! So of course we took this team photo:

We hugged everyone goodbye -- I mean, we had been THROUGH IT -- and then went in to the very well arranged expo. A big space to pick up your bibs and packets, all well signed, then a nice race merchandise area where I bought stickers and a pint glass.

Then the way to the exit was a nice, wide zig zag. No short cutting, but it meant that you had to walk past every booth to get out. This is my favorite expo arrangement. A one-way system with plenty of room.

We were still buzzing from the day we'd had, so set out to walk the half mile or so to our hotel. A few feet away from the conference center it started to drizzle. Wil wisely made us stop and Gore-Tex up … and then a few minutes later there was lightning, a thunderclap, and a sudden hailstorm. WHAT'S NEXT, FROGS?!?!?!

We dove into the first open establishment we passed -- a Ping Pong bar (?!?) -- shaking piles of hail off our shoulders and hat brims to the astonishment of the other patrons. A quick rum and coke later and the storm had passed, and we eventually arrived at the Siren Hotel.

Housed in the former Wurlitzer Building (who knew?), the Siren is in a "soft opening" phase. Guestrooms, a bar, a coffee shop, a bar, and a barbershop … but more is on the way. We were staying in a "Chamber" -- a very small room, but nicely appointed, and with a beautiful terrazzo-tiled shower. And I'm not the sort of person who either sleeps well in a hotel or waxes poetically about sheets, but WOW, that bed was comfy and the bedding was glorious. Seriously.

We went around the corner to Wright & Co., a buzzy "gastropub" -- which really is a restaurant with a big bar running along one side. But we took seats at the bar, got some spectacular cocktails, some great food, and clearly timed it right because the bar got RAMMED about 15 minutes after we arrived.

After dinner we walked around Detroit a little bit, admiring the architecture, and wishing we could have spent the afternoon there.

Back at the hotel we wanted a nightcap at the Candy Bar in the hotel; we're both still fuming a bit at the mediocre drinks, frankly terrible snacks, and poor service we totally overpaid for. But lessons learned.

Back up to the room by 10:15, and in bed at 10:30. Race day the next morning!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Swan Stitch-a-Long, part 2

Hi everyone! Just a quick little post today, as there's not that much to show. Here's where I was three weeks ago:

The piece partway attached to my big old floor frame -- big, but not big enough! The feet, the outlining of the feathers and the body and a few "proof of concept" sections on the right swan, but that's it.

And now? Not much different, really...

wow, that's a dark photo -- sorry!
I started frogging the stitching in the tail of the right-hand swan (wrong cream! blast!), I stitched the feet of the left-hand swan, I've started outlining the feathers, and I've started outlining some of the center leaves.

But most important, I got a new frame -- a "table / lap frame" that fits perfectly. So I'm happy to have gotten the swan on a frame that I can unroll as I go.

My plan of attack is as follows: alternate between stitching the "ground" and working on the outlining. The ground is a particularly difficult to scan combination of green and brown that I struggle to differentiate. In certain light it's almost impossible. So I'll take the opportunities when it seems right. The outlining, being in a different stitch, is pretty fun to do, if tedious after a long time. Once the outlining/shaping is done, I think I'll allow myself to do some mindless filling-in with the lighter blue in the center section. It all still seems backward, but means I can do the swans last.

I apologize in advance if I'm missing any updates to the list -- we'll be in Detroit running a half marathon on Sunday, so I'm writing and scheduling this a few days in advance.

When we return to the west coast, I look forward to seeing all the amazing work my fellow stitchers are doing -- but you should take a peek now!

Avis, Claire, Gun, Carole, LucyAnn, Kate, Jess, Sue, Constanze, Debbierose, Christina, Kathy, Margaret, Cindy, Helen, Steph, LindaHeidi, Jackie, Hayley, Tony, MeganCatherineDeborah,  Connie, and -- belatedly! -- welcome to new member Clare!

Friday, October 19, 2018

Hike-let of the Week: Blue Lake Trail

While camping at Rasar State Park recently, we went on a little walk to Blue Lake. I'm not gonna lie -- we had planned to hike up to Dock Butte, missed the turn off, found ourselves in blissful solitude at the lake, and decided to just hang out there for a while and not hike up to Dock Butte. This walk was so short that I didn't even take any pictures along the way... until we got here:

What was really wonderful was that, somehow, we had the place to ourselves.

So you can see, I hope, why we lingered... sitting in the sun, listening to birds and the sound of water lapping on the shore.

I should point out that it was c-c-c-cold out, so there wasn't any wading. 

After a while we decided to turn back and go explore the campground. I think if we hadn't missed the turn, we would have happily hiked up to Dock Bute ... but having gotten somewhere that felt like a very worthy destination, we were happy to turn and walk back to the trailhead.

The day was beautiful, and I'm sure we would have had an amazing view. Heck, the view of Mount Baker from the road was incredible!

Blue Lake

1.6 miles
207 feet elevation gain

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Quick campsite review : Rasar State Park Campground, site 43

We spent two nights at Rasar State Park near Concrete, camping in walk-in site 43. 

Parking for the walk-in sites is not far from the entrance to the campground ... but we forgot and drove past them as we arrived after dark. But it's not a huge campground, and we found our way quickly.

This map isn't super accurate, but it will give you an idea... We walked down the path to get to our site.

Really nice, and quite private:

Here's the view from the back of the site towards the path; you can see that it's quite private:

I was a little surprised not to have actual tent pads, but there's easily space for two tents, if not more if they're small. The site was quite level, too. There's a fire ring with a flip-down grill, and a picnic table in good condition.

Two of the walk-in sites have "rustic shelters" on them -- small huts with 4 single bunks built-in, and open on one side. No electricity, heat, or padding. Maybe they'd be nice in the summer? Site 41 (below) seemed pretty non-private, just off the path and without a ton of room.

Site 42 -- our closest neighbors, below -- had a much larger area and felt much more private. The people who stayed there when we did actually didn't use the shelter and just had tents set up. At least until they packed up and left late on Saturday afternoon, abandoning a huge pile of damp wood. Um, yes, we brought more wood home than we took with us...

The restrooms -- about 100 yards away -- were very clean and well maintained, and offered hot showers between the hours of 6am and 10pm for 50 cents. We're so out of practice that it didn't even occur to us to bring towels! Drinking water was closer, right at the walk-in site entrance, but we didn't try it as we had brought our own. 

There's also an amphitheater, though we were too late in the season for any ranger programs. Next summer!

Another great feature of the park is its location on the Skagit River, and its network of trails:

On Saturday afternoon we went for a walk along the river in the glorious sunshine.

Eventually we headed back to our site for a nap -- we had a GHOST WALK to take that night, so needed to rest beforehand!

Rasar State Park Campground Site 43 at a glance

Privacy: Yes! This site felt really private.
Tent pad: Not actual pads, but the site was level and there was room for at least 2 tents.
Fire ring: Nice, with a working flip-down "grill"... which frankly felt too close to a big tree, but it wasn't movable.
Picnic table: Nice table, in a good location.
Bathrooms: Super clean, well-stocked, with flush toilets and coin-operated showers.
Water: Drinking water available, but we didn't try it.
Pro tip: Enjoy the trails in the park!