Monday, November 27, 2006

the twilight zone

It has been an extremely busy past week. I had to take blood samples from an incredibly number of mice and administer vaccines to all of them last week before I left for Michigan for Thanksgiving. A lot of work and time, but also nerve-wracking, because I always have the fear that the immunization won't got quite right and two months worth of toil will be a complete loss from day 0. Once the mice were all set, I scrambled back to the apartment to rapidly throw various items into a laundry basket, grab Joelle's medicine, stuff her (very unwillingly) into her carrier, dismantle her cage, and put it all into my car so I could finally get on the road for the long drive home across the Ohio Turnpike.

The plan was to meet my brother, Jonathan, in Ann Arbor, where one of his friends from college resides. It breaks up the trip for both of us, is completely not out of the way, and gives me someone to keep me awake for the final 2.5 hours of the trip across the very flat and sometimes boring Michigan expressways. I made the decision to take a little bit of a different way to the meeting point - I generally drive the Turnpike to Maumee and connect to US 23 to drive towards Ann Arbor, but this time I decided to follow MapQuest's suggestion and get off an exit earlier, hit 75 for a short period, drive across Toledo on 475, and connect to 23 north of Maumee. Good in theory, and actually it was going great until I approached exit 16.

I have no idea what is at exit 16 or how far away it is from 23, but as I approached, traffic came to a near stand-still. I thought I had hit some rush-hour traffic, although it was pretty late for that. Instead, it turned out to be a police car blocking the road and directing all cars to the right with red burning flares. I obliviously followed the flares and the traffic and suddenly found that I (and everyone else) was on the exit ramp of exit 16! I figured that there would be a DETOUR sign telling me what to do next, or that I could at least jump back on the highway, but there was no sign, and there was another police car and flares blocking the on-ramp.

So I started following some cars, but they all turned off the main road, and I was pretty sure that wasn't the way to go. So I stopped and asked at a hotel for some directions, but the person at the desk had no idea how to get anywhere. So then I thought I'd trust my intuition and head the way I thought I should go. Fortunately, I didn't trust my intuition very long (it was wrong, anyhow), and I stopped at a restaurant to ask for their suggestions. Everyone there told me how to get back onto 475, and it took me a while to get them to realize that I COULDN'T and that was the whole problem. So, finally a person who actually knew how to drive around the area was located from the throes of the kitchen, and I had my directions. I turned around and went back from where I had come. I noticed that cars were driving in both east and west directions across the overpass that was 475. I wondered...and indeed, I now COULD get onto the on-ramp! So I did. And I got to Ann Arbor in no time.

I had to ask myself many times whether I had just imagined all of that. It took me no more than 10 minutes to get the directions once I was dumped off the highway! I'm sure there's a perfectly logical explanation (a crash or accident being cleaned up, for example, and I just caught the tail end of it before the roadway was reopened), but I felt like I had entered and exited the Twilight Zone.

Maybe it was just not a very lucky day for me, because as I approached Ann Arbor I checked my voice mail on my cell phone and was able to listed to two of the three messages before the battery went caput. Having no car charging capability, I was stuck and guessed that the third message was Jon telling me where precisely to meet him in Ann Arbor. I arrived at our desination and saw his car and went to the restaurant we had discussed as a meeting place, but he wasn't there (and there was no outlet in the bathroom for me to plug in my phone!). I figured my best bet was to just go to the house I thought looked like the one where Jon's friend, with whom we were leaving his car, lived.

I picked wrong.


And nobody knew Jon's friend, even though he lived right next door to them (well, okay, so his parents lived there, but...still).

Fortunately, just as I was starting to despair and contemplating going back to the first wrong house to ask if I could plug in my phone to check the messages, Jon showed up, and we squashed his luggage into my car and were off after showing the man at the nearby convenience store what my car looked like under the hood because he thought he was getting ripped off by the repair shop his friend's same-model-as-mine car was being serviced by. We confirmed that the part the shop said he needed did not appear necessary for the proper fixing of the car.

...Ah, life. It is so deliciously confusing and amusing and random.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

bad things come in threes (or more)

Blogger won't publish the posts I painstakingly write these days. Hopefully this one makes it...

Bad things that have occurred in the past 12 hours:
  • I found out my sister suffered a minor concussion this past weekend and is having continuous headaches as a result.
  • A friend from high school was killed in a car accident
  • Joelle, who had surgery for another abscess on Friday, stopped eating this morning and is acting very strangely
I don't feel much like celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

it's (almost) christmastime

I decided to do Christmas knitting quite differently this year than last. Last year I knit something for a very large number of my friends. I am not quite sure how I did it, to be very honest. One of them only got half of her present by Christmas - just one sock out of the promised pair.

But this year...this year I learned my lesson: don't knit for others! Unless you really, really want to and don't care if they have absolutely no appreciation for the fact that you spent every non-working waking moment hunched over your knitting needles to have a finished product for the gift exchange. I didn't care to experience that this year (although, I didn't actually care very much that people didn't ooh and aah over their gifts. That's not why I made them!), so I went a different route -- knit for myself!

Specifically, I'm knitting up some stockings for decoration around the apartment. And, if time allows, I want to knit some ornaments for a little tree I plan to acquire. I spent hours and hours searching for the perfect patterns, and I finally picked out three from Christmas Stockings put out by Interweave Press. One for for Joelle...and one for Sheamus.

Speaking of Sheamus, he hasn't been for the past month or two. Basically that means he doesn't make "FEED ME!" faces and doesn't even really eat. A very keen visitor to my abode pointed out that this was probably because his water is really cold, which is probably because I don't use the heat much and prefer to just wear more sweaters as the air cools. I tried moving him to warmer spots of the apartment, but so far it hasn't done much good. A little bit worried that he won't make it much I must admit that I'm holding off for making his stocking until last.

I'm working on Joelle's first because she doesn't have one at all, and if I desire/don't get to making my own, I can grab the one my aunt made for me long ago, which I really like and which is at my parents' house, where I'll be for Thanksgiving (isn't that convenient...). Of course I forgot to get a picture of it (and left my camera at home when I left way early this morning), but I'll assure you it has multiple colors, and I have been VERY pleasantly surprised to find how much easier stranded knitting is now that I have conquered English Knitting. It's downright FUN! I'm very inspired to make something Nordic. I suppose I'll settle for generic Scandanavian - as that's what pattern I have picked out for me is!

Joelle's stocking, by the way, is the "Chubby Sock" - it happens to be on the cover of the book. It seemed so "her" when she was all "chubby" with her gobs of hair. But, since the Great Abscess and the subsequent Shaving of the Face and subsequent haircuts, she's not so much chubby as just warm and fuzzy. The sock'll still do.

Pictures as soon as I get my act together!

Friday, November 10, 2006

stuck on salzburg

Hm, so it appears that I haven't told you anything about the rest of my trip...!* And what a shame, because the next stop on the European adventure was my favorite. After leaving Budapest, we drove across Hungary and then across Austria to get to Salzburg. While in Austria we traveled along the "Romantic Road," which is absolutely beautiful. It meanders through quaint villages, following a bicycle path along the Danube. On one side of the road you look through sparse trees and see the water and the "beaches" on the opposite shore, and on the other side of the road you take in old houses and churches and the rising hills that assure you the Alps are on their way. Gorgeous, gorgeous!! It doesn't go terribly fast - it certainly isn't an expressway - but it's worth the extra travel time. As we rode along I became more and more determined that I will return to Austria someday to embark on other adventures that I missed - like climbing and hiking the Alps, skiing, venturing to one of the small inns, smelling and tasting the alpine wine. much to love! We stopped briefly to take in some of the sights, such as one of the many lakes.(Incidentally, at this particular stop we also spotted some men wearing lederhosen and a separate man with two adorable King Charles spaniels. The highlights...)

Finally, after driving up and around bigger and bigger hills (not mountains, I guess, because there was still green stuff on the tops, not rock and snow), we reached our hotel. We could see some deer from the window of our room - they were so close! our tour guide had informed us about the grand tradition of hunting in the area. After exploring and figuring out where the 9-pin bowling alley was located in the back of the hotel (why??? For fun, I guess!), we went to dinner, which was quite good. Nobody could figure out what precisely we were eating, though. It was like beef, but very tender. Certainly not veal... Finally, we asked was venison!

A thought occurred to Lori and I. Those deer we had seen out the window appeared to be inside the fence that surrounded the cow barn next to the hotel. At least we thought it was a cow barn. But we hadn't seen any cows. ...Upon further investigation we discovered that the deer had not hopped the fence to get in with the cows. There were no cows. It was the DEER who were being cooped up in the pasture. we had eaten at dinner...

There aren't a whole lot of times that I feel I want to be a vegetarian because of the poor animals. There are many other reasons I would tend towards the more healthy eating habits of most vegetarians, but poor fluffy critters who get slaughtered and eaten isn't high on my list. However, it is quite intriguing to think about the fact that your dinner might have been in the back yard earlier that afternoon...Despite the weirdness of that incident, the area was lovely. I took a picture of the cow across the street with the backdrop of the hills and the morning mist happening in one of the valleys. ...Oh, what I'd give to be back there for a weekend! It was, without a doubt, pastoral.We drove down to Salzburg, the last city on of our trip, as the mist was lifting. Here we went past the cutest houses ever (we were told that this district is big on tourism, so the little villages are encouraged to participate in a "cutest village" contest by keeping pretty flowers growing in windowboxes, maintaining Alpine architecture, and other things you'd expect to see around the Austrian Alps - to meet the expectations of the tourists) and even a yarn shop (it looked great, but was too far from the main town to go back and check it out). Our day in Salzburg was overcast, but we could still look up on the big hill/cliff to see Hohensalzburg Fortress.Salzburg is the birthplace of Mozart, so of course we saw a statue of him, which we were informed does not look like him at all.There wasn't a whole lot of stuff to do in Salzburg that I could find, but we did get a tour where we saw some very beautiful buildings and a bell-tower that is horribly out of tune and the shopping district and Mozart's birthplace. In our free time, Lori and I visited some Christmas shops and chocolate shops (stay tuned to read about our experiment that stemmed from these visits), and we stopped by a very packed but beautiful cemetery.By the afternoon we had seen all of the old town, and it was time to leave and head back to Munich. ...And that meant we had to say goodbye to a big group of our fellow travelers, also. Alas, our trip was ending... Good thing we still had a week in Amsterdam to look forward to!

*Disclaimer: I have actually been working on this post since October 2, but Blogger seems to like to kick me off or get mad whenever I try to add photos to this post, so...the delay isn't totally my fault! It really shouldn't have been that long!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


It's Tuesday, and that means it's knitting day, but I don't have a picture of what I've been knitting, so I'm going to need some help from the source...

On November 18, I'll be attending The Yarn Ball, a charity/fun get together of needlecrafters in the Pittsburgh area hosted by a wonderful gal from my Saturday afternoon knitting (er...actually it started as a crocheting) group. The goal is to wear some fancy-schmancy thing you've made but never have any real reason to wear. AND, so we're not fully self-centered, to gather together as many scarves for the homeless and hats for babies as we can.

It's the hats that are the topic of this post. The baby hats are part of Caps to the Capital, a program being run by Save the Children, who report that "simple, low-cost practices...could save newborn lives — like warming their heads with a knit or crochet cap." They also say...

"Four million newborns die each year within the first month of life – half within only the first 24 hours after being born. But a package of simple health measures provided to mothers and babies worldwide, including antibiotics to fight infections, training for skilled birth attendants, immunizations against tetanus, education on breastfeeding and basic care such as drying a newborn baby and keeping it warm (this is where the caps come in!) could prevent 70 percent of these deaths."

To put this number of dying newborns into perspective, we HIV researchers get all fired up about the 2.8 million people who die from AIDS every year. Not to undermine this, but that Save the Children report says nearly TWICE that number of babies don't make it for 30 days. That's something we should take seriously.

And you know what...we've been working on a cure for AIDS for over 20 years. My research project isn't close to saving any person's life from HIV. ...Yet a simple hat that takes a couple hours to whip on and off the needles COULD.

...Never thought it would be yarn that would be the life-force, did you?

In all seriousness, it's a pretty good (in my humble opinion) cause. The idea is for people to gather hand-made (not bought) little baby caps, send them to President Bush with a petition for recognition (e.g. money) for this forgotten population, and then distribute the caps to the babies who need them aroung the globe. I wanted an excuse to practice English-style knitting after my realization that I had to re-learn it properly, so I grabbed a ball of the very first yarn I ever owned - some pretty ugly grey acrylic (I had these thoughts once upon a time of making socks with it. Maybe I still will, but...probably not. It's surely not wool!) - and POOF: a hat emerged. Plus, I'm fairly proficient with the English-style "throwing" now.

So, this is the spot where I wanted to post a picture of the hat as it gets ready to jump off the needles and get its seam sewn, but...alas, no picture. Please, instead, visit the Save the Children Caps to the Capital site instead, and see what you think about this project. Hint: there's stuff to do even if you DON'T knit or crochet!