Sunday, October 16, 2011

Where the Heck Have I Been?

I’ve been busy—yeah, I know, lame excuse! Bad blogger! But as you know, this is the best time of year to be in the Midwest, and alive, and I’ve been trying to soak it all in. This post is my list of excuses for not having blogged for a while.

The fall colors this year haven’t been especially spectacular, but the flowers (asters, chrysanthemums, etc.) have been doing well, and the trees have been doing their best, even though it was just too dry for them this summer and fall.

I don’t talk much about my work life on this blog, but this is kind of cool: One of my current freelance activities involves the Missouri Department of Conservation’s “Fall Color” website, where you can view weekly reports on the progress of autumn from foresters representing all of Missouri’s regions.

And yeah, apart from the dryness, the temperatures have been great, with the clear blue skies and dry air so perfect for hiking, and cool evenings that are optimal for sleeping.

On October 1, we visited, for the first time, the town of Versailles’s “Old Tyme Apple Fest,” billed as the state’s largest one-day festival. And it was very fun, with perfect weather. Good music! Lots of craft and food vendors!

Versailles, Missouri, as you know, is pronounced vurr-SAY-ullz. It’s the seat of Morgan County and became famous as an apple-growing area. (Remember when we talked about Jacob’s Cave, also in Morgan County? At one time, it was used as a cool storage place for the region’s apples!) Today, the town is more famous as a northern gateway to the Lake of the Ozarks.

I was certainly expecting to see more “Old Tyme Apple stuff” than I did, but there were a few vendors selling caramel apples, and the Lions had an antique steam-powered apple squisher and press and were selling apple cider, and that was great!

I was terribly impressed by one food vendor from Iowa, the “Corn Roasting Company.” They had a big yellow corn roaster and were selling ears of roasted corn—with the husks pulled back into a “handle”—with your choice of Mexican, Cajun, or “American” seasonings. They were also selling fried dill pickles, homemade jalapeno poppers (with bacon!), spicy linguiça sausage, and cute little single-serving-size smoky meatloafs (cooked and served in a pot-pie pan). This was totally not your average “festival food” (though there was plenty of that around, too).

We ended up “eating our way” through that festival, even though, in the interest of saving some money, we’d packed a lunch of baloney sandwiches, grapes, and potato chips.

We ended up having our “lunch” as a picnic dinner during sunset on the Osage, after a pleasant drive through Tuscumbia, St. Elizabeth, and Meta, and a hike through Painted Rock Conservation Area to the river’s edge.

. . . And then, last week, we traveled to northern Ohio—a driving trip, so we got to enjoy all the fall color between here and there. Driving north, I had expected to see the progression of autumn in a speeded-up, telescoped way, but the latitudinal gradient seemed to have little effect on the color this year. Moisture seems to have dictated the timing and intensity of color instead. In fact, it was greener in northern Ohio than it was in Missouri.

One of the fun things I’ve been up to—well, it’s fun for me—especially on car trips, is that I’ve been learning to recognize the various makes of trucks (yeah—as in semis, eighteen-wheelers, class 8 trucks). So I’ve been scrutinizing the shapes of radiators, insignia badges, and the overall designs of the vehicles.

Except to zip around them while ascending a hill, and stuff like that, I had never paid much attention to trucks before.

I started trying to learn to distinguish them on our way home from our Fourth of July trip to Ohio, and on this trip I was pleased to discover that I’ve gotten pretty darn good at telling a Kenworth from a Peterbilt from a Freightliner, and a Mack from an International. It’s kind of like learning how to identify the various species of birds.

Some are fairly rare. Western Stars, for example, are definitely a minority. They’re based in South Carolina, although, like Freightliner and Sterling, the company’s a subsidiary of Daimler.

It’s also rare, now, to see any kind of large COE—cab-over-engine configuration—on the interstates. The flat-fronted, less-aerodynamic design is out of vogue these days, except for smaller, in-town delivery trucks, where drivers appreciate having a better view for maneuvering.

International is currently making a model, the “LoneStar,” with a striking profile—its grille is heavy with chrome, V-shaped, steeply slanted, with a strongly retro/hot-rod feel. Its design was inspired by the look of 1939 International pickups. Compared to the un-aerodynamic fronts of classic, heavy-duty Peterbilts and Kenworths, this sleek truck might prove to be a pacesetter for future design.

I’ll bet you didn’t know all this stuff!

What is this knowledge good for? I don’t know. You could say the same thing about learning to identify songbirds at a glance. Maybe I’m practicing keeping my mind active, for when I get older.

What else have I been up to? Some of you know that I started blogging when I found myself unable to play the trumpet. Blogging, I thought, might provide an alternative creative outlet. But seriously, there’s no comparison, and I never completely gave up on the trumpeting.

In the past month, I’ve gotten some news that’s given me hope, and it’s actually led me to physical therapy, which is helping. It seems I have a partial and nonclassical form of “facial paresis”—something like Bell’s palsy—making my facial muscles imbalanced. And this seems to be at the root of my trumpeting problems.

So I’ve been doing facial exercises designed to “even up” the muscles on both sides of my face. There are two goals: to make the various muscles equally strong on both sides, and to train my neuromuscular impulses and movements to be better coordinated on left and right.

Some of these exercises involve “smiling.” I do them before a mirror, to make sure the sides are balanced. I have to admit, it makes me kind of happy just watching myself do these exercises!

And I’ve been practicing my trumpet more—I’m able to play some things that would have seemed hopeless a few months ago. A few days ago, I even played a few lines of Arban’s Characteristic Study no. 2! There are plenty of frustrations, still, but this is definitely moving in the right direction. Even though it’s cutting into the blogging time.

The next thing, of course, is the “plant dance”: bringing in our tropical plants, digging up the hibiscus and elephant ears, and all that. I don’t want to wait until the last day before it freezes. Plus, there’s the storm windows . . . wonder how we’ll rank this year on the “cussometer”?

But don’t worry—I’m not forgetting about the blog!

Thanks again to Sue for sharing her excellent pictures with me! Only two of these are mine. I can't tell you how nice it is to have such great photos to use in my blog!

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