Fall Travels: Gatlinburg

While it doesn’t happen often, it’s always a special treat when I get to travel with The Optometrist for his work-related trips. This instance found us in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where he was invited to speak at a conference.

Being an only child, I am content to occupy myself independently, so while The Optometrist was speaking and attending conferences, and after a very busy first half of the semester, I relished quiet time to read in Jane Eyre, The Hazel Wood, watch Food Network, nap, and explore the hotel.

But we did get to do some fun adventuring together, too!

Great Smoky Mountain National Park – The Sinks
We were appreciative when a gentleman on our flight to Tennessee shared with us how we should take the scenic route from the Knoxville airport through the Smokies to Gatlinburg. We’re so glad we did!


Great Smoky Mountain National Park – Sugarlands Visitor Center
I was SO excited to finally pick up a National Park Passport to begin logging the parks we visit together!

This was the view from our hotel room at the Park Vista  on a morning when the Smokies lived up to their name!

These Zebra finches in the aviary inside the hotel brought me happiness.

Ober Gatlinburg scenic chair lift to Mt. Harrison (elevation 3,590 ft). I was scared but brave! Other transportation around town was easy, thanks to the Gatlinburg Trolley.

A crisp afternoon and the Mountain Grass bluegrass trio at the top of Mt. Harrison were a perfect pairing.

We really enjoyed Gatlinburg and hope to return another time. If you’ve been to the Smoky Mountains, what was your favorite spot? I’d love any recommendations for the next time we visit!


A Whirlwind Weekend in St. Louis

As I’ve shared before, St. Louis remains dear to my heart after having lived in the area for 16 years. The Optometrist and I visited over Spring Break in 2016 and, most recently, in the summer of 2017.

Our visit, weekend before last, was expressly timed to see Punch Brothers in concert at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. In February we discovered Punch was releasing a new album and going on tour this summer, whereby we immediately purchased tickets, so this weekend was a long, anticipated time coming!

Due to Friday afternoon obligations on our university campus, we couldn’t leave Oklahoma until early evening, but we drove about halfway Friday night and finished the journey Saturday morning.

Upon our arrival, lunch was our first priority: Sushi Station in Webster Groves.

This was our first time eating there and we enjoyed not only our delicious sushi, but the waitress was exceptionally helpful, and we loved sitting at the sushi bar to watch our beautiful food be made.

The Novel Neighbor was our next stop. This independent bookstore, also in Webster, opened after I moved away from the area. I visited it last summer but did so after hearing Anne Bogel interivew store owner Holland Saltsman on Anne’s podcast, What Should I Read Next? Therefore, I felt it was completely appropriate to pre-order Anne’s new book I’d Rather Be Reading from The Novel Neighbor! Anne was in store the weekend before, so I missed out meeting her during her book tour, but my copy is still autographed and I can’t wait to dive in!

A trip to St. Louis wouldn’t be complete without stopping at our favorite coffee shop, Kaldi’s Coffee on DeMun, to enjoy a rooibos chai latte. The weather was very drizzly and overcast, making it perfect to be comforted by a warm beverage.

For the third time, we loved stayed at the Parkway Hotel,  in the Central West End, and especially enjoyed revisiting Taste of Lebanon for dinner, this time with St. Louis friends who had never eaten there before.

But the concert. Oh, the concert.

We had Statler and Waldorf seats in the lower balcony, overlooking the action from a close, bird’s eye view.  I’m a very petite person (~ 5′ 1″) and it seems inevitable that I get stuck behind a man 6′ 5″ in concert venues, so when we were able to select our own seats, we relished the opportunity to not have anyone sitting directly in front of us, and even had a partition blocking us from the people in the balcony suite beside us.

Madison Cunningham played a solid 30 minute opening set, but then Punch took the stage and played for a good 1 1/2 hours, with minimal breaks (a few jokes inserted here and there). The audience was dutifully respectful, responsive, and attentive – the perfect crowd to support the group we drove (in our case, 400 miles) to see. And because I’m a librarian, a note-taker, and major fan, I kept track of their set-list:

  • Movement and Location
  • My Oh My
  • All Ashore
  • Watch’at
  • Boil Weevil
  • Don’t Get Married Without Me
  • Angel of Doubt
  • Three Dots and a Dash
  • Just Look at This Mess
  • Jumbo
  • Another New World
  • Passepied
  • New York City
  • Julep
  • Jungle Bird
  • It’s All Part of the Plan
  • Like It’s Going Out of Style
  • Rye Whiskey (encore)
  • Familiarity (encore unplugged – see last photo, above)

Punch’s front man, mandolinist Chris Thile (recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2012), is now the host of NPR’s Live From Here and remains a member of Nickel Creek, whom we saw in 2014. He is in the prime of his career and The Optometrist and I feel like people will be studying his mandolin accomplishments for decades to come. As a group, Punch Brothers’ musicianship exhibited impeccable precision, individual mastery, and synchronous blending. We couldn’t have been more pleased with the set selections highlighting older favorites and all but one song from their new album, All Ashore, and left joyously inspired.

Summer Travels: Nashville 


“Oh Tennessee River and a mountain man, we get together anytime we can.” ~ Tennessee River by Alabama


Carter Vintage Guitars


The Aquarium Restaurant at the Opry Mills


The Scarritt Bennett Center, site of the Super Summer Knitogether retreat and the catalyst for our trip to Nashville. (Check out the link above for a full blog post about SSK.)


The legendary Ryman Auditorium


Bluegrass Nights concert series featuring Sara Watkins and The Infamous Stringdusters.


A visit to Parnassus Books, co-owned by author Ann Patchett, who pre-signed all copies of her books for sale. I’ve previously read Bel Canto and Truth and Beauty and am excited to add State of Wonder to this list. This was a wonderful, independent bookstore, complete with a store dog, and is definitely worth a visit while in Nashville!


The Parthenon in Centennial Park

Thus ends our summer travels and I relish the comfort of nesting at home as the beginning of the fall semester draws ever nearer.

Knit: July 2017 & SSK Recap!

Super Summer Knitogether (SSK)

Leslie and Laura of the Knit Girllls are the coordinators and hosts of the annual Super Summer Knitogether retreat in Nashville, TN.  When I submitted my name to be in the SSK lottery last fall I was a.) not really expecting for my name to be drawn and once my name was drawn, b.) not really for sure what to expect since it was my first knitting/fiber retreat. Thankfully, other participants on the Ravelry SSK discussion boards were very helpful leading up to the trip and allowed me to have a general idea about what to expect.

Fast forward from November’s announcement to over half a year later, I loaded up my knitting and The Optometrist and I hit the road, heading due east on I-40.

SSK is held on the Scarritt Bennett Center, which was an entirely inspiring place in which to walk (it felt like a real life Hogwarts!), eat delicious meals (including grits), and meet newfound knitter friends.

Since everything and everyone was new for me, my introverted self had to work extra hard to come out of my little shell, but everyone was warmly welcoming and it was an extremely well organized event. I definitely felt like I belonged with my knowledge, skills, and ability (this retreat was definitely not centered around beginner knitters and/or spinners), as well as my understanding of the lingo – awareness of popular patterns on Ravelry, other knitting channels on YouTube, and independent yarn dyers.

During the retreat I took two inspiring classes, which will continue to require further practice: “Two-Handed Two-Color Knitting” with Margaret Radcliffe (who really does have two hands – poor timing on the picture taking)

and “Steeking Your Knits” with Ann Budd.

My yarn stash also got a little boost thanks to an amazing vendor market!

A sweater’s quantity of Bare Naked Wools Better Breakfast Fingering in Mocha in which I’m going to knit the Flax Light sweater by Tin Can Knits, a bar of wool soap from Tuft Woolens in Red Currant and Mandarin, a gobstopper of self-striping Lollipop Yarn in Showers and Flowers, a skein of self-striping yarn from Gynx Yarns in the House Cup (Harry Potter) colorway, and two double skeins (each exactly matched for two-at-a-time socks) from Rock and String Yarn in Caramel Apple Cider and A Hunting We Will Go. We also were kindly given a beautiful skein of self striping yarn from Fishknits in the At Sixes and Sevens colorway in our goody bag along with lots of coupons and knitting accessories. Needless to say I’ve returned home excited to get started on some new projects and revisit others that have been a little bit neglected!

A few lessons learned at SSK (and to remember if I’m selected to attend again):

  • Dress coolly and comfortably.
  • Just pack one, easy knitting project.
  • Don’t bring as many bags – you will receive more!
  • Participate again in the stitch marker swap.
  • Bring a book to read during quiet moments.
  • Immediately look up new friends via their Ravelry IDs (this user-name identity was just as heavily used as their real name).

And as for what I actually knitted in July…

FOs (Finished Objects)


Pattern: Striped Socks with a Fish Lips Kiss Heel
Cost: Pay for pattern by Sox Therapist
Needles: US 1, 40″ Signature Needle Arts fixed circular needles
Yarn: Patons Kroy – Blue Striped Ragg
Recipient: The Optometrist

Using the Turkish cast on method, CO 10 sts and increased to 64 sts. Knitting these two-at-a-time, toe up, using Magic Loop on my beautiful, personalized Signature Needles (a birthday gift from The Optometrist). I adjusted the two balls of yarn to have matching stripes which is visually pleasing, especially beginning and ending with the same colors!

The feet are knit plain/vanilla, then knit a 3×1 ribbing (knit 3, purl 1) around the leg of the sock to fit snugly, and finished with a 2×2 ribbing (knit 2, purl 2) for around 7 rows at the very top.


Pattern: Basic Baby Hat
Cost: Free!
Needles: US 6, 16″ circular Knit Picks Rainbow fixed circular needles & US 6, 5″ Brittany birch DPNs
Yarn: Patons North America Beehive Shetland Light – 4739 (fuschia), Plymouth Yarn Encore DK – Cream
Pom Pom Maker: Clover
Recipient: Olivia

Last Christmas I knitted little gifts for my parent’s pastor’s three children: a pair of mittens for the two older boys and a stuffed animal for baby sister. Even though we may not be able to attend church with them near Christmas this year, I’m already thinking ahead to cooler weather, hand-knits, and this year their gifts are going to be hats!

I’ve made several hats from this simple pattern, so this time I decided to design my own color scheme using alternating colors in stripes and rows and had a great time letting the creative juices flow!


Pattern: Mitt Envy by weezalana
Cost: Free!
Needles: US 3 DPNs
Yarn: Koigu KPPPM 703P
Recipient: TBA

Last winter I knit a pair of these for my Momma for her birthday and enjoyed the pattern so much I bought another lovely skein of Koigu, this time to make them in a grape colorway.

These accompanied me to SSK, but weren’t my primary project (keep reading…), although I did finish the first one while in Nashville and then started and finished the second after returning home.

Pattern: Granny Annie
Cost: Pay for pattern by Hanna Maciejewska
Needles: US 6, 60″ circular ChiaGoo Lace
Yarn: Madelinetosh DK – Molly Ringwald, Stovepipe, Candlewick, Great Grey Owl
Recipient: I’m keeping this one!

When I saw the version knit by the Plucky Knitter, I instantly fell in love with this color combination – pale pink, mustard, dark and light grey, so I loved recreating my own using luscious Tosh DK. This was the other project I took with me to SSK, on which I knit the most thanks to lots of garter and simple increase rows. It was the perfect travel project to knit in the car and around groups of people (read: not a lot of concentration required).

Since I adjusted the gauge, the end product was a bit smaller than I would have liked, but it’s a decent size and we’ll see how it adjusts with a vigorous blocking.

I was also very disappointed with the Leopard (charcoal grey) colorway. It routinely turned my left index finger dark, as well as my hands, as if I had been holding newsprint. Since Leopard often appears right next to Molly Ringwald, the two darkest and lightest colors, I’m not going to block it until I’ve received some Shout color catchers to help absorb any excess dye from bleeding onto the rest of the shawl.

WIP (Work in Progress)


Pattern: Granny Stripes
Cost: Free!
Hook: Size E
Yarn: various sock/sport weight bits & pieces
Recipient: I’m keeping this one, too!

It’s been several months since I’ve picked up my crocheted blanket, but after returning from SSK, I have been inspired to get more done on this languishing WIP! I now have several sock yarn colors to add – all the Hedgehog colors from my Fade, the aforementioned finished pair of socks and mitts, and an adorable mini skein from Rock and String Yarn included in my purchase from SSK. And as fall gets closer and the blanket grows bigger, it will be the perfect project to have on my lap during cooler weather!


Summer Travels: St. Louis

Over Spring Break last year The Optometrist and I journeyed to St. Louis, an area where I lived for many years, love fiercely, and a location of my continued personal identity. The opportunity to return with him for a summer conference was too good to pass up, so while he was in a series of lengthy meetings, I explored my favorite Midwestern city during some of the hottest days of the summer!

In spite of his busy schedule we were able to revisit our favorite coffee shop, Kaldi’s Coffee on DeMun, to both enjoy an iced rooibos chai latte and also spent part of an evening window shopping at IKEA.

Since we stayed at the Parkway Hotel once again, and my husband’s conference was in the medical complex around the corner, this conveniently afforded me the opportunity to drive around the city to some favorite and newfound destinations.

Together we enjoyed meals at:

Anthonino’s Taverna on The Hill – featured on a past episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

Taste of Lebanon – fresh, flavorful ingredients – hands down our favorite meal of the trip. The next time we are in St. Louis, we’re definitely eating here again!

Southwest Diner – the breakfast burrito and huevos rancheros we ate for brunch with a mutual St. Louis friend on our way out of town was the perfect finale to our trip.

Some personal favorites:

I popped by Fitz’s on The Loop to grab The Optometrist some fancy sodas one afternoon, picked up a used copy of One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson at Left Bank Books (complete with a little interaction with Spike, the store cat), enjoyed pizza and salad for lunch one day Imo’s in downtown Webster Groves, and spent a blessed few hours with one of my dearest friends, her mother, and son outside the city one afternoon. Since the Central West End is very walk-able I parked my car and got in a few steps to eat a delicious lunch at India Rasoi and a fresh fruit smoothie on a different triple digit day from Coffee Cartel.

The rest of my free time was spent enjoying the air conditioning in our room, knitting, watching shows on the Food Network and episodes of American Ninja Warrior. Since we don’t have TV, watching any sort of network and cable shows are always a special hotel treat.

New solo experiences:


Missouri Botanical Gardens – During this trip I decided I would visit a few places I never have before and the Shaw Gardens were at the very top. It’s a shame I never experienced this lovely space when we lived in the area years ago, but I’m so glad I finally did.

Located in Tower Grove Park, this is an absolute gem of well-maintained flowers, plants, and vegetables. The paths are meandering, perfect for a quiet morning of contemplation and picture taking.

The Novel Neighbor – I heard about this independent book store in Webster Groves, MO, thanks to Anne Bogel interviewing store owner Holland Saltsman on the What Should I Read Next? podcast. Holland was in the store the day I visited and was so welcoming! I picked up the book of poetry Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver and a lovely tin of book darts.

Scott Joplin House – this is another location I’ve wanted to visit for years. Decades, really. During my junior year of high school I wrote a report on Scott Joplin for my advanced English class, so visiting in the late 90s would have been to my benefit, but my report turned out all right, if memory serves me correctly.

Located downtown St. Louis, the Scott Joplin House is the only known, still standing location where he once lived (compared to dwellings in Texarkana, Sedalia, and New York City). None of the artifacts are original, but the restoration of the period is well done, the tour guide was very knowledgeable, and I loved that you could buy copies of his music in the gift shop area.

And St. Louis wasn’t our only trip of the summer! Stay tuned for a summer update from our second road trip to Nashville, TN.

Summer Road Trip: Santa Fe

Our summer has been filled with several wonderful road trips: two shorter ones to Missouri, one for a stay in Branson and one to visit my parents during a family reunion. But our big road trip is one we have been looking forward to for many months – a long road trip, across three states, to New Mexico. All in honor of attending a beloved friend’s wedding in Santa Fe. We both have visited Santa Fe in years past, prior to our marriage, but to revisit as adults allowed us to appreciate this unique city in a whole new way.

When compared with the cost of airfare, driving was the cheaper alternative and it gave us a chance to travel along Route 66 (I-40) and leave behind the beautiful, green Ozarks in Eastern Oklahoma and adjust to the scenery of wide, flat plains in Western Oklahoma, giant wind farms in the Texas panhandle, and mile-long views across mesas as our altitude increased entering New Mexico.


To break up the trip we determined the first leg would end in Amarillo, TX – a halfway point in our journey west. We embraced being tourists as we ate at The Big Texan Steak Ranch for dinner and enjoyed a surprisingly well-cooked steak, plus we got to be spectators as two Australians attempted the 72 oz. steak challenge (we left before they were through, but the completion of their meal wasn’t looking promising…).


As the sun set in the west, we drove just outside of town to Cadillac Ranch along Route 66. I previously saw this from a bus window, as I traveled to Mesa, AZ, with friends in college, but this was my first visit up close.


The ten upraised cadillacs are in the absolute middle of someone’s farm with growing crops all around. It’s kitchy Americana at its best and there was something unifying about being there with other strangers, enjoying a moment of constantly evolving modern art as the sun set – even if it was only to observe and take pictures. (We were offered spray paint, but passed.)

Accompanying us across state lines was the Hamilton cast recording. It felt completely American to learn more about this Founding Father from a modern visionary, while traveling the Mother Road. Little by little we climbed in elevation, finally reaching 7,000+ feet, and arrived in Santa Fe.


The wedding party and many guests, including us, stayed at the Inn and Spa at Loretto, situated within easy walking distance to the historic downtown square. We were greeted with warm sun on our faces and low humidity (hallelujah, Praise the Lamb) as we ate lunch up the street at Rooftop Pizza. Then were so pleased to get to tour the famous Loretto Chapel, next door to our hotel.


“Inside the Gothic structure is the staircase referred to as miraculous, inexplicable, marvelous and is sometimes called St. Joseph’s Staircase. The stairway confounds architects, engineers and master craftsmen. It makes over two complete 360-degree turns, stands 20′ tall and has no center support. It rests solely on its base and against the choir loft. The risers of the 33 steps are all of the same height. Made of an apparently extinct wood species, it was constructed with only square wooden pegs without glue or nails.”

Read more here about this miraculous staircase.

As we unloaded our car, we were thrilled to see our friend, the bride-to-be, with whom we shared hugs and misty eyes. We were not a part of the wedding party, but served as loving and supportive friends and were excited about the opportunity to join the festivities in her destination wedding. Prior to the rehearsal dinner that evening, generously thrown by the groom’s parents, we did a little shopping at a local knife shop where The Optometrist found a lovely damascus steel pocket knife, his Santa Fe momento.

Saturday morning I enjoyed a complimentary yoga class on the hotel grounds beside the pool, which was an exciting experience to practice outdoors for the first time. Our teacher was well-trained, a great communicator, and reminded us that practicing yoga at 7,000 feet was probably not normal, thus we needed to listen to our bodies, not view our practice as a competition, and offer kindness to ourselves.


Although eventful, the rest of the day unfolded smoothly, allowing me to purchase a lovely piece of “dry creek” turquoise (the different colors/shades are determined by the amount of copper in the soil) and have a lunch date with fellow wedding friends at The Shed, where we enjoyed some amazingly spicy huevos rancheros!

A short walk across the street and we arrived at The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, the location of our friend’s wedding.

The bride, a fellow optometrist, played matchmaker for us, forever cementing her as our friend. She’s a fellow knitter, was with me when I found my wedding dress, and has remained an especially dear friend in the years since she and my husband have graduated and begun their careers.

The wedding venue was gorgeous and inviting. The cantor, Carmen Florez Mansi, was incredible (the best soprano soloist I’ve ever heard sing/perform/lead worship), and when the organist opened up all the stops as the bride entered, I wept tears of joy over how much I love our friend and how happy I was to witness her marriage to her long-awaited cowboy.

The ceremony and mass were sacred and holy, with seamless transitions between the portions of the mass and the wedding ceremony. The reception afforded us opportunities to get caught up with other optometry friends and share love with the sweet bride and her loving groom.

If you haven’t ever visited Santa Fe before, check it out – it’s worth the trip!


Spring Break – St. Louis style

Over Spring Break, The Optometrist and I took in the sights & sounds of St. Louis. Sixteen years of my life were lived in the area, but after a.) my parents retired and moved away from the area and b.) I finished graduate school and moved out of state, I sadly no longer have reason to visit my hometown and the metro area as I once did.

It has been almost five years since returning for a visit, which predated our marriage, so a trip to the old stomping grounds allowed me to show The Optometrist places I lived, worked, favorite restaurants, shops, and neighborhoods.

We stayed at the Parkway Hotel, which adjoins Barnes Jewish hospital. Since we arrived over a weekend, it was quieter than you might think, and was perfectly convenient to be in the Central West End – close to Forest Park and a lot of other items on our to-do list.

If your St. Louis history is a little rusty, Forest Park was the location of the 1904 World’s Fair and is the site of the Art Museum, Zoo, Muny, Missouri History Museum, Science Center, and more (great info via both of the links above). It’s also the setting of the 1944 classic musical Meet Me in St. Louisstarring Judy Garland.


Highlights of our trip included:

A visit to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, which includes a mosiac collection that is one of the largest in the western hemisphere. Admission is free and photos can be taken when Mass is not in session. It is worth taking the time to visit this holy space and allow your soul to breathe.

During our stay we made a couple of trips to my favorite coffee shop in the city, Kaldi’s Coffee on DeMun, for us to both enjoy a rooibos chai latte.

And nearer to our hotel was my favorite independent bookstore, Left Bank Books. I bought three Litographs for my library office (Corduroy, Anne of Green Gables, & Peter Pan), along with City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte, recommended to me by a fellow reader as I was getting a pedicure before our trip.


Included during that same day was a bit of shopping at the Plaza Frontenac and will blog about that later.

The impetus and reason we chose St. Louis as the location for our trip was the opportunity to see bluegrass mandolinist/musician Sierra Hull perform at the Sheldon Concert Hall. It was a memorable performance with finesse and subtlety. She and fellow musicians Ethan Jodziewicz and Justin Moses wowed the audience with their impressive technical abilities and beautiful vocal harmonies. I highly recommend her music and the newest album she’s currently touring, Weighted Mind.


As we were driving to the Sheldon, we passed by IKEA. I visited the one in Dallas before we got married, but this was The Optometrist’s first time visiting the Swedish mega-store. We ended up buying a grill pan and some affordable stemware and enjoyed window shopping to gather design ideas for the future.

We didn’t realize we would have time to visit the St. Louis Zoo during our trip, but we did! Due to the fact that it was drizzly and cool the weather was probably a deterrent that worked to our advantage since there weren’t a lot of people there when we visited. Many of the outdoor animals were sleepy, but we still saw some beautiful and powerful creatures. The highlight of the visit was getting to see and hear a lion roar! You could feel the lion den vibrating with the power of his ferocious roar and see condensation coming out of his ferocious mouth as he proclaimed his feline might. The giraffes were also special to behold, in all their lumbering and graceful awkwardness.

To top off our day at the zoo, we later went to watch Zootopia at the Chase Park Plaza Cinema. Like most kids movies today, it was equally fun for us adults and presented tough topics like prejudice in an approachable manner.

After doing ALL of the walking that day, we were ready to eat Imo’s Pizza for dinner and share a yummy dessert at Bailey’s Chocolate Bar.

The St. Patrick’s Day parade was finished, the Blues were on the road, and the Cardinals in Jupiter, so downtown was a relative ghost town as we drove past Busch Stadium and Ballpark Village, the Arch, and Union Station.

Before our visit was through we had to visit a music store and yarn store: Music Folk in Webster Groves and Kirkwood Knittery, respectively. The Optometrist enjoyed sampling some mandolins and buying a new tuner and some new strings, while I picked up some Koigu KPPM and Cascade Heritage Sock Yarn. The Koigu will make some lovely fingerless mittens and I’m planning on using the Cascade to knit the Vida Shawl by Mina Philipp of the Knitting Expat Podcast.

During our final day we ate lunch at the Blues City Deli from a recommendation from an optometrist friend and then shared dinner with him that evening at Fitz’s in The Loop. Even though I don’t drink soda, The Optometrist loved trying their cream soda and getting a variety pack of sodas to bring home with us.

Our final destination was my hometown, driving by my old house, high school, church, and places I used to work. The trip afforded us rest we so desperately needed, reconnected me to times and moments that remain dear to me, and allowed new memories to be made with my husband. Had I never moved away, I never would have met and married him. So while I love St. Louis, and always will, it’s no longer home. Home is where The Optometrist is.