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September 2015

August 2015

All the pools in Austin! Pool five: Northwest Pool.

Nw shallow

Northwest Pool is my all-time favorite. For me, a former suburban kid who logged countless summer hours racing in deep ends and lounging in plastic chairs drinking cans of grape soda, it's my ideal big public pool.

One of my favorite things in life is to go here in the evening, swim a quick set of laps, and then drift over to the deep end and float with my ears underwater so I can't hear anything but the churn of the water. I watch people fling themselves off the diving board as the sun sets behind the pecan trees, and it's about the most relaxing thing I can think of.  

The pool: Northwest has a large shallow end for families to play in and a spacious deep end for older kids and adults to hang out in. The two sides are separated by lap lanes. It's huge, which means it's big enough that the water stays fairly cool even in the hottest part of the summer. It's got a diving board. It's great.  You should go. 

NW laps

Lap lanes: Six short lanes. They're almost always full, but with some patience you can usually snag a spot. The skill set runs the gamut from dog-paddling beginners to serious athletes, and everyone's pretty friendly.

I haven't been there for the morning lap hours in a few years, but I think they configure the lanes across the pool lengthwise, which is a hell of a workout since you can't push off the end every few yards. 

Who you callin shallow

I know you are, but what am I?

Vibe: One of the reasons I really like this pool is that it hosts a pretty representative cross-section of Austin. People of all ages, races, and backgrounds come here to hang out, and I feel like there aren't a lot of spaces in Austin you can say that of.

Since it's Austin, everyone's generally pretty nice to each other. The lifeguards do a good job overseeing such a large space without being too uptight about it. 

Nw changing

Amenities: Bleachers, benches, soda machines, and lots of shaded picnic tables. There are live oaks and pecan trees for shade and grassy areas to stretch out and doze on.

The pool has a big changing area with showers and plenty of places to put your stuff while you get dressed. It's a bit rundown but usually clean. 

The toilets in the women's room are terrible, though. Instead of doors, the stalls have flimsy shower curtains that flap around violently in the slightest breeze and stick to your sunscreened legs, which is so much worse than no partition at all. Also the back wall doesn't go all the way up to the ceiling and the front desk is directly behind the toilets, which means that the lifeguards have to hear you pee.

Not ideal. But you know, whatever; I don't come here to hang out in the bathroom. 

Details: 7000 Ardath Street. $3 for adults, $2 for teens, $1 for kids and seniors, free for babies. Closed Thursdays. Open on weekday evenings and weekends until Labor Day; open weekends only until September 30. 

(Go!) 


Grout test, 1-2.

All black

Here's the firewheel mosaic I did a few months ago.

Really red

I finished the other side yesterday. I thought using red grout in the flower part would look fantastic, but I think it just washes the tiles out. 

I was so convinced two colors of grout would look cool that I Photoshopped in a little black to see what it would look like if just the very center were red.

A little red

Not much better.

So all-black grout it is! Which is fine because it's going to be a lot easier to do. 

Now I have to measure the step I want to do the firewheel mural on, lay out the design, and start tiling on mesh. This is going to be a very long-term project, I think. 


Busy week at the work table

Lest you think all I do is go to pools--although I did that too; look for pool review number five soon--I'd like to show you a few things I'm working on.

Mosaic mirror

I made my sister a mirror like this last year. Then I made another, similar mirror. Now that's done and cleaned off, and I've sorted and cut the tiles to make another. I am trying to get a little inventory going because I'd like to try to sell a few of these at some point.

(Turns out making things is a hell of a lot easier than selling them, alas.)

Hooks

But I do have a commission! This self-standing custom earring display for my friend's jewelry business is stained, hooked, and ready for tiling.

Cinder

I was pretty calm about the adhesive not sticking on side two of the firewheel cinder block but was apparently bummed out enough that I stayed away from it for a few weeks. Who wants to redo something they already did? That's no fun at all. But pouting time is over, and now it's time to move forward. I've cleaned off the excess mortar and separated the tiles and plan to get glued them back on (with the correct, carefully mixed mortar) this weekend. 

All that should keep me busy through the end of the summer, at least.


All the pools in Austin! Pool four: Dick Nichols Pool.

Dick Nichols Pool in Southwest Austin is far from my daily rounds, but it's close to my friend Angela's house. She agreed to meet me there so I could review it and we could hang out.

I like swimming with friends. We'll usually futz around at the end of the lane and talk, then do a few laps, then pull up to the side and talk some more. Angela has a four-year-old son, and it's rare to get her by herself these days, so we had a lot to catch up on. We settled on a bobbing side stroke so we could swim and chat at the same time. 

The sun sank as we swam and started putting out those long, golden rays that make everything look glowy and radiant. I admired Angela down the length of the pool. When we got to the end, she directed me to switch sides with her so I too could face the light and look amazing. "You look so good!" "Oh, now you look so good too!" She's a nice friend. 

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The pool: A large shallow end separated by a wall from the lap area and an ample deep end. Warm but clean water. No trees and little shade, which makes the place look a bit bleak and forbidding.

I was dumb and forgot my flip-flops*, and the sun-blasted deck burned my feet. A good-sized kiddie pool sits just apart from the shallow end. 

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Lap lanes: Six of them. They were full but turnover was quick around dinnertime. We got a lane to share right away. Later we were joined by a woman who was shooed out of her lane for a swim lesson. Still, there was plenty of room for everyone.

Vibe: Family-friendly; friendly-friendly. There were swimming lessons going on when we were there, and parents congregated in camp chairs on the side, socializing as they watched their kids learn to blow bubbles underwater. The lifeguards were a bit officious but mostly unobtrusive. 

Amenities: A couple of benches and shaded picnic tables. A large, reasonably clean bathroom with six shower stalls and an overhead heater, which I'm sure is nice early in the season.

They could use more benches and changing booths, though. At closing time every available surface was covered with towels and toiletries, and I ended up sitting on the sidewalk outside the front gate to put my shoes on and comb my hair. That was okay, though--Angela and I still had things to talk about. 

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Public art: Murals and tiles with a colorful fish theme dot the facility. 

Details: Free. 8011 Beckett Road. Closed Mondays. Open this year until August 22. 

*This reminds me of one of my favorite clean jokes:

Q: What do people with two left feet wear to the beach?

A: Flip-flips! 


All the pools in Austin! Pool three: Shipe Pool.

Shipe Pool was where I discovered my love of lap swimming. I went there every single day for a whole summer about 10 years ago. The legislature had been called into overtime, so I was working the evening shift all summer.

Shipe full

I would wake at 11 each day, ride my bike to Shipe, stay for an hour, ride to Fresh Plus for an Amy's frozen dinner, bike home, shower, and go to work until midnight or 2 am. Then I would come home, drink beer until I fell asleep, and start all over again the next day.

I started off being able to do maybe two laps at a time, then added laps every day until I could swim the whole hour without stopping. After two months of that I was in the best shape of my life, and despite--or maybe because of--the regimented days and relative isolation, it was one of the best summers I've ever had. 

The pool: It's a big rectangle full of water, with a deep end and a shallow end separated by a rope. I've been there a few times this summer, and the water is always murky for some reason. Despite being ringed by sycamore trees, it's bathwater warm right now, but most pools are these days.

It's a fine rectangle, but it's in poor repair and scheduled for a redesign. While I have a sentimental attachment to the pool as it is, I think it's due for one. 

There's a wading pool outside the gate, but I've never paid it much attention. It's next to the playground, and I'm sure it's fine. I think part of the redesign is meant to integrate the two pools. 

Lap lanes: One, along the length of the pool. Since everyone has to share, people are forgiving of slowpokes and beginners. If you want to do a super-duper timed power workout, I'd go elsewhere, but if you're looking for a friendly, casual place to move your limbs around, it's great. They have lap hours in the mornings, too, from 8-11. 

Vibe: Hyde Park all the way. Trendy teens, helicopter parents, sunbathers, and poolside yoga practitioners. 

Shipe can

Facilities: Some poolside benches, a low wall to sit on, and an outdoor shower head. The single-stall bathrooms are in a really cool log cabin but are frequently occupied for long stretches by the people who hang out in the park, and also the occasional mud dauber. It's not the nicest or most convenient place to change into your suit. 

Shipemosaicmural

Public art: Shipe Pool also boasts a huge, impressive community-built mosaic all along the wall of the structure that houses the pool equipment.  There's a nice KRLU-produced video about it here

Shipe tiles

I wish I had been involved in mosaics when they were piecing it together because it looks like it was a blast to work on. 

Details: Free. 4400 Avenue G. Closed Tuesdays. Open this year until August 22. 


All the pools in Austin! Pool two: Dottie Jordan.

Dottie Jordan Pool is a short walk from my house, so even though it's not terribly exciting as far as pools go, it's one of my all-time favorites. It's pretty great to be able to wander down for a quick dip on a hot afternoon, walk home, and get on with my day.

Pool copy

This year's Memorial Day flood brought Little Walnut Creek up through most of the park surrounding it, washing away the chain link fence and filling the pool with debris and filthy water. 

Flood

Ewww. Photo by Mr. Krotpong

The city hustled to put up a temporary fence and clean the pool, and they managed to get it running just a couple of weeks after it was supposed to open for the season. This was a pleasant surprise; I thought for sure given the extent of the damage we'd be neighborhood-pool-less all summer.

Wholepool copy

The pool: A simple 'L' shape with a deep end and a shallow end. It's not very big, so the water is tepid by July and almost hot by August. Much of the water is shaded by cedar elms and pecan trees, though, and bobbing around in the shade is rather pleasant. The water can get hazy with sunscreen at the end of a busy weekend, but on Friday afternoon it was clear and blue.

There's a baby pool, too, which is usually open.

Lap lanes: None. They used to have lap swim hours in the mornings, but that was eliminated this year as the city cut hours to save money on lifeguards. You can carve out a spot for yourself when the pool first opens if you're really determined. Otherwise, forget it.

Vibe: From tranquil to rambunctious, depending on the time of day. There are lots of unattended kids at peak times, and the lifeguards preside over them with exasperated good humor. Last time I was there, there was a massive game of Marco Polo going on in the shallow end. One kid kept yelling "Ralph Lauren!" instead of "Polo!" There's always a wise guy.

Facilities: One rickety picnic table and an outdoor shower faucet to rinse off with is about all you'll find here.

Terlits copy

There are restrooms too, but I'd wait until I got home.

Details: Free. 2803 Loyola Lane. Closed Wednesdays. Closes for the season August 16, which is way too early, considering it's still a trillion degrees outside. Ah, well. See you next year!


All the pools in Austin! Pool one: Barton Springs.

 I love to swim, both in the form of lap swimming and splashing around in the deep end pretending I am a sparkly mermaid and not a 40-year-old state worker. I get in the water at least a couple times a week in the summer and once a month in the winter. I've discovered there are pools I prefer for exercise and ones that are better for socializing.  Some have nicely designed changing facilities; others boast a single repulsive toilet stall that calls to mind every warning about public bathrooms your mother ever impressed upon you. 

I have opinions about pools! So I am going to go to all of them, eventually, and I am going to write about it. I guess August isn't the best time to decide to review every public pool in Austin--the neighborhood pools start closing down in the next couple of weeks--but I'm going to start now anyway.

You probably already know all about it, but I can't think of a better place to start than the crown jewel of the Austin parks system, and possibly of the entire city: Barton Springs.

Splish

The pool: Clear, cold, and a lot of it. The pool is three acres, spring fed, and a constant 68-70 degrees. It's natural, so the bottom is rocky and slippery with algae in places. The water has some algae and vegetation in it, but it's mostly clear and clean, and in the deep spots it's this really gorgeous deep turquoise shot through with the sun's rays. It's kind of ridiculous how pretty it is.

Honestly, the water's much chillier than I usually prefer, but on a 100-degree day that's no problem at all. 

There's a diving board in the middle of the pool. People applaud when divers pull off a good trick, or even just make a decent effort. It's nice. 

Lap lanes: None, but don't worry, there's plenty of room to exercise here, and there are a lot of hardcore devotees. The sides of the pool are painted with distance markers if you want to keep track of how far you've gone.

Download (4) copy

(Hint: Really far.) 

Facilities: Large, sloping lawns and big pecan trees provide plenty of comfort poolside. The women's changing room/showers/restrooms are a labyrinth of cubicles. There is some nice landscaping in the changing area. It's clean enough, and the solar showers are nice. The bathroom stalls are tiny and the doors open inward, which is awkward. 

Vibe: Fun, happy, crowded; pure Austin. The lifeguards are professional and friendly. The people watching is stellar. People are mostly friendly. (I think people in Austin are funnier than in other places, as in they joke around with total strangers and try to crack each other up. Is that just me?) 

Price: Three dollars for adults, one buck for seniors and kids, two for teens. It's free from 5-8 am and 9-10 pm, though. (The free hour in the evening is its own kind of magic, but without the sun to mitigate, damn is that water cold.) 

Download copy

There is often a line to pay, but it's Austin; there's a line for everything. They recently added electronic kiosks where you can pay with a credit card. Those have a line too. 


I am a mixed bag.

It's hot, which is no surprise, given that it's August in Texas, but we've reached the part of summer where the heat seems to have mass. It presses on you and makes even the most fun activities seem burdensome. So aside from swimming and walking the dogs in the dead of night, I've been spending most of my time indoors. That means mosaic projects and dog training. 

The mosaic project is...not going very well right now. I am tiling the other half of the cinderblock to play around with different colors of grout and try to cultivate a looser style of tile laying. But I used a different kind of mortar than I usually do. I don't know if I mixed it wrong or it just sucks or what, but the tiles, set days before, started sloughing off when I taped them off for grouting.

IMG_5676

Well, damn it.

This has happened to me before, but that time it was immediately apparent that the surface I was using was too smooth for anything to adhere. That's not at all the case here, so I don't know. I just know I'm never using that stuff again. 

Now I have to scrape all that white crap off and start over again. Luckily this is just a test block, so I was able to tell myself I gained some valuable insight instead of restraining myself from flinging a half-tiled cinder block through the window.

My irritation was also tempered by a big success on the dog-training front. 

 

Right? Right? This was a tricky one to teach. Although eager for treats and praise, √úter is not the brightest star in the galaxy, and I had to sort of reverse engineer the command by anticipating when he was going to actually bark, telling him to bark, and then treating the hell out of him when he did actually bark.

We've been working on this since May and it was just this weekend that I got him to think barking is my idea, not his. Now I need to figure out how to use the command to modulate his barking, which should be a lot easier. 

Will this help us control the crazy, scary, pit-of-hell barking that he uses to discomfit visitors and strange dogs alike? Oh, man, I hope so. I really like my dog, but his manners kind of stink.  I want everyone else to know how great he is too.