Thursday, October 25, 2018

Hitting the Road. . Again

Next week, I'm headed to Houston by car for Quilt Market and Quilt Festival.

Seems like I'm barely getting reacquainted with my sewing room and I'm off again.

This time, the travel is work-related, but it's still be a lot of fun!

I'm driving from Syracuse, New York, all the way to Houston (a total of about 22 hours in the car). Feels like I have a little more flexibility to pack up the car with booth decor and product (mostly Your Nest Organizers and The FLOCK stuff) that if I shipped all that stuff.

Now some may think that's crazy, but I kinda look forward to that time in the car. I'll catch up on some podcasts (Radiolab is one of my favorites and I'm a few episodes behind). Maybe listen to some audio books. I'm in the middle of a history book (inspired by my recent European vacation), and maybe I'll finally start The Outlander series - I picked it up once, but it didn't grab me so I want to give it another try. We'll see if the second time is the charm.

Once I arrive in Houston, there's all the booth set up and reconnecting with old friends and meeting new friends. It's fun, even though it's a lot of work!

You know what I don't look forward to? . . . packing the car!

Tomorrow, I'm making a round-trip run to the manufacturer of Your Nest Organizers in the Albany, NY area. That'll be the first load.

Once I get home, I've got a pile of stuff for the booth that needs to fit in between the bigger boxes full of Your Nest's . . .

Even though Dave actually helps to pack the car - and he's very good at it - I get very anxious as the pile of stuff that 'has' to go gets bigger and bigger. It always seems to get in the car, but I'm never quite sure how.

Because Dave isn't coming with me to Houston, I won't have my car packer with me for the return trip. So there's only one thing that has to happen - I have to re-distribute everything I bring with me to lots of happy customers. So do me a *big* favor - if you're going to the show - either Quilt Market or Festival - come see me! I'll be in booth 1153 for the both events. And help me spread the love! Tell all your friends, too!

Chat Books

Speaking of happy customers, I just have to share this one thing I found - I actually didn't find it, it found me!

You know how you come back from a holiday or vacation and you want to share your pictures with friends, and you spend tons of time scrolling your phone with your fingers while you're trying to describe something that you know you have the perfect photo to fit what you're trying to express, but you can't find it? Hate that!

The other day, I was toodle-ing around on Instagram and an ad popped up for Chat Books (I am not affiliated with this company in any way), but I just had to share how cool this little app is!

I downloaded the app onto my phone. Selected pictures from my vacation - about 100 of them - spent maybe 15 minutes arranging them in order and choosing a cover shot. Then I selected the size of the book and checked out with my credit card. In about a week, a book full of pictures - my pictures - beautifully presented in a bound paperback book (I could have chosen hard cover) arrived in the mail.

I had not heard of this particular app before (have I been living under a rock?) but for a grand total of $25 or $30, and only about 30 minutes of my time, what did I have to lose?

This was a perfect way to capture some of the highlights of my vacation, but imagine the possibilities. Keep an annual picture-record of your quilty works-in-progress and finished items. Capture all of the fun with the kids and grand kids from season to season.

The only minor set back I saw was not being able to add captions to the photos - but I know if I had that option, this would never have gotten done. And I can always go in with a permanent marker and make notes on the pages or add stickers with comments, but I doubt that I will. It doesn't need it!

Anyway, just thought I'd share. 

Happy Stitching!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Proud to be. . .

Two weeks ago, I discussed the highlights of our recent vacation to Eastern Europe. Dave and I decide on vacation destinations a little differently than some. We enjoy getting to know the place we're visiting--in particular its history. When we started planning this 'epic' vacation about two years ago, it was important that this be a trip about "learning," not just about "seeing the sights."

There are several tour organizations that offer similar trips, but what made us select Smithsonian Journeys was the education factor. We had a highly-qualified history expert along with us on the entire trip. (A little more on that in a bit.)

Since we've been back, some friends have asked, 'What impressed you most?' So I thought my answer might be of interest to you as well.

National Pride

Over and over again, we simply could not avoid the topic of overwhelmingly strong national and cultural pride - and the attempts to undermine it - every single place we visited.

Frederic Chopin, born in Warsaw, Poland is something of a national hero there.

Here is a video clip of one of Chopin's famous Polonaise compositions, performed by a very young Liberace.

Chopin left his beloved Poland in exile to live in France. He died of tuberculosis at 39 and was buried in France, but his heart was returned to Poland where it remains. This statue and this park in Warsaw is dedicated to him. During WWII, the statue was destroyed, then years later after the war, it was rebuilt. It is said to have been destroyed to inflict a spiritual blow on the German-occupied Polish people.

Auschwitz-Birkenau, opened in 1940, in a suburb of Oswiecim, Poland (Auschwitz is a German-ized version of the town name) is a sobering monument to Hitler's plan to eliminate the Jewish people and their culture from existence.

Not much more to be said here. However, the failed, but monumental Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943 is a tribute to the Jewish resistance in occupied Poland.

In 1918, Poland was reunified after 130 years of non-existence as a country. Five generations of Polish people never lost hope that their country would be re-unified.

After WWII in 1945, Communism was imposed. The Palace of Culture and Science was a 'gift' to the Polish people from the Soviets. It's a source of disdain for many Polish people today as a symbol of the universally-disliked Communist regime. 

While in Warsaw, we enjoyed traditional Polish food at Radio Cafe just a few blocks away from our hotel. The restaurant owner, whose name, I'm sorry that I can't now remember, came out and spoke to our group.

Back in the day (post WWII), this restaurant catered to the staff of Radio Free Europe. Listening to RFE was completely taboo, but became a valued source of information from the free world.

The positive impact from the fall of Communism in all the places we visited on this trip became a recurring theme. All of our city tour guides mentioned it, and shared their experiences of what that meant to their lives.

Solidarity in 1980 made Poland the first to leave Communism behind, the remaining nations followed one by one.

This star on display inside the Parliament Building in Budapest topped the Parliament dome during Communist times. Now it's a museum piece, inside. People don't want to forget.

In each new location on the trip, as I mentioned earlier, we had a local city guide who provided historical information and personal experiences.

Our local city guide in Budapest (what a view behind her, eh?) gave us excellent perspectives on being Hungarian.

Medieval History

Here in the US, our earliest heroes lived a couple hundred years ago. In Eastern Europe, history and important historical figures go way, wa-a-a-y back.

St Stephen (Szent Istvan) was the first king of Hungary in the 10th Century (a good 800 years before George Washington took the reigns of the Continental Army.) He is still one of the most revered historical figures for the Hungarian people.

Unfortunately, Hungary made some bad choices in their alliances during WWI and WWII. And the country has paid the price. Today, Hungary is a member of the European Union (EU), and they benefit from their membership. Interestingly, they have not adopted the use of the Euro. Nor has Poland. Nor has the Czech Republic. One might speculate that, for each of these countries, even their money represents a sense of national pride - with images of centuries-old national heroes imprinted on each denomination.

For the Czech Republic, the Munich Pact in September 1938 gave Germany the right to invade Czech Territory. Big problem: dignitaries from the Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia) were left out of the negotiations while diplomats from Germany, France, Britain, and Italy discussed Czehoslovakia's fate. To this day, the Czech people refer to that agreement with bitterness as o nás bez nás (about us without us).

In Germany, a section of The Wall, once separating democratic West Berlin from Communist East Germany remains as a monument to the re-unification. The footprint of the entire wall is embedded in the street pavement.

All this learning, and no fun?

Well, not exactly. Even though our assigned educator, Christopher Brennan, PhD provided extensive historical information in formal lecture settings, he provided plenty of distraction from the historical data-dump, too! Here he is with one of many ever-changing maps of Eastern Europe.

And he proves that the Wieliczka Salt Mines (near Krakow, Poland) are indeed composed of salt, by taking a lick. He also kept us entertained, not only with his vast knowledge of the subject matter, but also with his dry, British sense of humor! His local knowledge as a resident of Vienna, led us to excellent eats (and brews)!

And our lovely, fabulous tour director, Silvija from Latvia, not only kept our group in check, but provided tons of stories from her own experiences growing up under Communism in Latvia.

She is a real gem!

And if you really want to get a feel for national pride among the Eastern European nations, open a conversation about which country has the best strudel!

This is perhaps, the most important lesson I learned on the trip: when presented with two dessert options, one being strudel, no matter which country you're in and what the other choice is, get the strudel - each strudel is the BEST! (below is the Hungarian version!)

And yes, that rivalry is real. I can go on and on with various examples of the deep national pride we observed and experienced. But I've probably already bored you to tears with all this!

Back to the sewing machine!

Happy Stitching!


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Something New, Something Blue!

Okay, maybe you've heard me mention this little gadget called Your Nest® Organizer before?

(Yes, that's a little circled R meaning that the trademark registration is complete - a long, legal process.)

I introduced Your Nest way back at the beginning of the year to hold all your favorite quilting gadgets. By now, perhaps you've seen it at your local quilt shop. Even better, perhaps you're putting it to good use in your craft room.

Your Nest Organizers are available in four fun, bird-friendly colors: Martin (purple), Flamingo (pink), Hummingbird (green), and Peacock (teal blue).

 . . And, there's more!

This summer, I started playing with some new colors and I'm happy to announce that three new colors have joined the Your Nest Organizer family. Shall we meet the new birds?

Bluebird (YN105) - is the first of the new colors. Medium true blue will brighten your storage options.

Cardinal (YN106) - As red as a cardinal in a pine tree in winter. Bright and cheery and aways ready to store away your goodies.

Raven (YN107) - This clever bird is at your service, keeping your stuff handy! Black is back as a hot decorator color, and it goes with everything!

So, there you have it! Three new fun colors of Your Nest Organizers.

Now, what? (Yep, they're available right now, right here!)

 - Add to your collection!
 - Start your holiday shopping with some fun stocking stuffers!
 - Give your collegiate co-ed something practical to keep the dorm tidy!

Collect all seven colors . . . and Keep Your Stuff Handy!

(I don't know about you, but I'm pretty excited!)

Next week . . how many different kinds of strudel can a person eat while on vacation?

Happy Stitching!


Thursday, October 4, 2018

A Grand Old Tour

On September 11, Dave and I did something we've never done before - we took a three week vacation to Eastern Europe!

What follows: A few of the sights from our journey.

Our tour actually started in Warsaw, Poland. I'll share more about beautiful Warsaw in a future post, for now we're starting in Krakow.

The Church of Our Lady is the centerpiece of the Old Town Square in Krakow, Poland. Krakow dates to the 13th century. Unlike so many of the other European capitals on our itinerary, Krakow wasn't destroyed during World War II. From the taller of the two steeples a bugler plays at the top of every hour of every day.

The square is a hive of activity. It's clean (yes, even with the horse-drawn carriages), it's young, and it's vibrant. We fell in love instantly, and even though we visited several other mind-blowing European cities. Krakow ended up being our favorite stop!

Nearby, we visited the Wieliczka Salt Mine. The miners carved statues into the walls of the mine. Many of the carvings reflect Poland's rich history, it's heroes, and figures from Catholicism. Everything from the floor tiles, to the walls and the statuary is carved from salt - salt!

Then it was on to Budapest, Hungary. A city divided by the Danube River. Buda to the west of the river, Pest to the east.

Ornate Matthias Church was only steps away from our hotel. As you can see, it's beautifully lit at night, as are many of the city's architectural highlights.

The Parliament Building. Built around the turn of the 20th century; the design was the result of a design competition. Inside under the center dome, the Coronation Crown, also known as the Holy Crown of St. Stephen (no photos were allowed), presumed to have been made in the 11th century.

The golden staircase. These stairs provide access to the main parts of the building.

In Vienna, our next stop, the presence of the Hapsburg empire is everywhere! The Schoenbrunn Palace (from the gardens in the back), the Hapsburg's Summer residence is just minutes outside Vienna.

The main entryway to the Military Museum. The museum walked us chronologically through centuries of Austrian artifacts. The quantity and quality of the exhibits here were truly amazing. Artifacts included Captain Von Trapp's Naval uniform (the Austrians, aren't terribly impressed with the popular, but heavily 'hollywood-ized' version of the Von Trapp story), and the actual car in which Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated - the event that lit the spark to start the first World War.

On to Bratislava, Slovakia - only about a 40 minute drive from Vienna to this much smaller capital city. The castle is largely under construction, over looks the city. Slovakia is known for and very proud of its auto manufacturing industry.

The town is filled with lots of shops, cafes, and restaurants along several cobbled side streets off the main town square. See the red figure on the exterior wall in the picture below, right? Not surprisingly, that's the executioner's residence. Beware!

Prague, Czech Republic is also split by a river, the Vltava. Fortunately, the language barrier was never an issue in any of the tourists areas throughout our travels, even though vowels sometimes seemed to be missing in action in the local language!

The early morning view of the Castle complex (below) and a view from the Charles Bridge (further below). 

Perhaps one of the best-known images from Prague is the intricate Astronomical Clock just off the main town square. The clock was hidden from view under a blue tarp due to restoration. The big reveal was last Friday - a day after our departure. (Sad face here!)

For some reason, swans really like Prague. You can see them on the river from this vantage point from the bridge. There were about 100 of them bobbing around in the water!

We traveled from city to city on our tour via motor coach.

However, our last trip from Prague to Berlin, Germany was via train.

Oh, how many sights we passed by as we traveled from country to country (six in all).

I have to add, that we traveled with a tour group with 22 fellow travelers. The tour is a Smithsonian Journey. I couldn't recommend this experience more!

Our last stop was Berlin. Since some of the more popular places to visit were blocked from tourist traffic due to a state visit from Turkey's President Erdogan. He is somewhat controversial on the world stage, so security was increased.

To avoid all the hubbub, we opted for a visit to the Berlin Zoo, close to our hotel. It's a beautiful place - a huge natural space inside a large city, much like Central Park in New York.

And on our last day in Berlin, we found an Oktoberfest celebration and drank some delicious German beer. As you can see, Dave's pretty happy about how this trip as turned out! (Or maybe that silly face is because of the delicious German beer!)

I can't believe how quickly our time passed, and how much we actually got to see during our three-week tour! This was truly a fantastic voyage!

In the next couple weeks, I'll share a few additional insights and observations from the trip. Hope you stick around and follow along!

Happy Stitching!