30 July 2013

The quest for home

Dream house
For about 6 months now, T and I have been looking for a house to call home.  We've seen quite a few houses now and I think we finally really know what we need and what we want.  It took me a little longer to come to terms with what we can get for what we want to give (price for amount of house), but we're finally on the same page.  We both want a home (a lot), but we're also both understanding about what we can realistically get and what we need.  We are also not willing to give up the search early just to get a house.  We want a home, not just a house.  Anyway, to help us with our quest, I've come up with a little grade sheet that we'll be able to use when we visit potential homes.
Click to download

06 June 2013

Day 3: La Spezia: Pisa

5 June 2013

After yesterday’s high-intensity day of sightseeing in Nice and Monaco, we decided to take things a bit easier today.  We previously had signed up for a 11.5 hour day consisting of guided tours of Florence and Pisa starting at 7:45 a.m., but instead switched to a 5.0 hour visit to only Pisa leaving at 8:30 a.m.  The extra 45 minutes in the morning was a big improvement, allowing us to enjoy a nice breakfast in the Parrot Cay restaurant before taking off.

The bus ride to Pisa through the Tuscan countryside was beautiful, with numerous views of mountains, farms, and pine trees.  However, still recovering from the day before, we slept through most of the ride!  Pisa itself is a fairly small, attractive city where nearly all of the buildings are old Tuscan architecture (colorful facades and shutters).  After arriving at Pisa, we were loaded onto a little train (or “tschoof tschoof”), really a tram that shuttled us to the old city.  High walls surround the old city, and located in the middle is a square where the leaning tower stands, along with the cathedral and separate baptistery.  All of these buildings are quite beautiful and elaborate – the facades are covered with intricate carvings and other details.  

Some interesting facts we learned about the leaning tower of Pisa:  

The leaning tower is really just the bell tower for the cathedral, so while it is the most famous of the buildings today, it was much less important in prior centuries.
The leaning tower is not the only leaning building in Pisa.  The cathedral and baptistery, as well as several other buildings we noted, also are leaning (though not to such an impressive extent).  The buildings lean because, when they were built long ago, Pisa used to be located by the sea where all of the soil was quite soft, resulting in numerous leaning buildings.
The square served all religious needs from life until death, starting with the baptistery, then to the cathedral, then to the hospital on one side, and finally to the above-ground graveyard on the other side.
Lots of stories about Galileo we previously learned by watching Empires:  The Medici before coming here.

After listening to our local tour guide “explain you everything” about the tower and other buildings (in great detail), we wandered around the nearby shops and restaurants.  Unfortunately, most of the shops were tourist-oriented (selling little leaning tower statutes) or local-resident oriented (selling batteries and wrenches), rather than the types of shops we might be interested in.  Another downside of Pisa – there werenumerous highly aggressive vendors wandering the streets attempting to cajole people into buying watches, umbrellas, jewelry and other stuff.  Perhaps we are hardened by living in the DC area, but we were way better at giving off the “back the heck off” vibe needed to deter the vendors from bothering us.  Other tourists got repeatedly and aggressively bothered though.

After returning to the ship from Pisa, we ordered room service and took a break while Gwen struggled with her hair (if not mentioned already, Gwen got a terrible haircut before the trip that makes it virtually impossible to put up her hair).  After feeding, we set out for La Spezia, the town where our ship had made port. We had good shopping success here, bringing back a nice bottle of wine to share with our dinner friends, green pants for Gwen (who has been searching for them for a while), and some other souvenirs.

We got back from La Spezia in time to change, start a couple loads of laundry in the machines on our deck, and get to dinner.  As usual, dinner was lots of fun, as our dinner friends this time around are very easy to talk to.

Last for the day, we finished up our laundry, which took a while due to a backlog of people looking to use the dryers, and got ready for a busy day in Rome tomorrow.

Villefranche : Nice and Monaco

3 June 2013

After relaxing yesterday, today was practically work!  Our Port Adventure into Nice met at 7:30am, so we were up at 6:30, thanks to early morning room service breakfast.  Villefranche does not have a place where cruise ships can dock, so we had to take tender boats from the ship to shore.  Once ashore, we were met by a guide who led us to a queue of busses waiting to take each group on their adventures.  We got a bit of a late start because of some trouble with one of the tenders, so our time in Nice was cut a bit short.  Luckily, T and I had visited Nice on our honeymoon, so this wasn’t too much of a disappointment.  Also, in place of the flower show and market that is usually in the central area, Monday is antique market day in Nice!  We used our hour of free time to peruse the market’s wares.  Ranging from old, but still functioning sewing machines and typewriters to furniture to clothing, the market was a feast for the eyes.  We took lots of photos, but only bought a few decorative wooden buttons.  Before boarding the bus, we decided to buy one of our favourite foods in France, a mini baguette sandwich slathered in butter, this time with salami and cornichon pickles!

Next up was Monaco, the second smallest country in the world (after Vatican City).  The first stop was the rock of Monaco, where we were supposed to visit a cathedral, but we ditched our group in favour of shopping.  We found ourselves another ginormous sandwich, this time on a long ciabatta roll with brie, cheddar and tomatoes.  We were searching for our favourite chocolate shop, Jeff de Bruges, but discovered that there was not a branch in Monaco.  Instead, we stopped in at the Chocolatier ofMonaco which is also a tea house.   We enjoyed cups of tea and bought some to bring home.  Afterwards, as we headed back to the bus, it began to rain.

The rain increased traffic somewhat and it took us some time to get to our next stop, Monte Carlo.  Monte Carlo is home to the famous casino and Formula One racing, which occurs on a track that winds throughout the streets instead of a traditional track circuit.  By the time we reached Monte Carlo, it was raining in earnest.  We walked to the casino with the rest of our group, but decided to forego the line and went off to explore the area on our own.  We saw some of the most expensive seats in the bandstand for the Formula One race; €2000 for 2 hours!  The race occurred just about a week ago (24-30 May), so they are in the process of breaking down the “track.”

After about an hour of wandering (and a €20 umbrella purchase), we headed back to the bus, somewhat soggy for the trip back to the ship.  Last time we were in Nice, we shopped a cute little outdoor artisan fair just outside the port terminal.  We had hoped to see it again, but the venders had packed up due to the weather.  Instead, we enjoyed a “first dinner” of tea and salads in our room, courtesy of room service.

Dinner was the show dinner at Animator’s Palate, where the restaurant transforms from black and white sketches to full colour images over the course of the meal.  We topped off the day with two desserts, one from the menu and one Mickey Bar, a “secret” item.  After another late night chat with our new friends, it’s finally very late/early and we have another early morning tomorrow!

Day at Sea

2 June 2013

Today was our recovery day.  After the time change and lack of sleep, we slept in until about noon.  We managed to make it to bruch-fast before it closed at 1pm.  Full of food, we headed right back to our room for a nap!  Finally around 3, we were ready to consider ourselves awake and found chair in the sun by the pool to continue our relaxation regimen.  The only productive accomplishment of the day was finishing, assembling and distributing our fish extender gifts.  Here’s a photo of one of the gifts we received:

In Nice, France

After a long travel day and a recovery day at sea, T and I are in the beautiful city of Nice, France.  We are taking photos and will post more later!

Vamos a España!

31 May – 1 June 2013

Packing for this trip was more rushed than usual.  Maybe it was because T was working up until an hour before we left for the airport or maybe it was because I hadn’t had enough time to fully mentally prepare for our voyage.  It could also have been because we were only getting about 5 hours’ sleep each of the three nights before travel day.  We also discovered our camera simply wouldn’t turn on (even after an overnight charge) about 2 hours before we needed to be at the airport.  That triggered a very last minute trip to Target to buy 2 new cameras (luckily both were on sale, and many thanks to Vi for putting the last one on hold for us!).  At the time, I wasn’t sure why I felt I needed to buy 2, but I had that “just in case” feeling.

We made it to the airport in plenty of time (thanks to Brudder for being our personal door to door taxi service!) which was good because everyone and their cousin seemed to be flying today.  We wound our way through seemingly endless lines at security, but made it to our gate with about and hour to spare.  We had lunch at Potbelly, which was good because on top of the lack of sleep, neither of us had been eating particularly well this week as we tried to prepare for the trip!

While having lunch, I realized that we had forgotten our Secret Mickey gift at home.  On Disney cruises, you can sign up for small gift exchanges called Fish Extenders and Secret Mickey.  Fish Extenders involve groups of cabins semi-secretly leaving each other small gifts throughout the cruise.  Secret Mickey is like Secret Santa.  Weeks ago, I had planned out and procured our gift which was going to be a travel scrapbook binder that could be filled along the cruise.  Luckily, I had finished all of our Fish Extender gifts (fabric cup wraps, wristlet pouches and I-Spy treasure pouches for little ones) and had remembered to pack all those things.  We decided to get something for our Secret Mickey in one of the ports and attach a not saying we’d like to send their real gift after the cruise is over.  We’re hoping they’ll think of it as a way to “extend the magic.”

The flight from Dulles to Heathrow was relatively uneventful except that due to my allergies/nasal issues, I had a very stuffed up nose and couldn’t sleep the whole flight.  The next flight, from Heathrow to Barcelona was worse because we were both super tired and trying to sleep when I suddenly experiences fairly severe sinus pressure/pain which didn’t dissipate until after we landed.  Luckily, it was a short flight.  Once we saw our first DCL contact person, things started to look better already!

Unlike on our honeymoon cruise, our single checked bag made it safely and was whisked away by DCL to appear in our stateroom later.  Checking in at the port and making our way onto the ship was relatively quick and speedy.  By the time we made it there, our room was already clean and we were able to go and start getting settled right away.

We spent a little time unpacking and getting a little sun on Deck 9, then showered and headed to dinner.  This time, we were seated with two other young couples and became fast friends.  After dinner, we stayed up chatting until the wee hours, even on very little sleep!

09 April 2013

Bracelet break

I've been diligently working away at my copious amounts of school work.  [Two papers and a midterm due this week!]  I've also managed to make some more progress on the hexie front.  I've now got close to 100 little hexies all pieced together!  Mom and Flea have suggested that I not make an entire quilt top out of tiny hexies and that I make some kind of pattern or shape to applique onto a quilt top instead.  In the class the quilt will be for, we have a sort of class joke about trees.  So I've decided that the hexies are going to make a nice tree top.  The hexies will be the leaves and I'll free-motion quilt the trunk and branches.  Then to quilt the hexies, I'll quilt little leaf shapes over them... probably randomly.  Thanks to the interwebs, I managed to find a free graph paper generator that gives me 1" hexagonal graph paper.  I'm using this to map out what my hexie tree top will look like.  In the meantime, I'm also creating quite the large quilt-y/hexie pinboard with all things related to this hextra special project.

Not that my interest in hexie-making is waning or anything, but I have been thinking about making bracelets recently too.  This afternoon, I'm working on my midterm for my motivation class and decided I deserved a little break.  When T and I were on our honeymoon, I started collecting bracelets from the places we visited.  A nice old man gave me a simple bee bracelet at the honey farm we visited and that kind of started the idea.  A few days later, when we were in Nice, there was a cute little craft fair by the port and I bought some pretty fabric bracelets.  Again, they are very simple, and the old lady who was selling them was very cute and French.  Her younger helper (maybe her daughter or someone whom she treated like a daughter) explained that the bracelets are made from scraps of fabrics and beads and baubles the old lady has collected over the years.  None of the bracelets were the same.  It was really hard to choose which one I wanted, so in the end I chose two.  Since then, I've been thinking it would be fun to make some of these bracelets, so today I tried it!  If you're interested in a pretty bracelet that can be made in 15 minutes (if you have all the supplies on hand because you are me or an old French lady), here's a quick tutorial!

Supplies you'll need:
Fabric - preferably a lightweight cotton lawn type with a smallish print
At least 1 bead with a big hole - the hole should be about the size of the hole in a pony bead
Tape measure (optional)

How to make it:
1)  Iron your fabric so it's nice and wrinkle free.

2)  Cut a strip of fabric that's about 1' wide by 10" long.  The length you'll need depends on the size of your hand (not your wrist).  To measure how long your strip will need to be, use the tape measure to measure your hand at its widest point when you put your fingers together as though you're going to put on a bracelet.  This length (mine was 8"), is the absolute minimum length you'll need.  Add 2 or more inches to this number to get your final strip length.

3)  Iron the two sides of the strip in towards the middle as though you are making bias tape.  In fact, if I had been clever, I would have used my handy Simplicity Bias Tape Maker for this project.  But that would have required me finding the appropriate tip and getting it all set up.  For a 10" strip of fabric, that seemed unnecessary.

4)  Fold the little strip of bias tape in half, as you would when you are using it to bind something.  Iron it.

5)  Here's the only slightly tricky part.  Start to twist the little strip you've got.  This is something like if you were spinning yarn.  You want the strip of fabric to turn into a round cord.  After you've twisted the first inch or so and it's staying put a little, iron down the length of the cord as you twist.  This way you're ironing the twist into the fabric, which makes it hold the twist better.

6)  Your bracelet cord is all done!  Now get that big-holed bead and string it onto one side of your cord.  String the other end of the cord through the bead in the opposite direction.  [Does this make sense?  It's like you're making a "x" with the ends of the cord and the center of the "x" is in the bead.]  Tie the ends to the cord in neat little knots.  If you had extra length in your cord, you can tie knots and cut off any excess.  If, like me, you made your cord exactly the length you wanted, you'll have to make sure your knots are very close to the ends.
7)  Ta-da!  Put on your bracelet and be the envy of everyone!

04 April 2013

Hextra work...

Two posts in one week!  Something crazy must be going on!  Well, I have taken on a potentially crazy project.  I'm making a little quilt!  I want it to be useful for something, someday, but I don't have much time to finish it because it's going to be for a class final paper.  [I'll explain.]  So, I've decided on a crib size quilt which are typically 23"x46."  And now, on to the back story.

I'm in the middle of a Master's program in educational psychology.  It's interesting and I was actually excited to start school again after working for several years.  But, I'm a procrastinator.  It's not so much that I don't want to do the work.  I mean, I kind of don't, but I do like the topics and I like to think about them.  But I tend to let projects expand to fill all the available time.  I can be doing something else entirely, but in the back of my mind, I'm mulling over paper topics, ideas, themes, structure, whatever, until there's just barely enough time to write the darn thing.  Until that almost-panic moment, I feel like I can keep on just thinking, not actually doing the work.

This particular semester, I have two classes about which I'm not really that excited.  The course descriptions sounded intriguing, and enough of the initial classes were interesting enough that I didn't drop the courses.  But now, past midterm time (one has the midterm due and the other has the two article reviews...), I'm finding it hard to motivate myself to get to work!  This is especially sad because one of the classes is about student motivation... whoops.

The other class I'm not super excited about is a theory-based class about culture and intelligence.  Sounds like a cool class right?  The topic is definitely interesting, and some of the readings (not that I've been reading them all...) are also interesting.  But I have trouble with classes in which I can't find a practical application for the content.  This past Tuesday, as I zoned out a little in class, I kept thinking about my hexies and how I would much rather be making them than talking about our individual definitions of wisdom.  The more I zoned out thought about it, the more I felt like I could use my hexies as an analogy for some theories of intelligence we've discussed.  I had the idea that if I made a hexie quilt and then wrote a paper about how the quilt and the process of making it is analagous to theories of intelligence, I would be able to make the course content meaningful to me (and motivate myself to get to work!).  Longer story short, the professor likes the idea, so I'm making a quilt. 

I am taking full advantage of the opportunity to incorporate my crafting into course work.  So, naturally I started a pinboard of all the ideas and resources I'm collecting with regard to hexies and quilting.  One resource I found was this handy hex-quilt calculator.  You tell it how big your hexies are and how big you want the finished product to be and it tells you how many hexies you will need.  Very useful.  Here's what it gave me:
See that? Only 410 hexies!  Plus 30 half hexies... but I think I can do it.  I've already got 74 done:

I'm also happy to say that I actually spent some time doing research today and also managed to read a few articles!  Hopefully this little quilty pleasure project will be just the thing to keep me motivated through the end of the semester!

01 April 2013


I have some hoarder tendencies.  One thing I have a hard time throwing away is fabric.  Even the smallest of scraps seems like they could be used for something!  In fact, Tuzi has a hedgehog beanbag which is stuffed with fabric scraps instead of the bag of beans IKEA sells for that purpose.  Every so often, I go on a purge of my crafting room and throw away the bins of tiny scraps I've been saving up to that point.  I try not to go through the tubs because then I get all remorseful and half the time, I save them anyway.

Well, about a week ago, I stumbled across the perfect project to continue my hoarding tendencies!  It's well known to quilters, I suppose, but I haven't ever been very into quilting (not quite that patient; instant gratification projects are more my style).  It's paper pieced hexagons!  The technique is also called English paper piecing which fits in nicely with my English themed life lately (watched all of Downton Abbey, BBC's Sherlock and as usual have been enjoying tea all day, every day).  So anyway, I was inspired and remembered that long ago, I acquired a hexagon paper punch.  At the time, I had no idea why I would ever use it, but I kept it anyway because it's one of those Creative Memories ones that has two sizes and has the measurements marked right on the punch (very helpful when you don't like to measure things, like me).  I went ahead and punched out a bunch of hexagons and got started chopping up some scraps into little 1.25" squares.

Paper hexies arranged in a pattern
Fabric squares to match the paper hexies
One little hexie
4 hexies sewn together
After doing a few test hexies, I made the whole pattern and sewed it onto a re-sized 2XL t-shirt I had from an uncompleted project a few years ago.  Here's how it turned out:
Sorry about the weird colours; I took the photo in the bathroom mirror and it was kind of dark, so I had to adjust so you could see the hexies better.  I'll get a better photo later and post it.

Anyway, I've had hex-mania since then and have made a similar shirt for Flea and have another mini-quilt for a shirt for Sneetch (once I get her a shirt).  I've also made a little "hexie fabric" so that could produce this:
Now I think I want to try making slightly larger hexies.  These are 1" across.  If I get really good at them, maybe I'll be able to make a baby quilt one day!

21 March 2013

Girls trip to WDW!

Last week was Spring Break for me, and conveniently the American Montessori Society annual conference happened to be Thursday through Sunday.  The conference was also in Orlando, so it was kind of a no-brainer for me to want to go.  Plus, my friend Feder was getting to go to the conference with her school, so she'd be there too.  We decided to make a trip out of it and as I was looking for flights, I mentioned it to my other friend Julia and she found a great price for a round trip flight and decided to join us!  So, it turned out to be a girls trip to Disney World(click to see more photos in a new window)

Julia and I flew down on Wednesday to take advantage of the best flight fare.  We visited Animal Kingdom and EPCOT on Thursday and got to see SO MANY animals at Kilimanjaro Safaris!  We even got to see some baby animals; rhino, hippo and giraffe babies were just some of them.  Friday, Feder and I went to the conference in the morning and I got to talk to some people about research possibilities and other fun things relating to my school work.  I have emailed a few of them to follow up, so fingers are crossed that they actually have time to get back to me!

Saturday, all three of us went to the parks.  We managed to go to Hollywood Studios, EPCOT and Magic Kingdom all in one day!  It was a loooong day of walking around the parks, but totally worth it!  We didn't get back to the room until 1am!  I took advantage of the jacuzzi tub and had a nice, half hour soak before getting to bed, too.  :)

As an extra surprise, some friends we met on our honeymoon happened to be coming into Orlando over the weekend and I got to have a quick brunch with them Sunday morning before heading to the airport!  Baby C was so cute and well behaved!

And, when I got back , I had this little guy to greet me!  I "planted" (soaked the dirt disc and sprinkled the nearly microscopic seeds over it) the week before I left, and the tallest one is about a centimetre tall now!

11 February 2013

Xin nian kuai le!

Yesterday was Chinese New Year's Day.  To celebrate, T and I had a dinner party!  We rearranged the furniture to extend our table to its full length to seat 12 people and cooked up a storm.  Julea came over Saturday and early yesterday to be my sous chef and helped to do LOTS of chopping and dicing.  We had an auspicious 8 entrees on the menu plus some appetizers and dessert!  Unfortunately, we didn't get pictures of everything all laid out at the beginning, but we did get some pictures mid-meal.

Here's a picture of the menu:
And the English translation side:
Sorry it's a little blurry at the top.
It was nice to get to spend some time with friends over good food!
For more photos, see Flickr.

29 January 2013

Sorry for weird posts!

Long time, no post.  Sorry.  Also, some of you who subscribe (all 2 of you, I think... maybe 3) might have gotten some weird post emails in the past couple days about honeymoons and tell me your name.  Sorry about that.  I was helping Vi and Mash with their wedding website and I was testing a Honeymoon Fund donation button.  Here's a link to their (newly renovated by me) site, if you are interested, and a photo montage of them:
Flea & Mash
In other news, I updated my Etsy shop this weekend and learned to make coupon codes.  So now you can head over there and use the code HAPPY2013 to get 20% off your whole order!  That's all for now.  I'll post something more interesting later... after I come up with something more interesting!