2012 FMQ Challenge: March

31 03 2012

Well, this was a rushed job! After spending more than half of March in the US, I got home to a new computer, so last weekend was spent installing apps and data (still more to do, but most is now done). Today I should have been in the garden as the weather is so nice for gardening — not too hot, cool breeze, fine. But I knew that it was March 31 and the last day to submit my practice piece for March in the 2012 FMQ Challenge.

So here it is. Very rushed (about 10 minutes total) and just a tiny practice piece. I tried out some of my new Isocord thread (it flows REALLY well in my Sweet Sixteen), and kept the variegated blue from February’s challenge piece in the bobbin. Not ideal, but this WAS a practice piece! The Isocord thread I used was a fluoro lime, so I tried it on a green background and on the last remnant of the blue silky fabric I had from 30+ years ago! I quite like the contrasting effect on the blue.

The March challenge from Ann Fahl involved four designs: a loopy stipple (right), a loopy stipple with stars and hearts (middle), a spiral (left), and a spiral morphing into flowers (on the blue fabric).




Where I went: US trip 2012, and driving in the US

31 03 2012

Here’s a mud map of where I went in the US:

I drove some 1625 miles (2600 km), but only over a few days of the two weeks I was in the US.

  • Leg 1: Saturday 3 March: Dallas/Fort Worth to Helotes (just north of San Antonio, Texas), stopping in Round Rock for lunch with a friend and staying overnight at Helotes. Total driving time about 5 hours.
  • Leg 2: Sunday 4 March: Just a little hop from Helotes to New Braunfels where I then stayed from Sunday to the following Friday.
  • Leg 3: Friday 9 March: New Braunfels to I-10, to LaGrange, then followed Highway 79 north-east to Tyler and I-20 to Highway 59 and Marshall, TX, where I stayed overnight. This was the longest drive of my trip, taking about 7 hours, plus an hour’s stop in LaGrange to visit the Texas Quilt Museum.
  • Leg 4: Saturday 10 March: Marshall, TX north on Highway 59 to Texarkana, then I-30 across Arkansas to Little Rock, where I took I-440 to I-40 and on to Memphis, Tennessee. Total driving about 6 hours. Once in Memphis, the car stayed in the parking garage for four days (except for a little jaunt to Graceland!).
  • Leg 5: Thursday 15 March: Memphis to Barlow (to visit a quilt shop, of course!), just north of Memphis, then back on I-40 to Bryant, AR (just out of Little Rock) where I stayed overnight. Driving time about 4 hours.
  • Leg 6: Friday 16 March: Bryant, AR to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. Driving time about 5 hours.

Lots of Australians (and some US-ians!) tell me I’m very brave to drive in the US, seeing as though I’m driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. But to be honest, I LOVE driving in the US and have no problem with switching to ‘the other side’. Here’s why:

  • Foot controls in the cars are exactly the same, so you don’t have to adjust any thinking there. You still accelerate and brake with your right foot.
  • Gear shift is still in the middle. As every rental car I’ve ever driven is an automatic, this is a no-brainer. You change gear with your right hand instead of your left and that’s it — set and forget until you have to park, reverse, etc.
  • Column controls vary with EVERY car you get into. Sometimes the traffic indicators are on the left stalk, sometimes on the right; same with the windscreen wipers/washers. I guarantee that if you buy a car in your home country from a different maker, the column controls will probably be different! So no issue there.
  • Driving on marked roads is a no-brainer. You just follow the lane markings, other traffic, etc. and you can’t go wrong.
  • Driving on Interstates and state highways is a no-brainer. Everything is clearly signed quite some distance from where you have to take action, and every exit is numbered. These numbers are also on maps, sat nav systems etc. Just follow the numbers.
  • Taking the wrong exit is not the end of the world. If you think you’ve taken the wrong exit, the US Interstate and highway system is designed so that every intersection/crossroad has a way back… unlike some exits I can name on the Perth freeway system (e.g. South St exit in South Perth), which only allow you off and there’s no way to get back on again in the same place!
  • Getting lost is almost impossible (except perhaps in the larger cities and towns). Every road is clearly marked and numbered and the compass direction is clearly given. So if you have to follow 79N, you just look for the signs that say 79N. You don’t have to remember the towns you might pass through along the way to get your cues as to where to go. Just follow the numbered roads. (Australians could learn a LOT from this system — we do have numbered roads, but most people I know never refer to a road by its number, just its name or its destination, which must be REALLY confusing for visitors to our state/country.)
  • You almost don’t need to check the speed limit on the Interstates. There’s a lot of traffic and in general, you just travel at the speed of the vehicles around you. Trucks may be limited to a speed some 5 mph less than cars, so if you match a truck’s speed, you’ll be right.
  • Trucks must travel in the outside lanes on the Interstates. On a 3-lane Interstate, the trucks are only allowed in the two far right lanes. This means that cars etc. can always get past them as they are not allowed to hog the road.
  • Other road users are POLITE. Merging is usually a breeze as people — including those big trucks — let you in. There’s not a lot of that ‘I own the road and to hell with you!’ attitude I find on Western Australian roads (I haven’t travelled enough on other Australian roads to comment).
  • The roads are DESIGNED for traffic. Merge lanes on to an Interstate are invariably LONG, so there’s no ‘OMG! I’m running out of room to merge!’ moments that we get in Perth. Traffic coming into the Interstate has time to get up to speed and just pop in to the flow of traffic without forcing others to brake.
  • The road rules are sensible. Most states I’ve driven in have a ‘turn right on red’ rule (the equivalent in Australia would be ‘turn left on red’). This means that if you’re at a red traffic light and are turning right, AND it is safe to do so, you can turn against the red light without penalty. This keeps the traffic flowing because not everyone has to wait for the light to turn red before moving off. Another sensible rule is the 4-way stop sign, found mostly in suburban streets and smaller rural communities. The first person to the Stop sign goes first, the next person goes next, etc. But everyone has to stop and wait their turn. There’s none of this waiting forever at a Stop sign because the traffic going the other way won’t/can’t let you in. And did I mention that invariably people are POLITE about this and other road rules. That territorial instinct so beloved of Western Australian drivers seems to be missing, and as a result I’ve rarely (never?) seen any instances of road rage in the US.
  • Scary clover leafs are only scary on the map or from the air. When you’re actually on the road and driving, those clover leafs aren’t scary at all. Just follow the signs. Some of the biggest and most complex clover leafs I saw were as I flew into Dallas/Fort Worth airport — I was dreading finding my way out! But once I was on the road and with some basic directions to get me on to the right Interstate, everything was fine. Flyovers went over me and I went over flyovers, but they held no terror as I was just following the road I was meant to be on.

However, there are some potentially hazardous situations for driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road:

  • If you’re the first car at a set of lights and are turning across traffic, and the lane isn’t marked, and there’s no other traffic around to give you visual cues, you may have to consciously think about where you’re going so that you don’t end up driving into oncoming traffic.
  • Small suburban or rural roads with no traffic or lane markingΒ  can be a hazard as you may automatically go into your ‘natural’ side of the road. So look for cues like parked traffic, and be very aware that the car coming towards you frantically waving is not being friendly but is wondering why the hell you’re on their side of the road!!
  • Being a pedestrian can be injurious to your health! You were taught to look for traffic one way, then the other, then back again before stepping out into the road. Well, I can tell you that I’ve faced more dangers from traffic as a pedestrian in North America than I ever have as a driver. You can get yourself killed if you’re not aware that the traffic is coming from your ‘unnatural’ side. It’s not so bad if you’re by yourself, but if you’re with a group and are chatting etc. you can get yourself in a lot of trouble.

One final thing… A lot of North American roads (including many Interstates) are made of concrete not asphalt, and as such they have expansion joints across them. As you cross these expansion joints, there’s a clunky sort of noise, and at speed, you might think you’ve blown a tyre!

So, if you’re going to North America, don’t be frightened of driving there. I can tell you that it’s a far more pleasant experience than driving in Western Australia and Perth in particular!

Mmmmm…. threads. And fabric.

31 03 2012

When I was in the US, I took advantage of our almost on-par dollar and the amazing prices on fabrics and thread that the US has. For example, their batiks are around $9 to $11 a yard, whereas the same batiks in Australia cost between $20 and $28 a metre (close enough to a yard). And then there are the thread prices — again, much cheaper than in Australia, and some types of thread are very hard to get from retail stores in Australia (e.g. Isocord). Of course, when the fabric and threads are on special, that’s an even better deal!

The Quilt Haus in New Braunfels offered all workshop participants 10% off, no matter what we purchased. And at Klassy Katz in Barlow, just north of Memphis, the owner was getting rid of her 500 m Superior Rainbows threads for around $5 each — yes, I took them all! These threads are around $15 a spool in Australia. And I found out that she gave 20% off whatever was remaining to customers who purchased the last yardage on a bolt.

So after I’d off-loaded the Tim Tams, Sue’s quilt and other goodies I’d brought with me, I had room in my luggage for fabric and thread. In fact, I was only 3 kg more in my baggage weight coming home than I was going over, so in hindsight I could’ve bought more πŸ˜‰

Here are some of the fabrics and threads I bought (I discovered more threads after I’d taken these pictures!), and yes, a purple quilt is in my head!:

Grand Hyatt, DFW

17 03 2012

I knew I’d be getting into Dallas well before my flight. What to do? Go shopping? Go to the zoo or the aquarium or one of the Dallas sights? (I’d been to Dallas before, so I’d seen the JFK grassy knoll etc.) The biggest problem was my luggage — there was no option for storing it anywhere. So the previous night I’d hit on the idea of seeing if the Grand Hyatt at DFW Airport had an hourly, half day or daily rate. That way, I could drop my car back at Enterprise (BTW, I had a full-size Chevy Impala and it was great!), catch the shuttle to the international terminal, and spend some hours in a room having a shower, repacking, relaxing etc. before Qantas check-in opened at 6 pm.

I checked the Grand Hyatt’s website, but I couldn’t find anything related to a day rate, so I called them. After being put through to a couple of people, someone told me that yes, they did a day rate only, from 9 am to 5 pm. not ideal for when I’d be there, but close. So I checked out of the Hampton Inn in Bryant, AR and was on the road by 9 am.

I stopped in Sulphur Springs, TX for fuel and a light lunch at Chilis, and arrived at the rental car return area by 2 pm. I was in my room at the Grand Hyatt by 3 pm — they let me have the room from 3 pm to 6 pm (check-in time), and also suggested an alternative, which was to pay $30 to use their fitness centre for my shower and to repack my luggage (I wanted to split the one heavy bag into two bags). But I liked the idea of a room so I could write some of my blog posts if I had time.

Well, what a room! I wish I’d elected to stay there instead of the Hyatt Regency when I’d arrived in Dallas two weeks ago — it was RIGHT in the international terminal, with no shuttles to catch. Very very convenient.

And it was a FABULOUS room too. The all-black bathroom was fantastic, with a separate shower recess and perfect water temperature and pressure. Although the room overlooked some of the runways, it was very quiet. It was also all automatic — lights, a/c came on when I entered the room and the blinds went up or down (can’t remember which). There were two sets of these auto blinds — sheer blinds and fully shaded blinds for those needing to sleep during the day. There weren’t any switches — all the controls were pressure sensitive, and everything was adjustable.

Here are some pictures (click on a small picture to view it at a larger size):

Hampton Inn and Suites, Bryant, AR

17 03 2012

I’d never stayed at a Hampton Inn chain before, so even though it was the most expensive of a list I had found on hotels.com, I decided to give it a try. And I’m glad I did.

Firstly, Hampton Inns and Suites are part of the Hilton chain, so I was able to get my stay added to my Hilton Honors card — and I didn’t even need my card! The desk clerk looked me up and found me almost immediately and credited the points.

The room was spacious, with a big bathroom, 2 big beds (I only needed one, but they didn’t have any Kings available), free WiFi, and free breakfast. But it was more than that, as it needed to be to justify the extra dollars it was charging.

Here are some of the little things they did that would make me stay there again:

  • On checking in, the clerk handed me a free packet of pretzels and an icy cold bottle of water (hotels often charge $3 each for these in the room)
  • The clerk also told me that between 5 and 7 pm free soup and crackers would be available in the breakfast area. I went down and it was a bit more than just soup and crackers! There was a hearty minestrone soup, crackers, juice, and a plate of raw veges and a ranch-style dip (crudites). And you could have as much as you wanted. More than enough for dinner for me, especially after all I’d eaten the past two weeks and all the not-so-healthy food I’d eaten in Memphis! That saved about $20, which I would’ve had to spend had I stayed at a cheaper hotel.
  • Breakfast was a bit more than the usual ‘continental’ crap you often get — sugar, sugar and more sugar. They had a variety of yoghurts, oatmeal, packet cereals, various breads, bagels and muffins, make-your-own waffles, hard-boiled eggs, AND cheese or Denver omelettes and a spicy sausage. Again, you could have as much or as little as you liked and you helped yourself. There was also a variety of juices, and various coffees and teas.
  • The bed and pillows and comforter were SUPER comfortable, and the shower was an excellent temperature and pressure.
  • There was a fitness room and an indoor pool, neither of which I used, but I did wander down and look at them πŸ˜‰

So, while this hotel was around $110 compared to others at around $80, I reckon I got an extra $30 worth of dinner and snacks/water, as well as a quality room. Well worth it.

Click on a small picture to view it at a larger size.

Driving across Arkansas and Texas — the return journey

17 03 2012

Much of my two-day drive back to Dallas from Memphis was on Interstates (principally I-40 and I-30). However, I knew there was a construction zone on I-40 about 40 to 60 miles from Little Rock, on the Memphis side, as I’d gone through it on the way to Memphis. One of the conference attendees drove to Little Rock to catch his flight home the day before and got caught in it (he went about 1/2 a mile in an hour!; he made his flight, but I think it was only just). His suggestion was to take 49S then 70W, so I did that. Not because I didn’t have time — I did; I just thought it would be a good excuse to see some of Arkansas that I’d not normally have seen.

I’m glad I took that detour. Sure, a LOT of trucks were also on that route trying to bypass the construction zone, but they eventually went back to the interstate, while I continued along 70W to Little Rock, when I rejoined the interstate.

I stayed overnight at Bryant, AR (about 3 hours from Memphis), driving on to Dallas for about 5 hours the next day (via I-30).

Some observations from this drive:

  • 70W is also known as the Civil War Trail, so I suspect there were a lot of historical things and places that I wasn’t aware of (they sure weren’t well signed)
  • Along 70W there were quite a lot of big dams, and I saw a couple of fisheries. Only one named the fish — minnows! Who’d have thought that they were fish-farming minnows? I wonder what for?
  • Also along 70W were some extensive waterfowl areas. I drove over them via raised causeways/roads. And closer to Little Rock there were some swamps with trees with ‘knees’ — cypress trees? (see pics below)
  • There were some interesting towns on 70W — Hazen was quite a pretty little place, whereas DeValls Bluff was almost a ghost town with pretty much every store in the centre of town boarded up. Sad.
  • I crossed a couple of large rivers — Cache, White and the very large Arkansas River much closer to Little Rock. And not forgetting the very wide, very brown and muddy Mississippi River that divides Tennessee from Arkansas.
  • The Interstates are FULL of trucks. Big trucks. And LOTS of them, all travelling at speed. Officially, they’re only meant to go 65 mph, and no doubt some are speed-limited to that, but some go a bit faster (the car speed limit is officially 70 mph).
  • Arkansas and eastern Texas are predominantly flat, with a lot of farming land. At this time of the year, everything was very green, except for recently ploughed fields that were a deep brown. Some places, like Barlow, had quite a lot of tulips and daffodils in bloom. And lots of ‘lawn’ and fields looked like they were covered in snow, but it was just tiny little white (maybe pink?) flowers. I was tempted to stop and collect some Arkansas grass and put it in a zip lock bag, except I could never take it back into Australia πŸ˜‰ (gratuitous 70s music reference here…)
  • I like country music, so I was in heaven driving this long drive (and the drive to get to Memphis), but there wasn’t a lot of choice if you didn’t like country music or Christian radio stations πŸ˜‰
  • Before I left Memphis, I took a slight detour north to Barlow where I stopped at a quilt store someone had recommended to me. There I heard something I wasn’t quite certain I’d heard at the quilting workshop, but hearing it there made me think that that’s what I HAD heard at the workshop. What was this word? ‘Muslim’ instead of ‘muslin’!!! Sheesh.

Click a small photo to see it larger.

The Peabody Hotel, Memphis

16 03 2012

I’ve occasionally stayed in some expensive hotels, but I typically stay in 3- to 4-star places. However, I’ve never stayed anywhere quite like The Peabody in Memphis. In the last few posts, I’ve mentioned some of the awesome things that make this hotel an exceptional place — the famous ducks, the friendly Duckmaster, the beautiful Lobby and mezzanine floors of the original building, the history, the comfy rooms, and the great food we had at the conference.

But what REALLY makes this a very special hotel are the people.

‘Southern hospitality’ might be a term that’s bandied about, but The Peabody lives and breathes it. Every member of staff we encountered was more than just polite — every one (from the maintenance technicians, to the bell hops, housekeepers, wait staff, front desk staff, etc.) looked us in the eye, and greeted us like an honoured guest in their house. Without exception, every one of them exchanged the time of day, asked how we were and how they could help us, and often were humorous while always keeping an appropriate distance in their interactions with the guests.

It was such a pleasure to experience such wonderful 5+-star service. And it was sad to leave such a very special place. If ever I’m in Memphis again, I will do my very best to stay again at this very very fine establishment.

Thank you, Peabody Memphis, for hosting us. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in your magnificent ‘home’.


Honorary Duckmaster Sue

16 03 2012

Sue put her name down to be honorary Duckmaster for the 5 pm walk back to the Duck Palace at The Peabody, Memphis, for the day after Shannon did her stint. While others jostled for good photo positions in the Lobby, I went up to the rooftop and waited for the emergence of the ducks, Doug the Duckmaster, and Sue. The ducks are VERY quick once those elevator doors open, so catching them on a still camera is hard πŸ˜‰

There are nowhere near the numbers up on the rooftop as there are downstairs, so it’s much easier to take pictures… if you can keep up with the ducks πŸ˜‰

Click a small picture to view it in a larger size.

Final Peabody photos

15 03 2012

Some random shots from The Peabody, including the confectionery kitchen, an error message on a display board, and the cutest duck cookies!!

Peabody Hotel tour, Graceland, etc.

15 03 2012

On Tuesday, my friend Char and I played ‘hooky’ from the Conference πŸ˜‰ Along with Sue, we first watched the 11am marching in of the ducks, then we had the most AMAZING tour of The Peabody Hotel by Doug, the Duckmaster.

After lunch, Char and I drove to Graceland — I’d been before, but many years ago, and Char had never been. As before, it was amazing and awe-inspiring.

I took lots of photos of both events but unfortunately, I had a software crash on my computer before I could save them 😦 Not happy….

At 5 pm, Shannon, the wife of the conference organiser, was the honorary Duckmaster (she even got to keep the cane!!). I was waiting on the rooftop near the elevator, when I spotted Jack White (of the White Stripes). We had a brief chat and I had my photo taken with him (by his tour manager), but another STUPID error on my part saw me delete that photo when I was trying to show it to one of the guys at the conference!!!! The only photo I ended up getting was a shot of him posing for his photographer (he was doing a photo shoot for a magazine). I am SO angry with myself for not saving the 120 photos from the hotel tour and the Graceland trip, and for deleting the only photo I had of me an Jack White.

Anyhow, here are the remaining photos from Graceland, and of Shannon’s time as honorary Duckmaster. BTW, those ducks were almost flying out of the elevator when they got to the rooftop!

The last photos were taken in Main St, Memphis, and at the Local Gastropub there (Nicki’s crab stuffed avocado and devilled eggs).