It was hot.  It was humid.  But it was FUN!

N and I met at the hotel on Saturday morning and spent all of Saturday and most of Sunday at Disney.  We did everything we set out to do, except the Haunted Mansion.  That was closed on Sunday morning, so we never made it in.  But we made up for it at Expedition Everest, Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Test Track, Star Tours, Mission: Space, etc.  We only had to wait 40 minutes or so for Soarin’, which really impressed us.  Usually, the line is a lot worse.

Dinner on Saturday was at Chefs de France (I had fruits de mer, and N had the half chicken), followed by a crème brulee (N) and profiteroles (moi).  We felt like we’d never eat again.  We stayed at Epcot long enough to watch the fireworks, and then headed back to the hotel by bus.  It was packed, which wasn’t a surprise, but it was rather annoying.

We spent most of Sunday afternoon at Epcot and shopped.  We broke for lunch at the Moroccan pavilion, and then kept on shopping (most of it was window shopping, but even that was satisfying).  I bought several pairs of earrings (Murano glass at the Italian pavilion, Celtic designs at the British pavilion, silver danglies at the Moroccan pavilion, and a very simple design at the Chinese pavilion), along with some stainless steel chopsticks (I HATE the splintery cheapo ones you get when you order in) and a lovely cross stitch kit at the Chinese pavilion (which really does have the best gift shop in the entire park).  N bought a really nice tote bag and some jewelry, so we both did some damage.

This seems to be turning into a tradition — I went to Disney on my birthday in 2009, to Universal in 2010 and now Disney again in 2011 (although it’s not yet my birthday or even my birthweek) — and I think it’s a tradition I want to keep for the time being.  You can’t avoid growing old, but there are times you can most definitely avoid growing up.

I got back from my 7-day vacation late on Thursday night.  Outside of the fact that Delta Airlines seemed to be trying very hard to make my trip as difficult as possible, I did manage to get to and from my vacation in one piece, and (hoorah!) with all my luggage intact (they forced me to check my luggage but didn’t charge me for the “privilege”).  KC earned herself a whole lot of new friend points for picking me up at SRQ at 11 p.m. when my original arrival time was 9 p.m.

The first leg of the trip was to my 30th college reunion.  I attended a small liberal arts college in the Northeastern US — small enough that I knew everyone in my graduating class by face if not by name — and every 5th year we convene on campus to catch up, eat junk food and make merry.  We’re old enough now that alcohol alone doesn’t guarantee a good time, and that’s a Good Thing.  Some of us are married with young children, others are married and are empty-nesters (or will be soon), and others of us have never married and/or had kids.  But we still find enough to talk about every 5 years that we all leave each reunion looking forward to the next one.  One of my classmates is the proprietress of “A Book a Week.”  Check it out.  It’s really good.  It’s being added to the “Links I Like” section of this blog.

After reunion, my classmate K and I went to her house in New Jersey and hung out for the evening.  We went to see “Bridesmaids” in Princeton and laughed until we ached.  It’s a gross, vulgar movie, but it’s also hilarious.

Then, on Monday morning, I boarded a New Jersey Transit train for Manhattan.  I got off the escalator at 32nd Street and 7th Avenue and almost cried. I knew I was home.  Why I would choose one of the least attractive spots in all of Manhattan to think that is beyond me, but that’s what I did.  I savored every minute I was there.  My “New Yorker-ness” came back to me.  I navigated the sidewalk traffic without bumping into anyone. Nobody tried to get me to ride the double-decker tour buses.  Nobody tried to get me to take a carriage ride in Central Park.  Nobody tried to hand me flyers.  I was back, and it felt good.

And, of course, I did my share of “souvenir eating.”  Before meeting up with my dear friend AAEdible, I went to Kossar’s to investigate their bagels and bialys.  Mom is craving bialys and, since I’d heard that Kossar’s ships around the country, I had to go see if they were worth it. They were.  So, when Mom gets back from her summer vacation, we will be ordering some bagels and bialys to be sent here to Florida. Once AAE and I found each other, we visited John’s of Bleecker Street for their amazing pizza, and then headed off to Economy Candy for dessert. We had tickets to the Mets/Pirates game that night and, after a “for-old-time’s-sake” beer at the Pine, we walked across the street to Citifield. I’d only seen it while it was under construction, and it’s just gorgeous.  I’m not amused by all of the tributes to Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers (after all, Robinson never played for the Mets, and the Dodgers are in LA now), but it really is a nice place to watch a game. I bought a couple of souvenirs and we headed up to our seats.  It’s a good thing we were full from the pizza and beer because our seats were in the last row of the upper deck and trekking up and down multiple times was just not an option.  The Mets won thanks to a barrage of hits by players I’d never heard of before this season, and I almost lost it when we got to the subway platform and the time came to say good-bye.  It was the not the first time I got weepy during this trip, nor was it the last.

Tuesday morning involved a return trip to New Jersey to visit Where Victoria’s Angels Stitch.  I bought 2 Teenie Kits: J is for Jack-O-Lantern, and another one with the initial for my last name.  Tuesday afternoon was the Met’s “Savage Beauty” exhibit, which is all about Alexander McQueen.  The clothes were weird, but also fascinating. Some of the videos at the link above are also part of the exhibit, so you’ll get to share some of what we saw at the museum. Granted, nobody actually wears haute couture, but it’s still interesting to look at.  While it’s hard at first to wrap one’s head around the concept that the mind that dreamed up these clothes inspired the mind that designed Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, I now have an easier time doing that (as an aside, I bought these for myself at the Met gift shop — the picture does not do them justice; they are much nicer in person). After the Met, I visited Glaser’s Bake Shop, an Upper East Side institution since 1902. I’m particularly fond of their black-and-white cookies, their chocolate eclairs and their apple/cranberry pies, but pretty much everything they make is wonderful and worth the trip to 87th and First.  Being on the Upper East Side necessitated a visit to Annie and Company, the needlepoint/cross stitch/knitting shop in Carnegie Hill where I used to spend hours stitching and/or knitting with my fellow customers.  There, I bought this for myself, and another pattern that I can’t show you because it’s going to be a gift and I don’t want the intended recipient to see it.  Dinner that night was with BookishNYC who has, alas, retired from blogging about books, but who has not stopped reading them or wanting to discuss them.  So that’s what we did.  We compared notes as to what books we’ve been reading.  Between the 2 of us, the list was rather long.  She gave me some great ideas, and I hope I gave her some in return.

Wednesday was lunch with former work colleagues, followed by the only touristy thing I did all week — I bought a last-row ticket to see Harry Potter, er, Daniel Radcliffe as J. Pierrepont Finch and John Larroquette as J.B. Biggley in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”  I loved it.  So did the large numbers of adolescent girls who were in the audience squeeing whenever Daniel did something.  Here is a video with some of the musical numbers.  The play was so much fun that I decided to watch the movie with Robert Morse and Michele Lee thanks to Netflix’ streaming video.  I’ve seen it before, but it’s been ages, so it was fun to compare the play with the movie.

Dinner on Wednesday night was with Karen 2L; I’d been dying for good Indian food, so she found Taj Tribeca.  It was excellent, and reminded me once again why I love Indian food.  I walked back to the hotel (mid 30s off Park) and stopped off to buy chopsticks.  I have never seen them for sale here, so I decided to take the bull by the horns and bring some home with me.  2 packages each containing 10 pairs for $8.  Not too shabby.

Thursday morning was difficult.  I woke up in time to go to Daniel’s Bagels for breakfast, went back to the hotel, packed, read the paper and had a good cry.  My former boss took me to lunch at the Capital Grille on 42nd Street, and then he escorted me to the bus stop so I could get to the airport.  I spent the entire trip to the airport fighting back tears.  Once I got to the airport, I was angry at Delta rather than sad about leaving, so I guess that’s a step in the right direction.

No, the trip wasn’t all about food. But if I can eat foods I can’t get down here while spending time with people I care about deeply then why not do it?  One thing the trip made me realize is that I really am a city girl. I’ve thought that many times since I’ve lived here in the Land of Suburban Sprawl, but it really hit home. I don’t hate it here — I like my job and I love my friends — but despite all the things to like about this place, I still do get homesick for New York.  It’s in my blood.  It’s in my soul.  It’s a part of me. I felt more alive than I have in a while. What this trip did was to guarantee that I’ll be back as soon as I’m able. Being back at work today was tough but, despite the fact that it felt like Monday, it was really Friday, so I have 2 full days to recuperate.

I hope some of you get to try out the places I recommended.  I won’t guarantee that everyone will love them (because, after all, to each his own), but I’m betting that some of you will.

It took longer than I’d have liked, but I did make several Christmas presents along the way, so I don’t feel too guilty.  The Indigo Rose Fine China project is done.  I think it’s beautiful, but you can decide for yourself.  I’m quite proud of it.

Of course, I can’t be without a project for very long, so I reached into one of the boxes o’ stash that isn’t in storage and came up with this:

It’s Summer Glory by Mary Hickmott.  I just love her designs.  The Rose Family of Great Britain piece I bought a few months ago is also one of hers. Her website is here.  You can order just the chart as a download for $6 or $7 (depending on exchange rates), but it’s difficult for people in the US to do it because they are intended to be printed on A-4 paper, which I’ve never seen here in the States.  This is not to say that it’s not available at all, it’s just that I have never seen it when shopping at Staples or Office Depot or wherever.  I’ve downloaded her charts and printed them out on ledger paper (11 1/2 x 17) because A4 is bigger in all directions than our standard letter size (legal size won’t work either).

I started Summer Glory the other day and had to rip out more than 1 square inch because I’d miscounted.  I hate frogging (“rip it” “rip it” – get it?), especially in a case like this, where the piece requires Anchor floss and it’s so hard to get Anchor down here in SW Florida.  I could easily get it up North, but not here.  It’s silly to call Tawny at Where Victoria’s Angels Stitch for one or two skeins, but I’m sure I can come up with something else to buy while I’m at it. *grin*

Happy stitching!

Having a new job means I once again have the cash to do some things I want to do, so I decided to learn to make jewelry and to improve my knitting skills.

We have a very nice little beading shop over in Lakewood Ranch called Knot Awl Beads. The selection is large, the classes are varied and employees are helpful. The quality of the tools used to make the jewelry is better than over at Michaels or JoAnn, but I have no problem going to these stores to buy beads going forward.  I’d originally bought some sparkly beads at Michaels because they go perfectly with a new outfit I’d bought for job-hunting and figured that this earring-making business was easy.  I tried and I tried, but I could not make a satisfactory earring out of the beads.  So I made arrangements with Knot Awl Beads and last night I went over there for  my first jewelry making lesson, a 1 1/2 hour class on “wire-wrapping.” This is the most basic jewelry class that allows one to turn a bead (or several beads) into earrings or a pendant.  We started with copper wire because of how soft it is, but the earrings I got to take home with me are in sterling silver.

Here they are (click on the picture to make it larger and see more detail):

I’m pretty proud of them and am wearing them now.

After class, I came home and took up the cheap tools I’d bought at Michaels in an attempt to turn the sparkly beads into a presentable pair of earrings.  I think I succeeded:

No, they’re not perfect (they’re not even as good as the earrings I made in class) but I felt completely comfortable wearing them to church this morning with the matching outfit.

Earlier in the day, I spoke with the ladies at A Good Yarn about improving my knitting skills.  They have a very extensive list of classes, but since I have a specific item I want to make, I said I’d prefer a private lesson.  I want to make the Lily camisole from Louet with Euroflax yarn in cream.  I have already knitted a shawl with the black yarn, and love that it’s machine washable.

I’m also making  cross stitched/beaded Christmas ornaments for 2 friends.  I plan to give 3 ornaments to each friend, and am working on the last of the 6.  This one should be done later in the week (they have each taken about a week to stitch), and then I will back all of them with felt, wrap them up and mail them off.  I bought felt squares for about 30 cents each from Hancock Fabrics, and will cut each one to fit the ornaments and will glue them to the back with fabric glue.

Here are the 5 ornaments I’ve completed (except for the felt backing) so far:

I like these a lot and hope that the recipients do, too.  I also bought a couple of kits to make for our tree here.  But those won’t even be started until I get these out of the house.  It’s likely that I won’t even do them until next year’s tree.

The “Fine China” piece has obviously been put aside for the duration, but I’m about 3/4 of the way through.  I’ll post a picture when it’s done.  Hopefully I’ll be able to find a framer at a reasonable price (or a frame-it-yourself place) and get that out of the way. Of course, this means my reading time has been cut back, but I’ll work it out.

I finished the audio book of The Forgotten Man and it was outstanding.  I highly recommend it.

This week’s non-fiction book is a variation on that same theme: FDR: New Deal or Raw Deal (review from the Ludwig von Mises Institute; review from the Reason Foundation), by Burton Folsom, Jr., a professor of history at Hillsdale College in Michigan.  It’s not as much of a social history as TFM is, but it’s still very interesting.  Unfortunately, it’s not an audio book, so I can’t stitch while reading it, but I am working at breaking my day into compartments and making time for the important things, namely job-searching, reading and stitching.

This week’s novel from the library is Ladies of the Lake, by Haywood Smith, who also wrote the highly entertaining The Red Hat Club and its sequel, The Red Hat Club Rides Again.

I really enjoy my volunteer work at the library.  I’m there on Fridays for 2 hours and it’s one of the few aspects of life as an unemployed person that I’ll really miss.  They like having a former librarian in the ranks of volunteers, and they’ve decided that my “job” is to maintain the music collection.  The CDs are catalogued differently than the rest of the library’s materials, and it generally does take my entire 2-hour shift to get it straightened out.  I don’t just re-shelve the discs that have been returned from patrons — I go through the entire collection every week and put it to rights. I just plug in my iPod and alphabetize the several hundred CDs in the fixture.  Some weeks are easier than others and, believe it or not, I find it to be very relaxing.  It’s not mindless work — because I really do have to pay attention — and it is very satisfying to know that anyone who wants to borrow these discs will be able to find what they want relatively quickly because everything is where it’s supposed to be. If only the rest of my life could be that organized!  

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m on the waiting list for Michael Lewis’s latest, The Big Short (I’m up to #7 now), and I’m #1 on the list for PJ O’Rourke’s latest, Don’t Vote – It Just Encourages the Bastards.

As for Emma, I am cruising through the audio book; I had an interview with a recruiter up in St. Pete on Monday, and used the opportunity to listen to a few chapters.  I listened to a couple more during the week while stitching, and will listen again today while I head up to Clearwater for the local JASNA chapter meeting.  I’ll probably make a pit stop at Silk Road Needle Arts on Central Avenue in St. Pete. Obviously I don’t have a lot of cash, but I can’t be so close and not visit.  I’d wanted to on Monday when I was up there to meet the recruiter, but Silk Road is closed on Mondays, so there went that idea.

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I’ve made a lot of progress with the “Fine China” project.  Here’s what I’ve accomplished since I first posted about it last Saturday:

As you can see, it’s got a ton of back stitching, as well as some Rhodes stitches, some Rice stitches and a bunch more Spider Webs.  I think it looks good so far, and I’m really enjoying the work.  I can hardly believe how quickly it’s going!

I’ve been unemployed more times than I care to think about, and I am very familiar with all the issues an unemployed person needs to deal with.  Of course, the most obvious issues deal with the process of finding a new job.  The shortest period of unemployment I’ve had was 3 months back in the mid-1990s.  The longest was the 10 months following my move from New York to Florida.  I’ve applied to more than a dozen jobs in the month since I have been unemployed, but it’s very tough out there.  Florida’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average, and Tampa Bay’s unemployment rate is among the highest in the state.  In short, I am potentially looking at a long jobless stretch.

So, how do I keep busy and (relatively) sane when I’m not applying for jobs? Reading and stitching, that’s how.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I spent the first couple of weeks with my comfort reads, but I’ve finally decided it’s time to get around to other books.  I’ve owned The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes since it first came out, but figured that this would be as good a time as any to really try an audio book.  So I borrowed the CD set of the book from the library and can now multi-task — I’m stitching while someone reads to me.  So far, so good.

The Forgotten Man is an excellent book.  Shlaes, who is a well-known financial writer for such publications as the Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and now Bloomberg, has written a fascinating history of the Great Depression from a completely different perspective than that which we are used to reading.  She debunks the notion that FDR and his New Deal saved the US from the Depression and, unfortunately, many of his machinations are familiar to those of us around today.  Our government is trying some of the same policies today and with the same effect — Europe is recovering from the recent recession and we are facing a double-dip.  Europe is realizing that their womb-to-tomb social policies cannot be sustained, while our government is trying to implement those same social policies here.  Shlaes’ book is riveting, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Now, on to the fun stuff.  Don’t forget to click on the photos to enlarge them.

I’ve made progress on the “Bright Spots Sampler” I’ve had for around 5 years (since there are dozens of small designs in the one chart, I’ll work on one or two at a time and feel as if I’ve accomplished something):

I’m about 3/4 done — all that’s left to do is the upper right-hand corner.

I’ve also finally finished the “12 Days of Christmas” piece from Hinzeit that I’ve mentioned before:

And, now that I’ve got the time, I’ve finally decided to start a piece that I’ve had in stash for ages.  I was still new at counted needlework when I bought the chart and, since it’s absolutely not a piece that a newbie should even contemplate doing, I put it away for whenever I felt I was capable of doing it.  As I’ve mentioned, I have plenty of stash in the storage unit but, as luck would have it, “Fine China” from Indigo Rose was in a box in the house so I decided it was time to get started on it.  Here is what it’s supposed to look like when it’s done:

Isn’t it gorgeous?  I think it’s easily one of the most beautiful pieces in my collection.

And here is what I did this afternoon:

As you can see, I’ve finished the entire inner ring, which is comprised mostly of spider webs and 2 different fern stitches.  The chart calls for a variety of silk flosses, and the colors are very rich.

Several stitchers of my acquaintance feel comfortable starting at the top of a chart and working their way down, but I am simply not capable of doing that.  Every chart I’ve ever seen says that you should start in the middle of the fabric, and that’s the way I feel most comfortable.  And, with this chart, I can’t even contemplate starting at the top.  To me, it makes sense to work on the inner ring first, and work my way out to the 4th ring.  If mine comes out even half as nice as the professionally stitched piece, I’ll be happy.

Oh, and here is a piece I finished last summer — “Blue Boats” from Lanarte (this is a stock photo — mine is not yet framed):

If I can get a job, I’ll be able to afford to frame all of these projects.  But, until then, I’ll just continue to stitch them.  I downloaded an audiobook of Emma, so I’ll be able to “read” that while I get some more stitching done.

I can’t believe I bought this (because I certainly have enough stash to last several lifetimes), but it’s just so gorgeous I couldn’t resist:

(click on the picture to enlarge it)

The pattern is called Rose Family of Great Britain and it comes from StitchDirect.com, a companion website to the British cross stitch magazine New Stitches.  Their merchandise is simply beautiful, and you can buy just a chart or an entire kit.  In addition, if you just want a chart, you can download it onto your own computer for less money.  One caveat, however: the downloadable charts are designed to print out on A-4 paper, which (for us non-metric types) is slightly larger than 8 1/2″ x 11″, so you have to fiddle with them to get them to fit.

If I ever get around to buying replacement clips for my 6″ Q-Snaps, I’ll finish my 12 Days of Christmas project.  In the  meantime, I’m working on a piece that has the words and music to the hymn “Amazing Grace.”  It’s my mother’s favorite hymn, and it’s going to be a present for her on the closest birthday to whenever I finish it.  Hopefully, it’ll be in time for next year’s birthday, because I’ll never make it for this year’s!  *crosses fingers*