Monday, October 29, 2012

Home Again!

We reached home yesterday evening, 6:15, a full day ahead of schedule.  In fact, everywhere we went on this holiday we arrived a day early.  Well, better that than a day late.  The foggy cold weather and bad road conditions today throughout Alberta made us pretty happy that we came home early!

I will try to catch up on my impressions of our holiday over the next few days.  But just for now here are a few pictures from the last week or so:

This is a waterfall feature beside the escalator in the Palazzo hotel, Las Vegas.

Our #2 son was there to speak at a convention put on by SAP, the multinational software company he works for.  He had invited us to join him for a few hours on Thursday, and since Las Vegas is just over 4 hours drive from Phoenix, we decided to include that on our trip.  We had such a good visit with him, even though it was for just one evening.

It was also interesting to see the lavish scale of this hotel.

Does this look like an Italian town square?  That's the idea but it is entirely contained within the hotel.  In fact, that hotel is joined to another one, with many floors, shops, restaurants, public places such as this, and even includes a "Venetian Canal" that meanders by this town square.  For a fee you can ride a gondola down the "canal" and back, and your gondolier will even serenade you as he poles you down the "canal."  It's really quite "Disneyish!"

We left the hotel around 9 a.m. Friday morning, and easily found our way out of Las Vegas, thanks to looking up and printing a map of the area from Google Maps.  

Our next stop was Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge, located between Las Vegas and Death Valley.  This is a stretch of the boardwalk that takes you through the area and at the same time preserves the fragile desert environment.

There are several springs here, producing many gallons of fresh water every minute.  

At one time this area was being developed for farming, and a sub-division with swimming pools and a golf course were planned, with a view to taking advantage of the supply of fresh water from the springs. 

Pretty soon the springs were running out of water, and the whole ecosystem was collapsing.  Fortunately the development was reversed, the springs protected and the Wildlife Refuge created.  Just three species had been lost: a small snail, and two others (I've forgotten which and have lost the pamphlet.)  The rest of the flora and fauna recuperated.  It's quite amazing to see the beautiful springs in the midst of the desert!

Right beside the Wildlife Refuge is a small part of Death Valley, not contiguous with the main valley.  This part is protection around a unique feature: a very small pool at the base of a rocky cliff.  In this picture you are looking down about 45 feet through the cleft in the rock to the pool.  Sorry there is no frame of reference to give you an idea of its size.  It is not big, and again I don't have the pamphlet anymore.  You can look it up online, I'm sure.  It's called "Devil's Hole." 

The interesting thing about this pool is that it seemingly has no bottom.  It has been explored to a depth of 500 feet and no bottom has been found.

The other interesting thing about Devil's Hole is that when there is an earthquake, even quite far away, but deep in the earth, this calm, small pool becomes terribly roiled.  Waves up to 2 feet high slosh back and forth for some time.

In the visitor centre there is a film of this phenomenon, caught
on film by someone who just happened by very rare chance, to be there where it was happening.

The whole place is extremely well fenced.  This is the walkway leading to the viewing area.  The reason for all the security is that in 1965 four young men from Las Vegas breached the fence and went scuba diving in the Hole.  Two of them were never found again.  So the Park Service is doing its best to prevent a tragedy like that from ever happening again.

O.K.  That's enough for tonight.  Tomorrow (or later this week) we will travel on to Death Valley.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Catching Up....

One week ago today we left Kanab, Utah at 9 in the morning for the last leg of our trip to Phoenix.  We had told my sister that we would arrive on Sunday in the afternoon.  Now it appeared that we were way ahead of schedule.  We emailed her from Kanab, and that worked out fine.

From Kanab we drove south on 89A, the scenic route which went through some beautiful scenery.  It was a high mountain road, and took us through a wonderful Ponderosa Pine forest.  Later I learned from Sis that this is the largest stand of Ponderosa Pine left in the U.S.  Beautiful!

South of there we caught Interstate 17 south from Flagstaff.  That was an interesting drive, descending by thousands of feet.  There were markers beside the road, telling you the rate of descent toward lower elevations.

There was lots of lovely scenery, including these red cliffs along the way.

We hurried a bit because they were scheduled to go to a work bee at their church at 3 p.m.  We figured we'd get there just before they left.   But we had a surprise when we registered at the gate of their community: it was only 1:49 p.m.  We had forgotten that Arizona does not go onto Daylight Savings Time, so we had just gained an hour.

We had a nice little visit with them before they went off to work.  Then we settled into their guest house, and started on our list of what had to be accomplished.  First off: we visited the small condo we recently bought in their gated village.  I was very pleased by what we saw, though I had seen lots of photos on the net earlier.  The furniture was of high quality.  I tried out the bed, and found it had a very good spring and mattress.  The sectional couch is nice and firm.  Everything is in fine shape.  We are very pleased with our purchase.

The next few days we worked hard on arrangements: cleaning the mouldy fridge (that had been left closed when the power was turned off), getting the electricity turned on, making arrangements for the real estate agent to find a renter for this winter.

All too soon our time was up.  The last evening I gave dear Sis a perm, and that turned out very well.

Thursday morning we left and headed for Las Vegas where we planned to see our #2 son who was speaking at a huge conference there.  Thanks to Google Maps we had no trouble finding the Palazzo, the hotel where he was staying.  This is an enormous fabulous hotel.  Here's the front desk and the fountain in the lobby.

More catching up tomorrow, hopefully!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Change of Season

Snow fell steadily all day Wednesday, but not much was sticking, as the ground was still quite warm.

Thursday morning we got up early, even before the 6 am alarm clock rang.  We had packed most of what we were taking along on our trip the night before, and just added the things from the fridge in the morning.  Made sure to unplug the coffee pot, etc.  Turned off the water and turned down the heat.  By 7:45 a.m. we were ready to go, precisely on schedule.

The roads were not so good, slushy and messy.  By the time we were south of Vulcan, the roads had cleared and were fine from there on.

We stopped in Lethbridge regarding a bit of business for about 45 minutes, and waited at the U.S. border for about 40 minutes in a slow moving line.  Finally cleared and headed south on I 15.  That's a good, divided highway all the way, with not much traffic through Montana.

Making good time, we kept on going, and finally stopped at Idaho Falls, Idaho at 8:15 p.m.  We'd been driving in the dark for the last hour, and that was not too comfortable, especially when signs saying "Wild Game Crossing" kept popping up. But we were blest with a safe drive, and made it safely to Idaho Falls where we checked into a Motel 6.

Motel 6 is one we often stop at--very reasonable rates (this was only $59 for a room for two seniors, with two beds, and all the necessary amenities), and a handy book that gives you precise directions for finding the motel in an unfamiliar city.

We had a good rest, very quiet overnight, and after a breakfast of homemade muffins which I had brought along, set off again about 8:30 a.m.

Today we had rain off and on.  Approaching Salt Lake City the traffic increased significantly.  I am thankful that Jim is comfortable driving in that situation, and I help by reading the map, the roadside signs, and letting him know where we need to change lanes, or look for an exit, etc.  We did take I 215 around Salt Lake City, and that worked quite well.

We did find that throughout Utah there was a lot of obstruction of lanes on the highway.  Many miles went by with certain lanes closed off, but without evidence of active construction going on.  However, the traffic usually moved quite well.

South of Salt Lake City I drove for a while, but that was the time of a really heavy downpour.  The windshield wipers went full speed for about 45 minutes.  In spite of a speed limit of 75 mph, I was usually driving about 55 or 60 mph, just because of the heavy rain.

After about two hours Jim took over the driving again, just as we turned east onto
I 70.  The rain had let up quite a bit, and was now just showers, sometimes light, sometimes heavy, sometimes even sun.

We turned south onto Hwy 89, and soon came upon this very unusual mountain:
Look closely at the sign, and you will see that this is "The Big Rock Candy Mountain!"  Do you know that delightful kid's song?  Well, here, apparently is THE REAL THING!!  Too bad the sun wasn't shining to reveal the beautiful bright yellow colours!

Hwy 89 south of I 70 has lots of beautiful scenery.  It's not a fast highway, although there were several drivers who wanted it to be quite fast, including on double unit fuel truck that rode our bumper until we moved over and simply let him pass.  It's safer that way!

Here's the first snow on the mountains that we saw, going south on Hwy 89.

We had showers, light or heavy, and some sunny breaks all day today.  Our wipers got a workout!

But, my, what terrific cloudscapes there were at times!  It was a good drive, and we appreciated being closer to scenery on a lesser highway than one of the Interstates, though they are very good for getting somewhere in a hurry.

We got as far as Kanab, Utah where we found a nice room in a Comfort Inn at an exorbitant price: more than twice as much as last night at the Motel 6, with really not much more in the way of amenities.  Oh well, we'll enjoy it here, have a good sleep (hopefully) and, after a hot breakfast provided by the Comfort Inn be on our way to Phoenix.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Missed Goal

I mentioned earlier that one goal for September was to finish the sweater I was knitting.  Well, I missed that goal by a mile.  At that time the back and two fronts were finished and I was starting on the first sleeve.  That sleeve is only about three inches long today.  It seemed I was too preoccupied while I was getting the violin program and group going again to do much knitting.  Instead, I read several books and did lots of crossword puzzles.  Those are good activities for "smoothing out the brain" before going to bed!

But I also resolved that I am going to finish several quilting projects before beginning any new ones.  And yesterday I took the last stitches in this beauty.

This quilt was a block of the month our local club did two years ago.  I bought all new material for this, and keyed it all to the background.  The background is quite yellow, which is not at all my usual choice, but it's good to do something outside your regular boundaries once in a while.

Most of the other women put the star blocks into sashing, making it a very "blocked off" quilt.  I had decided I wanted the stars to "float" on the background, so I made the sashing the same fabric as the backgrounds in each block.

Because this is a quilt for the Dear One, I planned to hand quilt it.  After hand basting the whole quilt in about 6" squares I found the background fabric was too dense to hand quilt.  I could get only one or at the most, two stitches on the needles at once.  Usually you aim for at least four, possibly five or even six stitches on the needle before you pull it through.  I had to give up the idea of hand quilting.

Since the quilt was quit carefully basted in small sections, I thought to go ahead and machine quilt it without further preparation.  I stitched by machine around the outline of each of the 12 stars.  Then I turned it over and was dismayed to see the back wrinkled badly.  UNACCEPTABLE!!!

I laboriously picked out all the machine and hand stitching.  That took several hours.  Then came a period of neglect.

Recently I took it out of the "pending" file and spray basted the three layers together.  Once a quilt is spray basted (it's a glue spray) the layers will not shift; it's very secure.  So I took it to the machine and quilted, following (without thinking!) the seam lines of all the sashing.  When that was finished I laid it on the dining room table and had a look.   DISASTER!!!  Also unacceptable!!!

Why?  Because machine quilting it along those lines made the blocks stand out again.  The stars no longer "floated" on the background.  What to do?

Well, if you're really anal about how your quilts turn out, and I was determined that this was going to be special because it's for a special person, you simply start the process of removing all the stitches you just sewed on.  And, yes, it took many hours of peering through a magnifying glass with an Ott light illuminating the field of stitching.  But in the end, the stitches are all removed, including all the little stray bits of thread.

Now it was ready a fourth time for the quilting process (as distinct from the sewing blocks process).  This time I outline stitched around each star, checking once in a while for wrinkles.  There were none.  When all the stars were outlined, I took a deep breath and started meander quilting between the stars.  That process went surprisingly well, and in two sessions of a few hours each, the quilt was completely quilted.

The last step is sewing on the binding, pressing it over to the back side, and hand stitching it down with invisible stitches on the back.

It's FINISHED!!!!   I'm so glad!  Now to get busy on the next project from the stack in the sewing room closet.