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Just Julia





June 26th, 2007

Quilt Turning

I attended my first quilt turning last night as Day 1 of the quilt workshop I am attending at NCCAT. I was stunned and amazed at the number of quilts and the variety and history of the quilts.

What is a quilt turning? When you attend one you find yourself seated around a bed. On it are lots of quilts with the top one upside down. Each quilt is then shown and the history of the quilt is told. This one started off with about 20 or so antique quilts. These were not quilts with the new definition of 25 years old or older but rather quilts ranging in age from about 60 years old to over 100 years old. Most were made in the mountains and had hand carded cotton as batting. You could read the label on one of the sacks that made up the backing evening. This category was necessity quilts. Many of the quilts were made from scraps of cloth and whatever you could find to use. Some of the older ones had bindings that were frayed and weak and different colors that had thinned. You could tell where someone made a quilt and one particular color was weaker than the rest. One had a thin layer of muslim applied over the top of the weak piece so you could still see it but to reduce the possibility of further deterioration.

The next section of quilts were shop quilts. These were ones that were designed to be on display in quilt shops to tell you what was available. The variety of quilts with different uses were amazing. There were a lot of quilts that were designed for things like table runners, mantel pieces, wall displays, in addition to bed toppers and full size quilts. It definitely gives you time to think about the variety that is out there and what you can do with different types of material to make a quilt.

The last section was almost exclusively quilts made by the group that made the presentation. There were examples where as a group they had each done a particular type of quilt and then assembled them to their own desires. The quilts could look completely different from the same set of directions. In addition we saw where they would trade squares and using the same squares come up with completely different designs. It was wonderful.

I am guessing that there were over 60 quilts that were shared. Each of the quilts came with a story about who owned it, who made it or where it was found, and the history behind the quilt as well as a description about the era when that type of quilt was made and what was used to make the quilt.

All in all, this gives us a very humbling introduction to the art of quilting. I am looking forward to continuing on my first quilt and designing future quilts.

June 25th, 2007

Prius Mountain Driving

After driving my Prius for two years I had my first real test of how capable the car is when tested against the mountians. I was not sure how well it would hold up and if the battery would completely drain. I have had a couple instances in the past when the battery has drained significantly. Each time it has involved one of the car washes where the car rolls through and I neglected to turn off the AC, lights, radio, and everything else that can drain a battery.

I traveled across North Carolina on Interstate 40. I filled my tank up in Hickory and then drove across the Eastern Continental Divide and on past Asheville and down the other side to Cullowhee. When I reached the highest point I was down to 42 miles per gallon. By the time I had arrived on the other side my average was 48 miles per gallon. Going straight up a mountain I traveled at 20 MPG for the lowest noted mileage. Of course, this balanced out on the downhill side at 99 miles per gallon.

This test was very important for me as next month I will be driving the car fully loaded. This trip it was with no passengers but loaded with suitcases, sewing machine, and other things to fill the very back end. The next trip will completely fill the back end with cartons and paper for a seminar. I will be carrying four large boxes that will take up most of the back end. The extra weight should impact the mileage significantly.

This Prius is the 2005 model which does not get the 60 miles per gallon of the new ones. It is suppose to average around 50 miles per gallon and I am usually at 50 or a bit higher. In fact, traveling from the coast to Hickory I averaged 53 miles per gallon.

What is my reaction to the Prius? I love it. I have been driving it for 25,000 miles. I carpool and when it is my turn to drive my friends say they have just as much leg room as in the SUVs that they drive. I consistently get great gas mileage. A few times in the winter I have dropped down to 46 MPG but usually I am still at 50 or better. I would say that for the total miles on the car I have probably averaged around 51 or 52 MPG. This is a combination of highway driving and city driving. I primarily drive routes with 50 MPH speed limits or higher and just about 5 miles per day slower. It continues to perform well. The maintenance (all scheduled maintenance has been performed) has been relatively simple and inexpensive. The only problem has been tires. I have had to replace one tire twice. One time was do to picking up nails and the other time I had a blowout to a certain degree. One minute I am driving down the interstate at 70 MPH and the next I hear a whop, whop, whop sound. I looked up to see if there was a helicopter. No signs of a helicopter so I pulled over and found a completely flat tire. There was a very soft spot on the side of the tire. I had no handling problems throughout this and luckily I managed to avoid trashing the rim. I was impressed that the car stayed right on the road and did not veer at all. I was so surprised to see that it went from normal to flat in less than a minute. This tire was a replacement tire and not one that came with the car. I do think that do to the small size of the tires that they go flat much faster than the old style of tires.

All in all I am extremely happy with the performance. To give you an idea of how pleased I am I believe my hubby plans to buy the 2008 model when they become available.

April 17th, 2007

Traveling in Cancun

We took our big vacation to Cancun this past week. It was a wonderful trip. Hubby and I went on our first vacation in 25 years that did not involve family, running, moving, or a conference. We should definitely do it more often.

In my last entry I talked about Me Cancun, the hotel where we stayed. Today I will discuss getting around Cancun and money. There are a number of things to keep in mind if you have not visited another country before.

Airport to Hotel: The first issue will be getting to your hotel. As you walk out of customs you will be stunned by the number of folks looking for your business and taking you to your hotel. If you have done your work in advance, you will have a ride waiting on you and can walk right past the throngs of folks to your ride. If you have arranged your ride, walk right on out to the sidewalk out front. All the vans and buses taking folks to their hotels pick up pre-arranged rides out front. Mine was all the way to the front of the sidewalk. It cost about $16 for the two of us to our hotel. We walked out to the front, connected with our agency, waited about five minutes and then we were on our way. They stopped at one place before ours so it did not take long at all. Once we arrived at the hotel and checked in, we went back down to the lobby and verified with a representative the pick-up time for our return trip. On our return trip, we were the first picked up and then we rode while two other families were picked up. We still arrived in plenty of time for our flight. The drivers do expect to be tipped. The driver to the hotel hinted that $5 was appropriate. He did this by putting a $5 under his sign about tips.

Bus: If you want to go places from your hotel, walk out front and look for the bus stop. They are every few hotels along the strip, if not closer together. It cost 6 1/2 pesos -- the equivalent of about $.60 each way. The signs on the front of the bus tell you if they are going downtown, to the hotel strip, or to Wal Mart. Just get on the one that works for you.

Taxi: The hotels usually have taxis sitting out front. Check with the hotel to find out what an appropriate fee would be for where you want to go. Then negotiate that fee with the taxi driver before you get in the taxi. There are no meters or pre-determined rates. It is an area where negotiating is expected.

Walking: Walking is cheap. Look at the maps and see how far it is to where you want to visit. Sidewalks seem to run through the entire hotel strip. If you are in good shape, it is nothing to walk around downtown, around the Mercato 28, and over to Wal-Mart without riding a bus. From our hotel we walked to La Isla each night for dinner and down to the Flamingo Shopping area. Both were less than 1/4 mile away. Even at night, security did not seem to be an issue. The only issue was uneven sidewalks and the klutz factor of yours truly.

Money: Money will be a primary concern. I had read to take about $100 in ones for tips. I came home with a good chunk of that. At the airport, walk right past the American Express booth and out to the ATM machines to get pesos. The American Express booth gives the lowest exchange rate around. We discovered that all shops would take dollars. Most gave the same exchange rate as an ATM. You would get your change back in pesos, however. When we traveled away from Cancun, we used pesos exclusively.

When prices are printed on receipts or given, a single line through a dollar sign means pesos and two lines means dollars. If you don't keep that in mind you will be concerned when you see an extra zero on your receipt. If you are near La Isla, their ATMs are located in the hallway towards the parking garage on the end by the Cinema. Make sure you pay attention to the difference for pesos and dollars. I thought I was requesting $200 but instead I got 200 pesos - or about 20 dollars. My bank said they charge the current exchange rate with a one percent fee added on for foreign transactions. You pay the fee whether you are paying in dollars or pesos. That gives you a better rate so check with your bank before you go!

April 15th, 2007

Me Cancun

Cancun is a fun town to visit but there are so many choices to make! It makes you dizzy just to pick out a hotel. What you get depends upon what you want and your budget. I was looking for something upscale, not American, and with a comfortable bed and quiet rooms. That is a tall order. After going through all the reviews and looking at what people had written on sites such as expedia I knew it was a very tall order. I finally decided to give Me Cancun a try. The one thing going against this hotel was I could find zero reviews of it. I did look at their web site a lot and the parent company's site. I liked what I saw.

This could very well have been taken of our room. Everything matches. It was unbelievable how posh the hotel was. A few details about the hotel.

1. The loby goes on forever. It is very long with lots of places to sit and visit or just watch the ocean.
2. There is artwork everywhere. They had two sculptures in the room. One on the shelf in the bedroom area and one in the bathroom. There was even sculptures on our 9th floor by the elevators. Attention to detail is everywhere.
3. The hotel smelled good. As I walked in the first day I caught a whiff of a scent tht led me to believe they had some type of automatic air freshener in the lobby. I never noticed them again but had no problems with smell anywhere. Nor did I have any allergy problems.
4. They have three pools out back. There is a large "kiddy pool", a circular adult pool, and another adult pool suitable for swimming laps. There were plenty of chairs and recliners around the pool. You could reserve a cabana if you wanted but I never had an instance where there was not something available that suited my preferences.
5. Everything was very clean. Maid service came to our room three times a day. In the morning they cleaned and replaced towels and bedding. They even moved furniture each day as they cleaned. In the afternoon they come back and replace towels as needed and remake beds as needed. In the evening they do their turn down service with a chocolate left on each side of the bed. I watched them clean one day. They were efficient and thorough. They worked hard.
6. You can hear people talk in the hallway and close doors. You won't notice it much though unless it happens while you are trying to go to sleep. After the first night I never noticed it again during the night. If you want ultra quiet request a room at the ends of the halls.
7. There are zero noisy neighbors around the hotel. La Isla is a sort walk away but this is a family area - not discos and bars. Construction is going on next to the hotel on both sides. They do not work at night and it was not disruptive even during the day.
8. They actually have free internet (I picked up a signal on my PDA on the 9th floor) and they have eight computers by the Internet bar. You can pick up a small cup of coffe there for under 50 cents. They even steam your milk for you.
9. Expect to use bellboys coming and going. It is just a part of life. They will be given your key to show yoy to your room on the first day. On the last day they will babysit your suitcases from when you come downstairs until your shuttle arrives. That leaves you free to enjoy your last remaining time while there.
10. The bathrooms come stocked with Aveada products. They provide bar soaps, liquid soaps, shampoo, conditioner and lotion.
11. They also provide a hair dryer, make up mirror and a bathroom scale. The shower comes with a rain shower type head in the ceiling and another shower head on the wall that is the kind you can detach and hold. You can run both shower heads at the same time. I recommend you turn the water on for five minutes before you need it because it does take a while for the hot water to arrive. Once it arrives, it lasts.
12. The room safe requires you use your room key the first time and program it with wht you want twice. Then it works just by entering the combination you selected.
13. Ocean temperatures are nice. Watch out for the water in the ocean. You can come home with pets from the ocean.
14. They do have a table near the Internet area where they ask you to sign up for a tour. They will reward you in one way or another. Get specifically what you want before you agree. I heard some radically different rewards for listening to their 90 minute presentation. Once you tell them no they leave you alone - they seem to be able to sense when it is your first day there and your first trip.
15. The bus stops out from on either the left or right side of the hotel. A grand total of 6.5 pesos gets you a ride. This is about $.60. Very cheap. You can catch a bus up and down the hotel row, to the old part of town or to Wal Mart.
16. I had a maintenance request. It was fixed in 10 minutes. It was something they had not caught from where they had opened a few months before.

The main point of all this is "Would I stay here again?" The short answer is yes. The long answer is Yes, I would stay here before I stayed anywhere else in Cancun. We loved it here and found it to be very relaxing and enjoyable. Things we did not check out though were the two restaurants, the fitness room, and the spa. The staff is extremely pleasant, they have a good command of English, and they are eager to please.

This is a shot of the view from ocean view rooms:

March 5th, 2007

Duct Tape

Duct tape is such wonderful stuff. I just used the old standard duct tape to seal off a tear in the cover for the hot tub. It got me back to thinking of my most creative use of duct tape. Now that we are no longer limited to gray, it has even more uses than ever.

Two years ago I was driving my daughter's car down to her college to leave for her upon her return. Just half an hour after I began my journey south, some small creature darted out across the road in front of me in the dark. I can't think of the name of the creature but it resembles a rat but has a fancy name and thrives in the marshes. I continued on all that day and upon arrival I checked out the front bumper. Down underneath close to the ground is a decorative bar that runs across the front of the car well below the bumper. It was completely broken in half. As I unloaded the car I found my daughter's clear duct tape.

Can you guess the result? Of course, what would any normal gal do? I duct taped her bumper back together. It has been almost two full years now and nobody has noticed it unless I have specifically pointed it out to them. I'm sure it would cost at least $1000 minimum to replace the whole bumper section and probably closer to $2000. I figure that $2 worth of duct tape has worked just fine. I'm even picky about how my cars look but this is so unnoticeable that it does not bother me. It just goes to show that duct tape can be a gal's best friend as well as man's best friend.

February 24th, 2007

Can you believe that Sprint told me my return box would arrive in 3 to 5 days and when I called 8 days later they said "It's going to take 3 to 5 business days." I then explained that it was significantly over that. They went and searched and could not find any tracking on it going out.

I received a promise of a phone call the next day with the status. No phone call of course. But I did go home and find 2 return packages. Can you guess it? Yes, they both had the same postmark date. Anyone playing any games there?

I immediately packaged up the phone and called to have it picked up. It went out yesterday. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to whether or not they process it without billing me? I'm afraid to see what happens next.

Hopefully this is the end of it all and life can return to normal. I'm not placing any bets though.

February 17th, 2007

Can you guess the continuation of this saga? You bet! Approximately 6 days later I went out my front door to get my morning paper. What did I almost trip over? A phone from Sprint. It appears they decided to ship the phone after all. To top it off they opened a new account for me! Then they assigned a phone number from halfway across the country from where I live. I guess they meant that when they cancelled the phone order, they meant they delayed that overnight delivery by almost a week. How sad.

Now I sit waiting for the return box so I can send it back. The latest promise is that I will not be charged a thing for this phone. Can you imagine?

February 6th, 2007

Sprint Customer Service

Ever have one of those phone calls that starts going downhill right after you dial the number?  My phone call last night ranks up there as my all time worst experience with "customer service"!  When I started the call little did I know I would be on the line for one hour and 16 minutes and 38 seconds.   It reached the point where I was fearful of the consequences should I give up and hang up.  Here's the abbreviated version:

Phone call to Sprint:

Me:  Good evening

Sprint:  How can we help?

Me:  I would like to replace a phone.

Sprint.  We have many models to choose from.

Me:  I want the Samsung 600 model.

Sprint:  Very  nice model.  Good selection.  Let me help with that.

Me:  There's one catch - it depends upon the price.

Sprint:  Let me check the records to see if you qualify for replacement rebate.

Me:  I only qualify for $75 until August when it goes to $150.

Sprint.  We can fix that.  Phone is $299 with $150 rebate and $75 rebate if we add a new line.

Me:  I already have five.  That's the max on a plan.

Sprint.  No problem.  We can fix.  Why you no want new line?

Me:  The fifth line I added a year ago is still being billed wrong.

Sprint:  We can give $50 credit to lower price and fix bill.

Me:  Ok.

Sprint.  We must record.  Let me read my five minute script in very singsong rushed English so you can not understand it.

Me:  Ok.

Sprint........  Reads script, finishes job.  I now transfer you to account services to fix your phone bill.

Me:  Ok... Listening to music for five minutes.

Sprint:  Let me help you.  You can not have a sixth line - you can only add another plan.

Me:  No thanks.  That's a deal stopper.  I do not want another phone.  Please cancel request for new phone.

Sprint:  No problem.  Let me fix things in order so we don't miss anything.

Me:  Thinking to self, someone who wants to fix things right.

Music playing:   One half hour later of being on hold for five minutes at a time as problems worked on.

Sprint.  Now that we have fixed that line I am afraid I must transfer you back to sales to cancel the order.

Me:  Please tell me you can fix it.

Sprint:  I  am sorry but you will have to go back to customer service and you probably won't get Tammy this time.

Me:  Thank you.

Sprint:  (Talking through a tube from another country) Welcome to Sprint Sales.  How may I help?

Me:  I can't hear you.  Would you please talk louder.

Sprint:  I help you.

Me:  I can't hear you.  Please speak up.

Sprint:  I no talk louder.  Volume all the way up.

Me:  I need to cancel the phone I just ordered.

Sprint:  I can't do that.

Me:  I need to cancel the phone I just ordered.

Sprint:  You want new plan?

Me:  Please cancel the Samsung 600 I just ordered.

(Repeat above dialog for ten minutes.)

Sprint:  I must transfer you to account services.

Me:  Thinking to self, here we go again.

Sprint:  I understand you want to disconnect your phone xxxxxxx.

Me:  No I want to cancel the order for a new phone.

Sprint.  They said you want to cancel this number.

Me:  No that is husband's number.  Please don't.

Sprint:  What phone do you want to cancel?

Me:  The Samsung 600 I ordered 102 minutes ago on this same phone call.

Sprint:  That order did not process.

Me:  What if it shows up anyway.

Sprint:  Impossible.  But if it does, call and we will send you a free shipping package to return it.

Me:  Ok.  I guess I will have to take your word for it.

Sprint.  I promise you will not receive a phone.

Me.  Ok.

Sprint:  Have I resolved your problem today?

Me:  I hope so.

Sprint:  Thank you for calling Sprint.

Me:  Groaning and curling up under the covers as it is now past my bedtime. 

And if that was not enough, the next day:

Home answering machine

I need to speak with Julia.   This is rumble, rumble rumble sing song undistinquishale blur from Sprint.  I need to discuss your order for a phone with reference number...........  (Me groaning because that is the confirmation number before the cancellation).    Please call me at this long distance British Columiba numnber: 604.xxxx.xxxxx.

Hubby's cell phone:

I need to speak with Julia.   This is rumble, rumble rumble sing song undistinquishale blur from Sprint.  I need to discuss your order for a phone with reference number...........  (Me groaning because that is the confirmation number before the cancellation).    Please call me at this long distance British Columbia number: 604.xxxx.xxxxx.


Now without caller ID I would have no idea of the phone number.  I have no idea of the name.   What do I do/? I think I will sit and wait for the package to arrive and then call to return it.  What do you think the odds are that the canceled phone willl arrive?

To top it all I logged into their website tonight and looked at my agreement.  They took the phone where they had overbilled me for the past year and extended the contract for two year's from today's date.  How is that for nerve?  That means it will cost me $200 if I cancel it after the original contract date.  Yikes!

And to think they have me listed as a preferred customer due to history and long term business as well as credit rating.  I wonder how they treat the business they don't want.  

January 16th, 2007

The Future of Libraries

Are our libraries doomed?  What is the future of libraries in America?

As I was growing up the library was someplace where I would ride my bike to go visit.  It did not matter that it was 3 or 4 miles to the library.   I was there at least once every two weeks and would take home a stack of books.  I must admit that today I do not visit the library that often.  any time I am going on an extended road trip I swing by the library and check out books on CD.  That gives me something to listen to on the road.  I tend to buy books online because our local library has a very limited selection of books in my interest areas.  I have tried donating my books that have been read once and are current releases but they simply put the books out for their book sales and never consider adding them to the books on the shelves.

Research for classes was always done at the library.  Where is that research done now?  I'm sure you have guessed that Internet sources are now probably the primary source of reference material for articles.  What's worse, most students don't understand the difference between cutting and pasting and summarizing to put it in their own words.  It takes more work to read something and put it in your own words than to pull it from the internet.  Then again, you have to check the validity of your sources and stop to look to see where they obtained their information.  How many folks take the time to do that?  Not as many as you might think.  When I taught classes on Internet research methods I always made the students list all their sources and send me the report electronically so I could click on the links and compare easily when it did not look like their handwriting.

When I go into the local library, where do you think I see the most people?  I'm sure you guessed correctly.  I always see all the computers in use and a line of folks waiting to use them.  I will see a few in the aisles looking at books but most of them are senior citizens.  I just polled my students and only one student had visited the library this year on his own.  One student that reads a lot indicated he had not visited the library in a long time! 

Colleges are now focusing on computers and not the actual stacks of books.  Think of all those books going to waste for lack of readers.  I'm sorry but it is just not the same thing to pull up a book on a computer as to curl up with a good book.  The joy of reading for pleasure is disappearing being replaced with televisions, video games and computers.  I enjoy all of those things but they really can not replace the knowledge gained through reading.  There have been many reports out there about the difference in vocabulary of children who read and those who don't read.  It is amazing. 

If we don't get our youth hooked on the joy of reading then I think libraries will become a seldom used resource unless they adapt to the computer age.  Computers as the center focus of a library is not what I want but it appears to be successful.  A friend sent me an articletoday about the Austin libraries.  The article requires registration to view but the main point I gained from it was that kids were flocking to the library - but it was to play video games, cruise the internet, and such.  It does mention that they have books but the focus was the games, computers and a safe place to hang out.  Hopefully there are folks there steering them towards the books.  I imagine this type of library is what the future will be for successful libraries. 

Oh to curl up with a good book!

January 14th, 2007

It appears that Vista has finally reared its head and made itself known to the world.  Something very strange is going on here.  I can't think of anyone I know that is racing to get it.  I know they are doing the releases in stages but I don't know anyone planning to go out and buy.   I think those that are going to stick with Microsoft are waiting until they buy there next computer.  Perhaps I am jumping the gun here?  I don't know.

What I am seeing happen all around me is folks rushing to Macs.  Perhaps I am more sensitive to Macs than I was in the past but I do not think that is the case.  Folks I know that have lived in the PC realm there entire lives are adding Macs.  I have become a Mac household.  We have one tired, Windows shuttle sitting on a shelf.  I fear it is gathering dust.  At least I have a feather duster to go around and dust it once in a while.  Hubby does not want to let go of it but he has not turned it on since two weeks after he got his iMac.   I think he really enjoys that things just work and he does not have to know anything about the computers.

That basic fact is the difference between a Mac and a Linux computer.  Linux computers are to sooth our exploring geekiness. On the other hand, Macs are for those that don't want to be worried about a ton of updates.  We all know that updates are a part of life and no program is perfect.  However, that does not mean that we want to be bombarded with updates.  Nor do we want to be forced to buy a new computer because our OS is now obsolete. 

Three years ago I would not consider anything but a PC and Windows.  Then I discovered Linux.  My love affair with Linux lasted a couple of years.  I had fun spending hours installing programs, trying different distros, picking my favorites and supporting them.  Now I find that my computer is a tool I use to have fun playing games, cruising the internet, contacting friends.  I don't find myself spending any time however maintaining or updating my computer.

What that means quiet simply is I have rediscovered how to have a full life without the computer as a focal point in my life.
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