Thursday, February 28, 2013

Poland: Auschwitz, Birkenau & Krakow.

The effects of WWII are still very evident in Krakow. I don't know how to explain it, but it's a feeling in the city, in the face of the buildings.

We visited the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps during out stay. It was difficult, heavy, and surreal. It was important.

I'm struggling to fully detail what it was to visit. I'm thinking of a list of adjectives, and I'm worried that they won't relay the impact by themselves. It was haunting.

We learned from our walking tour (see below) that in November 1939, some time after the German Nazis decided that they wanted to make Poland a nation of slaves, they organized a meeting, invited all of the professors and intellectual leaders. They knew that to make a country of slaves, you had to take away the education. At this meeting, the Nazis told the Polish professors and scholars that they had offended them, and then shipped them off to concentration camps. This was early in the war, and Italy and Slovenia helped Poland to persuade the Nazis to release the professors. The Jewish professors were not allowed out, and many elderly had already died in the inhumane conditions. The Nazis organized another meeting of this sort, months after the release, and chose to execute all of the professors and scholars immediately, rather than deal with the bargaining. After the war, Poland suffered the loss of six million residents, of which three million were Jewish.

It's important that we understand the devastation and ensure it doesn't happen again.

Let's switch gears. On our last day in Krakow, we took a free walking tour from the group. Essentially, we did this trip backwards. I would recommend looking them up if you're in a new city. the tours are full of factoids and are free, but remember that the guides rely on tips. Just a warning so things don't get awkward when they're hinting.  

We toured old Krakow. There was St. Mary'c church, a cornerstone in one of the largest and oldest main square in Europe.

And there was the Florian gate, one of the main entrances to the once-walled city.

The architecture of the city was impressive. Poland's had so many periods of occupation, and all have left their mark, through an architectural design or through evidence of decay.

We visited some areas of Pope John Paul II's life, too. I'm not especially religious, but I was baptized Catholic and grew up with Polish Catholic grandparents that love John Paul. I admire him for the strength he gave Poland during their time under communist rule. Our guide recounted a story of him opening his window in the place he was saying to talk with the people that had gathered. He said, "You don't have to be afraid." This was in the midst of Poland's time under communist rule, when everyone was afraid. Many credit him for changing the thinking of the people from an everyone-against-each-other mentality to a we-are-stronger-together thought. It's hard to pinpoint a tipping point, but that line may have made all the difference in moving Poland toward freedom.

I'm bouncing around on this, but it's hard to transition without telling you what we'll be seeing at our next tour stop.

Wawel Castle is more of a fortress than a royal residence, but impressive nonetheless.

Poland had such a turbulent history that there wasn't much time for royals to reign and fully establish a legacy. The cathedral within the castle is impressive, though, and demonstrates the impact that Catholicism has always had on the country.

I'd be a failure if I didn't mention the dragon. Legend has it that a dragon used to live under the castle. The dragon didn't terrorize the city so long as he was offered a virgin once a week. The details seem a little cloudy there. The time came when the only virgin left was the king's daughter, and he wasn't keen on offering her up. So he promised her hand in marriage to anyone that could defeat the dragon. Someone had the idea of feeding the dragon a sheep laced with explosives so that the dragon would internally combust. The dragon breathed fire, though, so again, the details are a little cloudy. The dragon bit the bait, literally, and then started to feel the rumblings in his belly. Did that sound like a line out of Winnie the Pooh? He crawled over to the river and started to take large gulps of water until he eventually combusted. I'm really not sure how that happened. 

That's the source of Krakow's probably unofficial motto: Don't drink too much.

Up next: Polish treasures! That's also known as shopping, but here's the background. Jump back to see the first day in Poland here.  

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pinterest Challenge: Desk Dilemmas & Design

It's that time again...

Once a season, Sherry Petersik of Young House Love and Katie Bower of Bower Power issued a challenge to the craft-o-sphere to stop pinning, momentarily, and to start doing. It's enough to have me leap out of my regularly scheduled blogging to join in and check something off of the Pinterest pin board. 

This isn't sponsored by Pinterest, it's just a challenge that Katie dreamed up to stop everyone from "pinning" and to start "doing." So you pick something that you've pinned, give a shout out to its original source (which may require a bit of digging - darn those 'ghost' pins!), then do it yourself with your own spin. Then share so everyone can seal-clap along with your accomplishment!

In the past, I've made a braided hexnut bracelet, a felt ruffle pillow, a cross-stitch out of meaningful dates, and a set of secret boxes to hide the router and cable modem. This time around, I knew I wanted to fix something, rather than create something entirely new. In full disclosure, I did this before I hopped the country, have been meaning to update you all, and this challenge is the kick in the rear to do that.

I found the clean white parson's desk in the price of my dreams a while back. It was the type of love where I didn't want to use my desk, though, for fear of a rogue Sharpie line or other spastic gesture that would cause destruction. I have these irrational fears that my hands will suddenly become detached from my brain and do their own drawings. I have the same fear that I'll jump off the metro platform sometimes, just to see what it's like down there. Despite my forbearance of said desk, little, inconspicuous marks still happened, and I obsessed over them.

You couldn't see the marks unless the sun was just right, so they really weren't conspicuous at all. But in my head, they were glaringly obvious. I tried to fix them with few techniques (nail polish remover, painting on white nail polish, painting on some high gloss clear spray), then stopped before further debauchery. I considered a few alternatives: painting the top of the desk a darker color (maybe charcoal), painting stripes or some pattern on the top, decoupaging the top with postcards and mementos. 

Found via Pinterest, originally from here.

 Found via Pinterest, originally from here.

I decided on something a little less permanent, though. So off I skipped drove to JoAnn's. As usual, my fabric-loving indecisive self was torn between two fabrics. One was blue and more of a damask pattern and the other was green and  more geometric. There was a sale, I had a coupon, and I've been wanting to make more giant floor pillows, so I picked up a yard and a half of each. 

Then I took them home and measured them up. One was immediately out of the running - 

Next time, I plan on measuring the size of anything before buying fabric. So I guess I'll be making a damask floor pillow.

I moved on to the green geometric fabric. I measured the size of my desk, finally, allowed for a half-inch hem on each side, and cut out that piece. I then ironed out the fabric (it was all creased from being on the roll) and sewed a seam around the four sides, making sure to keep the pattern straight. It was easy with this fabric because I could match the tops of the triangles.

Just like that, I had a cover.

To keep it in place, I picked up a piece of plexiglass from Lowe's to lay on top. I should've done this from the beginning to preserve the white top, but better late than never. And, as people have reminded me, the glaring flares go unnoticed to them.

Then, get this! Look what I saw on Young House Love -

I had unknowingly used a fabric eerily similar to that of one of my favorite blogs! It felt like fate. 

Like that, my desk went from this - 

to this - 

And somewhere along the way, the sun set.

Another comparison, you say?

I love that it's not permanent, but makes such an impact on my room. It demands attention, without being demanding. It's bold, without being in your face. It's like Morgan Freeman. That, and my room was getting a little too blue, so it needed a new color layer. The crisp white of the desk still has its moment, too.

And then I found out this was in the Young House Love book, which I got for Christmas. I think it's Project #214, but I'm not sure because the book is currently across the ocean from me. I trolled their book projects page, but I'm not positive. Can someone please confirm or deny that for me?! UPDATE: It's Project #171 - huge thank you to Kala for helping me out! 

So what do you think? Should I make a more permanent change on the top? Strategically placed chevrons to cover the unmentionable spots? Stick with the green? Wait and ponder this again in a year? Yeah, that'll probably happen.

Make sure to check out Young House Love, Bower Power, The Remodeled Life, and Decor and the Dog, the hosts of their challenge, to see their projects. They'll have a link up to lots of other participant projects, too, so it's another round of great inspiration!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Poland: Wieliczka Salt Mines.

I was so excited to visit Poland. Like most Americans, my heritage is a dash of this, a splash of that. I'm a quarter Polish, and that's substantial for two reasons. One, I know for a fact that I'm a quarter Polish because I know my grandfather is 100 percent Polish. We've traced that back to his parents in Poland. Two, I do not know what else I am, really. I know I'm probably 3/16 Hungarian and 1/6 Czechoslovakian, but I don't know if that falls in the current day Czech Republic or Slovakia bit, and that's just based on my grandma's talk. Dad is a bit more vague, saying he's mostly English, and estimating that I'm 40 percent English, and then claiming that there's probably a dash of German, a bit of French, and a touch of Europe in there. All I know with certainty is that I'm a quarter Polish. That, and I look a bit Polish because a friend once asked if I was, with no prior knowledge, and I've taken it as a compliment to this day.

Well then. That was a long aside that I don't know where it's going anymore. Shall I start over?

I was so excited to visit Poland, and kept saying, "Ahhhh, motherland!!" in the weeks preceding. Note: That reference is to the best flash animation. ever. When I arrived in Birmingham a day and a half before jetting off to Poland, though, I found that our trip was not planned. It should be known that I love plans. I love itineraries, I love timetables, I love schedules. I love other things like cheese, ice cream, shiny objects, ceramics, and other items characteristic of magpies, too. I was panicking about a lack of Poland plan, though. I turned anxious and all sweaty over it, tried to book us on some tours only to have that plan foiled, and finally had to join along with my family's crazy idea that everything would be fine. It turns out all was fine, but this is only one example to that title, so far.

So we arrived at the Hotel Maksymilian in Krakow, which was an awesome and affordable hotel, talked with the super helpful front desk girl and booked ourselves on a tour of the salt mines for that very day. I was foiled out of this plan the day before, so I was skeptical. Lo and behold, the tickets she sold us got us on a bus and into the salt mines, though, so everything was fine.

The salt mines are in the city of Wieliczka (sounds like veal-ich-ka), about 20 minutes outside of Krakow. They're hundreds of years old and they are what originally brought money into Krakow. We journeyed underground into the mines and toured the different chambers and galleries dating from the 1600s through today.

I didn't really understand why the miners created these chambers and galleries when they were also busy mining the salt, and I didn't think of that question during the tour. Palm to forehead. Mining was dangerous work, though, and Poland, being a very Catholic nation, the miners wanted to pray before heading farther underground. Thus, one of the first chambers was a chapel so the miners could pray. Unfortunately, much of this chamber has since been destroyed by the humidity (salt and water don’t play well for reservation purposes), but the chandelier above, made out of salt, is from the chamber. You can see the rock salt ceiling and the effects of humidity on it, too.

As we continued through the mine, there were more chambers dug out of rock salt with statues and memorials dedicated to famous visitors or to explain the old school mining process. Those are boring compared to these trolls.

I can confirm that everything’s made of salt, too. I licked the ceiling.

The most impressive room was the cathedral. They hold mass here every Sunday and the occasional wedding. The room is also, again, entirely made of salt. The stairs, the walls, the ceiling, the artwork. The floor is made to look like tile, but it’s salt with lines dug out to look like it’s tiled.

I was again obsessed with the chandeliers and struggled with the fact that I was too short to clink their pretty crytals.

It wouldn’t be Poland without an homage to Pope John Paul II, either. Here he is, appropriately in salt.

There were also some impressive underground lakes. There used to be little boats out on the water, but the high density of the salt water posed a risk because you can’t swim in the water – you just float.

We were then propelled out of the mine in the creepiest elevator. It didn’t have full walls. I could have lost an arm, but everything was fine.

Up next – we visited Auschwitz and Birkenau, took a walking tour of Krakow, and did a lot of shopping at the Cloth Hall.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Picture This: Week 8.

I started a picture-a-day project this year. My intent is to try and appreciate every day, the good and the bad. That, and it's a fun way to see the year compiled into a bunch of snapshots. I'm posting weekly recaps of the past seven days. It's a fun way to recap the week and to keep me motivated to try new things and live it up every day. It's rarely ground-breaking, but I couldn't handle that anyway. Does anyone else do this? I'd love for you to share! You can start anytime, too - a new year doesn't have to start on January 1. I'd love to nose around your life and live vicariously. In the least creepy way possible. And PS - my sister does this as well, but rarely updates her blog. Check out my past weeks through the "picture-a-day" topic link on the right. 

Doesn't week 8 sound like we're so much farther into the year than February? Is it just me? Anyway, this past week was my first full week in Derby. Ever. That's strange and a feat all it's own, considering Dad's lived here for a year. Veronica and Greg took me around to some of the best of Derby, though, and I'm excited to further explore this next week.

February 18, 2013

We had planned to go to a local park and paint pottery on Monday, but Mum wasn't feeling well, so we opted to take in the nice day with a bike ride to a local castle. Veronica failed to mention that the local castle was a 17-mile round-trip bike ride. It was worth is though - I counterbalanced the calorie burn with a strawberry and white chocolate scone with clotted cream and jam, and felt the burn for a couple days after.

February 19, 2013

I was craving pie for most of the week, and the taste of American was welcomed in the flat - the pie was devoured almost as soon as it was out of the oven.

February 20, 2013

On Wednesday we went to the local park to paint pottery. We're anxiously awaiting our finished projects!

February 21, 2013

February 21 is Dad's and Zach's birthday. This year, they're inverses - one's 52, one's 25. Veronica and I spent most of the day making an alien spaceship cake for Dad, complete with homemade icing. For one with poor hearing, he perked up when Veronica accidentally mentioned cake, and loved his delicious, wonky creation.

February 22, 2013

Finally! A round of Skip-Bo at The Bless, a Veronica and Greg classic, and just before her flight back to the states.

February 23, 2013

I spent some time Saturday morning messing around with html code. I'm so intimidated by html code that it's not even funny. I'm almost paralyzed. But I successfully added a Pinterest and Instagram button on the sidebar so you can find me there, as well as a subscribe and top posts section. I'm still so proud of myself.

February 24, 2013

Sunday was a bit of a rough day. I was up off-and-on the night before with fever chills, Mum and Veronica left for the States, and Dad was moping. I kept myself busy cleaning for most of the day, but finally got Dad out of his couch spot with a homemade turkey pot pie. He was very excited, and I think it's the prettiest thing I've ever made. 

Is the font showing up real weird on this? It is for me, and I can't figure it out. I'm trying, though!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Grumpy Cat.

This is an unusual Friday post, but it's important - very important.

The interwebs, that's the Internet for all you modern-day chaps, amuse me. I get lost on buzzfeed for hours. I just mindlessly spent twenty minutes there just now when I typed in the address so as to link it up. These are my confessions.

I play dumb awesome games with my sisters. Currently, we enjoy a good bout of take-embarrassing-pictures-of-each-other-when-the-other's-not-looking-and-text-the-picture-to-them. Get that?

So, for example.  

I took these two pictures of Veronica. Then I combined them on picstitch. Then I texted the picture to Veronica. It meets all of the requirements: 

1) She's not paying attention or looking at the camera, and therefore didn't know the pictures were being taken.
2) She's got a lettuce snaggletooth, so clearly she didn't know this picture was being taken. This is also my crowning accomplishment.
3) I then texted this picture to Veronica.

Then we laugh and pride ourselves in our creepiness.

So when Veronica took a picture of me last week while I was writing a postcard in Poland in which I unintentionally looked like Grumpy Cat, my life. was. made. Seriously. I couldn't do better if I was trying.

Then, Zach mashed them together. And now, the resemblance is undeniable. Mum doesn't understand why I'm so proud.

And then I put it on Instragram because I'm obsessed with that, too.

I really think you should watch Tarder Sauce, aka Grumpy Cat, in her introductory video, too. It's precious and the best way to spend time on a Friday. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Treasures: Sweden shopping edition.

Shopping in a foreign country is fun because it's shopping without rules. I don't have to think if I need something, because, of course I need it. It's exotic. And when will I visit again? It's culture. It's remembering my trip. It's part of my legacy. So things get a little dramatic. But more than that, they get creepy as I stalk around, picking out my treasure.

It's not unlike that at all. Anyone that has traveled with me can verify. I'm imagining Kate, Veronica, and Ladaea nodding decisively.

So while I'm abroad, I'm collecting lots of treasures and clapping. So let's start with Sweden. I was quite ignorant of Sweden before visiting and getting a crash-course on the culture from Ladaea and Adam. I had thought they were just very good at running countries, which they are, but it turns out that they have invented so many everyday objects. Matches. Zippers. Weapons, that I hope you're not utilizing everyday. The stores originating in Sweden are plentiful, too: H&M. IKEA. Most of our pop music is from or produced by Swedish artists. Then there's the design aesthetic, so familiar through its introduction via IKEA, with a bit of wonky shapes and a bit of geometric influence. I love it.

Sweden has a really cool concept store called DesignTorget that brings merchandise from Swedish designers and inventors to sell solely Swedish goods. It's constantly rotating, too, because the artists make a definite amount, and when it's sold, the store will bring in something different. I can only imagine the neurosis I would devleop in stalking this store if I lived here. I have a hard enough time with Target. I needed a lot of reassurance before making my purchases there, and even more self restraint from just buying it up. I did do some browsing to share, however. So here we go!

My sister asked if she could start a salt and pepper collection for me. I passed, on the premise that I still change apartments once a year, on average, and don't need anymore help hoarding pillows, trays, anything. Aren't these guys funny, though?

Sweden also seems to have an invention for everything. There are spaghetti measurers so you can dole out the correct serving for yourself and size-up when you're cooking for two. Takes all the fun out of the tossing the morsels then jumping before the boiling water hits you, if you ask me. This is not a spaghetti measurer, though. This is a sink cleaner, if I remember correctly. If I don't, this is the story of a sink cleaner. You know the bits in the sink after you do dishes? The soggy bread crumbs, the slimy cheese? I shoot them with the faucet because I would rather give up ice cream for a month than touch these bits. Haha just kidding. Sweden has an invention for that though. It's a sink cleaner. You pinch the top, in this case, the cat's face, just so the bottom curves a bit, in this case, the stripes, and drag that along the sink, corralling the bits into the drain or scooping them up the side and into the trash.  Genius, right? 

That, and whenever I see cats, I start chanting 'cats, cats, cats-cats-cats-cats' to the tune of 'shots' - sad, but true.  Upon Googling that to link it up for a reference, I also just learned that that song is by LMFAO. I don't know how I feel about that (read: I feel erg about that). 

Those white vases. !!! I still don't know how I left them. Well, I opted for genuine hand-crafted Swedish goods, that's how. Those vases were made in Sweden, yes, but by a machine. I couldn't support the robot uprising over the humans. The plastic vases are cool, too. They had a bunch of designs, and they deflate flat, so they're a storage dream.

I really liked these cups, too. Pretty design paintings. I petted them for a while. 

Then we skipped out of DesignTorget and I forgot the name of every other store. If you're lucky, Ladaea will fill me in and I'll update. Though I'm sure my description is less than precise.

I love this little set-up. That wallpaper. That shelf. That table. Sweden's really into wallpaper, which is strange to see as I feel America has a wallpaper aversion. This store had designer wallpaper, some very geometric, some abstract, all drool-worthy. 

This poster was by the bathroom. I love these wonky little creatures. I think this would be fun to do with a kid's drawings: copy them down and organize in a structure to hang. 

This post is becoming more babble and more real to an actual shopping experience with me. It's true, my mother hates shopping with me.

This is a different, anonymous store again. I want that light, that rug, that pillow creeping in on the left, those honeycomb-esque trays, and if that couch on the right is indeed purple, I probably need that too. Lighting is a thing in Sweden, and I was affronted by way too many beautiful lights and lamps that I need. NEED.

This post is getting a bit long and they're going to play me off stage soon. So you want to see what I actually bought? I know, I know, you can barely contain yourself.

I bought two items at DesignTorget. Firstly, this pretty little tray. It's handmade and painted in Sweden, and according to L, the current design aesthetic in Sweden. This was another point against the factory-made geometric white vases of above. 

I also picked up these coasters, which are classic Sweden - whimsical, linear, colorful. Note that I'm making up these adjectives as I'm not Swedish. They remind me a bit of IKEA, though they're not IKEA.

At the store with the wallpaper, and also the site of my first fika, I bought these two cards. They're actually postcards, but I think they'd be cute to frame, maybe in a kid's room. That little guy is a troll, and the cutest troll I've ever seen, and he's from a popular Finnish cartoon, The Moomins, in the Scandinavian countries. 

Lastly, the most classic Swedish piece of all is the Darecarlian horse. L had talked about it, and I have a vague idea, but as soon as I saw it, I recognized it. And then I realized I could have pretended to know all along. This guy is the real deal, handmade, as evidenced by his imperfect snout. We searched in vain for him in Malmö, but weren't successful until we went to Lund. Remember that for your treasure search.

That, my friends, concludes my Swedish treasure search. I'm back from Poland, and will share my Polish treasures, as well as my visits there, soon.

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