Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Books: Great Reads

I wanted to add a couple more books to this post, but I need to write my thoughts on these three before I confuse any detail.

I recommend The Infernal Devices Series to anyone who likes YA fantasy with a romantic and/or steampunk bend. I'm not a great fan of the love triangle, but it mostly works here. The author's treatment of each relationship will appease readers.

In my opinion, the epilogue in Clockwork Princess needed a little work. "Let's see the world!" is not the most romantic declaration, so the ending of the series was just less than satisfactory for me. Nevertheless, I will happily reread the series and my favorite passages.

I've been to Hiroshima, its Peace Memorial Museum, and seen evidence of the devastating and mutational effects of the atomic bomb - none is for the faint of heart. Baggott has used this imagery in The Pure Trilogy to transform our world into a bomb-ravaged, desolate, desperate place where survivors are genetically altered and fused to whatever item(s), person(s), animal(s), or natural element(s) they were near at the time of detonation.

Excepting those "blessed" few protected by the Dome. By design, those in the Dome remain pure, untouched, and unadultered. Understandably, those outside the Dome resent those within. And several on the inside want to reclaim their place on the outside. Both sides are on the brink of revolution, and when a youth escapes the Dome and allies with survivors, events are set into motion none will expect.

I have thoroughly enjoyed Pure and Fuse. The books, while based on fact, are highly imaginative. Both books are well-paced and adrenaline-fueled, every scene is vividly brought to life, and the characters run the full spectrum. I anxiously await the third installment.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Travel: Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi Coast begins in Sorrento and ends in Salerno, and the 30+ kilometer drive provides beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea, its coastline, and several charming coastal towns.

Be warned: The drive is for experienced drivers only. Foreigners unaccustomed to driving narrow, curvy roads with traffic should take the bus. The drive becomes challenging in Positano, where cars are parked along both sides of the road and many corners are blind. Tour buses run all along the coast, and they always have the right of way. Also, Cole felt like he was on an endless roller coaster; passengers susceptible to motion sickness beware.

There are also few places to safely stop and sightsee, as fruit stands (they sell lemons the size of your head!) occupy most of the designated stop-over areas. You could tempt fate and park on the side of the road like the locals, but we're cautious, pro-life, and stopped to take photos and shop only where space allowed.

Of all the towns we encountered, Amalfi is the most accessible. A central market and various independent shops (to include several ceramic bars) are within easy reach. There's also a lovely promenade along the coastline, offering spectacular views. If we return, this will be the place we explore more thoroughly.

Once you've finished with the coast, reaching the Autostrade is a bit of an adventure. You have to go up and down a mountain and through multiple towns before reaching the on-ramp. In truth, it takes longer to do this than to drive the entire Amalfi Coast.

Fuel: No less than a 1/2 tank of gas

Tolls: 4 Euros

Time: Allow at least 4 hours

Travel: Mt. Vesuvius

Mt. Vesuvius is a stratovolcano that last erupted in 1944. Its most famous eruption occurred in 79, when Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried beneath its violent effusion of pumice and ash. It remains the symbol of Naples, and, on clear days, we have a pretty good view of it from our back patio...

The drive from NAS Naples to the parking area on Mt. Vesuvius takes about 40 minutes. The roads on the mountain are narrow and not ideal for those prone to motion sickness, but if you drive slowly and watch for tour buses at each turn your car and stomach should be safe.

After parking, purchase tickets and a guidebook (10 Euros per adult to climb, 1 Euro for the pamphlet) from the first building on your left. It's a 20- to 30-minute, 500-meter hike to the crater, and another 20-30 minutes to walk around the crater. The hike is not strenuous, though we heard many complain.

For comparison: Mt. Vesuvius is only 1,281 meters above sea level, whereas Mt. Fuji is 3,776 meters high (and takes 4-7 hours to climb to the top).

The foot path to the peak is fairly wide. You'll slip in the loose rocks at least once, but you won't lose your balance and fall if you're careful.

Weather permitting, you are rewarded with great views of the Bay of Naples, the city itself, Capri, and Ischia. The crater and its rock formations are especially interesting, even with cloud cover.

There are several small shops on the mountain. We purchased two unique lava rocks and a bottle of local wine from one.

Total Cost: 35 Euros (admission and souvenirs)

Time on site: 1.5 hours

Travel: Rome

We spent a day in Rome during spring break. Since we live close to the city (2-hour drive), we've chosen to do a series of day trips rather than one extended trip. And for Cole's first time in the city we visited Ancient Rome and its Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Forum, Trajan's Market and Column, Pantheon, as well as Trevi Fountain.

Shawn and I first visited Rome in 2004, and later again in 2006. Besides no longer having free access to the Forum, not much has changed the past seven years. We still love this city!

Note: Before, you could access the Forum without entering Palatine Hill. Now there are exits where entrances to the Forum used to be, and many stairs and walks have since been cordoned off. These changes are due to preservation or financial needs, probably both.

The crowds were a bit extreme on our visit, so we'll be sure to arrive on or before the opening hour in the future.

Cole threw several coins in Trevi Fountain, so we're assured at least three more trips to the city. We can hardly wait!

Total driving time: 4 hours

Tolls: 30 Euros

Parking: 4 Euros for 8 hours

Admission to Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine Hill: 12 Euros per person

Food: 50 Euros

Time on site: 5.5 hours

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Crafts: Petal Pocket Pillow

Heather Ross's Playing Horses fabric reminds me of the fun I had with my cousin and her horse. I was twelve, and Christine taught me how to ride. It was the highlight of my summer. In a way, the blonde and brunette girls printed on the fabric remind me of the two of us...

A neighbor's friend saw a tote bag I made with this fabric and asked me to make something with it for her three-year-old daughter. I initially thought of making another bag, but I later decided a fun pillow would showcase the fabric best. Enter Nova's Petal Pocket Pillow:

I've had this pattern since it was first released, but I hadn't gotten around to making it until now. What a shame! It's a wonderful pattern, with clear directions, demonstrative photos, fun details, and helpful tips. And of course Cole wants a Pillow Pocket (boy version) of his own!

I hemmed and hawed over which fabrics to use for this pillow's petals but finally settled on dusty peach, muted orange, and various shades of brown (all polka dot and geometric designs). I wanted the little girls and their horses to be the focal points of the piece.

For the background I used a white on ivory polka dot fabric, which not only carries on the polka dot theme but also feels just right for a little girl. Sugar and spice, and everything nice...

The fabric on the back features a pastoral vignette, which plays well with the horses. And the pillow is framed with yet another polka dot fabric.

Because I wanted to make a 16-inch pillow instead of the pattern's 20-inch arrangement, I scaled the pattern to 80%. The smaller petals are not difficult to work with, and the pocket size is just fine for small- to medium-sized treasures.

I hope the girl's mother approves! If not, I'll save it for another horse lover, perhaps my cousin (if she wants it).