Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Fiber Artist, Susan Lenz

Columbia, South Carolina
January 9th was the opening of my sister and artist Susan Lenz' art show. It was in her hometown of Columbia, South Carolina, held in her studio's gallery space (Gallery 80808 Vista Studios) located in the heart of the fantastic and completely revitalized Vista District of Columbia (walkable, lovely, artsy, modern, boutique-y, stylish, simply grand...totally my type of place). There are 13 artists that have their studios in this building and the gallery is in the middle (Stephen Chesley and Sharon Licata's art work is particularly interesting to me...and the artists themselves are delightful people). It's a wonderful space.
Susan has had her art shows there before, but this particular show, CYBER FYBER is one that has been in the works for over a year. I'm not going to write all about the show itself because you can check out her Blog for all the incredible details, including feature story news articles on it, photos, videos, and her personal perspectives and comments about it (NOTE: I shot the video footage on the night of the opening that she uploaded onto her blog.. it was fun to do!). Needless to say, for this show and it's opening reception my Mom and I had to be there!

Pittsburgh Airport
Mom and I flew down, Pittsburgh to Charlotte and then drove to Columbia on Friday the 9th. Of course we took shuttle with Airport Orbit from Slippery Rock to the Pittsburgh International Airport. (What can I say, the drivers are great, the vans are clean and hey, I get a good deal!) As for our flights, we went via USAir. I can report that the Pittsburgh International Airport is a is always clean and quite spacious, easy to get around in, well marked with directions, has a shopping mall area (always a plus for me!), and the employees are relatively kind (7 out of 10). As you know, I have traveled quite a bit, it is my profession and my passion. It is sad to me to accept the fact that traveling, (well the physical part of getting from one place to another) has become such a downer, in most cases is no longer and adventure, and is more so, just a pain. Don't get me wrong..I still love to travel and no matter what types of hassles I must endure to do it, I'm still going to travel. But, security issues are time consuming and make everyone nervous, flight delays are usually imminent, and the stress of the entire flying/airport situation just keeps getting worse... it's sad, and I really believe that it does not have to be this way!!

I remember back in 1999 and of all the great dreams I had for travel as a whole and how I imagined it would be in the new millennium...for me, professionally and personally I had such great hopes for fantastic future journeys (well, I still do, but they now involve and consider in much more time for completion). Of course, I never factored in 9-11 or that travel would be how it is now, I always imagined it would just become easier and allow more types of people to get up, get out and go! Let's face it, that just isn't how it is these days. I find that many people are too frightened to think of going anywhere, or just don't want to deal with it...again, it's sad. But for me, I'm going, there is too much out there that I have yet to experience, too many people I have yet to meet, too many delicious exotic foods I have yet to taste, too many bodies of water I have yet to dip my toes into, too many...well, you get it. So, no matter where or how, I AM GOING TO GO, and so I always try to make it somewhat interesting and fun...even if I'm just going to the grocery's what I do, it's how I like to look at things, it's the approach in life take. I like to try and discover new things, even if it is just some new type of automatic toilet flushing system in the airport's public restroom or maybe some funky multi-functional travel-baby-carseat-stroller-crib thing that I will never have use for but am amazed that it has been invented. I want and strive to be the person that looks at things through rose-colored glasses (even though I've had Lasik and can see just perfectly, thankyouverymuch!). Every day is and can have new adventures....if you make it happen!
Now, going through security takes time (and you need to have lots of patience)...your boarding card and photo identification have to be out and in your hand - ready to present to the security personnel, before you can even proceed into the actual security screening area. Your coat must be taken off and put in a special plastic bin (it's winter, so of course everyone in Pittsburgh was wearing one), your shoes must be taken off and put into a special plastic bin (I wore boots, of course, never easy, but they are so awesome!), if you have a cellphone (and who doesn't these days) it must be taken out of your luggage or purse and put in a special plastic bin, and then all the special plastic bins must be scooted to your carry-on luggage and pushed on through the screening system's machine scanner.

Now something about me.... extra time is always required for me beca
use I seem to be always be targeted when I go through security and because I always I wear a gorgeous gold bracelet on my right wrist. It was a gift to me from Vipin after we had been going out for about 6 months, it is lovely, it is gold, it has flowers and little spirals on it (I am totally into spirals) and it took lots of soap to get it on (it is rather small), so I wear it all the time...I never take it off and probably can't (it's been on my wrist for over 20 years). With this, I have the hazard of always setting off the alarms when I go through the security system's walk-through scanner. I am accustomed to announcing before I even walk through the metal detector that "I will beep." and of course, I always do. I am used to it. The man always calls out "Female Assist"...and I have to stand over to the side on the special mat with the two indicated foot mark placements. This is for the personal radar detecting hand wand check and full body pat-down. The security woman must, by law, announce what she is going to do, where she is going to touch or feel or pat down prior to her doing it (and I am sure the men, when they do it to the male travelers have to announce it too). There are certain positions I have to put my body in - hands straight out to my sides, feet apart, then one foot out in front, then the other, etc. It's a routine, I know it, whatever, I'm used to it. I actually tell them now "I know the routine and my rights, do what you have to do" - it saves a few minutes and they don't have to keep telling me every little step they are going to take. I never feel unsafe during this process, this is a good thing, it is always done very professionally (even though it is quite odd to be patted down in front of hundreds of travelers..what can you do?).

So once through security (my Mom waited patiently for me j
ust on the other side) we went on to the underground tram (it was almost ready to go....but we ran for it and made it!), which goes back and forth from the Arrivals to the Departures sides of the airport,.... then we went up two steep escalating staircases (between them is a huge dinosaur skeleton, it used to be in the Carnegie Museum, and I always look forward to looking at it as I ride up the escalator) and walked on to our wing (B) and down to our gate. Now, once the ticket counter personnel were ready to have us board the plane they began to call out pre-boarders (those that might require extra assistance, those traveling with children, the elderly, etc.), then the first class and special card holders/VIPs etc., and finally the commoners...but only within order of their boarding number....which naturally my boarding category was last, and therefore there was no space (none) left in the overhead compartments for our carry-on bags, so Mom and I had to shove our bags under the seats in front of us (not as easy as it sounds)...which gave me little leg space (squish squish re-adjust position every five minutes, etc.) - but whatever (I don't feel like going on about my views on airplane seating space allotment), fortunately it is a short flight and such are the joys of air travel in these least I got to enjoy leafing through the Sky Mall Catalog (always interesting, although I have no idea why anyone would buy half the stuff advertised in them!!).

So we arrived in Charlotte. The Charlotte airport has way too many Starbucks in it, otherwise it is clean and nice and easy to get around in! That's all I'm saying. We went down to the Baggage Claim area and to the Thrifty car rental took just a few minutes to get the paperwork done, we got the keys to the car and walked outside the door, across the street and the Thrifty service van was sitting right there (great!). The car rental parking lots are just a few minutes drive away from the airport, the service driver stopped right in fro
nt of our rental, took our luggage, put everything in the trunk, opened the door to our rental and even started it up for us! (I was impressed with that...I have rented plenty of cars in my days but never had such service, it was quite a treat!) The drive to Columbia was quick and easy, but our rental car, a Chrysler 300 was soooo stinky of cigarettes, it really put a damper on the drive (non smokers, like me, are very fortunate these days due to the new laws and rules, we can actually avoid being around smoke in most cases, so when we are actually around smoke, in those infrequent but unfortunate circumstances, I think the smoke seems to be twice as noticeable, horrific and disgusting!)...luckily we were in the SOUTH and the weather was warm enough for us to roll down the back windows AND go without coats!! Such a relief from our morning...cold, snow, cold, snow, cold!! Otherwise the drive was rather uneventful.

We stopped at a Chili's for lunch (I'm only mentioning this because I hate to admit it but I have never actually been to a Chili's before and I really liked it, I'm not sure what I thought it would be, but I was pleased - a good place for a fairly decent meal...don't get me wrong, I'm still all for my exotic foods, noodle houses and special secret delish eateries, but when you are on the road, you may not always know where those types of places are.) The menu wasn't bad, and they had a great variety of things...we just had appetizers because we didn't want to fill up too much, but it was nice, and the coffee was good too. I have to say that they were featuring these things called Sweet Shots, that are these cute little layered desserts with flavors like Key Lime Pie, Red Velvet Cake, Cinnamon Roll, etc. and they are in little shot glasses...adorable! I want to try and make them myself at home! I can't imagine that it would be difficult or too time consuming and they must be double-delish.
So...we arrived at The Mouse House, Susan's and her husband Steve's home and also place of business. Years ago they bought this beautiful plantation-style type home in the downtown historical district of Columbia (which, by the way, is the State capital). The house has tall white columns and a large front porch - very southern (with a somewhat Tara-type feel). They put their business, The Mouse House, a professional framing shop, on the first floor (street level) and their home (complete with kitchen) on the second floor. They have their special Christmas Tree in their living room...but it is special, and I guess it really is not nor does not have to be an actual "Christmas" tree...because the tree is a work of art in itself...made of wrought iron, it was commissioned by Sue and Steve (along with their dining room chairs) from a quite talented wrought iron furniture maker that they know. The tree does come apart but why.... it holds the most amazing works of art on every limb...not all are Christmas ornaments, many are works of art that are small and hang-able...and so this lovely tree stands in their living room full of bright colors, sparkles and is magical. The upstairs, where they live, has framed things (paintings, etchings, drawings, pastels, maps, photographs, shadow boxes, and more!) on every wall, floor to ceiling....even in the bathrooms! It's lovely.

For many years The Mouse House was a very busy shop...with 10 employees coming and going, framing and working, but now, Susan and Steve officially closed their doors to framing and only actually do framing for their VIP clients and professional artists (which is still a very busy business), while Susan works as a full-time artist. They put many years in to get to this point, and after spending the weekend with them, being at Susan's show, and seeing how much everyone loves and respects her art work (and her, and her framing abilities), I know that they certainly can feel that all that hard work has paid off...they are where they want to be. ..they've reached their goal. Steve holds opening hours for and handles the day-to-day going ons of the shop while Susan goes to her works, and it's great. When Mom and I arrived, Steve was there waiting for us...along with Shadow (their adorable and loving Persian cat...who I dressed up in pearls).
We had some time to freshen up, and then we went to the studio...I was anxious to get there, see Susan and see the show! We drove past the Governor's Mansion (just a few blocks from The Mouse House) and then on down past the park.....and into the Vista district.....

to the studio....Susan was ready and the set up was fantastic (again, visit her Blog for all the scoop)....

PHOTOS: Susan, Steve & I, the Gallery

PHOTOS: Steve/Sue/Mom by the food table (beautiful), The Gallery, Alex & Erica

Mom, Cousin Jamie, Steve, Sue & I

The opening reception was great fun...and perfect in every way. The art was well received, the show was well attended, the food and drink stations were amazing...the night was right. I met so many interesting people (and enjoyed hearing those sweet Southern accents!!). I also got to see my nephew Alex and his girl friend Erica and my cousin (actually my cousin's daughter), Jamie (who is in her second year at the University of South Carolina) and her boy friend Craig (a sweet guy) was a wonderful and very enjoyable evening. When we finally saw the last visitor to the door, locked up, cleaned up and got back to The Mouse House we were all exhausted. There was plenty of food leftovers from the reception so we changed into our Pjs and had a little feast..and then went to bed. I slept like a log!

The next morning Susan had arranged for a workshop & demo in the gallery. The arrangement was through Creative Sewing, and basically was a day for visitors to enjoy learning and using various types of sewing machines and embellishing machines, see and participate in hands-on demonstrations, show work they have done and see the works of others. Steve bought boxes and boxes of donuts, there was coffee and most of the people that came made a full morning or afternoon of it. I was very interested in the embellishers, which I actually have to admit I never knew about prior to this event!
They look like sewing machines, but when you look further you realize that there are 9 needles, none of which you are to thread. Instead, you place yarn, cotton, faux flowers, or material on top of your base material, press the foot pedal to make the needles go up and down, and the two things fuse together. It is called an embellishing machine because you are to literally embellishing things with it....attaching materials together without sewing. It's really cool! I had fun trying it out...and was also very amazed with the other sewing machines. I'm not much of a seamstress (much to Susan's friends and fans surprise), I'm actually horrible at it. My Mom let me take private sewing classes when I was in high school (I think because my Grandma Lenz had passed away before she could teach me about sewing and needlework, like she had done with my older sisters) and I made a sun dress, which turned out hideous (I never wore it!) and my sewing teacher (the sweet little local sewing lady, Mrs. Datt) called my Mom and basically told her that I was done. No biggie, I know how to buy dresses! So needless to say, my only real experience with sewing was on my Mother's machine, a nice Singer with a basic design. Well, at this demonstration I saw machines so elaborate that you can actually hook a laptop computer up to them! You don't really even have to sew...just thread them up (they hold many colors!), install the material, press a button, and go have a cup of coffee! It was amazing. One of the machines was so expensive they actually had a man there just to guard it for the day!

We had a wonderful afternoon but were were literaly on our feet the entire Mom's feet were killing her and we were both exhausted so in the early afternoon we stepped out and went across the street to a sports bar to have a drink and sit down for a few minutes. I forgot how good sweet tea is in the refreshing! The bar was a nice place and there was some kind of youth gymnastics tournament going on nearby because we saw lots of little girls wearing darling costumes and ribbons in their hair. It was too adorable. When Susan's workshop was over, we helped her pack up her studio and the gallery and went back to The Mouse House to change our clothes for dinner.
First we went to Jamie's apartment, she lives in The Lofts, which used to be an old cotton mill, but was converted into modern loft style apartments. It's an amazing building and Jamie's apartment is fantastic...with a huge window in the main room (kitchen/living room), well furnished, very girly and nice. I don't remember living like that when I was in college! I had Grandma Lenz' old couch (which was well over 15 years old and plaid!), Grandma Baker's old lamps, hand-me-down furniture from everyone, lots of thrift store stuff for decorations, one pot, one pan, a hodgepodge collection of glasses and kitchen things...don't get me wrong, I had what I needed and got along fine, but well, college kids these days are much better off...everything matches, most things are new!!! I was quite impressed!
Anyway... Jamie gave us the grand tour of her gorgeous home, and we loved it (they have a pool, a gym, many lounge areas, couches all over the common areas, a billiards area, everything), and then we went on through the Sorority and Fraternity Rows of USC (another impressive place...the entire area used to be where old delapitated warehouses and mills stood...they were all torn down to erect these huge dorm-style houses) to the Liberty Tap Room and Grill for a delicious dinner. It was a great Mom told stories about her and Larry (my Uncle Larry, Jamie's Grandpa) when they were young kids and also when they were first married (fun and even some sad stories about them before they had children)...we had a grand time. The Liberty Tap Room and Grill is a wonderful place with fantastic food (I had a salmon steak, of course, if there is ever a chance for a good salmon steak I am usually go to take it... and it was fantastic)...but by the time we left it was a totally packed house and very loud...too loud...too many people....a popular place, but I would not want to have stayed there any longer. (Although I did enjoy watching the 'crazy table' full of Red Hat Society Women...they were a hoot!) We drove Jamie home and then went back to The Mouse House. Mom went to bed soon after, I stayed up and watched the movie, The River Wild with Sue and Steve. Sue was still very UP from the entire weekend's events. I had never seen the movie before (it's an older one, but it was good, with Meryl Streep in a film you can't really go wrong)....Sue and Steve had seen it several times. It was fun just hanging out watching TV with them.

The next morning we had breakfast and lounged around and read the Sunday paper....something I enjoy doing every Sunday morning, but it is particularly interesting when you I have the opportunity to read another city's Sunday things, different placements of articles, interesting reads. I will say that their comics section is way better than ours in Pittsburgh...they get so many...and ones I had not seen in a long time. It was a lazy morning and fun...then we got ready to go, said Good-bye to Steve and Shadow and took Susan to her gallery...said Good-bye to her and drove back to the Charlotte airport.

Overall, a totally fab glad I made the trip!

  • I got a discount from Thrifty because the car smelled of smoke...they were really nice about it too!
  • When it was time for us to board the plane for the return flight they actually pre-boarded anyone with Steeler colors on or anyone wearing Steeler shirts or clothing! They got to board even prior to the First-Class passengers! It was great....of course I wasn't wearing black and gold, but whatever....we did get to board sooner than we did on the flight down and we actually were able to store our carry-on bags in the overhead compartments!!
  • Mom went and bought me an embellishing machine! It's too cool, although I have yet to create an actual piece on it, more so just practicing....I set the machine up on my desk in the office and Nicole has already made several pieces...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I wanted to share my photos with you from our New Year's Eve celebration. Our friends Stephanie (a.k.a. "Peanut"...who was a student participant on our European Summer Study Program in Salzburg, Austria - back in 2004 --she has been going with us every year since and now teaches an English class to young Austrian girls while she is there with us) and her fiancee Russell flew down from Boston to stay with us for a few days and be with us to bring in the new year (they plan to marry this year in July).

Their first night here we stayed in Slippery Rock and of course... took them to North Country Brewing Company, our town's absolutely fabulous eatery and local micro brewery (we are so proud of this cozy restaurant that features hand-carved booths, hand-thrown clay mugs, a warm atmosphere, live music most evenings, and a delightful and delicious menu....Slippery Rock was a dry town until it opened, back in I think 2001). It is a block and a half from our house (and directly across the street from my office) and as the night was so bright, crisp and clear, we walked and enjoyed a leisurely stroll over to dinner... (my niece, Nicole joined us for the walking tour of downtown Slippery Rock...)
The next day we drove up to the Falls from Slippery Rock (usually only about a 4 hour drive - not bad as long as the roads are clear, and on this trip, they were just fine) and stayed at the Marriott Falls View (on the Canadian side of the falls) so that we would have rooms with views...and what incredible views we had (our room was on the 18th floor...on the left side - perfect!)...

Did you notice the rainbow in the photo to the right, above??

You can see Stephanie here below, in front of our room window....fantastic!

It was so amazingly gorgeous...the view just got better, and better as darkness took over the sky and all the city lights came on....there were also lights directed onto the falls..and they periodically changed colors. I liked the view best when the lights were either on in all white or all light blue...beautiful, dreamy, strong and powerful. The rainbow colors were sort of cool, but after a while I could not get past the 70's vibe they seemed to give off. After a few margaritas (yes, I brought a blender with us, this was my first night off in 6 months, I was prepared to enjoy it!!) we started naming the colors....we named the green color "Bad Breath Green" and the purple, "Purple Haze"...etc. it was ridiculously fun (stupid * silly * fun!). We spent the evening just looking out the huge window (hung out in Vipin's & my room)...I never tired of the view...I packed cheese, crackers, mixed nuts, some beef sausage rolls, etc. (lots of goodies that I have received for the holidays in jam-packed gift baskets!!) and we brought mix for the margaritas, wine, tequila, and of course we were set for the night!

It was perfect, and I highly recommend going to Niagara Falls for New Year's Eve. Know that the Canadian side has a much better view of the falls and things overall (day or night). Also know that there are much better things to see and do in the way of entertainment places (including the casino, game places, things for families, game places, etc.) and a better variety of restaurants on the Canadian side.

If you go.... you don't have to stay in a hotel room with a naturally costs more to do so, and there will be no discounts due to it being a holiday, but for us it was what we w
anted, and it was well worth it. We had our view - and this served as our entertainment for the evening (we could see people walking around down on the sidewalks and roads below, we could see the lights and colors, we could see the falls, we could see the traffic, we could see the police patrolling the area, etc....lots to look at)! We had music on in our room, we had the TV on (this year the channel was onto CNN with Kathy Griffin and Anderson funny...I'm a fan of Kathy's!) and we were WARM and snug inside..with our food and drinks! If you decide to NOT get a hotel room with a view, you can of course walk around to the falls and stand there and enjoy things...but...IT IS AND WAS SOOOOO COOOLD!! We did go outside for a bit (we just went across the street from the hotel) around 11pm to the Quizno's to grab some munchies and just venture out...but I'm glad we didn't need to go was really too cold...and the sidewalks were not cleared very well (I was wearing high heeled boots and had to hold on to Vipin for dear life!). Like many places on a holiday, there are less people working, so I think maybe the sidewalks would have been cleared better, and are usually cleared on a regular basis, just not so much on December 31st after 6pm!!

Most incredible, there were fireworks at 9PM and again at Midnight...and that was quite a show! We just loved it!

The hotel is a spa hotel (and has a Starbucks and huge gift shop in the lobby area, and also features several has everything!!), so I think if I go again for New Year's Eve (and I really want to and I really hope to!!) I will schedule a massage or something for the next day, but this time we just slept in, enjoyed the wonderfully comfortable bed (and the sheets, which were amazingly soft - not always the case in hotels, but with Marriott you can't go wrong!) and the late 12 noon check-out. Then we drove around, went to the falls for a close up view ( on the sides, sparkling... fantastic) and continued home via the beautiful quite drive along the Niagara Parkway (in Canada...where you drive along the riverside and can see many huge homes..there are also many places to pull off and enjoy the view), crossed over the Peace Bridge and then over the boarder back into New York, USA. The traffic on the parkway was so easy...almost non-existent, and the cross over the boarder was not bad at all (we maybe had to wait for 15 minutes or so - don't forget your Passports!!!).

My parents watched/babysat LuLu for the night so we stopped at their house (they left earlier that morning to go down to West Virginia) to pick her up, and my Mom had made a delicious pork and sauerkraut dish for us to take home (it's tradition to eat pork and kraut on New Years least in my family - and I always try and comply!)! We went home, got into our comfy clothes, watched the movie "300" and gobbled that meal down!! It was perfect. Good times.