August 31, 2013

Valentine, Nebraska: Heart of the Sandhills

Heart shaped sign in Valentine, Nebraska The Heart City

Ms. Erin of Tesori Trovati is hosting her 2nd Annual Challenge of Travel today and I'm insanely excited about the whole thing.  Last year we were assigned countries, and I had a ton of fun learning about and being inspired by Senegal (read about it here).  This year's theme is "Staycation" and we were encouraged to explore our own hometowns.  I live in North Platte, Nebraska and have for over 25 years now, but it still isn't what I think of as my hometown.  My heart will always belong to Valentine, Nebraska (see what I did there?).  I was born and raised in Valentine, spent my formative years there.  It's where I met and married my husband.  I still have family there and have spent time showing my children all my favorite places.  Today, I'd like to share "my" Valentine with you!  (Many, many thanks to my "niece",  Audrey Bellew, for taking these photos for me.)

As can be expected of a town named Valentine (named for Congressman E. K. Valentine, by the way), the heart theme comes up a lot.  People from all of the world have sent their Valentine's Day cards to Valentine to have them postmarked from Valentine before being sent on their way to loved ones.  February 14th is a big deal (check out this post if you want to see my humiliating photo of my teenage self dressed as a tree and find out how that relates to Valentine's Day!).  But that's only a small part of Valentine's appeal.

Scenic view near Valentine, Nebraska sunflowers

The town is tucked in the middle of the Nebraska Sandhills and is surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery you could ask for.  The area is full of rolling hills and canyons.  The Niobrara River and the Minnechaduza Creek wind through the area.  A good sized lake, Merritt Reservoir, is just 30 miles from town and formed by a dam on yet another river, the Snake.  There are natural springs and waterfalls all over the place.  Not what you think of when you think "Sandhills", is it?  I spent a lot of time around water growing up.  As a mater of fact, my father worked for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and we lived in a house in the fish hatchery, located in a valley a mile outside of town.

Pond in Valentine Fish Hatchery with weeping willow tree on island

See that white house behind the pond?  That was our house. If you get to Valentine, you'll want to take a minute to drive through the hatchery.  The views are worth it.  And be sure to go to one of the local restaurants and order a steak.  You're in the heart of cattle country here and you can't get a bad steak.  Oh, and plan a day for tubing or canoeing the Niobrara - that's a MUST.  

Niobrara River near Valentine, Nebraska

My friends and I spent many a summer day floating the river on inner tubes in my teenage years.  Back then we had to borrow tubes and haul them ourselves, but now there are outfitters who will rent you what you need, get you there AND pick you up.  Sights like this are not uncommon:

Conoes from outfitter in Valentine for Niobrara River trips

If you want rapids, you have to go a bit further down the river, but the part closest to town is very tame.  It's calm and relaxing and very scenic.  As proof of its safety, I offer this photo of my 79-year-old grandmother floating it with us a few years ago!

Grandmother at age 79 floating the Niobrara River on an inner tube

If you go, pack a cooler with lots of cold drinks and some sandwiches.  You won't believe how good a plain old white bread sandwich will taste on the river!

Centennial Hall Museum haunted school house

If you're looking for something to do between going down the river and going out for dinner (steaks, remember?), check out the old haunted schoolhouse (okay, I'll let you decide whether or not it's haunted).  Built in 1897, this building was used as an elementary school and was later used as part of the high school.  I went to high school there way back when.  It was strange, with stairs only about 3" high (made for little tiny folks, apparently) and water fountains only a couple of feet off the floor.  It was also notoriously cold or hot (depending on where your room was located and the time of the year).  And the best part is the memory of the bat flying through our Geometry room during class once.  True story.  

A new school has since been built and this building is now home to the Centennial Hall Museum.  Yes, the oldest standing high school in Nebraska, where I went (groan), is now a museum.  I'm pretty sure you qualify for geezerhood when your school is now a museum, but moving right along....  The building is rumored to be haunted and several paranormal investigations have been done there. Go check it out and be sure to come back and tell me if you experience anything other-worldly!

So, let's see... scenic drives, river trips, steaks, haunted high school... that ought to keep you busy for a while.  Oh, and the Wildlife Refuge is very cool - you can see buffalo grazing on the prairie!   If you still have time, go for a hike, check out a waterfall, go fishing or check out the quaint downtown area with hearts stenciled on the sidewalks.

Downtown Valentine with hearts stencilled on the sidewalk and heart shaped signs

After much deliberation (read "procrastinating"),  I decided to take my inspiration from the heart symbol.  (Another insider tip:  be sure to drive north on Main Street after dark and go clear to the end where you can see the lit heart up on the hill across from the city park.)  I haven't tried actually knotting a heart before and I really wanted to knot it, not just use a heart shaped bead or pendant, so I started playing around with the idea.

 First attempt at knotting a heart shape in micro macrame

My first attempt was pretty rough, but it did help me figure out a few things.  My second attempt was much better, I think.

Original heart micro macrame design by Sherri Stokey of Knot Just Macrame

As you can see, I kept the double heart design, but modified the center portion a bit and tidied up the knot work.  I switched to a red cord appropriate for the theme and added some beads into the mix.

Original heart micro macrame design by Sherri Stokey of Knot Just Macrame

This piece is far from my comfort zone, but I think it fits the Heart City perfectly.  I hope you'll take some time and visit the others involved in this challenge - I know I will!  (Find the list here.)  And if you'd like to read more about my version of Mayberry, check out this post.   Thanks for stopping by!!

August 21, 2013

Summer Vacation Swap - Part II

Summer Vacation Swap with Egypt theme

Remember my last post when I told you about a Summer Vacation Swap I did (if not, you can see it here).  Well, I got the package from my partner, Lennis Carrier of Windbent, and she did GOOD!  What a fun swap!

Anybody who knows me could probably tell you my dream vacation, my "trip of a lifetime" would be to go to Egypt.  I've wanted to go there since I was a little girl, looking through the pages of National Geographic.  Two years ago I ALMOST got to go.  I'd spent hours and hours figuring out how to fit the most into our limited budget and had an itinerary all planned.  We had tickets purchased (and trip insurance, thank goodness).  About a month before we were scheduled to leave, rioting broke out in Cairo.  We had to cancel the trip.  I was really bummed, and truth be told, I'm still kind of pouty about it.  If you have a couple minutes to waste and you want a chuckle, check this out - it's my photo montage of how I ALMOST got to go to Egypt.  But, I digress.  Back to the story at hand.

Blue Nile soap and vintage camel figurine

Lennis found this cool little vintage camel for me.  I should have taken a picture of the bottom - there's a marking (in Arabic?).  He's a very cool character with loads of attitude.  I approve.  And Lennis has a good sense of humor as evidenced by the "Blue Nile" soap.  It made the whole package smell nice!

Necklace, earrings and ring by Lennis Carrier of Windbent

Lennis made a necklace, ring and earring set for me, using a little bit of everything to achieve this funky, eclectic feel.  I love it.  She blended new pieces with vintage and used bone, glass, stone, ceramic, lampwork and wood.  The round painted wood bead is from Zambia, as are the recycled glass beads.  Each little piece is just a treasure in itself.  Did you spot the little scarab in there?

Beads and pendants with Egyptian theme

She also included a little booty bag with some metal pendants , lucite beads and glass scarabs.  And vintage postcards!  A whole set with really cool pictures:

Vintage Egyptian postcards

And my most favorite of all?  My very own shabti, handcrafted by Ms. Lennis herself.    Shabti were figures placed in tombs in ancient Egypt to do manual labor for the deceased.  The "instruction manual" for them is the Egyptian Book of the Dead - which, by the way, isn't really a book, no matter what they show  in the mummy movies.  It isn't really even one thing.  It's more of a series of ancient texts and spells that were painted on objects like walls and sarcophagi and sometimes even papyrus.  I think the real thing is so much more interesting:

Egyptian Book of the Dead painting

I had hoped to get to see pieces like that one on my trip of a lifetime and I am saddened to think of such amazing ancient pieces being looted and destroyed.  I saw a news story recently of people burning mummies and smashing statues.  Irreplaceable objects gone after having survived for millennea.

Back to the here and now, though.  Check out the shabti Lennis made for me:

Shabti by Lennis Carrier of Windbent

You don't have a shabti?  Too bad for you!  These little guys will do your dirty work in the afterlife.  I'm thinking one isn't going to be enough for me, so this might just have to be the first of many.

August 12, 2013

Summer Vacation Swap

Are you wondering what this photo is all about?  Well, one of the groups to which I belong was having a finished item swap I just couldn't resist - the theme was Summer Vacation.  And the twist was that after partners were assigned, we revealed where our favorite vacation spot is or dream vacation spot would be.  Then we were to make a piece of finished jewelry for our partner based on their destination and find little gifts and/or treats to go along with it.

My partner was Lennis Carrier of Windbent.  If her name sounds familiar to you, it's because I LOVE her stuff.  Remember those little beach hut beads?  (Jog your memory here if you don't.)  Lennis made those.  She also made the little penguin bead here.  Suffice it to say, I'm a fan. 

Lennis said her dream vacation would be a trip to Germany.  I've never been to Germany, either, so I did a lot of research.  From what I could find, Germany appears to be a very modern country with very old roots.  The countryside is beautiful and you can have your pick of weather, depending on your location.  Germany has been called"the land of poets and thinkers" and has played a major part in the development of Western culture.  Some of the most well known classical composers were German, including Beethoven and Bach.  There's just a wealth of things to see and do there:  museums, zoos, castles, parks....  How to narrow that down?  Oh, are you still wondering about that first photo?  Well, hold on to that thought - we'll get there!

Lennis likes old things, so I decided I'd make her "vacation" center around that.  We'd start at the Imperial Baths of Trier, the ruins of a Roman public bath complex constructed in the fourth century AD.  Holy cow, people!  That's cool.  Yep, old naked Romans hung out here.  I think it's amazingly awesome (the fact that it still remains, not the naked Roman butts thing).  When I see places like this it makes me think of what it must have been like for the people who frequented the place.  What sort of lives did they lead?  Did they have families?  Were they happy?  What did the eat for meals?  How did they fill their days?  When they invent a time travel machine, I'm going back, folks.  I have no desire to know what the future holds, but I'd dearly love to peek in on our ancestors.

Imperial Baths of Trier in Germany

Ever wonder where Walt Disney came up with the design for Cinderella's castle?  The iconic castle we Americans picture when someone mentions the word castle?  That would be Neuschwanstein Castle.  Have a look:

Neuschwanstein Castle

Oh.  Em. Gee.  Now that's incredible.  Breathtakingly beautiful.  (Oh, and if you're wondering where I got these amazing photos, I found them at Wikipedia Commons and they are all public domain.)  Just makes you want to bring your suitcase and stay forever, doesn't it?

The Altes Museum and would also be on my Lennis' itinerary.  Sadly, the original museum was destroyed during WWII, but it has since been rebuilt.  The Altes is home to the Ancient Worlds: Greeks, Etruscans and Romans Exhibit, which sounds fantastic.  Here's a snippet:  " Right from the outset, the visitor's gaze is drawn towards the next rooms containing archaic temples and tomb monuments dating from the 6th century BCE, in the form of a 'Holy Way' that leads to the colossal kouros of Didyma, where the colourful 'Berlin Goddess' can also be seen looking the 'Sabouroff Head' straight in the eye."  See what I mean?  I would dearly love to be able to see that - I mean, I'm sure Lennis would love to see that!

And the Neues Museum is right next to the Altes - connected via a tunnel, if I read correctly.  Now, Lennis' dream vacation is Germany, but I've always wanted to go to Egypt.  Clear back to my childhood when I'd pore over the National Geographic magazines and dream of pyramids....  And the Neues Museum just happens to have an amazing collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts, including this iconic bust of Nefertiti:

By Nofretete_Neues_Museum.jpg: Xenon 77 derivative work: Smalljim (Nofretete_Neues_Museum.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

 I also think Lennis might like poking around in dusty old antique shops in Germany.  I spent some time doing a little "virtual" antiquing and came up with some fun gifts for her.

This button is from the Kingdom of Prussia, which existed from 1701-1918, and has a Kingdom of Prussia coat of arms on it.   I just love the crusty patina.  This next button is even better - you can tell it has spent some time underground because it's really crusty.  It is an Imperial German Navy button and comes from the period between 1871 and 1919.

I also picked up with picture postcard just because I thought it was cool. 

  I sure wish I could read it!

And for Lennis' finished jewelry piece, I chose to make a micro macrame bracelet based on a palette I made from an old photo I found when I was researching - a girl from the Black Forest and .  AHA, you say!  THERE'S the tie in for that first photo! Something about this picture spoke to me.  I used Paint Shop to pull a palette of softly muted, misty colors.

Black Forest lady circa 1900 with color palette

And then used those colors in this micro macrame bracelet.

I hope Lennis likes it.  I hope she likes everything, actually!  And I hope it will hold her until she actually gets to make a trip to see Germany for herself.

August 9, 2013

Micro Macrame Tutorials and Classes - Where the Heck Do I Start?!

Micro macrame bracelets by Sherri Stokey of Knot Just Macrame

Every one of these bracelets is made using the knotting technique referred to as micro macrame (or sometimes beaded macrame).  Want to learn how to do this yourself?   You've might heard by now that I am offering tutorials and eClasses for micro macrame (yes, okay, finally!).  But now you're probably wondering which class is the best fit for you?  Let's see if I can shed a little light on the matter.

If you're new to micro macrame, the first thing you might want to do is check out this free eClass at - Micro Macrame 101.  It covers a few of the basics like what tools and materials you will need, some alternatives for pinning surfaces and an overview on cords.  Handy, basic information.

Braids micro macrame bracelet tutorial and colorways

If you're ready to start knotting, I'd suggest either the Braids tutorial on Etsy or the Micro Macrame Wrap Bracelet eClass on  Both are geared toward beginners.  The Braids bracelet uses just a couple of knots, while the Wrap walks you through learning five different knots.  I've included loads of photos in each of them.  I'm really proud of the Wrap pattern because I feel like it's a really fun way to learn your knots and it has loads of potential for personalization.

Micro macrame knotted wrap bracelet by Sherri Stokey eClass available

The Hydreangeas Bracelet and Earrings eClass is just one step up in difficulty.  It uses more cords and more beads, but I've included some video clips as well as all of the photographs to help you.  If you don't need quite as much instruction as that, the Hydrangeas .pdf might be perfect for you.  The Leaves .pdf falls somewhere in this same area.  It only uses a couple of knots, but you'll need to know how to do them in order to follow the tutorial.

Hydranges micro macrame bracelet tutorial
Leaves micro macrame bracelet tutorial

The last pattern I have right now is the ZigZag bracelet.  It was the first tutorial I made, but you'll notice I've put it last in my list.  The instructions on this one are not quite as clear as I'd like for beginners .  I've definitely improved with successive tutorials.  I haven't removed it from sale, though, because it is a great design and if you are familiar with micro macrame, you should be able to follow it without much problem.  One of these days I'll get around to rewriting it and expanding on it because it is fun and I've done quite a few variations on it like this;

Zig Zag micro macrame bracelet variation

Hopefully that will clear up any confusion on where you should start.  Give it a try!  I think you'll be surprised at what you can do.  Oh, and just to make it a little bit easier for you, I've got kits for most of the tutorials available in my Etsy shop with the cord, beads and findings all together for you.  Just call me The Enabler.

August 4, 2013

Year of Jewelry Project, Week 31 - At The Beach

Sea star palette by Design Seeds

The theme for this week in the Year of Jewelry Project was right up my alley - At The Beach!  That has Sherri written all over it.  And as if that weren't motivation enough, a customer sent me this sea star palette (by Design Seeds) and asked if I could make her a bracelet in those colors.  Boy howdy!  I started by pulling cord and beads from my stash.  I had a pretty good matching selection of cord, a ton of seed beads and several fun things.  Those pale green beads are vintage (pre-WWII) Japanese.  The glass flower headpin is by Amy Sutton, the owl and the round pendant next to it is by my friend Shelley Graham of Tori Sophia, and the fabulous seahorse and fish ceramics are by Sheri Mallery of Slingin' Mud.  I told you this palette played right into my hand.

Close up of beaded macrame bracelet in teals and orange

I started out using the colors in a pattern of deep waves.  I do love the way the orange color makes everything else pop.  But the waves got me thinking... and I decided to try something different.  I used a wave pattern, but in cord colors graduating from the deepest teal up through the soft greenish color and then into the sandy tan.  When I added beads, I kept them random, again mimicking the colors of deeper water with highlights up through the foamy green and into the sand.  

Beach waves and sand knotted in cord and beads macrame

And for the finishing touch, I added a little orange howlite sea star bead on the chain.

Micro macrame bracelet with random bead placement by Sherri Stokey

I had such fun with this palette.  I'm keeping this bead and cord out and I hope to make more pieces in these colors and hopefully incorporate one of the artist's beads.  I'll keep you posted.  But for now, I'm putting a done stamp on Year of Jewelry Week 31 - nailed it!

Micro macrame bracelets by Sherri Stokey of Knot Just Macrame

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