Sue Spitulnik

Writing, Sewing, Travel, and Thoughts



Dirty Neckties

Tessa stood looking at the memorial necktie quilt and wondered why the creator had not tried to clean the neckties. When she read the explanation card, it said, “These ties were bought all over the world, where ever we traveled for golf tournaments. I purposely did not try to remove the stains as they reminded me of the meals we had in each location. The light blue paisley tie with the red jam smear stain was the one my husband wore at our son’s wedding. The jam smear was compliments of our granddaughter. It was his favorite dirty necktie.”

Written in response to Charli Mills February 13, 2023, prompt from Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a smear of jam. Is it across a slice of toast, a white shirt, or something unexpected? The jam could be the focus or detail that ads a twist. Who are the characters with the jam and where are they situated in space and time? Go where the prompt leads!

Mystery Harvest Shop Hop 2022 – Day 2

When writing Day 1’s activities, I forgot to mention that Bolts and Quarters Quilt shop is in Parkersburg, WV. The checkout line stalled because of a computer problem, so I talked to a lady from the local area. I told her that my stepson had attended Kentucky University 20 years ago and had introduced me to extra smooth moonshine, which was unavailable for sale in any store. I leaned closer and asked her if she knew where I could get some. The other ladies that could hear me were a bit surprised at my boldness and request, but who cares. I didn’t have a way to travel to get what I wanted, so actually, I was wasting my time asking. But the incident makes a fun memory. I know others might not agree.

As time was of the essence, Jean had made hotel reservations where they offered complimentary breakfast. Nancy and I chose to shower at night and sleep a bit longer, so we brought breakfast protein bars with us. Jean coaxed us with an extra raffle ticket if we were on time getting on the bus. We all complied. Side note about John, our driver. He loaded all the luggage each morning and unloaded it each evening. He loaded and unloaded two walkers at each store and restaurant stop, all with a smile and a gentle hand if anyone needed it on the steps. I wrote his bus company, Fitzgerald Brothers, a note of thanks.

Our first stop on Thursday was at Quilts by Phyllis in Hurricane, WV. The shop was set off the road in a strip plaza and looked small, but the inside went back a long way and was a great shop. On one of the shelves, there was a fat quarter bundle of blue and white prints that I had been admiring online for a few months. With them on sale, I did not hesitate. I make a lot of Patriotic quilts, and the blues were perfect. Nancy and I sat at the front of the bus, so we could be some of the first in and out of the stores. On the other side of the parking lot was a place called Java Joe’s. A few of us made our way there for a good cup of coffee. To our surprise, all she had was a standard pot of coffee she made fresh for us. As a treat, I added Jack Daniels to mine. Why not? I was on vacation and not driving. Some noticed it was only ten in the morning! What we found out when we asked to use the bathroom was there was a dark gambling room through the swinging doors, and it was quite active. We have gambling in NY, but generally not in the back of a coffee shop. Live and learn.

I should explain when quilters go on a shop hop; they often set themselves a budget. But as any shopping trip goes, there seems to be plenty of money to start, so picking things out isn’t as controlled as at the end of the trip. I’m guilty. In the end, I was only 25% over budget, but my spending included dinners, extra beverages, a tip for John, and a fat quarter for Jean. My husband thought I did well. He’s a generous and understanding hubby.

Our second stop was at Sew Many Blessings in Huntington, WV. I realized that having the bus driver, with Jean navigating, find the stores for us took away the exhilaration of finding the stores myself. They are often off the beaten path, so it was worth it in the long run. Five stops in one day is a lot. This store was smaller than the others but just as welcoming, stocked, and pleasant to visit.

Our lunch sandwiches were delivered to the bus from a nearby deli. The girls that ordered ham got it on a croissant and said it was delicious. I ordered turkey and was not as happy. The roll was huge, and the meat was extremely sweet and non-existent compared to the roll. I did expect the turkey to taste like turkey. I didn’t hear any other comments, and you could call me picky. Sorry.

We kept on rolling to Quilt Heaven Quilt Shop in Grayson, KY. Before going into the store, we unloaded about 35 quilts we had brought to donate to victims of the recent Kentucky floods. It felt good to be able to help. In this shop, I found a cute car mechanic panel and the border fabrics used in a quilt sample hanging in the store. I bought them because they made me smile.

I had looked on the bus seat in front of us for a charging plug for my phone on Wednesday but had not found one. Today we were told there is a plug hidden out of sight, under our knees on the seat we are sitting in. Nancy was able to get me plugged in. More homemade goodies were passed out on our way to the next store. We are traveling through gently rolling hills that are still green. Another month from now, the colors will be gorgeous. The road winds around the bases of hills and would be a pleasure on a motorcycle or in a convertible.

Next up was the Quilter’s Candy Shop in Grayson, KY. This shop had two resident dogs, Annabelle and Murdock. I’m a pet person, so I had to pet them though they weren’t impressed. Morehead State University resides in this town, and the college coffee shop had all the fancy drinks one would expect in a coffee shop. I got a frozen mocha and texted my husband, wondering if our friend was still a coach at the college. He didn’t know, but it was fun to reminisce and check in at home.

Our last shop of the day, allowing an hour in each store and about an hour of driving time in between, had us arriving at the Apron Strings Quilts in Maysville, KY, at 5:15 PM, only 15 minutes behind schedule. I had wondered how staying on time was going to happen. Jean was never bossy but talked like a firm teacher you knew better than to pick on. That’s a compliment! And, she bribed us with more raffle tickets. Who doesn’t love to win a prize? All that day and some of the next, the raffle prizes had been donated by Phyllis from the first shop that morning.

Another fun bus fact: a big coach-type bus takes up a lot of space. John would drop us at a store’s front door and then go find someplace to park for the hour. Jean would call him when most of us finished in the store. At Apron Strings, there were open parking places in front of the store at the right time, so we ladies went out and blocked them to other users. I didn’t realize we had our backs to the passing cop car until I got home and looked closer at the pictures. I wonder what the cop was thinking.

I heard a comment as people boarded the bus: “I could kick myself for not getting that kit last night.” Soon, someone shouted up to John, asking if we could stay Saturday morning to be able to return to Bolts and Quarters on the way home. He answered that he was on a time restriction and legally, he couldn’t, you know, like pilots can only fly so many hours without a break. More on that tomorrow.

We had dinner at the Tumbleweed Tex Mex Grill in Maysville, KY. They had set up a single table for us in a separate room and assigned one server. You’ve got to be kidding!! I’ve worked in dinners and a fancy hotel as a server. I’ve never seen a server with more than ten guests at one table. You can call me a grumbler; I admit it. We arrived at 6:50 PM, and our server didn’t take our order until 7:30 PM. When we finally got our food, it was hot and delicious. They kept us stocked in chips and salsa and water refills. When I received my bill, I left my cash on the table and walked out to prevent myself from giving the manager a piece of my mind. Nancy told me I was a good girl to walk away. I don’t know if others were frustrated, and it didn’t help that I was tired.

John got us to the Hampton Inn at 9:12 PM. Again, we had no time to socialize with friends.

Mystery Harvest Shop Hop – Day 1

When someone tells you they are an avid quilter, you can generally assume the following:

  • They will drive over 100 miles to visit a quilt shop.
  • They don’t use inexpensive fabrics.
  • They know fabric manufacturers’ names as if they are close friends.
  • They own more than one sewing machine and have a sewing room.
  • They have more fabric than they can use in a lifetime but will happily buy more.
  • They know other quilters.

All of the above apply to me, and I’m proud of it. Every bed in my house has a quilt with window valences to match. The couch has a quilt, as does my chair. There are worn quilts in the basement and many quilt projects to finish in my studio. So why did I just go on a four-day bus trip to visit 12 quilt shops in three states? Because it was fun to get away with 41 other ladies, some I knew well, and others I got to know better and visit a different part of this big country.

We went on the Mystery Harvest Quilt Shop Hop from September 28 – October 1, 2022. When this hop started 16 years ago, there were clues to a mystery given at each store; now, the fabric panel they have made special for the occasion is the mystery because it’s not revealed ahead of time. The artwork in it is stunning, and I bought it at our first stop.

The organization is key to a good bus trip experience, and Jean L. is a master organizer. The planning, communication with stores, hotel reservations, and lunch orders were all done ahead of time by Jean and her helper, Wendy. I had never seen one person check in 42 people at a hotel so there was no waiting. It was an experience. It was also one of the highlights for me because we went full speed all day, and I was tired. 

On the bus trip down and back, Jean had us playing card bingo, doing word searches, listening to demonstrations, checking our raffle numbers for prizes, and doing fun exercises so we could get to know each other. Quilting magazines were passed around for reading material, and about every half hour someone came through the aisle with homemade cookies and fruit breads. We did not go hungry. Thank you to all the bakers. At one point, Jean was handing out apples. Someone asked, “What kind?” She looked in the bag and back at the person. “They were given to me; they’re apples!” After we got done laughing, we tasted them and decided they were Honey Crisp.

Jean sat behind the bus driver, John, so she could use the microphone to talk to all of us. She also helped wipe off the windshield that insisted on condensing over until the sunshine got warm enough to keep it dry. John called his headquarters, FitzGerald Brothers, and they told him to wash the inside windshield with shaving cream. That evening he asked for a can of shaving cream at the front desk, or maybe Jean did since John has a full beard. They cleaned the windshield in the morning and had no more trouble with it. Who knew? 

There was a “bathroom” on the bus, as small as an airplanes. I’m not fussy where I go, but this was a new experience. It was a chore to keep my balance trying to get my pants down or up as we rounded curves and hit bumps. The tiny room also seemed to have a heater stuck in the on position. John later explained the toilet was over the engine, and the fan was supposed to keep the exhaust at bay. I can attest it did that, but it also heated the seat up to a little more than comfortable. I should add we did make a potty stop on the way down. Can you guess how long it takes 42 women to accomplish that with getting off and back on the bus? At the PA Welcome Center, it was only 17 minutes total!

All the shops we visited had complimentary snacks and water, which we weren’t used to. Each shop also gave between 20 and 30% discount on most items. How can one not pick out an unneeded pretty fabric when it has such a reasonable price? Some may call it a “sickness” the way quilters buy fabric on speculation. I figure I’m buying for the future when my husband and I are on a fixed income.

Our first stop was at Neff’s Country Loft in Belpre, OH. We learned quickly that most of the stores had lots of Moda fabrics, a favorite of quilters. We were also in a historic area of the country, so there were plenty of what we call “Civil War prints.” Most quilt shops don’t have 40 shoppers at once, so they only have one or two cutting counters and one register. This slowed us down throughout the trip as only an hour at each stop was on the schedule. Everyone cooperating made it work. 

Our second stop was at Bolts and Quarters Quilt shop. Brian McCoy, who is called the Redneck Quilter, owns it. His staff is half men, and he can claim to be the largest shop in square feet west of the Mississippi. He also has an artificial leg because of cancer when he was six. I talked to him about it as I write a fiction serial about veterans, and my main character is an amputee. This shop was my favorite. We went back to visit it a second time on Friday evening. 

We went to Cracker Barrel for dinner. Again, Jean had called ahead, so they were expecting us. They split us into groups of 4, 6, and 10, so no one server was overwhelmed, and neither was the kitchen. It worked well. 

My roommate and friend, Nancy P., and I had expected to have some social time in the evenings with other ladies, but by the time we got to our room it was after 8:00 PM. We heard no noise in the hallways of the Comfort Inn in Mineral Wells, WV, and got a good night’s sleep. 

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