Posted: under Homemaking, Travel.
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Oia, Santorini

Oia, Santorini

Patina –  (noun) – color and texture of the surface produced by wear.

Is it any wonder that I am attracted to furniture with patina?  Immediately even new furniture in my home takes on “patina”.  Certainly  you can purchase mechanically pre-worn furniture, but honestly, no factory can reproduce the impassioned fork marks on the top of my dining room table made by my toddler.  Or the teeth marks on the bed post. Or the tire tracks on the coffee table.

I am comfortable with having love-worn furnishings instead of those that are shiny and new.  I gave up superficial perfection long ago.  My priority is child rearing, not House Beautiful.

But there is a tension between “vintage” and “neglected” and between mature, refined furnishing and those that are dilapidated.  It is hard to verbalize, but I know it when I see it.  And I have never seen age and antiquity harmonize with beauty  so well as it does in the Greek island of Santorini.

Fira, Santorini

Fira, Santorini

In all of my travels I have never seen a civilized place so beautiful as Santorini.  Perched on the caldera of a dormant volcano, it basks in the Mediterranean sunlight in glorious shades of blue and white.

Sun drenched Santorini

Sun drenched Santorini

I suppose if I had to name a “perfect day”, it was the day my husband and I hiked from Fira to Oia.

Doug and Cyndi

An attempt to revive the memories of that day inspired the color-scheme of my homeschool room.

Blue and white church

I spend most of my waking hours in my school room.  We built it as an addition to our home the year after our trip to Greece.  I knew exactly how I wanted it !  Abundant sunlight.  Geometric patterns.  Vivid blues and creamy whites.

My schoolroom

My schoolroom

Three chairs in my much-used schoolroom crossed the barrier from “well-worn” into “spent”.  They are antique chairs but are not valuable.  I frequently have to re-glue and clamp them.  No chair can withstand the mechanical leverage of a child leaning back.  Every one of my nine children seems determined to assault my chairs.

Looking not-so-charming

Looking not-so-charming

I was contemplating the replacement of these chairs when I stumbled upon a number of wood refinishing Do-It-Yourself sites while unwinding before bedtime.  (I know.  I should have been knocking out that summer reading list. )  But I was inspired!  I rarely embark on DIY projects, but I rocketed into this one with a sense of determination.

Four steps would take me through the project.

1.  Paint furniture with a vibrant-colored base coat.

"Oh no, what have I done?"

“Oh no, what have I done?”

That moment when you wonder if you should stop.

That moment when you wonder if you should stop.

2.  Apply lightly a neutral-colored top coat using a “dry brush” technique.







It is desirable for the base coat to peek through the top coat.


3.  Roughen edges and vulnerable areas with 80 grit sandpaper.



4.  Apply a tinted glaze, then promptly wipe it off with a damp paper towel.

Waiting to dry

Waiting to dry

The final effect

The final effect


My children were critical of my project.  “Mom, why did you make that chair ugly?”

My tough critic

My toughest critic

I am pleased with the result.  The colors are warm; the chairs are visually interesting.

Basking in light

Basking in light

In no time, I am sure, this paint job will be dinged up, peeled off, and worn out.

At home in the schoolroom

At home in the schoolroom

My faux painting will have achieved “patina”.



Comments (1) Sep 17 2013

Worth the Effort

Posted: under Hiking, Photography, Pregnancy, Scuba diving, Snorkeling, Travel, Underwater photography.
Tags: , , ,

Green sea turtle

I was pregnant with my eighth child when I last visited Hawaii.  Actually, I was about six weeks shy of my due date. (I didn’t tell my midwife and she never asked about  my unseasonal tan.)

It is not like my husband and I planned to vacation in the third trimester of my pregnancy. He actually had to attend a medical conference (critical care, I think), and I was determined that he was not going to Hawaii without me.

Essential: snorkeling gear, water, and GPS

Pregnancy prevented me from scuba diving.  Never mind the fact that I could  not possibly fit into my wet suit! I was so buoyant, it would have taken several cannon balls to sink me! So the activities of choice were hiking and snorkeling.

The trail begins with lush vegetation.

On Maui  our best experience was off of Cape Kina’u, on the leeward side of the island.  In my experience, trail heads are rarely marked in any of the islands, so GPS and a thorough guide book are essential.  The entrance to our path was vague. We were to find a path 7/10 of a mile before the second to last telephone pole, not visible by car.We found it, and entered a trail flanked by lush foliage which quickly gave way to a vast lava field.  This type of lava is called a’a (pronounced ah ah), no doubt because that is what you would say if you attempted to traverse it barefoot.

I knew my feet were down there somewhere.

The hike was not terribly long, but I had two particular challenges: an altered center of gravity and the inability to see my feet.

This cove was our goal.

It was very rewarding to reach the cove and don my fins, mask, and diving gloves. Gloves are essential! The shoreline is densely guarded by pin-cushion-sharp sea urchins.

We enjoyed floating about, gazing down upon colorful sea stars, sergeant majors, and even a few humuhumunukunukuapua’as. Then who should come barreling through a gap in the rock? Not one, but two enormous green sea turtles. It was immediately obvious that they had no intention of going around us, and we had better get out of the way.

Up-close viewing of these elegant creatures of the sea made the effort entirely worthwhile.  You may remember from my first post, Poppies in Provence  , my conviction that the sweetest moments in life are rarely planned.

A’a as far as the eye can see!

The joyful experience of my encounter with the turtles made my return trip across the a’a a little less daunting.

Comments (2) Nov 08 2012

Blue – The Way I Like It

Posted: under Photography, Travel.
Tags: , , ,

Grand Cayman Horizon








“What are you doing?  What ARE you doing?  What on earth are you doing?”  My husband was growing increasingly perplexed.  How could I explain to him that I was photographing the HORIZON.  How could he possibly understand that in the horizon off the island of Grand Cayman I found AZURE PERFECTION!

That’s right!  Perfection. No matter how much I look at it, I never tire of the color of blue. How thankful I am (for more reasons than one) that God cloaked the earth in an atmosphere to give us a blue sky by day, instead of black like on the moon.  How soothing to the eyes and calming to the soul!

Lavender and Turquoise

When I was in college I spent a good deal of time studying theatrical lighting design.  There was a never-ending dialog about whether a particular fill light was “warm” or “cool”.  Non-techies just couldn’t get it.  They would think warm=yellow, like the sun, and cool=blue, like ice.  Color theory in lighting design bears only a slight resemblance to your kindergarten color wheel, so after a while, you shrug your shoulders and give up.

Yet another attempt to capture the view.

But there, on the horizon of the island of Grand Cayman, one can see a  “cool blue” lavender sky harmonize with the  “warm blue” turqoise water (color not temperature).  The combination is intensely satisfying and restful, and if you are reclining in a hammock in Grand Cayman, it is probably because you needed a vacation.

Blue is always a perfect backdrop.

Why aren’t the waters off of Tybee Beach, twenty minutes from home, this color?

Is it any wonder that Grand Cayman, home of the perfect blue horizon, is also the only native home of the RARE BLUE IGUANA?  Kinda makes you think, huh?

Cyclura lewisi, aka Blue Iquana

Comments (1) Nov 07 2012


Posted: under Travel.
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Flag of Chicago


The flag of Chicago depicts two blue stripes, representing Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, and four red stars, representing significant historical events in the city.  I believe the Chicago flag should depict a phoenix, because out of the Great Fire of Chicago in 1871 arose a beautiful, modern city.

I had the opportunity to visit Chicago last year with my husband.  He had to attend training (advanced interventional bronchoscopy stuff.  Zzzzzz.) so I got to explore the big city of Chicago and  meet up with a high school chum, Melisa Wells.  I had not seen her since high school graduation.  Melisa sat in front of me in AP English, and we shared a fascination with British music and world travel.  Melisa wanted to become a writer; I wanted to become an exotic animal veterinarian and work in a captive breeding program in a large zoo.  Fast forward 25 years – she is a published author and I?  Well, many of you would say that I run my own zoo.

Best of all, Melisa has written a guidebook to visiting Chicago.  It is called Chicken in the Car but the Car Won’t Go: Nearly 200 Ways to Enjoy Chicagoland with Teens and Tweens.  You can check it out at  So one of the wonderful things about having an expert show me around the city of Chicago is that SHE KNOWS WHERE ALL THE COOLEST STUFF IS!

We started our day at the Rookery.  The Lobby, designed by Frank Lloyd Wrigh, was stunning.

The Rookery lobby, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

The next stop was the Willis Building, that extremely tall skyscraper known to most of the world as “the Sears Tower”.  The building is 110 floors tall, and on the 103 floor is the breath-taking Skydeck and, best of all, the Ledge.  The Ledge is a glass room that protrudes from the building.  Brave souls can stand on the Ledge and look straight down 103 stories to the street below.  I was mesmerized.

The view from 103 stories up.


The Ledge

Spectacular skyline

View to Lake Michigan, Grant Park, Shedd Aquarium

While the Willis Tower was literally the “high point” of my visit, Melisa knew where to find, in an unlikely location, one of the most dazzling sights my eyes have beheld.  In Macy’s department store on State Street, a location that was formerly a Marshall Fields, is the largest example of Tiffany favrile glass IN THE WORLD.  Right there!  On the ceiling!  She led me to the fifth floor, where we had to squeeze past the lady’s undergarments for a closer view.

Tiffany favrile glass

On the ceiling of a department store!

Right up there on the fifth floor, along with the undergarments.

Hard to take in all the beauty!

To see this beauty in the midst of department store clutter! What must it have been like in its heyday?

After a lunch of, what else?  Chicago-style pizza, we headed toward the Wrigley Building and took an architectural boat tour.

I suppose one of the things that stands out to me about the architecture in Chicago is that the designers seemed to be led by VISION.  They did not seek to merely build a big block to “get the job done”.  They followed inspiration.  For example, one building, the AON building, is constructed to that there are no corner offices. Another skyscraper (don’t remember which) has a design that creates LOTS of corner offices.

Some buildings seemed rather playful in their design.  Aqua takes its inspiration from the undulating waters of Lake Michigan.


The Jewelers Building looks styled like a woman’s engagement ring.

Jewelers Building

Marina Building

The skyscaper, 77 West Wacker, was a modern take on a Roman temple.

Romanesque skyscraper at 77 West Wacker

Faux flying buttresses on the Tribune Tower

The skyline of Chicago is a feast for the eyes.  My son’s point-and-shoot camera does not do it justice.  Which of course means I need to plan another trip.  And hopefully, another personalized tour!

Friend and personal tour guide, Melisa Wells.




Comments (3) Nov 06 2012

Nigardsbreen Glacier: A Blue Snowcone

Posted: under Hiking, Travel.
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Nigardsbreen Glacier, Norway

Hiking up Nigardsbreen Glacier was like hiking up a giant blue snowcone.  I was taken by surprise by the intensity of the blue ice.  In fact, I was entirely captivated by the unique beauty of the glacier.  It was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

Never in my life did I imagine that I would have an opportunity to hike on a glacier.  I was born and raised in the South. I had never even seen a glacier.  And my preferred vacation experiences usually take me hiking in the Mediterranean or scuba diving in the Tropics.  Please note: both are warm locations.

My husband, who usually flees cold weather, did something he had never done before.  He signed us up for a guided trip to Norway, organized by REI Adventures.  We spent nine days kayaking and hiking the fjords of Norway with 13 other adventurers whom I grew to adore.  The experience was amazing and the hike up Nigardsbreen Glacier was the climax.

The approach to the glacier is low key.  It merely looks like a blue bank of ice.  The distance minimizes the enormous scale of the glacier, and with an excellent camera lens, you realize that those smaller-than-ant dots are a party of hikers.

Approaching the glacier

Hikers, like ants, ascend the glacier on the right

Before climbing, each hiker is fitted with crampons and given an ice ax.

Crampons, a fashion necessity

On the ice, crampons are essential. But they are rather treacherous when standing on glacier-polished rock.

Waiting to be harnessed for the ascent

Mingma Tsiri Sherpa

Our group was guided by an honest-to-goodness sherpa from Nepal.  This man, Mingma Tsiri Sherpa, has summited Mount Everest 18 times, and he and six brothers hold the Guinness World Record for the most summits of Everest within a family.  For him, I am sure trekking across Nigardsbreen Glacier is effortless, but he was not at all arrogant or cavalier.  Instead he impressed me with his gentleness and humility.  On our descent he stopped another guided group to tighten a woman’s harness.   I think her risk of falling into a crevasse was slim-to-none, but I was impressed that he took steps to ensure her safety.


The sky was overcast, which was a mixed blessing. It prevented us from being blinded by the glare and obscured a blue sky that might have, otherwise, competed with the brilliant blue glacier ice. No, that isn’t a reflection of the sky.  That is ancient snow that has had the air squeezed out of it over much time and great pressure.

Peering back into time

The color was shocking, both in hue and intensity.

The last group photo of my dear hiking companions was taken just a few hours before we said goodbye, parted ways, and returned to normal lives.  I say “normal”, but you never return from an adventure unchanged.


Comments (0) Nov 02 2012

Italy: Advice to the Traveler

Posted: under Hiking, Italy, Photography, Travel.
Tags: , , , ,

Ligurian Marina



I have just returned from a trip to Italy and a friend will be traveling there soon.  This was my fourth trip to southern Europe in five years.  While I recognize there are many variations from region to region, I offer this advice to someone who is traveling to Italy for the first time.  These are things that I have observed, read, and learned.  While most of my time is Italy has been spent on hiking and photography, I hope this advice will help the casual traveler.






  • How many Euros will you need?  Try to calculate, before you leave, whether or not you would need to spend a large sum of cash.  My husband and I prefer to stay in Bed and Breakfast Inns, and many require us to pay in cash.  If you know that you need several hundred Euros in cash, order it before you leave.  We found the best rate from Wells Fargo.  You order it online; they deliver it to your door.  If you just need a few hundred Euros for incidentals, try getting them from your bank.  They may not have it on hand, but they can order it for you.  AVOID exchanging money at the airport!  On my most recent trip, we rented a car and knew we needed small change for the toll road.  My husband exchanged some money at the airport.  The rate was terrible!  They pile on so many fees.  On that day, the exchange rate for €1 was $1.32.  Once all the service fees were added, it cost us closer to $1.76.
  • In Europe, the use of decimal points and commas in numbers is different.  $1.76 would be written $1,76.
  • When using a credit card, select a card that does not charge foreign transaction fees.  Those fees can add 2 – 3 % to the cost of each transaction, which adds up quickly!  I have an American Express that charges no foreign transaction fees, but it is not as widely accepted as Visa and Mastercard.
  • It is always worth asking the waiter if they accept your credit card when you arrive.  In Greece, time and time again restaurants had “credit cards accepted” signs in their windows, but then would claim that “the machine is broken”.  It happened SOOO OFTEN, that we concluded that they were lying.  They wanted cash.


The road a car must take to exit Montepulciano


  • When renting a car, we always purchase the extra insurance.  I can not imagine a faster way to ruin a vacation than to get into a car accident and have to navigate a foreign insurance claim.   When we returned our rental car, I overheard two other couples saying that they were returning their cars fairly dinged up. They were shrugging their shoulders and hoping everything would be okay.
  • Speaking of cars, mind that speed limit!  If you are caught speeding, Italian police can fine you on the spot!
  • Driving in Italy is not for the faint-hearted.  In Naples, it is “everyman for himself”.  There were lots of traffic lights, but none of them appeared to be working.  My husband finds driving in Italy to be exhilarating!
  • You are not going to believe how tiny some of those roads are!  What we might believe to be a mere pedestrian pathway may actually be a two-lane road.  Well, maybe not “two-lane”, but “two-way”, and you pray and pray that you don’t meet a truck.


  • I took a year of Italian in college, which enables me to decipher most signs.  Many menus will also be written in English, but mind you, it will be British English.  I marvel how many Americans don’t know the British equivalents!  Here a few that are often encountered:  melanzane – aubergine – eggplant, zucchine – courgettes – zucchini, zucca – marrow – squash, patatine – crisps – potato chips
  • I recommend taking an Italian phrase book.
  • If you get lost, ask a German.  They usually speak flawless English, and always seem to know where they are going.


A perfect lunch


  • When seated at a restaurant, the water will ask you about what kind of water you want every time. The first thing he may say to you upon seating you is, “With gas?” and you may be startled by this inquiry.  He wants to know whether or not you want your water carbonated.  If  you don’t want it carbonated, say “no gas”, or “sensa gas”,  “still”, or “flat”.  Amusing, but you get used to sitting down and immediately saying, “No gas!”
  • Most restaurants will charge you a cover charge (coperto).  I have seen these range from € 1,50 to as much as  € 6, and that is charged per person!  A service charge (from 10 – 18%) may also be charged and included in the bill.  If there is a service charge, you don’t need to tip.  Otherwise, tipping 10% is customary.
  • In many towns, restaurant hours are short.  In Montepulciano, restaurants did not open until 7 or 7:30 PM and only seated until 9:30.  Ask your innkeeper about local hours, because if you are starving, you may want to grab a panini before the snack shops close.
  • A “bar” is not the same thing as it is in America.  A bar is more like a “snack bar”, where you may purchase all sorts of coffee drinks, sandwiches, and train tickets.  They will also serve alcohol, but if you are looking for an aperitif before dinner, look for an enoteca, which is a wine bar.
  • Bibite are soft drinks, and Italians never, ever, ever drink them directly from the can.  They will offer you a glass or a straw.
  • The menu will start with antipasto, which is an appetizer. Primo, the first course, is pasta, soup, or risotto. Secondo, the main course, is meat or fish.  Salad follows the main course and is served before dessert.  However, waiters will recognize that you are American, and will ask if you want your salad “before”.  That is fine.  They do not seem to be the least bothered by serving the salad “before” the main course.  You do not have to order all of the courses!  Any combination is fine!
  • The waiters do not care if you plan to share a dish.  Some will bring two plates and split it for you.  Others may bring one plate and two forks!
  • If you like wine, educate yourself on the local offerings  of the region you are visiting before you arrive.  If you try to sample every wine that the sommelier recommends to you, they will have to cart you home in a wheelbarrow.  One night we had the undivided attention of a waiter for 45 minutes.  He explained everything you ever wanted to know about the wine grapes of Tuscany, and summed it up with the explanation that in Tuscany, wine is the first religion, beef is the second, and Catholicism is third.
  • You will have to ask the waiter to bring you the bill.  He will never bring it to you unless you ask for it, and he will not do anything at all to hurry you on your way.
  • Italian bread is unsalted, so it tastes stale immediately after it is cut.  Skip the bread and save the calories for gelato!
  • Salad is always served with olive oil and vinegar (usually balsamic).  On the airplane I watched a movie which mocked an American couple (from Texas, supposedly) in Provence ordering “fat-free Ranch” for their salad Niçoise.  No one would really do that, would they? (Don’t remember name of movie.  It was forgettable.)
  • Liguria, where Cinque Terre is, is known for its focaccia.  Best focaccia I have ever tasted!
  • Tuscany is the land of wine, beef, and truffles.
  • Amalfi Coast, south of Naples, offers great pizza, seafood, and limoncello.
  • If you drink a lot of coffee in America, you will not find anything like drip coffee, but Italian coffee drinks are worth sampling.  Caffe Americano is a delicious coffee drink.  It is a serving of espresso which you thin with hot water.  It is so smooth, I find that it does not require milk at all.  A serving of coffee in Europe is 4 ounces, not 8 – 12 ounces.



  • Always pack a jacket or sweater! Hot days may still have cool evenings.
  • If you intend to do site-seeing in cities, do not wear shorts or sleeveless shirts if you intend to visit any churches.  I have seen women turned away from church doors for bare arms.
  • Weigh your suitcases and pack carefully! Air Dolomiti seems to delight is requiring passengers to repack their luggage right there at the check in line. I think every single person in line was asked to step aside and lighten their carryon.  They wanted to charge me €60 because my carryon bag was overweight.  So all I had to do was unpack my camera so that my bag was the right weight, put my camera in my handbag to carry it through security, then put it back in my carryon before I boarded the plane. Go figure. Made for a nightmarish line at 5 a.m.


Italy really is all those wonderful things you have ever heard.  The climate is terrific, the landscapes are breathtaking, the towns are charming, the food is delicious, and the people are warm-hearted. Lord willing, I will be back!



Comments (1) May 24 2012

Savoring the Art Institute of Chicago

Posted: under Travel.
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Landscape with Two Poplars by Kandinsky






How thankful I am for talented artists!  Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Art Institute of Chicago.  I went alone, able to absorb and ponder great works of art.  My viewing was limited only by the museum’s closing hours.  Five and a half hours were not long enough.  Studying pictures of art masterpieces is worthwhile and culturally relevant, but does not substitute for the experience of connecting with them in person.  It is an intimate experience, sort of like finally meeting someone you have always heard about.  “I am so glad to finally meet you; I have heard so much about you.”

Alas, upon arriving at the museum I discovered that the camera I brought to Chicago was a 45 minute train ride away in my hotel.  Sigh.  I did my best to capture a few snapshots with my cell phone before the battery plunged into the red zone.

An exhibit called “Belligerent Encounters:  Graphic Images of War and Revolution, 1500-1945” was powerful and moving.  How seamlessly Otto Dix’s images of World War I horrors and the brutality of the Weimar Republic flowed into Francisco de Goya’s portrayal of Napolean’s war atrocities in Spain.  These artists so powerfully communicated where words fail.  From a series called Der Krieg, Dix captures civilians fleeing an aerial raid.

Lens wirdt mit Bomben belegt

Here we see depicted homes destroyed and cities trampled by soldiers.






This poster depicts the evacuation of civilians from a ship that was attacked by German u-boats.  The child’s face beneath the sailor’s arm seems to glow angelically.

My favorite image came from a collection of prints depicting the aftermath of war and the hardships of soldiers, especially amputees.  This print by Heinrich Hoerle is called The Married Couple, from Krueppel.  Their faces show such sorrow, yet see how gently she holds his hooked arm, and how tenderly his other hooked arm embraces her waist.


The Married Couple, from Krueppel

My experience at the Art Institute of Chicago was not all heavy and introspective.  I enjoyed lighter subjects as well.  The museum has a fantastic collection of modern art.  When I was a child, my family often played a board game called “Masterpiece”.  Even when I was very young, I would always trade my Rembrandt card for a Van Gogh or a Marc Chagall.  I don’t know why.  They make my eyes feel good.   So I was delighted to encounter a large collection of works by modern favorites, such as Kandinsky, Klee, Miro, and these by Georges Braque:


Landscape at L'Estaque


I think I have found a new favorite.  Piet Mondrian is perhaps best known for curious abstract paintings, such as Lozenge Composition with Yellow, Blue, Black, Red, and Gray:

Lozenge Composition with Yellow, Black, Blue, Red, and Gray

But look at this terrific landscape!

Farm Near Duivendrecht

The Art Institute of Chicago displays quite a number of very famous paintings.  The gallery with Grant Woods’ American Gothic was quite crowded.  I was content to view it from afar. I suppose there is no painting that has inspired as many parodies, except perhaps The Mona Lisa.

American Gothic

In the same gallery was a painting I had never seen before by Charles Sheeler.  The artist looks down upon a surreal landscape.  Even though his shadow is cast upon the grass, he seems to hover above the wall.  The painting he is composing is not the visible landscape, but instead a monochromatic painting of a cellar.  It makes you ponder.  Or at least, it makes me ponder.

The Artist Looks at Nature

I had to wait  for a crowd to clear so that I could view George Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884.  I wanted to take it all in, unhindered.  It was magnificent.

A Sunday on La Grand Jatte, 1884


Seeing a painting in person allowed me not only to stand back for the “big picture”, but also to move in for a closer view.

John Singer Sargent painted a portrait of a lovely, elegant woman.  It seemed life-like.

Mrs. George Swinton (Elizabeth Ebsworth)

I could move in close to marvel at the brushwork, then step back again to appreciate the effect.

Detail of gown

In many ways visiting a museum is like attending a party.  You not only become acquainted with familiar names, but also you get to meet new friends.  Francis Picabia’s painting, Edtaonisl, shows whirling, swirling colors.  The painting was inspired by the artist’s observation of a Catholic priest who was captivated watching dancers rehearsing on the deck of a ship.

Edtaonisl (Ecclesiastic)

Thanksgiving, by Doris Lee, is amusing and sentimental.  I can not help but smile.


There are many paintings which I feel can only be appreciated when seen in person.  An example would be Whistler’s Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Southampton Water.

Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Southampton Water

Photographs and prints make this painting appear to be a mere gray blob with an orange spot.  But not in person!  There are flecks of gold light that penetrate the mist, and draw you in to the painting.  For me, it was one of those “WOW” moments.  I had to go back for a second look.

There are many who would argue that the study of fine art is not a legitimate career; that painting is not a worthwhile pursuit.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  As Stephen Sondheim said in his musical, Sunday in the Park with George, “Give us more to see!”


Comments (0) Oct 05 2011

Vancouver – City of Glass and Water

Posted: under Hiking, Photography, Travel, Traveling with children.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,


My husband might persuade you that there is no place worth visiting that is not a tropical paradise or a sun-drenched Mediterranean village.  I think that is because my lean, fit husband lacks personal insulation, and will don a parka when the temperature dips below 68.  So last year when I heard that my husband had a conference to attend in Vancouver, British Columbia, I was quick to declare that I and our as-yet-unborn ninth child were going with him!  Who would know when I would have another opportunity to visit that part of the world?  It certainly was not on a short list of places my husband wanted to visit, and it wasn’t exactly on the way to anywhere I am likely to go.

Vancouver is an amazing city.  The downtown area around the convention center is clean and modern, characterized by tall glass buildings that seemed to enhance the sunlight and reflect the water and sky. The climate in Vancouver is a temperate rainforest.  We visited in early November, yet it was not cold, and the vividly-colored trees still held their leaves.  While my husband attended meetings, my baby girl and I strolled for miles exploring Stanley Park and the surrounding neighborhoods.  The waterfront area had paths dedicated to walking or biking.  Even though the downtown area is densely developed, green spaces abounded.  The spaces between buildings contained beautiful gardens, ponds, and water fountains, many reflecting the Asian influences of the city’s residents.

During breaks between meetings, we loaded up in the rental car and set off to explore the mountains that border the city.  A hike up Mt. Seymour was exhilarating, offering clears views and an encounter with snow.


Mt. Seymour

I came prepared.  Our baby girl wore a snowsuit and was carried in a frame backpack.  We then hustled back down the mountain for a visit to a “must see” tourist destination – the Capilano Suspension Bridge.

Husband and baby crossing Capilano Suspension Bridge

The bridge crosses 450 feet above the Capilano River and leads to other beautiful rainforest sites, such as Tree Adventures, a raised walk-way high in the tree canopy.

Tree Adventures

Further upstream we visited a salmon farm and walked more trails through fern-covered Pacific evergreens.  I had never before visited this part of the world, and it was a treat for the senses.  Even now I can recall the sweet, earthy smell of the moss and foliage.

On another day’s break, we visited a Chinese garden right in the middle of town. There one could find a tranquility in the midst of a hustling-bustling city.

Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden

After a few days of stretching our legs about the city, we were eager to try the famous Grouse Grind.  Wow.  The Grouse Grind is a steep climb up Grouse Mountain. In 1.8 miles the hike climbs 2,800 feet.  In some places the grade is 31%!  It was like climbing a steep, irregular staircase.  In fact, the climb is so steep that you are not to descend by the same path; you have to take a gondola back to the start. So I was able to push on, knowing that there was no going back.  I carried the camera, but my husband carried our six-month-old.  I exerted muscles I didn’t know I had.

Grouse Grind

The average time to climb the Grouse Grind is between 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  It took me 86 minutes.  Yeah, yeah, I know that stinks, but I live in entirely flat Savannah, Georgia.  The only hills around here are interstate ramps.  Worse, though, when I got to the top there was a chart for “Best Times” in different age and sex categories.  The record holder in my age group did it in about 35 minutes.  As I compared my time, I was discouraged to see that it ranked up there among men in their 80’s. Sigh.

View from Grouse Mountain

There were lots of things to do, besides evaporate sweat, once atop Grouse Mountain.  I love great views, and even saw a distant volcano, Mount Garibaldi.  From downtown Vancouver, I could also see Mount Baker, serving to remind me that beautiful Vancouver lies along the “Pacific Rim of Fire”.  As the sun approached the horizon, we rode the gondola to the base.  We were achy, but exhilarated.  If I had stayed a bit longer, I would liked to have done that hike again.

Descent from Grouse Mountain

Any large, modern city offers wonderful opportunities to sample the world’s cuisines. We ate at an Afghan restaurant, the best Chinese restaurant ever, and a Mongolian barbecue.  Actually, the Mongolian barbecue was so delicious, we ate there three times.  For one price you are given a bowl to fill with a variety of meats and vegetables, topped off with your favorite sauces.  You hand the bowl to a man who stir-fries it over an enormous griddle right in front of you, then hands it back to you, hot and steaming.  Amazing that something so simple could be so delicious.

A trip to Granville Island was a multicultural immersion.  Formerly an industrial site, its warehouses are now fill with arts and crafts studios and an enormous market.  I loved hearing all the accents, enjoying the colors and smells, and the challenges of identifying exotic fruits and vegetables.  Any trip to a foreign city is incomplete without a visit to where the locals shop.

Colorful city market

The highlight of my trip was taking a sea plane to visit Victoria, on Vancouver Island.  Victoria is the provincial capitol of British Columbia, but is only accessible by plane or ferry.  Our tiny plane was filled with government-bureaucrat types, for whom the plane ride was a typical morning commute.  I actually pity the men who were more absorbed in the morning paper than the spectacular views below.  I hope my senses are never dulled to such beauty.

Sea plane transportation to Victoria

Pilot's view of Victoria, BC

Victoria is packed with charm.  It is the location of the famous “Empress Hotel”, an exquisite Edwardian hotel that appears to exemplify British Imperial decorating.

The Empress Hotel

Inside the Empress Hotel

We did not take time to stop for tea!  There was too much I wanted to see!  Victoria was settled by prospectors during the Gold Rush, and still contains many historical buildings and  a vibrant China Town.

Fan Tan Alley, China Town, Victoria, BC

Community of houseboats

When we had covered as much ground as we could by foot, we purchased tour bus tickets for a quick visit to the surrounding neighborhoods.

Totem pole

Bald eagle on top








From the bus, I actually saw a few bald eagles.  Here is one sitting atop a very tall totem pole.

Friendly seals

Gobbling fish








Showing off for the camera

Looking for lunch








Friendly seals populated the waterways where locals fed them daily.

Seaplane view of Vancouver

Finally after a visit to the Royal British Columbia Museum for a good dose of Inuit education, we boarded another sea plane for our return to Vancouver.  Wouldn’t that be a great daily commute?


Sea plane view of our hotel

Our last full day was characterized by heavy rain.  We drove through the gardens of the campus of University of British Columbia, then headed north toward Whistler.  We did not have a goal in mind, but let our curiosity lead us.  The route north along the coast is called the Sea to Sky Highway.  It was startling to see how rapidly the population diminishes north of Vancouver.  One could reside in a modern city and so quickly access rugged, awe-inspiring landscapes.

There were many things to do and see along the way.  Most notably we visited the Britannia Mining Museum, which made such an enormous impression on me that I shall save it for another post.

Finally we stopped in an old mill town called Squamish, a peculiar little town where we bought sandwiches and coffee.  We were intrigued by all these signs and billboards we saw for a grand ocean front development.  Squamish was anything but grand.  We followed the signs past lumber mills and heaps of scrap metal, and at last found the location of some visionary’s grand dream.

"Ocean Front Village" development in Squamish

I laugh to recall this sight!  It looked more like a Superfund Clean-up Site than a luxury ocean front resort.  If you are going to dream, dream big, right?

The return drive to Vancouver provided a time of pleasant reflection.  Armed with an infant, rain gear, and great walking shoes, a guide map, and a sense of adventure, we  took in Vancouver and its surroundings, its city life, culture, and climate.  Even business trips can be an opportunity for amazing adventures.

After rain comes rainbows

How much will she remember?  Not a thing, I am sure.  But I hope her curiosity will lead her to an active life of discovery.





Comments (4) Sep 08 2011

Mansion on Forsyth

Posted: under Travel.
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Mansion on Forsyth

My husband had to work twenty days in a row before getting a day off.  His work days are not like most – up at 4:15 a.m., seldom home before 6:30 p.m.  Add to that countless committee meetings and business meetings and phone calls at all hours of the night.  He was exhausted.  As his day off approached, he declared that he wanted us to go to a nice local hotel so that we could sleep in.  I balked at first.  I felt like that  was unnecessary and extravagant.  However, when the big day finally arrived I was glad that he persisted and I relented.  It was only 6 a.m. on his day off when his phone started ringing, and text messages began chiming their dreaded alert.  He was right; we had to get away.

He made reservations at the Mansion on Forsyth, an elegant hotel in the historic district of Savannah.  It looks out upon Forsyth Park and is an excellent location for strolling the downtown area.

I am not from Savannah.  I have lived here for ten years, but I am free from family connections that might in any way connect me to the traditions and superstitions that make Savannah so unique.  I watched Mansion on Forsyth being constructed.  I was impressed how the new construction perfectly matched the original Victorian mansion, which had once been a funeral home.  Therein lay the challenge.  When the hotel opened, my husband and I were eager to try the restaurant, 700 Drayton.  It was remarkable!  I still remember the baked chevre appetizer.  It was an all-time favorite meal.  I asked around to native Savannahians about 700 Drayton and learned that no one would try it!  Their responses were the same: “I could NEVER eat in the same room where Uncle So-and-so lay dead.”  Well, their loss.

So my husband and I went to stay at the Mansion, knowing already that locals measured it with a hefty amount of superstition.  What did surprise me was that the designers actually seemed to deliberately incorporate a “haunted house” theme throughout the entire hotel.  Here are a few photographs I took with my iPhone.  I did not expect the unusual decorating, otherwise I would have been better equipped.

Mansion on Forsyth bedroom

The rooms are extremely comfortable, although quite unusual.  The colors were muted with splashes of blood red velvet.

Bathroom curtain

The elegant bathroom is separated from the bed by only a curtain.


The light fixtures were creepy-looking candelabras.

The large bedroom mirror was convex, creating a sort-of funhouse quality.

Creepy shadows

Light fixtures were also unique in the unusual shadows they cast.

The entire hotel is decorated in bold and bizarre art work.

This one makes me giggle.










A little creepy.








The lounge looks like it belongs in the game of Clue.

Mrs. Peacock did it with the candlestick in the lounge.


Chandeliers that illuminate the hallways have black crystals!

Black crystal chandeliers

The Grand Bohemian Art Gallery is connected to the hotel and has an impressive collection of artwork.  I was swept away by landscapes by a French artist named Jean Claude Roy.  Many talented local artists sell art there as well:  Rebecca Cope, Tiffani Taylor, Irene Mayo.

J C Roy

J C Roy








For out-of-towners, I highly recommend Mansion on Forsyth for both comfort and elegance.  For the locals, I hope my snapshots provide a peek at a place that few of you dare to tread.  As for me?  I didn’t lose any sleep.






Comments (2) Jul 18 2011

Grand Canyon

Posted: under Hiking, Photography, Travel, Traveling with children.
Tags: , , , , , ,

South Rim of the Grand Canyon

A fervent desire to visit the Grand Canyon and to share the experience with all of my children was the impetus for undertaking our family adventure out west.  I wanted to stand beside them and gaze into the mighty gorge, and so seal that into our collective family memories.  My expectations were high, and with good reason.    I know a woman who took her children to all fifty states and to them the Grand Canyon was the favorite destination.  A few years ago a former governor of Maine loaded his family into an RV and they traveled around North America for a year.  He chronicled his experience on NPR, and I still remember him saying the Grand Canyon was the greatest;  nothing else was a close second.  Like I said, my expectations were high.

When our family arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, after a long drive from Moab, Utah, we rushed to the first available observation point to experience the sensation.  We arrived shortly before sunset, an ideal time to capture the moment.  And as we gazed out across the Grand Canyon it was… anticlimactic.


Now don’t get me wrong!  The Grand Canyon is sensational!  But it is sort of like pursuing a big name celebrity and overlooking the genuine talent of parks like Bryce, Zion, and Canyonlands.  The Grand Canyon was not the star of the show.  Instead it was just one of the components that made our trip out west a completely satisfying experience.


Last glimmer of sun

Traveling with many young children had its limitations.  It would have been impractical for us to hike rim to rim, to ride mules to the canyon floor, or to raft down the Colorado River.  Lord willing, I hope one day to return with those little ones for some big kid fun.   However traveling with a babysitter opened up hiking opportunities we otherwise could not have enjoyed.  Our formula for each day was similar to the other parks.  The older kids, my husband, and I would rise early and hike a strenuous trail.  The little ones would sleep in, watch cartoons, then join us for easy hikes in the afternoon.

Three oldest sons on South Rim

Water break at Skeleton Point


Our first morning we hiked the South Kaibob Trail.  We started at Yaki Point, descended three miles, ending at Skeleton Point.  The downhill jolting of our joints was unpleasant.

Unending switchbacks

My oldest son developed blisters and my husband was suspecting stress fractures. The uphill climb, while strenuous, felt like a relief!  That afternoon we took our children on a five mile stroll along the rim.  We were able to push the stroller, which gave the youngest ones a rest.

3-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter

Everyone enjoys the Rim Trail

The next morning was our last and biggest hike of all.  We hiked Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point.  The trail was 12.2 miles, and an elevation change of 3000 feet.  Even though we were at the trailhead at 6:00 in the morning, we had a sense of urgency as we hiked.  We needed to reconnect with the babysitter and leave the park around noon.  So this trail that usually takes 8 hours or more was hiked by us an average of 6 hours.  And it was tough!  It felt like I was climbing up irregular stairs for 4.5 miles.

Looking DOWN to Plateau Point

View from Plateau Point

Plateau Point - rest for the weary

The shadeless plateau

Everywhere you look around the Grand Canyon, there are warnings about the potential for death.  Countless signs warn about the possibility of death if you attempt to hike to the river and back in one day.  There are even photographs of people who have died  attempting that, include a fit, athletic female marathoner.  Of course we didn’t even try that, but I could see how quickly a hiker could be overtaken by the heat and exertion.  As we descended, the temperature increased steadily.  By the time we reached the last 1.5 miles to Plateau Point, it was quite warm and our trail was entirely shadeless.  Furthermore, the dry air made me require more water than I typically consume while hiking.  Bright Angel Trail has rest areas about every 1.5 miles where water supplies can usually be replenished. (Apparently the availability is seasonal, but we had no difficulty getting water.)  I drank 4 liters of water on my ascent to the top.  I can see how quickly someone could be overwhelmed by heat exhaustion if not sufficiently hydrated.

My macabre fifteen-year-old son

My fifteen-year-old son has a fascination with macabre facts.  Throughout our trip out west, he regaled us with statistics about death and injury in national parks.   It is true – wild America can be dangerous.  It would be easy to forget that as you are mesmerized by the dreamy landscapes.  Hence the constant reminders.  In fact the newspaper headlines at the Grand Canyon noted that a body found earlier that month  in one of the canyons had been identified.  When browsing through books in a gift store, we discovered the perfect pleasure read for him-  Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon.  It was a hefty tome.  No one wanted to haul it back in their luggage.  So with a few clicks through, the book was ordered.  It arrived at our home before we did!

Not exactly great literature...

Leaving the Grand Canyon felt bittersweet.  The trip of a lifetime had been realized.   In 9 days we visited 7 parks with our 9 children, drove 1650 miles,  hiked over 70 miles, and took 1700 photographs.  The trip had unfolded without complication. What could we possibly do next?  It was intensely satisfying when my seven-year-old son chimed up from the backseat, “Can we do this again next year?”

Seven-year-old eager traveler




Comments (0) Jun 28 2011