A Tale of Two Flats

It’s a cold, frosty November morning and December is hard on her heals. As usual when the air turns sharp and burns in my lungs, Charles Dicken’s fills my mind. I can’t help it. As a Dickens bookslover of literature, the big D is one of my favorite authors. I always have great expectations for the holidays and would wrap my presents in the Pickwick Papers if I could. I reach for my well-worn copy of A Christmas Carol and soon picture the hard-edged streets of Victorian London with old Ebeneezer Scrooge stalking his way through the darkened heart of the city, spitting on dirty urchins and muttering bah hum bug under his breath. Tiny Tim limps through my imagination and I can almost smell Mrs. Cratchit’s goose. H’mmmm…. goose….

Charles Dickens London

And this December – like Sydney Carton from Dicken’s classic, A Tale of Two Cities – I’m plagued with an unrequited love. But the object of my affection isn’t a fair maiden named Lucy, but a traditional style Go with Oh flat in the heart of Kensington within walking distance of Charing Cross.

http://www.gowithoh.com/vacation-london-apartments/ref_16415/

In addition to being a stunning flat, the location is perfect as it is within walking distance of many wonderful sites such as the River Thames and Westminster Abbey, but it also happens to be a hop, skip and a jump from where Charles Dickens actually slaved away at the Warren’s Blacking Warehouse at the meager age of 11 while his father rotted away in debtor’s prison.

Kensington 1

I adore the crown molding in this Go with Oh London flat!

Call me crazy, but as a huge fan of history, I am one of those weirdly tactile individuals who likes to stand where my heroes actually stood and walk where they actually walked even if the place in question isn’t one that was near and dear to any of my heroes’ hearts.

As a poor little urchin, I doubt Dickens ever waxed nostalgic about his days at the warehouse, but painful as the experience was, it did inflame his imagination to write truly moving and memorable literature. So to me, visiting London at Christmas to see the sites that actually inspired his imagination and to walk where he walked excites me more than a clean house and new underwear. If I can kiss the cobblestones and hug his house without getting arrested by a bobby, I will.Dickens house sign

Kensington 2

This kitchen would make Ebeneezer Scrooge smile

Hence my love affair from afar with the pretty little Kensington flat courtesy of Go with Oh. With its high ceilings, vintage crown molding, large windows and adorable kitchen tile, it’s the perfect ground zero for a history-laden, Charles-Dickens-inspired Christmas walking tour – courtesy of http://www.dickenslondontours.co.uk/.

But much as I love this pretty little flat with its perfect little location, I’m torn, though mine is not a tale of two cities, but a tale of two flats for another object of my affection would make Bob Cratchit drool with envy.

Camden town 1

All it needs is me, my family and a plate of plum pudding

It’s an equally lovely little flat located in Camden Town, though while it sports two bedrooms, two bathrooms and lovely décor, it’s missing an outdoor mud oven in which to steam our plum pudding. But I think we can make do.

http://www.gowithoh.com/vacation-london-apartments/ref_16400/

Camden town 3

Imagine the goose Mrs. Cratchit could fix in THAT kitchen

Plus, being such a light and airy space, I doubt it’s dripping with ghosts from anyone’s past, present and future, but one can dream and I wouldn’t mind waking up to Marley’s Ghost at either location.

As I said, November is here and December is breathing down our necks. London awaits with her crisscrossed streets, ancient churches, haphazard skyline and history waiting around every corner. My copy of A Christmas Carol beckons in the bookcase. Two apartments stand ready for the renting. It’s time to dust off the luggage. God bless us, everyone.

Now pass the plum pudding. Tis the season and I’m getting in the mood.Dickens flyer

By Robin Winzenread Fritz

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I Dream of Foreign Places and Dog-Free Spaces

Someone – I don’t know who – pooped on the welcome mat. I discovered it early one morning while chasing my teenage son to the school bus with a wet mop as he’s not a morning person,

Don't let that face fool you - she's a walking toilet

Don’t let that face fool you – she’s a walking toilet

doesn’t shower enough, and thinks 16-year-old boys shouldn’t have to ride the school bus but, instead, should be driving a smoking hot sports car with booming speakers and teenaged girls taking up every spare inch of space.

But I digress.

As I was saying, someone pooped on the welcome mat, and I’m hoping it was the dog, but in this house with these kids and my particular breed of husband, everyone is a suspect.  Being an optimist, I realized things could be worse.  For one thing, a) it had hardened by the time I found it and b) I hadn’t fertilized the shrubs in a while.  So, finding lemons and making lemonade, I gave the mat a quick flip, tossed the little unwrapped gift under the hopefully hungry yew and called it a morning.  Extra cup of coffee, here I come.

I love that extra cup of coffee because it comes with a quiet house and sleeping pets and time to think.  It’s that blessed in-between time when all is still and it’s not yet time to report to the home office.  It’s my time to sit, to sip and to dream – dream about a cleaner house, thinner thighs, constipated pets and, more often than not, of foreign times in foreign lands with foreign people in a beautiful little space charmingly free of cat hair.

My heart belongs to Venice

My heart belongs to Venice

I’ve found such a place in the form of my dream Go with Oh apartment in that magical place known as Venice, Italy.  When my dreams take me away like a 747 flying high over my rolling Hoosier farmland, I still find it hard to believe such a place does, in fact, exist.  How could this place, this magical watery space, be real?

When I planned my first of hopefully many trips to Venice in the spring of 2012, I spent many a happy idle hour drooling over Go with Oh apartments in Venice.  Did I want to be near the Piazza San Marco?

What wonders wait behind this open window?

What wonders wait behind this open window?

Or was something overlooking the Rialto Bridge more my style? Or perhaps I should consider something half hidden away in the looming shadow of the Santa Maria de Miricoli with her pink laced marble walls and her gleaming dome? Maybe one of the outlying islands would be fun.

Decisions, decisions.

While I could have happily searched for Go with Oh apartments for an eternity, I eventually, found what I was looking for – a lovely two-bedroom, two bath beauty with multiple windows and balconies overlooking the San Severo River, with an actual terrace AND an actual fireplace in the kitchen and a wide entry hall just begging for weary travelers to enter, unwind and toss down their luggage.  Pinch me until I’m pink, I found heaven on earth!!!

My Go with Oh San Severo beauty

My Go with Oh San Severo beauty

It was everything one could dream of.  One bedroom – MY bedroom – featured wooden parquet floors tread by who knows how many Venetian tradesmen.  A wooden desk sat between two windows overlooking the canal and a bridge – an actual Venetian bridge with its graceful arch and bobbing boats for neighbors.  I could easily imagine that desk and that bridge just waiting for me to show up with pen and paper to sit, stare and write.  Venetian glass chandeliers winked overhead.  Within the kitchen stood a wide open door to a terrace featuring who knows what kind of wonderful view outside.

I could sit here and write forever, I think

I could sit here and write forever, I think

I wanted to waltz into that kitchen, open that door and step outside to know –  really know – what was out there.  As long as it wasn’t a pooping puppy, I knew I would be thrilled!

And in real estate they say what matters is location, location, location and my Go with Oh San Severo beauty had that too. While everything in Venice is near the Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, this one was so tantalizingly close that I imagine I could stand on that balcony and hear the ghostly breath of long dead prisoners coming from the Bridge of Sighs. I imagined I could pick out the domes of St. Mark’s against the one-of-a-kind Venetian skyline and I knew I

I would give four dogs and five teenage tantrums to peak out that door...

I would give four dogs and five teenage tantrums to peak out that door…

would be able to hear the ringing bells of the piazza’s tower.

Sadly, however, like many a beautiful woman, my Go with Oh San Severo love had many suitors and she was unavailable to rent the week I needed her.

First the denial – no, how could that be??? Then, the heartbreak!

And then, I returned to my Go with Oh apartment list and found the next love of my life, Ca ‘Elena.  Think what you will, she was no rebound apartment and in September of 2012, I fell in love with her too.  In fact, my heart will always belong to my little Ca ‘Elena.

http://www.oh-venice.com/en/venice-apartments/ref_16176/?arrival=2014-03-23&departure=2014-03-30&zone=VEN&sid=&s_id=s_52667dd1aa381&PRODUCT_TYPE=apartments&adults=2&children=0&babies=0

With that said, I WILL go back to Venice and I WILL take friends and family with me – but not the dog.  And I WILL begin a new love affair with the lovely Go with Oh San Severo beauty.  Until then, I will wash the clothes and pick up after the children and feed hard cheese and bananas to the dog in hopes of avoiding a

I want to awaken in this bedroom to the bells of St. Mark's in the nearby Piazza San Marco

I want to awaken in this bedroom to the bells of St. Mark’s in the nearby Piazza San Marco

repeat offense on the welcome mat.  I will clip my coupons and I will save my pennies and soon – hopefully very soon – I will be making plans and packing bags and sharpening pencils.

Because eventually I will sit at that bedroom desk and I will gaze at that bridge and I will write a line or two about what it means to travel and see the world.  I will make memories and take pictures and I will fall in love again with new spaces and places.  And, eventually, I will go home, but I will take with me a little of that watery, wonderful world that is Venice, Italy.

Here is a link to my future foreign Go with Oh San Severo home away from home.  I’ll share it with you now because I’m a nice person and I know I’m not the only middle-aged mom wrestling with crusty teenagers and pooping pets.

Hanging in a Venetian alley with my good friend, Candy.  May another Go with Oh apartment be in our near future!

Hanging in a Venetian alley with my good friend, Candy. May another Go with Oh apartment be in our near future!

Think of it as my little gift to you – and you’re welcome!

But it does come with a caveat.  While I’m sharing it with you, remember one thing – I’ve got dibs on next September.

http://www.oh-venice.com/en/venice-apartments/ref_15447/?arrival=2014-03-23&departure=2014-03-30&zone=VEN&sid=&s_id=s_52667dd1aa381&PRODUCT_TYPE=apartments&adults=2&children=&babies=

With that said, get to Venice.  Everyone needs a little living, breathing slice of real world fantasy to hold on to.  Now excuse me. I have to go diaper the dog.

Making friends in the Piazza San Marco

Making friends in the Piazza San Marco

Robin Winzenread Fritz

I want to Go with Oh to Venice – The Remix Tour

The view of the Grand Canal from the Accademia Bridge

The view of the Grand Canal from the Accademia Bridge

As Leah and Lola made their way across Europe courtsey of Go with Oh, I followed their adventures with amusement.  Who doesn’t love a good girls’ road trip, especially when it includes five European cities over four weeks, not to mention trains and planes, wine and pasta, feather boas and flamenco dancers?  It was a veritable arm-chair traveler’s dream!

 But even as I lived vicariously through their daily exploits and even as I daydreamed about a possible Go with Oh month-long trek of my own some day, I’m practical enough to know that – by necessity – my own such adventure would have a somewhat different theme.  For want of a better term, let’s call this fantasy trip the Fritz Family Foray into Europe.

 My dream plan is simple enough – a week in Dublin and London with my Anglophile loving daughter Jackie for some mother-daughter bonding time, followed by a week in Rome and Venice with my 15-year-old son Jordan, where I hope to introduce him to some real Italian culture – with the emphasis being on REAL.  As I’ve already covered why Dublin with my daughter is on the list, it’s high time to explain why oh why I want to take my baby boy to Venice. 

My son, Jordan, and my daughter, Jackie, on their first day of school, August 2012

My son, Jordan, and my daughter, Jackie, on their first day of school, August 2012

For starters, that boy needs some perspective.  While looking over pictures of my friends-only trip to Venice, he actually said in all seriousness, “Oh, I’ve been there,” all the while pointing to the bell tower in the Piazza San Marco.  “I climbed up that dome,” he said matter-of-factly as if he had actually “climbed” the basillica.  “See that bridge?” he declared, “I jumped off of that,” pointing to the Rialto.

A weary world traveler, is he?  Not exactly.

The Piazza San Marco as "reimagined" by the video game, Assassin's Creed

The Piazza San Marco as “reimagined” by the video game, Assassin’s Creed

Of course, my xBox-bleeding teenage boy was referring to his video game, Assassin’s Creed, one version of which takes part in Venice and allows players to crawl over every dome, bell tower and bridge re-imagined by the game’s designers in all their gorgeous glory.  He knows of the Piazza and the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge, but, unfortunately, we’re talking in CG graphics detail only. 

 As a mother, I desperately feel the need to point out to him the difference.  While the graphics in Assassin’s Creed are good – very good, in fact – nothing takes the place of actually BEING in Venice.  Good graphics or not, the experience isn’t even close.  Actually being IN Venice is a tactile experience which should include, in no short order, the following:

–  hearing the bells toll throughout the city upon the hour, any hour;

Being covered with pigeons is a right of passage in the real Piazza San Marco.

Being covered with pigeons is a right of passage in the real Piazza San Marco.

–  reaching out your hand in the Piazza San Marco toward a cloud of forward pigeons who promptly swarm you for food and get a bit familiar in the process;

–  getting oh so deliciously lost on a daily basis and not caring if you ever find your way back;

– smelling that ever present hint of salt water every where;

– discovering the uniqueness of Venice’s highly socialized dog population:

– discovering hidden treasures like a Knights Templar cross cut into street pavers, tiny doors, building bolts and Flavia’s costume shop, and;

One of Venice's hidden treasures - a hooked X, the sign of the Knights Templar in a paving stone near the Fondamenta Nove

One of Venice’s hidden treasures – a hooked X, the sign of the Knights Templar in a paving stone near the Fondamenta Nove

–  making wonderful new friends.

Making new friends while traveling with old friends makes life grand.

Making new friends while traveling with old friends makes life grand.

Additionally, as a picky, picky child, Jordan practically lives on butter, pasta and cheese.  We often joke that he’ll some day own a store called ‘Carbs, Carbs, Carbs!” so naturally, his place is in Italy.  He once asked me to bring home a gigantic wheel of parmesan, but since I couldn’t fit it in my carry-on luggage, it seems like a shopping trip in Venice is in order too.  It’s time he try lugging home his own 30-pound wheel of cheese.

Lastly, having been to Venice recently with friends, I find that I desperately need to go back, especially given the city’s recent flood.  I want to make sure that things are still as magical and as different as we experienced before.  Plus, there’s still so much to see.  As we crawled through the city at a snail’s pace – seriously, there is SO much to see – we only scratched the surface.  Naively, before we left, we actually thought we could see every square inch of this modest sized city in the course of a week.  Little did we realize that our average daily pace would turn out to be two blocks an hour.  It’s THAT different.

A beautiful costume in front of Flavia's shop

A beautiful costume in front of Flavia’s shop

So now, I want to go back, bringing my 15-year-old son along with me in what can best be described as the “remix tour.”  I can only imagine at this point what it would be like for him to actually stand in the Piazza San Marco without his computer and online friends.  As he is a curious, smart and personable young man, I know he’s going to love it. 

Or else he’s grounded.

For more information on Go with Oh or for a chance to win fantastic prizes from their Facebook competition, check out their link at:  

http://www.gowithoh.com/

 And enter the competition.  Life is short, travel is fun and the world is blessed.  Get out Go with Oh badgein it, see it, live it and share it with a loved one.

 http://www.gowithoh.com/competitions/blogger-competition/

 By Robin Fritz

The bell towers sound magical... even the leaning ones.

The bell towers sound magical… even the leaning ones.

 

Mayberry Isn’t Gone – It Just Moved to Indiana…

Now that's a big root...

Now that’s a big root…

My husband is feverishly pouring through seed catalogs looking for turnips.  He has grand plans to grow a monster because he wants to challenge family friend Phil in the annual largest turnip contest held every Friday after Thanksgiving at the St. Paul Tavern.  Phil is the reigning turnip king and fears no competition, even the cheaters.  Buckshot filled turnips, grafted turnips, he’s seen it all.  He wears his porcelain turnip pin proudly and says, “Bring it!” to all pretenders to the throne. 

Family friend Phil standing in the middle with his world class turnip

Family friend Phil standing in the middle with his world class turnip

Me?  I’m just in it for the pageantry, the walleye sandwich and any chance to wear a t-shirt that says, “I love a big root.”  Thus while all of America shops for discounted electronics, we get there early to grab a good seat – trust me, it fills up quick – and sit in a wonderful local tavern eating, drinking and feeling up big winter vegetables.

The gang's all here!

The gang’s all here!

If the world were a counter full of Baskin Robbins’ 31 flavors of ice cream, to the uninitiated, Indiana can seem very vanilla indeed.  We have no mountains to speak of, no flaming desert vistas, only one major city and our sole beach front property consists of about a hundred miles of Lake Michigan coastline with nary a palm tree, conch shell or shark fin to be seen ever.  Much like pickled herring, Indiana – and large turnip contests – is an acquired taste.

A glorious sunrise over my little slice of Hoosier heaven

A glorious sunrise over my little slice of Hoosier heaven

And I get that, I really do.  I’ve traveled the world and I know how good it gets.  I once worked with a woman who grew up in San Diego.  Her childhood consisted of ocean, mountains and desert all within an hour’s drive so to her Indiana was somewhat of a disappointment.  She lasted about four months.

So, again, I get it.

In truth, a good part of me is thankful that a majority of the world doesn’t appreciate our flat little slice of the globe.  It keeps life somewhat simple, sane and sweet and, for that, I give thanks.  

 For example, in my adopted hometown of Rushville, my children’s farm-kid-oriented high school cheer block was recently praised by a visiting ref at a local football game because –  rather than loudly shouting the old stand-by, “Nuts and bolts, nuts and bolts, we got screwed!” over a bad call – they politely cheered, “We beg to differ!  We beg to differ!” *Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!*

 His comment? “Are they really dissenting respectfully?” 

Yep.

Rushville High School students dance on stage while waiting the judges' results in the lip sync contest

Rushville High School students dance on stage while waiting the judges’ results in the lip sync contest

During a recent lip-sync contest held in the school auditorium, I watched as these same kids – teenagers, mind you – stood up, cheered and encouraged three young ladies who entered the contest and then succumbed to self-consciousness and stage fright.  Rather than laugh and boo them off the stage, these wonderful kids cheered, clapped, STOOD UP and encouraged them.  The girls found their mojo and continued.  When they walked back to their seats, their classmates continued to cheer.  It was heartwarming and affirming and was even better than the movie, Hoosiers, because it was real.  Take that, Los Angeles.

So I hesitate to sing our Hoosier praises because – shhh!!! – I don’t want to give the secret away, but – when you get right down to it – Indiana rocks, and no more so than during the holidays when nostalgia is as common and everyday as a Walmart commercial.

I love a parade!

I love a parade!

Case in point – the annual Christmas parade held just prior to Thanksgiving in my actual hometown of Shelbyville just 13 miles away.  The local town square which we call a circle – don’t ask – is blocked off to traffic, local stores stay open late, Christmas music wafts over the crowd, everyone comes out, children run amok and there’s a parade to boot. 

Horses march through the street pooping in front of the high school marching band.  Betweener-aged snowflake princesses file by in various convertibles – with the queen crowned later based on how much money she raised for her sponsoring charity as the determining factor.  My sister, Renee, walks shotgun beside her high school life skills class float, watching nervously for signs of falling decorations.  A motorcycle gang clad in leather cruises by slowly riding hogs.  Candy is thrown to the crowd and Santa brings up the rear.

My sister stands guard, watching for falling decorations

My sister, Renee, stands guard, watching for falling decorations

As the last float crawls by, everyone turns toward Santa’s little house, the light switch is flipped and transformers kick in.  Decorations blaze to life.  The fountain becomes a Christmas tree.  The statute of local author Charles Major and his bear cubs sport Santa hats and spot lights.  Take that, Las Vegas.

Let there be light....

Let there be light….

I love the Christmas parade because it’s a chance to stroll into Three Sisters’ bookstore, say hi to Carolyn and her sisters, shop for actual books with actual covers, and then grab a hot chocolate at their sandwich counter next door.  Beside them is my beloved art gallery where my friends Al and Diane and Candy and Kathy work on crafts, swap stories and offer up cookies and punch.

Three Sisters' Bookstore - an honest to goodness independent bookstore

Three Sisters’ Bookstore – an honest to goodness independent bookstore

As we stroll the circle waiting for the parade to start we run in to friends from church, friends from school, friends from work, friends from the gym, friends, friends, friends.   Take that, Times Square.

If parades and turnips and polite teenagers aren’t enough, there’s always the free showing of the movie, “Elf” held that same Friday after Thanksgiving at our little non-profit theater, the Strand.  Picture any movie cinema from the 1950s – located downtown right on the sidewalk, big marquee, flashing lights, small front windows covered in movie placards – and you can picture the Strand.  Nostalgia comes free with every bucket of popcorn and it’s even better when eaten in the balcony. 

Family and friends convene early, candy canes are given out, seats are taken, switched, changed and rearranged as we see more family and friends.  The theater darkens, the movie starts, the laughter is loud and life is good.  Call me crazy, but simple things can and do add value to life.

Yes, I get it that the majority of the world may be bored with turnips and small town parades and re-runs of free movies on the big screen.  It’s a coarser, harder world out there.

My little slice of Indiana isn’t perfect, for heaven’s sake, but we do get a great deal right.  I may have grown up in a flat little land whose charms are lost on many, but I’m still grateful nonetheless. 

Even the bears are decked out for Christmas

Even the bears are decked out for Christmas

It’s made me who I am.  I can go out into the world, love what I see and still come home and be happy in the Hoosier heartland.  And for that, I give thanks.

By Robin Winzenread Fritz

Just a Hoosier girl at heart

Just a Hoosier girl at heart

I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Dublin

Blimey, I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Dublin

The first thing I saw were fists, tiny little fists raised to the air shaking with anger, confusion, fear, who knows.  She doesn’t recall why she raised her fists, partly because it didn’t appear on her favorite TV show, Merlin, or on her Kindle, and partly because she was only seconds old.  But I remember it like yesterday as it was the very first time I ever laid eyes on my daughter – ultra sound not withstanding- and she came out with a bang.  Her dark red hair was askew, her lungs were in good working order (and haven’t failed since) and those tiny fists were raised to the sky, making one thing abundantly clear – tiny or not, Jackie Marie was ready to take on the world.

My baby girl at her first communion, no doubt dreaming of a boy with an Irish brogue…. or wondering how far she can spit from there.

And now, she’s just one month shy of 18 years old, a high school senior planning her future.  For her, that future includes prom, graduation, fighting with her brother, heading off to college and – if we plan right and save accordingly – her dream trip to Ireland.

The Irish coast is a calling

That’s where Go with Oh’s dream contest comes into play.  I want to make my daughter’s Irish dream trip come true.  And if I get to tag along for the ride, so be it!

Despite our last name of Fritz, Jackie and I are Irish on my mother’s side (Kelley) and have the strawberry blonde hair, green eyes and freckles to prove it.  We don’t tan so much as pink up and Jackie has more Celtic music on her iPod than pop. She’s in love with all things Anglo Saxon, but not in a creepy Nazi sort of way, and she swoons at even a hint of an Irish brogue in any member of the opposite sex.  As for me, when I get mad, I try to cuss like an Irish sailor, but it clashes with my Catholic school upbringing, though somehow I manage.  If you prick our fingers, we bleed shamrocks and when I pee, it foams like Guinness. Don’t worry – I’m having that checked out.

The Bingley Bridge

Jackie’s dream is to live in Ireland, teach history, marry an Irish man and raise their adopted Chinese children, Ling and Ping O’Riley or whatever his last name may be, in the rolling green hills of the mother country.  Yes, you read that right.  Someday I may be the only Hoosier with Chinese grandchildren living in Ireland. Jackie’s learning Gaelic, has plastered her school binders with pictures of the Irish countryside, and works at Burger King partly to save for her graduation trip and partly because she’s too young and her mother won’t let her work at the Titled Kilt. Yeah, she’s that committed.  And yeah, I know that’s Scottish, but it’s close.

Hence our mother and daughter dream trip to Ireland.  Hi, ho, hi, ho, it’s off to Dublin we Go with Oh – we hope!

We don’t see many castles in Indiana

As a mother, I relish the thought of joining her on that trip for many reasons.  From what I’ve seen from pictures, Ireland is stunning.  Imagine how amazing it would be to stand on the ramparts of a castle ruin trying to count how many different shades of green one can see.  Whether we’re strolling the gardens of Trinity College or ambling down a cobbled stone street in some tiny Irish village or hanging upside down to kiss the Blarney stone, one can bet the surroundings will be stunning.

It’s just waiting to be explored

Plus, it’s dripping with history, a love my bookworm daughter and I both share.  I can easily imagine us enoying a gray afternoon in the National Museum of Ireland steeping in Celtic history and Irish lore.  After all, there’s Viking Irish history and medieval Irish history and let’s not forget about iron-aged Irish history – so much to discover and so little time.  And when the museums are few and far between, we most certainly will stumble into every church that strays near our path.  Bring on the incense and candles!

And, there’s that family connection too. How many Kelleys will we find?  And will any of them claim us?  After all, who doesn’t want to visit their ancestral roots, even if they include more than a wee bit of drunken debauchery?

Which brings me to my next set of reasons for joining her on her trip – parental supervision required.  Much like her mother, Jackie has tasted a glass of wine or two and liked it, plus she’ll be 18, of legal age, in a foreign country, smitten by boys with Irish accents and able to go to the bars.  Not that I don’t trust her, mind you, but a mother’s got to do what a mother’s got to do, and if that includes Irish bar hopping, sign me up.  After all, it sure beats sending her to her room.

Lovely, lovely Dublin

 So a good part of our mother-daughter dream trip will be an indoctrination into responsible adulthood before I send her off to college.  Yes, we will be on vacation and yes, we will be exploring the wonders of Ireland in all their radiant green glory, and yes, we WILL go to the Dublin bars, but it will also be our time to talk, to share, to plan and to practice for that next stage of her life.  August will be here before we know it and with it will be college and moving her into the dorm.  She’ll be tasting that first sweet taste of real independence.  Sure, she’ll still be my baby girl, but she’ll be off on her own. It’s enough to make a mother cry with both joy AND dread.

How do I love thee? Let me count the greens.

But to have a dream week with my daughter in Ireland will make that transition so much more bearable from a maternal point of view.  It will still be delightfully painful to part with her this fall, but that looming pain of sending my little Peaches off into the real world will be tempered by those sweet green Irish memories of our time together.  It will still sting and I will still cry, but that’s life and we’ll always have Ireland.

For more information on Go with Oh or for a chance to win fantastic prizes from their Facebook competition, check out their link at:  http://www.gowithoh.com/

And enter the competition at: http://www.gowithoh.com/competitions/blogger-competition/

Life is short, travel is fun and the world is blessed.  Get out in it, see it, live it and share it with a loved one.

Hanging with my baby girl in New York

By Robin Fritz

Sun, Sand and the Kindness of Strangers

Normally the sight of a large man lifting a small child up by the ankles and shaking him vigorously over a black-topped parking lot would send me running for the nearest cop.  But in this instance, I not only smiled, I laughed. 

The brilliant blue waters of Lake Michigan

In Silver Lake, Michigan, with its thousands of acres of rolling, blowing sand dunes, I have a feeling this is a regular occurrence.

The small boy in question, like me, was waiting with his family for his turn to ride over the towering dunes at the Mac Wood’s Dune Rides.  As we sat in the parking lot awaiting our buggy-mobile, we couldn’t help but laugh as the father lifted his giggling son and literally shook the sand off of him.  The growing pile must have come from every possible nook and cranny – from inside ears, between toes, out of hair, cascading from shorts pockets – and his younger brother danced excitedly beside his father’s leg, shouting, “Do me!  Do me!” 

By the end of the afternoon, we would all need a good ankle shaking.

Silver Lake is one of those stunning places which should remind us just how transient geography can be.  Once home to a towering forest, the dunes of

Little Sable Point Lighthouse

Silver Lake hug the eastern shore of Lake Michigan near the point known throughout western Michigan as “The Narrows” just due north of the Little Sable Point lighthouse  These long ago towering forests proved to be too enticing to local lumber barons and they were logged out at the turn of the century.  With the loss of their tree cover and its deeply anchoring roots, the dunes began their northward march, moving steadily across the landscape anywhere from one to three feet per year, depending upon the winds blowing off the lake.  As a result, the actual lake at Silver Lake is half the size it was in the 1960s, and homes along the northern shore, if not physically relocated, are sold with an expiration date for, eventually, the dunes will win out and take over.

Despite the dunes’ voracious appetite for local real estate, the surrounding citizens have a love/love relationship with their sandy neighbors to the north that equates into untold numbers of dollars in tourism revenue.  These much

View from the lighthouse

needed dollars – for Michigan is a state still reeling from the Great Recession – pours in from eager visitors ready to stroll, hike, ride, and/or drive over every significant pile of sand that gets in their way.

Protected and managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the dunes are divided into three sections, with the southern third leased by Mac Wood’s for its thrilling rides and informative introductions to this amazing world, while the middle section is available for public pedestrian use.  The northern third is set aside as a public thrill ride tour de force in the form of off-road vehicular mayhem.  More on that in a minute.

Our adventure started off appropriately enough at Mac Wood’s where a

An itty bitty dune

chummy older woman with a quick wit narrated from behind the wheel of our 20-passenger dune buggy bus.  Pulling off of the public road into the protected area we first passed through forest similar to the now defunct trees that once covered the dunes.

Blasting through the forest, we entered the eerily beautiful transition zone between shade and sun where bleached out stumps from long dead pines pockmarked the landscape like so many abstract sculptures.  While taking pride in my ecological bent, I couldn’t help but imagine what lovely coffee table bases they would make with their butter smooth gray and white exteriors.

With a lead foot squarely planted on the gas pedal, our female Helio Castraneves flew up dune and down, around curves and along valley trails, stopping here and there to describe the forces in action.  As we had managed to pick a day windier than most, we also got a free exfoliation in the process, and by the time we stopped at a huge dune for a hike up, my face too was now butter smooth, though I had to dust my way through a layer of grit to get there.

It was then our turn to climb a dune, only we did so on foot – or rather, on hands and knees – for the behemoth in question quickly claimed knees, thighs and calves in the process.  As our lower extremities screamed for relief, my teenaged children, nieces and I reached the top where we enjoyed an other-worldly view.  Imagine, if you will, picking up a section of the Sahara desert – stark, blindingly bright, and severe – and dropping it in the middle of a green oasis of trees, blue lakes, and quaint suburbs.  Yeah, it’s like that.

Afterwards, the drive out was no less thrilling and we left Mac Woods with souvenirs in hand and sand in ears thinking that would be the highlight of our meeting with the mighty Silver Lake sand dunes.  But no, life has a funny way of saying, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” and for us, our adventure was only just beginning.

Steffie and Jackie take it to the edge.

Wanting to see more, we drove to the public access area and hiked to the edge between the pedestrian use portion of the dunes and the off-road vehicle (ORV) use area.  Standing there we watched as dirt bikes, sand rails, four-wheelers, SUVs and modified trucks climbed, skidded and flew over the small portion of dune we could see from our viewpoint in a valley of beige.  As the six of us stood there taking it all in, a bright red Jeep with no doors pulled up and a man with a Minnesota accent said, “Wanna take a ride?”

Did we?  Heck, YES we did!

Now normally I don’t climb willingly into the vans of strangers offering candy, but when the van is a tricked out Jeep and the candy comes in the form of towering dunes, I jump head first into the cargo hold.  My niece’s six-foot three inch boyfriend, Michael, climbed in first, along with my teenage son, Jordan, and my niece, Taylor.  As the rest of us watched, they drove off, disappearing in a sea of sand for the next 20 minutes.  When they finally returned, the grins etched on their faces punctuated my son’s cry of, “It was AWESOME!”

Next, I climbed in with my daughter, Jackie, and yet another niece, Stephanie.  St. Paul Tom introduced himself and we were off first on a trail ride

The dunes of Silver Lake

to get a lay of the land.  Hailing from across Lake Michigan, Tom was visiting with sand enthusiasts from all over the United States and Canada, and as a regular visitor to Silver Lake, he frequently offers introductory rides to persons standing on the sidelines.  BTW, if you meet Tom, don’t even try to offer him gas money.  Refusing my initial offer, he quickly scouted out, found and return the $10 spot I shoved in the console.

No, the reward, he said, comes in the form of smiles, laughs and – in our case – screams of joy as he introduces people to the thrills of riding the dunes.  For the first ten minutes, Tom drove us through the tamer portions of the ORV area, pointing out hidden marshes, fast, hard flats, and newbies with rented vehicles who he would no doubt be pulling out later that afternoon with his ever present tow strap.  Passing a giant dune, I commented on its height which elicited from St. Paul Tom a snicker.  “That’s nothing,” he said.  “Wait until you see what we’re going to climb.”  At that point I questioned his sanity and mine, but as I was strapped in with a three-point hitch it was too late to jump out now.  Rounding that dune, we approached the bottom of one that looked to be nearly vertical and Tom turned to us with a smile and asked, “So, do you want to get up it on the first try?”

Stephanie buried her head in her hands, laughed nervously and didn’t answer.  My daughter – ever the adventurer – shouted, “Make it interesting!”  And I replied, “What she said!”

Without so much as a running start, St. Paul Tom stomped on the gas pedal and we were off.  The modified Chevy 350 engine did its magic and it pulled us up, up, up to the crest – amid dozens of ear-piercing screams from front seat

Silhoutted pines on the shore of Lake Michigan

and back – where we seemed to teeter like Wiley Coyote in so many Saturday morning cartoons.  Tom stopped and we sat there, laughing and taking in the view.  Ahead of us lay dune after dune mirroring the rolling waves on Lake Michigan to our right.  It was, as my son had so rightly said, awesome.

St. Paul Tom proceeded to conquer dune after dune before depositing us sandy and spent back where we started.  It was an unplanned adventure that spoke to so many things I love about traveling – beautiful scenery, exciting adventures and proof that the world is filled with good people.  We thanked him over and over and walked away with memories that will last a lifetime.  And as for the sand, it’s still rolling out of my ears.

By Robin Winzenread Fritz

Be sure to check out my article on Travel Culture Magazine:

http://www.travelculturemag.com/silver-lake-dunes-and-the-kindness-of-strangers/

http://www.travelculturemag.com/

For more information on Silver Lake Dunes, Mac Woods or dune buggy rentals, follow these links below:

http://www.macwoodsdunerides.com/

http://www.silverlakebuggys.com/

http://www.parrotslanding.com/

http://www.thinkdunes.com/member-profile/2/163/

http://www.wildbillsatvs.com/

Oh Bring on the Nooks and Crannies…

My childhood home – the place where my mother still resides – was simple and pleasant enough.  It had three bedrooms which housed six people, and the one and a half baths proved to be more than adequate since my brothers were allergic to cleanliness.  Like most American homes, it had all the necessities – a serviceable, but lackluster kitchen, a living room/dining room combo with a large picture window looking out over a front lawn sprinkled with dog poop, and a tiny family room with a fireplace.  And, like so many other Hoosier homes, it was a standard ranch-style one-story brick house, in essence a nearly identical replica of its many cookie-cutter brethren. 

An amazing Oh-Florence.com apartment with one heck of a view!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the home I grew up in.  It was and always will be home even though I now own one of my own.  Yes, it was loving, yes it was warm and, yes, it was home, but a creative living space, it was not, despite my attempts to color it up with homemade macaroni art. 

Nooks and crannies?  Nada.  Twisting staircases?  Forget about it!  Frescoed walls?  Arched hallways?  Dormers with window seats? Butlers’ pantries?  Hidden passageways?  Bay windows? Nope.  Not a one.

So while my home provided all the love and comfort a girl could need, it wasn’t exactly inspiring on a creative level.

While most kids may give little thought to nooks and crannies, as a child, I was different.  Buildings and boats fired my imagination, and I spent quite a bit of my childhood drooling over both and building models of each.  I once owned so many dollhouses that my younger brothers threatened to line them up and

Oh-Paris apartment with the fireplace of my dreams. Hot dogs anyone?

recreate the great Chicago fire.  When we visited downtown department stores, my siblings would run for the toy aisle.  Me?  I ran for the furniture.  As an adolescent, I actually saved up my allowance to subscribe to House & Garden magazine and that one day a month when it arrived in the mailbox was my own private Christmas morning.  Yeah, I was that weird.

And that mania hasn’t mellowed with age, oh no, quite the contrary!  I actually have an inch-thick file of colored chip strips collected from various paint departments.  I now subscribe to more decorator magazines than I have toes and fingers, and my husband has to pry me out of the kitchen display sections of home improvement stores with a crowbar.  When we drive anywhere in the

This Oh-Florence apartment has a triangular-shaped terrace! Almost makes me wish I was better at geometry.

dark, I peer at passing houses in hopes that I may spy a staircase or built-in bookcase through the windows.  Naked people doing God knows what in there?  Who cares!  I want to see their walls!

When my children were little, I gave thanks for Halloween because it meant trick-or-treating in the oldest neighborhood dripping with big turn-of-the-century mansions left over from a more prosperous age.  Thus while my kiddies begged for candy at strange door after strange door, I peeked into one architectural beauty after another, here a Queen Anne, there a Victorian, everywhere a Gothic.  It was heaven.

So imagine my joy, my glee, when I stumbled upon Oh! 

Headquartered out of Barcelona,Spain, Oh is a vacation property management company specializing in Europe.  With hundreds of rental properties to choose from in such locales as Venice, Paris, London, Prague, etc., they are, in short, the maker of vacation dreams.  I discovered this by accident when I stumbled over a retweet of Oh’s spring blogger competition and entered.  The contest was inspired, but simple – pick one of ten European cities and write a blog post about why you want to go there and the top five things you would do while visiting.  In return, the winner would receive one week in four different cities, equating to a month-long grand tour of Europe!  My imagination inflamed, I entered, I dreamed, I won.

Well, I won a runner-up spot!  Congrats to Leah of “Leah Travels” who won the grand prize with her fabulous winning blog entry onFlorence.  See the link to it below – it’s delicious!

http://leahtravels.com/site/places/italy/i-want-to-go-with-oh-to-florence

After discovering my wonderful runner-up status, I proceeded to scare the neighborhood dogs with my peeling screams of delight.  I then ran around the house asking my family to pinch me because I had to be dreaming, but my children declined, oddly enough, and my husband wouldn’t stop.  Go figure.

After that, I sat down and I dreamed.  And indulged.

For my runner-up prize is three nights in Venice, Italy in accommodations provided by Oh, and after going to Oh’s property rental site (see link below) I spent the rest of the day pouring over Venetian rental property after Venetian

This puts my sofa from Big Lots into perspective.

rental property after Venetian rental property.  For on Oh’s site, one can not only see where the rental property falls on the map, one can also drool over pictures of the accommodations and, in many, cases view a layout of the apartments.  Le sigh!

http://www.oh-venice.com/

As a nook and cranny junkie and a lover of creative living spaces, I was hooked.  Apartment after apartment after apartment – many located in buildings older than my hometown – scrolled past on my computer monitor and time slipped away.  In my own way, I was an explorer, off to distant lands, making my way through unfamiliar territory and loving every minute of it.

And I couldn’t stop at Venice.  After that it was on to Oh -London and Oh -Florence and – oh my God! – Oh -Paris!

And now Oh’s property sites have replaced Pinterest as my day-time dream-filled distraction of choice.  Where as Pinterest drips with things I will never have or places I can never attain or clothing I will never fit into, Oh’s property

A Venetian room with a view courtsey of Oh-Venice.

is oh so attainable and very much available for rent, thus making these little slices of heaven one can actually enjoy as I will be doing in September.  *Pinch*  Ouch!  God, that felt good!

Venice awaits and maybe next year my daughter and I will finally fulfill one of her dreams and get to Dublin.  My 70-year-old mother has always wanted to see England, the home of her grandmother.  My husband dreams of his family’s mother country of Germany and Berlin.  And I will definitely have to get to Barcelona if for no other reason than that of drooling over matadors in tight shiny satin pants.  It’s wonderful to dream, isn’t it?

I once worked with a woman who grew up in southern California between the Pacific Ocean to the west and burnished mountains to the east.  She moved to

My Cape Cod doesn’t look like this. Neither does the yard barn from Lowes.

Indiana after marrying a native Hoosier, but while she loved the man, she failed to fall in love with my home state.  As she grew up a stone’s throw from both deserts and palm trees, I can understand why.  Her benchmark for beauty was set high at an early age.  Growing up in a vacation destination, could she appreciate Indiana otherwise?

My childhood home is much like the land in which I live.  Both are serviceable and have their charms.  They’re understated and often overlooked.  Bells and whistles are non-existent.  But living in that little cookie-cutter house surrounded by Indiana’s flat fields of corn left me with a very flexible benchmark for beauty.  I delight in a winter wheat field.  Golden pastures of rolling hay bales give me pause.  And I will swoon over Venice.

September will be here soon and with it Italy.  I am preparing now to be left speechless.  And in the meantime I will dream and plan and drool.  And even while I will fantasy over Parisian apartments and London hotel suites and

I think Anthony Bourdain visited the owner of this building in an episode of No Reservations. I recognize the courtyard!

Tuscan abodes, I will embrace my quaint little house and my childhood home and my flat little land and thank them for being what they are and for shaping me into who I am.

By Robin Winzenread Fritz,

Writer, dreamer and lover of spaces big and small.

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