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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Christmas, South Beach Style

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, you're burning up my retinas....

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, you’re burning up my retinas….

As it was dark outside when we arrived at the Catalina Hotel and Beach Club, http://www.catalinahotel.com/ on Collins Avenue in South Beach, I did not have my sunglasses handy when we sauntered into the lobby dragging army duffels full of used shoes and soccer balls behind us.  Had I known about the giant glowing pink Christmas tree gleaming like a demon in a Steven King novel circa 1970s, I might have come prepared.  Regardless, it was a funky eye-numbing display of over the top holiday magic that told this farm girl, she wasn’t in Kansas any more.  And I couldn’t have been happier.  Bring on the coconut eggnog!

Happy hour in the Red Bar at the Catalina Hotel & Beach Club

Happy hour in the Red Bar at the Catalina Hotel & Beach Club

Christmas in South Beach, a.k.a. Miami, is a huge departure for someone who’s Midwestern version of the holidays more closely resembles Ralphie’s in the Christmas Story.  My standard memories of the holidays come laced with overcoats, mittens, evergreen trees and green bean casseroles.  The closest I’ve come to shooting my eye out was with an actual be-be gun as opposed to a flaming pink tree.  That Miami may be closer to the truth surrounding Jesus’ birth with its temperate weather, palm trees and succulent plants – glowing pink trees not withstanding – had always been just a notion to me until now.  It was high time I got in touch with a warm weather version of the Christmas story.

Abstract art decorates the Catalina lobby

Abstract art decorates the Catalina lobby

An end of the year mission trip to Jeremie, Haiti prompted this short overnight stay in South Beach and my traveling buddy, Dave Duba, wrangled a $55 a night per room rate at the Catalina just one block from the beach.  Surrounded by stylish art deco architecture and dripping with palms, it’s an eclectic little place with high walls of abstract art, yarn bombed balcony railings, a red bar and free drinks from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.  Tip the British bartender in advance like my buddy, Dave, and she pours heavy. *wink*wink*

Yarn bomb railings peek down upon the Catalina lobby

Yarn bomb railings peek down upon the Catalina lobby

After checking in we went to find our wacky little rooms – which wasn’t as easy as it sounds as 120 followed 115 and my room, number 119 was one corner and about ten rooms more away.  But it was worth the where’s Waldo fun as mine came decked out with all white furniture and bedding in a room with blood red accents and a subway tiled bathroom.  Fortunately, they were also generous with the toiletries as I managed at least one shower and packed the rest for Haiti – a smart move since I sweated like a camel the following week and went through soap and shampoo like a squirrel in a nut house.

My wacky little room at the Catalina in South Beach

My wacky little room at the Catalina in South Beach

After dropping our gear, we went in search of food and fun, leading us to the Lincoln Road Mall a few blocks south and west.  If I die tomorrow, I want to be cremated so little spoonfuls of my ashes can be scattered in various places I’ve come to know and love, for instance, my grandparents’ former place in Holland, Michigan, the river near our farm, the spot where the old goat shed stood on the farm I grew up on, any aisle at a Hobby Lobby, tool town at Lowes and – as of now – the outdoor seating at Pizza Rustica along the Lincoln Road Mall.  Yeah, I know that sounds lame, but seriously, this place is cool.  And I love Hobby Lobby.

Window shopping on Lincoln Road

Window shopping on Lincoln Road

We window shopped our way up Lincoln Road headed for dinner and enjoying the glittery bacchanalia of South Beach when the David Dubas – father and son – stopped in their tracks.  What could cause two men to grind to a halt and drool in an outside mall?  An overly aggressive Victoria’s Secret display?  Beyonce shopping for shoes?

If Santa had any sense, his red sleigh would be a Tesla Model S

If Santa had any sense, his red sleigh would be a Tesla Model S – photo courtesy of David Duba

Nope.  Just a pre-production version of Tesla’s Model S sports car sitting in show room, glistening like Santa’s sleigh if the fat jolly man were, in fact, Italian, computerized and totally electric.

A sports car that seats six?  Ok, maybe four plus two more tiny people, but still, sign me up!

A sports car that seats six? Ok, maybe four plus two more tiny people, but still, sign me up!

Naturally we went in.  Naturally we climbed into the car.  Naturally we pushed buttons, stroked gear shifts and drooled on the leather interior.  And naturally they had to pry us out with crowbars.  Perhaps it’s a good thing my Christmas list was firmed up a long time ago and that deliveries for the Model S don’t start until 2013. I might be more than a little poorer otherwise.  But, dang, what a stocking stuffer….

Sparkling palm trees light the way

Sparkling palm trees light the way to Pizza Rustica

A half hour later with red lacquered stars in our eyes and more than a little dehydrated from drooling, we waltzed back outside and headed to Pizza Rustica.  How do I love thee, Pizza Rustica?  Let me count the ways, including supreme, barbeque chicken and quarto fro mage.  Have I mentioned that food porn leaves me weak in the knees?

H'mmm.... food porn ....

H’mmm…. food porn ….

We grabbed seats outside, placed our order, sat back and took in the scene.  We people watched.  We chowed down on excellent food.  We stared at palm trees decked out in Christmas lights.  We chowed down some more.  I could get use to this.

One of Peter Lik's amazing photographys.  As amazing as it looks here, it's even MORE impressive in person.

One of Peter Lik’s amazing photographs. As amazing as it looks here, it’s even MORE impressive in person.

Afterwards we headed to the Peter Lik gallery, LIKMIAMI,  http://www.lik.com/  just a few doors down from our dinner destination.  If you’re ever in the area, go.  Sure, check him out online – no doubt his images have caught your eye before.  But there is no comparison.  Seeing his work as it’s meant to be seen – huge, well lit, in a darkened room and framed – will leave you breathless. 

 If my discretionary income ever skyrockets, I know where I’ll be shopping first.  Fortunately, Rey Borges was on hand to give us a tour of Peter’s work, and I grabbed his card for future reference.  Rey has a treasure of his own – a necklace made from sunken treasure in the form of old Spanish gold – and he’s a delight.  Take the time to seek him out and he’ll give you the behind the scenes story of what Peter went through to get some of his iconic shots.

This makes me want to take up sewing

This makes me want to take up sewing

We left the gallery and continued window shopping, coming to the western end of the mall.  Crossing the street south, we worked our way back towards Collins Avenue, pausing for glitter and glam along the way.  The weather was warm, the conversation fun and the surroundings exotic.  Granted South Beach, Florida is an odd send off for a mission trip to poverty stricken Haiti, and I do appreciate the contrast.  If anything, it gave me an interesting perspective on the week to come.

Next time I'm in South Beach, I'm going bar hopping....

Next time I’m in South Beach, I’m going bar hopping….

But one thing did occur to me as I tucked myself into my big sprawling bed in my funky little Catalina room.

I definitely want to go back.

Lincoln Road Mall - enjoy it.  It's delightful!

Lincoln Road Mall – enjoy it. It’s delightful!

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

Prepping, Packing and Pre-Poop Planning

Palm trees - not Christmas trees - are hogging my imagination these days

Palm trees – not Christmas trees – are hogging my imagination these days

My typhoid shot is on backorder.  Now, Christmas and backorders go together like red hair and freckles, but one doesn’t normally expect it in third-world pharmaceuticals, partly because one doesn’t normally ORDER third-world pharmaceuticals.  But my doctor has to pre-order my upcoming typhoid shot as there isn’t much call for regular typhoid boosters in Milroy, Indiana, thus the resulting backorder.  Who knew?

I’m hoping this backorder of typhoid is a result of low demand, but the pessimist in me likes to whisper in my ear at night and say, ha, ha, ha, you fool, it’s just the contrary!  Demand is high and Typhoid Marys are a dime a dozen in Haiti!  But as I am my father’s daughter, I chase down the pessimist in me and beat her into submission with grandiose plans to buy duty-free alcohol in massive quantities.  Rum balls anyone?

I'm making a list and checking it twice... because now it's includes rum

I’m making a list and checking it twice… because now it includes rum

On the heels of my recent foray into Europe, I find packing and planning for a trip to a third-world country to be a great study in contrasts.  Venice and London required no inoculations.  As for Haiti, I’m already up by four shots and have two boosters to go, plus – hopefully – my typhoid vaccine, and I get to take malaria medicine in the process.  I’m also starting my low-dose introduction to Imodium too as my sister regaled me over Thanksgiving with tales of my brother-in-law’s diarrhea (hey, thanks Renee!) brought on by HIS malaria medicine taken prior to his dive trip to Honduras.  So I’m working on building a tolerance now because who wants to be stuck on a plane with Montezuma’s Revenge?  Or, since I’m Haiti bound, let’s call it the Papa Doc Trots.

... don't cry... don't cry... *sniff* ... don't cry... who am I kidding?  WAAAAA!!!

… don’t cry… don’t cry… *sniff* … don’t cry… who am I kidding? WAAAAA!!!

When the good Doctor Lake told me I needed Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, tetanus and recommended typhoid, I listened, because the good Doctor Lake has been to Haiti before and knows where of she speaks.  As a doctor, she’s been exposed to patients with typhoid and, given the risk factor, why not get the shot, she advised.  She also prepped a flu shot for me at which point I said, “Oh, I rarely get the flu.”  Her response?

“Robin,” she said, “it’s not for you.  It’s for them.”

Now there’s a thought.  Inoculations, she went on to explain, aren’t just for me, but for the many native people I will come in contact with while in Haiti.  While I may have the immune system of an elephant (and the thighs too), I can still be a carrier, and the last thing I want to do while on a mission trip is expose people with depressed tolerances and lack of ready access to medical care to something I fight off like skinny jeans.  It’s an interesting point I hadn’t considered.  So, naturally, I got the flu shot.

Fearless leaders says pack light.....

Fearless leader says pack light…..

The other great study in contrasts between planning for Haiti as opposed to western Europe is the packing itself.  I’m going down there to do construction work which isn’t as funny as it sounds because my father was a plumber who had two girls years before he had two boys.  The end result was that he treated us like boys for years, thus Renee and I can both swing a hammer, drive a tractor and – if the need calls for it – pee standing up.  I didn’t say it was pretty.

I'm dreaming of a sandy Christmas

I’m dreaming of a sandy Christmas

Back to my point.  Whereas my packing plan for Italy was to look polished, cosmopolitan and well-traveled (aka – not necessarily like someone whose closet resembles the clearance bin at Walmart which is closer to reality), my packing plan for Haiti fits in nicely with my telecommuting wardrobe.  I’m packing my oldest clothes.  I’m taking only one dress and it’s for church.  Out goes the jewelry and in go the work gloves and safety glasses.  And I’m trying to find bug spray and I’m praying my sunscreen hasn’t expired.  That can be hard to find in the winter, I’ve discovered.

It's like a Haitian version of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" only with burros instead of tiny dogs

It’s like a Haitian version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” only with burros instead of tiny dogs

I’m also trying to figure out which Bible to take as it’s on the packing list sent to us by our fearless leader, David Duba.  David has supplied us with helpful packing lists, insurance forms and itineraries which come to my email inbox like early Christmas presents.  His online enthusiasm is infectious – but not in a typhoid kind of way – and rather than dreaming about putting up Christmas lights while the snow falls, I find myself daydreaming about swaying palm trees, dirt roads, and colorful local people leading burros around tiny towns.  It’s hard not to, you know?

I don't think this will fit in my carry on

I don’t think this will fit in my carry on

On that list is the Bible and now I have a decision to make.  Bibles aren’t small and David said pack light.  Of course the huge old family standard that my dad bought when we were kids is out.  It’s the size of a small VW Beetle, though the pictures are really pretty.  On the flip side, I still have my itty, bitty little vinyl-clad green version given to every elementary school child in Indiana during the 1970s, but it’s the New Testament only and, if I take it, I’ll also have to take a pair of reading glasses fit for Mr. Magoo.  Decisions, decisions.

God bless us, every one

God bless us, every one

But don’t worry, I’ll figure it out.  December 12th will be here before I know it and my backpack will be ready.  My camera batteries will be fresh and my spirits will be high.  Christmas isn’t about buying, wrapping and eating so much as it is about celebrating Jesus’ birth and ultimate sacrifice.  It seems most fitting to honor that gift by giving to others, and I don’t mean with cheese logs.  I’m ready to tote that barge, lift that bale and swing that hammer – though, trust me.  I wasn’t kidding about the rum.

Cheers to all.  And God bless.

Haiti for the Holidays

Taking a stroll down a street in Jeremie, Haiti

It’s Cyber Monday and it’s following closely on the heels of a record breaking Black Friday.  In Indiana alone, it has been estimated that the average household spent nearly $450 over the weekend.  After several years of economic doubt, it seems as if the country is exploding with pent-up consumerism that can no longer be denied.

But as Monday rapidly draws to a close, I have yet to spend a dime.  Call me a bad American, but I didn’t stimulate the economy.

I am, however, thinking about shoes – old shoes, worn shoes, used shoes, small shoes, shoes for children who have none to call their own.  If all goes according to plan, this time next month I will be back from a mission trip to Jeremie, Haiti where I will have helped several kind-hearted souls share gently used shoes with children who give the term “less fortunate” a new meaning.

The runway in Jeremie, Haiti awaiting the arrival of our commuter plane

It will be my first trip to Haiti and I fully anticipate having my expectations for what constitutes an acceptable lifestyle reset by what I will see – which, by the way, is one of many reasons why I travel. 

Case in point – my recent week in Venice taught me that my definition of “old” needed to be rethought.  In a country where a large well maintained building like the RCA Dome can come and go in less than 35 years says something about our expectations and priorities.  Venice makes do with 300, 500, even 1,000 year-old buildings held together by giant bolts and screws, and where snaps, crackles and pops are a way of life.  We freak out when doors won’t latch and ceilings crack.

When I left for Venice, I was actively looking for a new car to replace my 11-year-old Jeep.  The air conditioning doesn’t work, the ceiling fabric is starting to give, the radio light only comes on when it rains, it’s pushing 190K miles and, by most American standards, it’s old and I’m overdue.

But after Venice, I came back with a new appreciation for keeping what works and making the best of the situation.  At the hospital in Venice we watched orderlies moving an elderly woman in an old wooden wheelchair that looked like it predated the Titanic.  But guess what?  It worked!  It looked to be well maintained.  And I bet it was paid for.

When I returned home, I stopped looking.  My pretty red Jeep may be well seasoned like me, but it gets me where I need to go, so why give up on it now?  In this country, we give up on things too early and often for the wrong reasons.  I know of someone who once got rid of a perfectly good washing machine because it wouldn’t match her new dryer which she bought when the old one stopped working.  Am I the only one who finds that odd? 

Map of the Gebeau compound in Jeremie, Haiti. We’ll be working on the auto shop using our carpentry skills.

So I’m packing for Haiti, but I’m planning to have my expectations reset again.  I don’t know how yet – that still remains to be seen.  But I know that this trip will be an adventure and an experience and an eye opener.  That it comes on the heels of Christmas isn’t lost on me either for it is this time of the year when our desire for new toys grows to its most fevered pitch.

The local school has invited us to attend the children’s Christmas program.  I am excited beyond words.  I know that in the streets of Haiti I will see poverty, especially near Port au Prince.  I’m hoping it’s not as bleak as my imagination believes it to be.  But I’m also praying that in that little school in Jeremie I will also see hope and joy and happiness too – in short, things that come from family and friends and not from catalogs and websites and big-box retail stores.  That too remains to be seen.  More details on my trip and my fellow explorers to come soon, but for now, it’s enough to ponder the adventure.

(Photo credits – David Duba)

Warm Murano Memories to Melt a Cold Winter’s Night

My Venus di Milo impression

The days are short and the cold is hard.  Winter is coming to Indiana.  And for now, I’m fine with that, for the upcoming holidays always seem more festive and child like when the promise of snow lingers in the air.

But when the Thanksgiving turkey is a delicious memory and the torn Christmas wrapping paper is sitting on the curb with the other trash, the charms of winter will begin to fade and with it my enthusiasm for snow, cold and ice.

When that time finally does come, however, I’ll be prepared for I have my built-in memories stored in my collective conscious and that of my travel buddies of a blessedly sunny and warm day strolling the glowing streets of Murano, Italy.  Plus, if I close my eyes just so and raise my face up toward my dining room ceiling fan with the lights a blazing, I can almost pretend I’m basking in that magical Italian light.

Murano is a miniature Venetian feast for the eyes.  Go there.  See it.  Linger.  You’ll never be the same.

A view from the vaporetto to Murano.  We got off at the stop for the Museo Vetrario (the glass museum) on the Fondamenta Giustinian, but it was tempting to stay on aboard for a longer ride.

Lingering on the Fondamenta Giustinian, enjoying the boat parking on the San Donato canal.  Bellisimo!  Or however the heck you spell that….

Murano’s Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato along side the San Donato canal.  Could the sky possibly be any bluer?

It was home to my Venus di Milo impression.  It took a crowbar to pry me out of my niche.

Shopping for mosaic tile – so many beautiful colors!  I picked out several  blue and green glass tiles that reminded me of the Venetian laguna.  My buddy Candy is going to make me a piece of jewelry with them.  How wonderful is that!

We stumbled upon this lovely hidden courtyard and, naturally, there was laundry on the line.  When I came home, I hugged my clothesline.  Now, I appreciate it even more.  Can you believe some American neighborhoods actually BAN clotheslines in their covenants? 

This is Murano’s version of the little red wagon.

Peering inside the door of a working glass factory.  That chandelier puts my dining room ceiling fan to shame.

View of a side canal.  See that large red awning in the middle distance?  That’s where I enjoyed a wonderful lunch with great friends and an amazing view.

My lunch time view – I could get use to this!

Great bridge, don’t you think? 

Candy and I have a moment

Chasing that Italian light

Mosaic Mary – isn’t she gorgeous?  She lights up the place too.

See that ochre yellow building in the center with the single room at the top left center?  I could live there and paint and be happy for years, I do believe.

The lighthouse at the tip of Murano.  I would have loved to have climbed this for the view but, sadly, it was closed.  Maybe next time.

I fell in love with these contrasting colors, the soft buff of the building against the bright red of the boat.  So lovely.

So many memorable views.  I hope to capture some of these on canvas during the cold winter months in Indiana, but they’ll never come close to what I see in my mind’s eye.  But won’t it be fun to try!

 

These pictures don’t even come close to really capturing it.  To really get a sense of what this light “feels” like, you have to smell the salty ocean air and feel the warmth of the sun radiating on your back.  Then, you’ll know that Italian light.  But savor it.  It’s far to fleeting….