Winding My Way Through Indiana’s Wineries

I’m having a fruit fit and we’re not talking salad. I can’t decide whether I want blueberry, blackberry, red raspberry, cherry, plum or apple. And let’s not forget grape. Fortunately, as part of the Rushville Psi Iota Xi Fall Wine Tour, I can sample each delicious fruit-filled wine before I decide which – or even how many – bottles to buy and take home. And trust me, it’s a difficult decision. I’m currently drooling over the blueberry at Ertel Cellars Winery just a few miles southeast of Batesville, and we’ve only just started the tour. Plus, I have a hankering for merlot, the day is young, the wine samples will be plentiful, and I have to carry what I buy.

Bottles of wine at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

Bottles of wine at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

Good thing I work out.

And good thing the Psi Iota Xi wine tour comes with a chauffeured tour bus because, if past history is any indication, I’m a cheap date and will need it. Fortunately, Psi Iota Xi has pulled out all of the stops with the tour I’m on, and it’s doing the same again with its upcoming 2014 fall wine tour highlighting three area wineries, including Buck Creek Winery, Simmons Winery and Mallow Run Winery. This year’s tour is set for Saturday, November 1st, and, in addition to the tour bus transportation, it includes a sampling of wines at each location, one meal and prizes in addition to garden and back room tours.

What can I say? Sign me up – again!

Also, take note, you may receive a free wine trail wine glass at each location. We did on our tour, but I’m not sure if that’s part of the November 1st tour. As the glasses are cute and, well, are wine glasses, it’s worth asking about at the first stop. Still, cute as they are, they pale in comparison to my new favorite plastic wine glass with straw and a lid to keep bugs out, courtesy of my friend, Michelle, who introduced me to wine touring by bus in all of its many glories. Now THAT’S a friend!

The three wineries to be toured on November 1st are just some of the seven wineries that make up the “Indy Wine Trail,” one of five designated wine trails in Indiana. The wine trails stretch from Braiali Winery in far northeastern Indiana (on the “Wineries of Indiana’s North East Trail”) to the Pepper’s Ridge Winery in the Evansville area (part of the “Hoosier Wine Trail”) and include various parts in between. The Indy Wine Trail – not to be confused with the “Indiana Wine Trail” – also includes urban wineries in Indianapolis such as Chateau Thomas in addition to Simmons, the furthest south on the Indy Wine Trail, near Columbus.

The five Indiana wine trails are the brain child of the Indiana Wine Grape Council and were created to foster collaboration between regional wineries in an effort to offer customers a localized wine experience. Visitors can travel from winery to winery to learn about the various wines produced in the state with wine tastings offered regularly at each location. As the trails include visits to several wineries, everyone is encouraged to designate a driver – such as our poor tour bus operator who gets to travel to each winery without touching a single drop so have mercy and tip him or her well – and drink responsibly.

So many bottles, so little time....

So many bottles, so little time….

At Buck Creek Winery in southeastern Marion County, Psi Iota Xi tour guests will sample from Buck Creek’s large collection of red and white wines and will get a private tour of the back room. With names like Dew Drop (a sweet white with a hint of peach and citrus) and Christmas Cherry (a vibrant red made from sweet and tart cherries), deciding which to buy at Buck Creek may also have you eenie, meenie, minie, mowing your way around a half dozen bottles too. Or maybe that’s just me.

The tasting room and restaurant at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

The tasting room and restaurant at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

At Simmons Winery, tour guests will enjoy lunch while sampling wines and wandering the winery’s beautiful gardens. Located on the family’s 115-year-old farm in northeastern Bartholomew County, Simmons also offers a market during the summer months and features pumpkins come fall. With red, white and blush wines available, Simmons – like many of Indiana’s wineries – also makes several specialty wines, including a sweet dessert wine, Vidal Ice, and Winter Spice, a sweet red Marechal Foch combined with brown sugar and mulling spices which is great served warm, especially during the holidays.

At Mallow Run Winery located near Bargersville in Johnson County, try the Dry Traminette which is made completely from grapes grown in Indiana. A dry white with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and apple, it’s perfect for a fall stroll around the grounds. And, like many of Indiana’s other wineries, Mallow Run offers several sweet fruit wines, including its number one selling rhubarb wine, a zippy little number with a tart zing, not to mention a gold medal “best in show” award from this year’s Indy International Wine Competition.

As for the aforementioned Dry Traminette, that wine is actually produced from a grape specifically cultivated to grow in the harsh climate of the Midwest. The Traminette grape was created by Herb Barrett at the University of Illinois originally as a table grape, but it was found to have excellent wine qualities in addition to partial resistance to several fungal diseases. The Traminette also proved to be more cold hardy than its more established parent, the Gewurztraminer grape, while retaining its flavorful character. The Indiana Wine Growers Council has named wine made from the Traminette grape as the signature wine of Indiana so, as a fellow Hoosier, you should definitely give it a try.

According to Purdue University, Indiana’s wine industry annually contributes more than $72 million to the state’s economy, with Indiana wine sales growing on average by more than 15 percent a year. The exploding number of wineries in Indiana – from nine to nearly 80 since 1989 – have certainly helped with the growth in those numbers. Indiana’s wineries currently grow grapes on more than 600 acres, with Indiana wine production exceeding 1 million gallons a year – which translates into 5 million bottles, half of which I’ve probably sampled. Ok, maybe not, but it’s definitely on my bucket list.

As for this fall’s wine tour, Psi Iota Xi has opened it up to the public, but as the tour bus is only so big, it’s first come, first served with a limit of 55 seats. Tickets cost $60 per person in advance and include the very worthwhile tour bus transportation for the day, wine tastings at each winery, a delicious meal, and a drawing for prizes. Again, tickets must be purchased in advance – no same day sales – and can be purchased from the Rushville Public Library. For more information call Jan Garrison at 765-561-1105 or e-mail janmg@rpl.lip.in.us or Robin Sowder at rsowder0602@gmail.com.

The bus departs from St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Rushville at 9:30 a.m. – go to the west side of the church and just look for the big bus. Return time is approximately 5:30 p.m., but as that’s approximate, you may want to text your designated driver from the bus.

Vats of future goodness at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

Vats of future goodness at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

As for Psi Iota Xi, it is a charitable women’s philanthropic organization with chapters throughout the Midwest and places a special emphasis on speech and hearing-related causes. With that said, it’s great to be able to support a worthy cause while also enjoying a Saturday outing to experience some of the wonders Indiana has to offer, even if the end result blurs my speech in the process.

If you can’t make the tour, I encourage you to still check out Indiana’s wineries, several of which also have restaurants on site. Hours and days of operation differ at each winery, with some locations changing their availability based upon the seasons. For more information, to get directions or to plan your own visit to any of the three wineries on this year’s Psi Iota Xi tour, check out their websites at:

Buck Creek Winery – http://buckcreekwinery.com.

Simmons Winery – http://www.simmonswinery.com

Mallow Run Winery – http://mallowrun.com

For information on the Indy Wine Grape Council and the Indiana wine trails, go to:

http://www.indianawines.org/tour/wine-trails

Next Week – I explore Stream Cliff Herb Farm and Winery.

Follow my blog at: http://outaroundwithrobin.wordpress.com/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RobinFritz or email at outaroundwithrobin@gmail.com

481266_10203777348727600_1608806686782902373_nBy Robin Winzenread Fritz

Reprinted with permission from the Greensburg Daily News

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

Missionary Style – An Idiot’s Guide to Doing Good Works in Haiti (Part II)

The sun rises over Jeremie, Haiti

The sun rises over Jeremie, Haiti


Since traveling to Haiti, I’ve had several people mention to me how they hope to someday go on a similar trip. It’s exciting to see how contagious mission work and travel can be. My friend David planted a seed with me, and now I hope to plant similar seeds with others.

And as David gave me the low down on what to expect before we left, I feel it’s only appropriate to fertilize the seeds I’m planting with a little sage advice, keeping in mind that I am still very wet behind the ears in the mission-trip travel department. But every little bit helps, so if you to want to go out and do good works in Haiti too, here are some practical tips to pave the way.

Our project at the Gebeau compound in Jeremie - the "before" view

Our project at the Gebeau compound in Jeremie – the “before” view

Part II – The Details

Pack light and prepare to sweat – My teenage son likes to whisper “hoarder” in my ear whenever I try to repurpose anything so, as you can imagine, packing light is an ordeal for me. During my recent trip to Italy, I left a wake of herniated airport employees behind me. But I managed to dig down deep and pack only essentials for Haiti and – guess what? For once in my life, I actually packed too light.

I took a tiny bottle of liquid Tide with me so I could sponge things out every evening and wear some things twice. I SHOULD have taken some string to use as a clothesline too, so learn from my mistake. Also, what I hadn’t counted on was the reality of the work at hand. Our project consisted of cleaning out and refitting a barn for a future tractor delivery, and, by cleaning out, I mean we CLEANED IT OUT. Rats, big ass spiders, years of accumulated dirt, bird poop and oil, and coconut shells by the hundreds left us all grimy, gritty and gross. Additionally, we did it in 90 degree heat – which, by the way, is the cool season in Haiti. Come summer, it’s actually hotter.

Every day was hot, sunny and beautiful - enjoying the view of the Grand Anse River

Every day was hot, sunny and beautiful – enjoying the view of the Grand Anse River

So at the end of the day, I pretty much smelled like a camel, and my work clothes could stand up by themselves. All the sponging in the world couldn’t put a dent in the funk growing in my shoes by mid week and I actually lived in fear of running out of soap and shampoo. Come to think of it, my companions actually lived in fear of me running out of soap and shampoo too.

Don’t pack for vacation, pack for work and if it has sentimental meaning, leave it at home – As I knew I would be working on that barn before leaving, I packed work clothes, including my favorite old navy blue polo shirt. It’s not a great shirt nor is a good looking shirt, but as shirts go, it’s a favorite because it’s broken in and very comfortable. I’ve spent a lot of hours telecommuting in that shirt.

Mark cuts a ceiling brace with a handsaw - no power tools were on site because we had no electricity

Mark cuts a ceiling brace with a handsaw – no power tools were on site because we had no electricity

But what I hadn’t counted on in Haiti was looking into the faces of so many people with so little. It made me seriously regret the state of my walk-in closet back home, so I let them pick me clean like a buzzard on road kill – and I would do it again in a heart beat. When workmen pointed to my gloves, I let them have the gloves, because they were working harder than me. When a little boy kept admiring his reflection in my aviator sunglasses, I let him have them, and he strutted around worthy of his new nickname, Rico Suave. When another young man came back with us to the guesthouse at the end of one day and asked if we had any clothes to spare, I gave him that polo shirt because it was the only thing I had not yet been worn or sweated in. By the end of the week I was also down a baseball cap, safety glasses, several magazines, a pen and a water bottle too. And I wish I had had more to give. Much as I loved that shirt, there’s plenty more in my closet where that came from.

The barn now sporting a new roof, plaster, doors and paint.  Plus, it's squeaky clean inside!

The barn now sporting a new roof, plaster, doors and paint. Plus, it’s squeaky clean inside!

So, in short, DO pack heavy and plan to share. Great things to take and share include work gloves, water bottles, t-shirts, soccer balls – which are practically a currency in Haiti, not to mention an instant party – hand pumps for those soccer balls, Crocs, flip flops, you name it. David brought with him a few old Army duffels jam packed with stuff, and it’s impossible not to feel moved when handing these things out. So cram those backpacks and share the wealth! It feels good.

Buying supplies at the Haitian "Home Depot" - don't worry, it's just paint

Buying supplies at the Haitian “Home Depot” – don’t worry, it’s just paint

Take change – Sometimes I pride myself on not being a total moron. More often, however, I’m kicking myself for being a complete idiot, and nothing was more idiotic than waiting until the last minute to hit the money mover prior to my trip. The end result was that I took mostly $20s.

How dumb could I be? In Haiti, people don’t make change, because they don’t HAVE change. Haitian workers will move mountains for $8 a day – we paid them $10 – so that puts those $20s in perspective. Plus, it’s not a shopping Mecca. Talented crafts people will come to you with really neat trinkets for sale, but they’re not expensive items, so you end up buying armloads of this stuff because you have a $20, not a $10 or a $5 or a $1 and – I repeat – they can’t make change. But it’s ok – the way I look at it, I stimulated the local economy.

In short, break those freaking $20s and take dollars, dollars, dollars. Who cares if you look like a stripper on payday? You won’t have them – or shouldn’t have them – when you get home anyway. Oh, and leave the credit cards and debit cards at home. You won’t need them either.

Many homes in Jeremie do not have access to running water

Many homes in Jeremie do not have access to running water

If it’s yellow, let it mellow… – and I think you know the rest of that little gem. Ok, here’s the reality of Haiti – few people have running water in their homes. While fresh water does seem to be plentiful – it pours out of the mountains – getting it some place useful, like in homes, seems to be a real problem. Even well-kept places like the Methodist guesthouse where we stayed in Jeremie which do have running water, still have issues. Water pumps in Haiti are few and far between, thus the majority of faucets and toilets are gravity-based.

What does this mean for you? It means don’t waste water and forget about water pressure. And as for hot water, don’t even think about it. Besides, it’s a hot country and you already smell like old cabbage so do you really need it? Nope! But do take sanitary wipes or antibacterial gel. It comes in pretty darn handy. And if you’re a germ-a-phobe, well, let’s just say you may have a few issues with Haiti. But if you’re a dirt-eating, nose-picking, wipe-your-hands-on-your shirt farm girl like me, you’re good to go.

Sometimes I smelled like a camel AND a sheep

Sometimes I smelled like a camel AND a sheep

With that said, keep these water-related ground rules in mind. When showering, get wet, turn off the water, then shampoo and soap up. Then rinse off and do it quick. I also found that if I sponged out a few things in the sink quickly before showering, I could let them soak in the sink while I showered and drain while I dried off and got dressed. Again, bring a clothesline too as you’ll need somewhere to hang your stuff overnight to dry.

Also, if you’re there for a week and you eat the same kind of diet we ate – goat, rice, beans, fish, and lots of fresh fruit – be prepared to poop. Why do I bring that up? Reminder – gravity-based water flow! If you must take a dump, do it downstairs if you’re in a two-story building. You’ll need the extra *umph* to get it down the pipes. Trust me, one such episode in the upstairs restroom took a rest stop somewhere along the way down and the end result wasn’t pretty. I’m just saying, you know. So snatch the pebble from my hand, grasshopper, and poop downstairs. One more thing – never put toilet paper in the actual toilet, no matter WHAT is on it. Toilet paper goes in the trash can beside the toilet – again, gravity-based water flow. It’s self-explanatory, really.

It gets dark early in Haiti

It gets dark early in Haiti

Don’t panic if the lights go out – When you’re in a strange country, and it’s a developing one at that, you may be slightly on edge when odd things happen, say, for instance, the power goes out at night. Don’t panic. Sure, in the States, power outages are fairly uncommon. But in Jeremie, that turned out to be an almost nightly occurrence. Once at dinner, we were all plunged into darkness, but what fun it was when everyone whipped out their cell phones and lit up the night!

I don’t know what caused the outages or if they really do just shut off the power to the city after hours, but by morning it was always back on. Plus, as a country hovering just over the equator, the sun is up by 6:00 a.m. and down by 6:00 p.m. so you’re going to keep odd hours anyway. Nine in the evening seems almost like midnight, so you’ll probably already be in bed when it happens. Also, it’s much more quiet at night than at 5:00 in the morning anyway so sleep when the sleeping’s good. Dogs, birds, chickens, motorbikes, they all seem to start up early and often. You’ll appreciate hitting the sack early, trust me.

Cristella put my hair in pigtails

Cristella put my hair in pigtails

Be prepared to be petted – If you’re a glow-in-the-dark white gal like me and have bushy fake blonde hair bordering on cocker spaniel, prepare to be petted, especially if there are any young Haitian girls anywhere in your immediate vicinity. We had the good fortune to spend some time with some adorable young people at the Gebeau orphanage and, as I quickly found out, long blonde hair is a Haitian orphan magnet. Plus, these sweet children will want to hold your hand, sit on your lap, hug you and walk with you and they will follow you like puppies. It melts your heart. So let them. Hug them, hold them, play with them, sing with them, walk with them. I did draw the line at having the mole on my arm twisted, but you’re free to set your own limits.

Walking with school children on a mountain road above Jeremie

Walking with school children on a mountain road above Jeremie

Eat what you can, when you can – Maybe goat’s not your thing or maybe you don’t like bones in your fish, but, regardless, when you get the chance to eat, eat. Why? Because you just don’t know when you’ll eat again. Sure, we packed lunches every day, but when you’re working with guys who are carrying five-pound buckets of rocks on their heads for a quarter-of a mile for hours and they have no lunch, you’ll give them yours. And you’ll give them your water or Pepsi or whatever else you have too. Otherwise, you’re a heartless creature so what the hell are you doing in Haiti anyway?

Workers hauling rock by hand

Workers hauling rock by hand

So when breakfast is placed before you, pig out. And when dinner lands in front of you, pig out again. Besides, the food is fabulous, the fruit is amazing, though I have to warn you – my new friend, Janet, may have another opinion when it comes to goat.

Be prepared to expand your comfort zone – When I first arrived in Jeremie, I didn’t know what to expect. We landed on a hardpan runaway in a small commuter plane, there was an armed guard waiting at the cinderblock airport, he had us get in the covered porch with barred windows and he shut us and our luggage in while we waited for our ride. Several men came and stared at us through the windows, watching us. I kept an eye on my bag. And at the time, I felt like a caged animal.

Looking at our ride through the porch bars of the Jeremie airport

Looking at our ride through the porch bars of the Jeremie airport

On the ride to the guesthouse, we passed what appeared to me at the time to be squalor and debris. The road was gutted and pitted and in places broken pipes gushed water which further eroded the roads. People carried buckets on their heads and bananas and various other things. Thin cattle and goats were tied to the sides of the road. It was overwhelming and I was, at first, wondering what to expect. I felt small and somewhat vulnerable even within the safety of the truck cab hauling us to our destination. Hey, cut me some slack. It was my first visit to a developing country, ok.

But what a difference a week makes! As we drove through downtown Jeremie one day, it reminded me how in Venice, Italy, laws actually exist to PREVENT people from upgrading the exterior of their buildings. Thus, in Venice, moldering cracked walls are “fashionable.” In Jeremie, I first looked upon very similar walls as ugly. Why? Clearly I needed a new mindset. So, as the week progressed, what had first looked like rubble and squalor became reality. Jeremie is beautiful in her own colorful way.

Riding through downtown Jeremie on the way to work

Riding through downtown Jeremie on the way to work

And, as for the guard at the airport? Well, when we left, he was there again, but this time we stood outside with him, laughing and chatting. He asked me if this was my first trip to Haiti and so we talked about how I liked it and what I thought. He smiled and joked with me and let me take his picture. I forgot about my bag – if they wanted my camel smelling clothes, so be it – and I was happy and content and enjoying life. I hated to leave. And this time, I knew quite a few of those men and we joked and shook hands and hugged. By now, I knew them and I knew too that I would miss them.

Thus, by the time I left, I was at peace with Jeremie, and with Haiti. What a beautiful country and what an even more beautiful people. After a week of walking and working and swimming and taking motor-taxies and sitting at the Amberge Inn, visiting with new friends, etc., I felt my comfort level grow, expand and enlarge with each passing hour. And with it, my comfort level with Haiti and with the world at large expanded too – which, again, is just one of many reasons why I travel.

Haiti's forests are teeming with bananas, coconuts, breadfruit, papayas, almonds, mangos, etc.

Haiti’s forests are teeming with bananas, coconuts, breadfruit, papayas, almonds, mangos, etc.

So, when you take your first mission trip – and you know you will – expect at first to be unsettled, but keep an open mind. Plan and prepare, but be flexible. Open your heart. Smile. Relax. Work hard. Wash often. Eat hearty. Reset your benchmarks for life. And enjoy. If you get the opportunity to go to Jeremie, Haiti, you should. You’ll never be the same.

Happy travels!

– Robin Winzenread Fritz

Taking off into the wild blue yonder with young David Duba - it was the first trip to Haiti for both of us.  Our leader, Big Dave, is a pro at this.

Taking off into the wild blue yonder with young David Duba – it was the first trip to Haiti for both of us. Our leader, Big Dave, is a pro at this.

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….

 

 

For the Love of Traveling Companions and Italian Punctuation

I have grown to love the sight of the words “Ca’ Elena” in my inbox.  Just the sight of that ending apostrophe sends shivers up my corn-fed, middle-aged spine.  There aren’t a great many words in the English language with that funny little punctuation mark at the end of them.  Sure, contractions like “can’t” and “won’t” and “don’t” and “shouldn’t” are dripping with them in an oh-so-negative fashion.  But put it on the very end of a word like ca’ and the exotic implications drip with the promise of foreign adventure on a grand scale.

Call me crazy, but I need more ending apostrophes in my life, and I don’t mean the plural possessive kind.

Enter Open House Spain.  As September draws near, it draws ever so closer with it my Venetian dream which is about to come true in spectacular fashion.  Mid month I will set off on my lovely adventure thanks to Open House Spain’s

The living room of fair Ca' Elena

The living room of fair Ca’ Elena

“Go With Oh” international travel blog writing competition.  As a runner up, I have been awarded the use of an apartment in Venice and thus begins my relationship with that Italian beauty, Ca’ Elena. 

For Ca’ Elena – which Google Translate claims in English is Ca’ Elena – is the delightful name of my home-away-from-home in the far eastern regions of the Cannaregio District, and it appears in the subject line of every email I get from Michele, the apartment manager, who I like to think of as my Italian match maker extraordinaire.  Even when I read her emails they carry an Italian accent.  I bet if I print them out they’ll smell like cheese.

The master bedroom where I may, on occassion, sleep.

The master bedroom where I may, on occassion, sleep.

Set in a quiet local neighborhood, Ca’ Elena is perched at dead end of Corte Paludo, a narrow street which runs east to west between two canals and which, no doubt, has never seen a car or truck in it’s life.  From what I can see from Google Earth, Ca’ Elena is a delightfully squatty building with a dusky red tiled roof, and sports a wide southern facing balcony between brick red walls to the west and ochre yellow walls to the east and which overlooks a small courtyard – begging the question, is that OUR balcony perhaps?

Oh, pinch me now, fair Ca’ Elena, pinch me now!

A quiet canal

Ca’ Elena’s caretaker, Michele, has graciously emailed me on several occasions regarding such necessities as what vaporetto to take from Marco Polo Airport and when and where to meet so she can walk us to the apartment.  While Venice is a maze in which I intend to very quickly get lost, doing so with luggage in tow is not on the bucket list.  And so Michele graciously emails me and I do cartwheels and my mind wanders off to the Bridge of Sighs and I make plans to cook pasta for dinner and every word I utter ends in “o” and I find myself ordering vividly colored sundresses on ModCloth while asking the children to bring me a gelato.

Words don't do justice

Words don’t do justice

And, as Ca’ Elena comes with not one bedroom but two, just joining me in my dream will be my bestie art buddies, Candy and Preston, because dreams are nothing without characters – and, trust me, Candy and Preston are characters – because characters come with stories and plot lines and emotions and opinions and visions that are the proverbial salt and pepper which season any experience worth having.

So let me introduce you to my sea-salt seasoning, Preston who comes with a black leather hat worn on all occasions and who likes his bourbon from the top shelf.  As a fellow Hoosier, he lives in the country where he and his brother, Alan, run a cooperative garden, raise free range chickens and sell organic eggs in between making art and smelling like men.

Preston at a student art show he organized for our local art guild

While Candy and I are artists of the tamer persuasions – paint, pastels, pencils, etc. – Preston, like any real man, is drawn to flame and fire and smoke.  As a child, he was drawn to pyrotechnics and once diverted a band of Blue Angels flying overhead who – while headed to a local air show – streaked over his house just moments after he set off a rather aggressive bottle rocket.  Fortunately for Preston, no charges were pressed.

A skillful glass artist, Preston has his sights set on Murano and, knowing him as I do, he will have talked his way to a working forge before we can say Dale Chihuly.  For Preston is a talker – which is why the charges were never pressed – and a natural story teller, and I can’t wait to watch him work his verbal magic in a city home to a foreign tongue.  Somehow, I know, he’ll make himself understood.  And won’t that be fun to watch?

Whereas Preston is our sea salt, Candy is my spicy cracked pepper with a taste for margaritas.  In a city of bland, Candy is a colorful bell tower, ringing out

Candy with her painting “Lady in Red”

with a deep laugh that gets me every time.  Hanging with Candy is instant cardio for the abs and I have the six-pack to prove it, though it’s hiding under an extra layer of fat to keep me warm.

Where I am short, Candy is tall, elegant, commanding.  While I sit in a home office working away while surrounded by cats, Candy is the executive director of a local museum and gets to do such exciting things as curate exhibits and plan art shows for her galleries and represent the museum on every non-profit board and city function one can think of.  When Candy speaks, people listen.  And when Candy jokes, I snort Malibu rum and Coke out my nose.

I’m planning my Venetian wardrobe carefully because I know walking in Candy’s shadow, I will have to work hard to keep up and be noticed.  She has a dressmaker’s dummy and doilies, and she’s not afraid to use them.  For the local pioneer fair which she organizes, Candy shows up looking like the love child of Daniel Boone and Sacajawea.  It says a lot that my 17-year-old daughter, Jackie, wants to BE like Candy.  Yeah, she’s that good.

So, it goes without saying that a good time will be had by all.  For how can it not when I will be joined by two creative talkers who find the humor in

Candy’s CEO parking space which Preston & I firebombed with marshmallow peeps…. it’s a long story… and involves liquor …

everything?  Whether we’re getting lost in the Dorsduoro or puzzling over an Italian menu or trying out a Turkish toilet, I will be assured of one thing – we will be living the dream together and making memories for a lifetime.  Let the games begin….

By Robin Winzenread Fritz

To start your own love affair with Ca’ Elena, check out the following link to Oh-Venice and their many beautiful apartments.  Good luck pulling yourself away from apartment shopping and getting back to work:

http://www.oh-venice.com/en/venice-apartments/ref_16176/

Follow this link for more information about “Go with Oh” and to read other winning entries:

http://www.gowithoh.com/blogger-competition/?utm_source=Social%2BMedia&utm_medium=twitter&utm_content=competition&utm_campaign=SherryOtt

Me ready for an adventure

I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Venice

One hot stormy afternoon in the 1970s when my siblings and I were being difficult little brats, my mother caved and uncharacteristically turned on the TV in the middle of the day if for no other reason than to get us out of her over-permed hair for at least a half hour.  But when the little black and white TV hummed into life and the picture finally came into focus, she stopped dead in her tracks, dropped her basket of laundry and plunked down on the footstool behind her.  And, for the next 45 minutes, my workaholic mother didn’t move.

We were stunned.  The only time that woman EVER sat down was for dinner and mass, so to see her immobile on a midday afternoon was shocking at best.  And what, pray tell, drew her attention away from chores and children?  It was the site of Katherine Hepburn strolling the moldering alleyways of Venice, with Rossano Brassi in tow, in that classic movie, Summer Time.

The movie was already half over when we stumbled upon it that day, but even as a child, I took in enough to realize that Venice was the central character.  Whether it was the canals or Rossano that held my mother’s attention I’ll never know for she still won’t tell, but as a lover of all things nautical, I was hooked.  The fact that a city of canals actually existed ignited my boat-obsessed imagination like never before and I vowed then and there to visit her someday, preferably sans annoying siblings.

But now I’m the mother of chores and children myself, and Venice remains as elusive to me as a pair of size four jeans and a single chin somewhat resembling a right angle.  I still hold out hope that I’ll get there before she sinks forever into the ocean and when I do, I’ll make the most of it by:

1)   Becoming a temporary permanent fixture in Piazza San Marco.

As tourists, we Americans seem to prefer quantity over quality, rushing headlong from one landmark to the next, fanny packs a swinging, barely taking in all that each has to offer.  But Venice is worth lingering over, and linger I shall, preferably in the Piazza San Marco.  Getting there well before sunrise, I’ll stake out the perfect table, order a café late and sit.  For to sit is to see, and to see is to be enthralled as the everyday life of Venice unfolds like a multi-tiered wedding cake tipped over by a drunken groom.  Pigeons will be fed and locals will be observed and tourists will be spotted.  Books will be read, bell towers will be sketched, pictures will be taken, and I will sit and I will breathe and I will enjoy and I will wear Depends.  *Sigh*

2)   Dressing like it means something

Standing in line one Friday night at our local Wal-Mart, behind what I can only guess were three generations of one family all clad in flannel PJs, I felt decidedly overdressed in my blue jeans, turtleneck and brown leather boots.  One can only hope they were of Scottish heritage and overly proud of the family plaid.  But I’m thinking no.  In short, a fashion Mecca Indiana is not.  Rather, ours is a blue jean and t-shirt kind of comfortable world, but oh, not so in Venice. 

In Venice, one dresses for the occasion that is life, for to be Venetian means to embrace the spectacle that good clothing paired with the right accessories has to offer.  For in Venice the theatricality of its food, fashion and atmosphere enable her inhabitants to glide beautifully over the ugly realities of life, whether it be poverty, taxes, earthquakes or war.  So I will wear a flowing floral dress as I shop her cobblestoned streets for handmade sandals, and my jaunty Jackie O sunglasses will beg the question, who’s behind those gleaming dark lenses?  A silk scarf will frame my face – hiding the stubborn gray, mind you – and no one will look at me and assume for an instant that I own a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase, “Who’s Your Mama” or that I live in stretchy but forgiving polyester yoga pants the better part of the year. 

3)   Becoming one with the peach bellinis at Harry’s Bar

As a Hemingway fanatic, hitting Harry’s Bar for a peach bellini is a given, no matter how much of an overblown touristy ritual that may be.  Yes, I’ll admit it.  I want to sit at the bar and drink them by the pitcher full, but not so much so that the toilet smells like a fruit salad afterwards.  No, I only want to get just tipsy enough so that when I close my eyes, I can realistically pretend, if even for a moment, that it’s the 1920s and I’m a colorful ex-patriot writer starving my way across Europe on the Grand Tour.

4)   Making like Mario Batalli and whip up a seafood feast

As a seaport city,Venice is dripping with creepy crawlies fresh from the ocean, just waiting to be devoured with splash of wine and a squirt of lemon.  And traveling with “Go With Oh” means the potential for stellar access to a kitchen – a tempting combo calling to my inner chef – hence I will make like Mario and cook, cook, cook!  Much as I love having someone else clean up the mess, experimenting in the kitchen is one of the few everyday rituals I don’t consider to be a chore.  Thus, inVenice, I will hit the markets for every conceivable slimy crustacean imaginable and experiment.  And then I will sit on my balcony, pop open a bottle of pinot and make like an American and pig out.  And, for that, I may even break out my yoga pants.

5)   Kayaking my way up the canals

While I will definitely wile away at least one afternoon in a gondola – singing Oh Solo Mio as off key as the next tourist – paddling my own rented kayak on a guided tour is an even better option.  With kayaks come a certain level of freedom not obtained in a pole driven gondola and, what I lose in the attractive Italian gondolier, I gain in the ability to paddle close and really observe.  There are sights to be seen in Venice that one can only appreciate from the water, and paddling my own craft, I can compose the perfect photo op that will forever capture my version of Venice.

It’s said that before filming the Summer Time scene where she walks backwards off of the pier into the canal, Katherine Hepburn plugged up every hole in her body to avoid infection from Venice’s dirty waters, going so far as to fill her ears and nose with waxy plugs, doing God knows what down below, and clamping her lips ever so tight at the last moment before taking that fateful plunge.  But she forgot about her eyes and is said to have picked up an infection that stayed with her for weeks. 

While I too wish to bring home ample memories of Venice, a lingering infection isn’t high on the list, though for this floating vision of heaven, I’m willing to risk it.  Whether it be handmade shoes, Murano glass or an imported bacterial bug, I’ll take it, because to bring home a little of that magnificent city is to keep her in your heart all year long.

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

http://www.gowithoh.com/

By Robin Fritz, writer, artist, photographer and owner of bad American clothes.