Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Burning

Burning
Burning
Light and lightning
but where does the light end?

The burning brightness of a star does not seem much when seen from the earth,
but neither does the smolder at the end of a cigarette.

The glow emitted from a lamp post or front porch can reach across the street,
but isn't the spark from a tiny insect just as powerful?

Where does the light end?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Moon Shadows

Bright air describes the effect of the light of the moon 
to the earth below on a partly cloudy night.
The roundish orb, as brilliant as the sun, but not as circular in shape,
peeks through the illuminated puffs of cotton dotting the sky.

A golden ring accentuates the flattened pieces of mattress batting
emanating from the reflection of the sun on the eclipsing bulb.
The effect on the ground is shadows cast by the dog and I, 
as we take in the evening air.

This is my favorite type of night,
quiet and still below.
The clouds moving just swiftly enough above from left to right
forming changing patterns to draw my gaze upward.

Watching God's hand move the fluffy sky across the moon
gives me peace in knowing that I am not in control.
Heaven is up there, and everywhere. 
I can see the beauty, therefore heaven is real.



Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Last Tour Day - Florence/Milan

The last day of our whirlwind European vacation was bittersweet. After a long travel day and late evening, we made the decision to sleep in a little. We ate an impressive breakfast of eggs, meat, bread and fruit on the patio with beautiful service and lovely weather. After our meal, we loaded our heavy packs on our backs and took the long trek back to the train station. We decided that we had made the correct decision to forgo the viewing of Michelangelo's statue of David, and we just didn't have the energy to go see him in the morning. 

When reviewing all that we had seen in the last week, we decided that this trip had been one of architecture and atmosphere instead of museums and art. We had seen plenty of art in churches, outdoors, in parks, and had seen God's hand in the beauty of the natural landscapes (and weather from the plane to Budapest) and with people watching as we sat on a square eating, in a crowded marketplace, or on a bus, train or plane. On our way to the train station, we perused the Florence market, where we purchased an owl bag (Rachel's sorority mascot), a scarf for me and Florence frame in which to place a vacation photo.

We purchased tickets on a fast, fuel-efficient train to Milan, arrived by 1:15 pm, checked in my backpack into "left luggage" to explore for the day, and took Rachel's to share the load. It was another sunny day, and we certainly had perfect weather the entire trip. While it was hot at times, we dressed appropriately, and had no rain except in the evening when we were already in for the night, and it was partly cloudy, and breezy. It was so much more comfortable sharing just the one big backpack and walking 6-10 miles a day, including 259-400 stair climbs  to the top of the city in Budapest and Florence. Next trip - we will make much more use of  "left luggage."

We decided to pursue a tour of the city of Milan since I had not seen it, and we walked to town by way of the Duomo and the mall to visit the Cathedral. Wow. Two more incredible structures greeted us - first the shopping mall and then the Milan Cathedral, which is the fifth largest church in the world. The style of architecture I would describe more as Gothic than of Florence 's Byzantine. While building of the cathedral began in 1386, it took hundreds of years to build. 

We were in awe of the construction, floors and stores of the Piazza Duomo on which the cathedral sat, the vastness of the square and the beautiful sculpture surrounding it. 

Again, we didn't go inside because Rach had already been on a tour, and she noted that it wasn't significant, especially after Florence and Budapest. We felt more at peace examining the huge marble sculptures in the square, people-watching, and window shopping. We grabbed a final gelato and enjoyed it at a small shady sculpture park where Italians chatted and rested during a work break or after shopping or running errands. As we started to take the hike back to the train station, we felt the urge to make a final handstand show in the huge mall area. We paused under the towering arches and upon the gorgeous floors to do a final handstand. We 
asked a couple of passing women to take a few shots, and the younger of the two took fabulous photos, although a couple of them were not so flattering for Rachel due to her, well, lack of modesty. :-)

The walk from the city to take the train to Milanesa was exhausting, with the heat of the day wearing upon us. Milanesa was nearer to the airport, and I had booked a relatively cheap hotel there. We arrived and waited almost an hour for free shuttle from the airport to the hotel, which was very nice. We asked about nearby restaurants, for as cheap as I like to travel, I didn't want to pay for a cab. 

We thought we would drop into the first one, which offered had a happy hour(s) that included a delicious buffet of pizza, salad, fresh fruit, meat and cheeses. Upon drinking a couple of fruity drinks, we decided that we didn't need to go to the other, more formal restaurant. I learned from Rachel that in Italy, it's not polite to fill your plate when serving from the buffet (like Americans like to do at pizza joints and Asian buffets in the US), rather, it's appropriate to go back several times.We sat outside and digested the past whirlwind week. We left before nightfall and made it back to the hotel in time to notify the front desk of our hotel of early departure (5 am!) on the free shuttle. 

We packed up the things we wanted to bring home, and left almost empty toiletry bottles, and threw away excess food and trash. As I settled in for the short night of sleep, I was again filled with anticipation of an early departure and a looong trip home. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Texas Chilly in August

Okay, I just spelled "Chili" incorrectly to make the reader question the reasoning of chilly weather in Texas, or the continental United States, in August. Last week, we had a high of 79 degrees in Spicewood, which is indeed rare, but not necessarily chilly.

Usually, I save cooking chili for the fall months, with September being the earliest, but at the insistence of my daughter Kristin, I made some today. It may be the best ever, using many "secrets" and special spices to make it the best. Some of those secrets are lots of cumin, saffron, fresh tomatoes, chocolate and crushed pineapple, but because we are trying to adhere to a Whole 30 diet, there's no use of sugar in any way, no cured bacon (an awesome addition to chili), no preservatives, and no cheese.

A good friend, Petra, gave my family some ground venison earlier in the year, and I had that to add. Plus, when I traveled to Budapest, Hungary with my daughter, Rachel, this summer, I purchased a nice-sized portion of saffron and paprika (sweet) to include. The last addition, which I added when I felt that it needed some fresh veggies, were some fresh and tasty Campari tomatoes that I purchased on sale at HEB this week. For an excellent chili with plenty of love poured in, no measuring, many adjustments and time to cook on the stove, here's the recipe:

Chilly August Chili
1 smallish sweet onion - chopped  
2 garlic cloves
1 pound ground venison
1 pound lean ground beef
Olive oil

Saute onion in about 1 Tb of olive oil until almost translucent, then add chopped or pressed garlic, stir until the garlic turns slightly tan in color. Slide out onto a large plate and add another Tb of olive oil and the venison to the skillet. Cook and chop into small chunks with a flat edged spoon. After the meat is cooked, drain off the juices for less venison taste (the liquid can be replaced), and slide on the plate with the onions. If the beef is very lean, add another Tb of oil and then add it. Repeat cooking steps. Pour the meat and onions into a chili pot. At this time, you can add all the spices listed below and mix into the meat to make sure that the meat is flavored first, especially the venison. Your style will determine your process. Next,

1 28 oz. can of petite chopped tomatoes
1 14 oz. can of chopped tomatoes and green chilis
1 lb. container of fresh tomatoes (Campari preferred)

Pour in all of the can of green chili tomatoes, and about half of the can of plain tomatoes directly into the meat and onions in the chili pot.  Use a Cuisinart Smart Stick to blend half of the can, in the can, into more of a sauce than chunks, and to add some thickness to the chili, since corn (masa harina = corn flour) and grains (wheat flour) are not allowed on Whole 30. To prepare the fresh tomatoes for the chili, it's best to peel first. Today, I forgot to prepare the boiling water on the stove to dunk them into for 60-90 seconds, wait for their skin to wrinkle, then pull out with a fork, peel, cut into quarters, remove the seeds, and use the blender stick to make more saucy.  I rushed the process by using the microwave to bring the water to a boil in a large glass measuring cup, threw in the tomatoes a couple at a time, pulled them out and peeled and chopped them. I did make an error when I reached in to pull out a tomato, forgetting that it had been boiling a few minutes before. Ouch. Blend the tomatoes as noted above and add to pot. Once the tomatoes have been added, it's time to include spices, if that's your process.

8-16 oz. organic chicken broth
1-2 Tbs saffron
1-2 Tbs paprika
1 1/2 Tbs. cocoa powder
1-2 Tbs garlic powder (if you don't have fresh garlic)
1-2 Tbs chili powder
1-2 Tbs cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1-2 Tbs cracked pepper
1 Tbs. kosher salt

Mix in all of the above ingredients and heat to medium high temperature until it becomes nice and bubbly, then reduce to low, low and slow cook for 1-3 hours, stirring every 15 minutes or so. The longer it cooks on low, the more tender the meat will be. Taste on occasion to determine if it needs salt, pepper, chili powder or anything else you feel it is missing. I love Texas Chilly in August!


This recipe can also be prepared by browning your meat and onions, and throwing it all in a crock pot on low in the morning, to come home to terrific chili in the evening.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Florence

Florence 

Because we wanted a full day in Florence, we left early, before breakfast, in a taxi cab through much traffic to the train station. We were disappointed that we had missed the street vendors that we passed on our ride. It might have been fun to find some deals on the street, but we encountered it later in Milan, so it resolved itself.

The train ride was several hours long, and if I remember correctly, we sat with an enjoyable couple from Norway that was taking a summer break to Italy. We had to go back a town to ride on the faster train to Florence, and we prayed we would not be ticket checked, as we didn't purchase the short backwards tickets.

We were Cranky on arrival, however, due to the early arrival, no substantial breakfast (we ate some on sale cookies we purchased at the convenience store), and the general discomfort of riding on a train for several hours.  The cheap mom that I am said that we had to walk to our hotel, which was well rewarded for an awesome place in the heart of the city. It was a bead and breakfast type set in an office building of sorts on the first floor. We left our bags after taking the tour, with instructions for entering if we arrived after 6 pm.  We had the tour, which included a lovely courtyard and a small kitchen where breakfast was to be prepared. 

We hit the road again after relieving ourselves of our heavy backpacks and began our trek after noon. Statues and glorious architecture accompanied our walk, and we encountered plenty of traffic and tourists. As we entered the Quorum, the huge square that held incredible Byzantine architecture, we knew we were where we wanted to be. We stood in line for about 15 minutes assessing our situation, asking fellow line standers about our next move. Turns out the line in which we were standing was about an hour long, for those people who had already purchased tickets to the museum, either online or at the box office a few blocks away. We went online and found that we could buy our €15 each tickets for JULY 5!  

We considered, watched a wedding party leave a lovely chapel, and decided to proceed to the famous Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Rachel's bucket list included a trek up the 435 steps To see the awesome view on a beautiful day. Tourists crowded the ticket office which we reached after a long walk around the huge building, and while Rachel waited and toured outside, I purchased €30 to climb the steps and see other chapels on the grounds of the piazza. We lollygagged further around the building to the line to climb and realized we had a minimum one hour wait in the afternoon sun. We watched an amazing bubble blowing man entertaining children with his huge ring dipped into soapy water. We decided to relieve our wait with some gelato, so Rachel left me to find some. It was hit, the lines were long, and after she proceeded in the direction opposite the way the line was moving, she returned, about 25 minutes later, dripping with the creamy substance all over her hands and arms. The expensive gelato did not match to the flavor of that we found in other Italian cities, and by time we finished, we were both covered in the sticky mess. We entered the church not inour clean Sunday best. 

Our trek to the top was ahead. Rachel had the fortification to count the steps as we circled up antiquated stone and steel steps. At times, we encountered exhausted people, skinny people, Italians, Americans, Germans, Asians and many different languages. Occasional steel grated window openings greeted us on our way. It was surprisingly cool, and the pace was very doable. At about the halfway point, we came very close to the gorgeous painted ceiling, and we marveled at how difficult it must have been to paint it. I was concerned about the endurance of my knee, but obviously the cortisone shot was doing its work, along with the occasional one step at a time with my right leg. Everyone was joyful it seemed, especially when we reached the joyful opening at the top!
Once at the top, we barely wanted to leave. There was a feeling of euphoria after climbing nearly a quarter mile into the sky.

Going down was a bit tricky, as I was wearing a cute black and white polka skirt, and we had to step over a small bar and maneuver down a ladder, with people waiting to go up below us. Another feeling of joy arms we descended and entered the church on the way out. The inside of the church was much less impressive than the exterior and certainly less elaborate than the churches we'd visited in Budapest and Venice. We stepped outside and am found a side shop to lurchase much needed water, a Coke and a Peroni, and sat in the curb and drank.
Our next stop on the self-guided tour of Florence was to the baptistery across the square from Santa Maria. Gold plated walls and ceiling, a lovely place to sit down and rest our weary legs. We relaxed in awe for a few minutes and then Rachel pulled the goofy trick of posing with a water bottle over her head, demonstrating baptism. Goofy girl. :-) We then headed for the river and a destination on the other side where a friend had promised the best Gnocci in Italy.

On our way, we took cool photos and then crossed the cool bridge where vendors barked their wares. Google maps assisted in our quest to find this fabulous restaurant. When asked if we had reservations, we did not, and the hostess stated that we could sit, but must be finished in an hour and a half or so. We agreed and sat down. We ordered an incredible salad and a bottle of Chianti, to be followed with the Gnocci. O-M-G, it was the most tasty meal of the trip, and we had plenty of good ones, and possibly of the year. We were stuffed, and had to pass on creme brûlée, and we had a long walk home to work it off, giggling as we crossed the bridge again and took a few more photos at sunset.

Since we were near the end of our trip, we decided to make a late nighter of it and we picked up a bottle of Proseco, made it Italy, with plans to enjoy it in the hotel courtyard. After picking up our packs, which had remained undisturbed at the front desk, we began a search of the kitchen to find a bottle opener, as the cork was wedged near the top of the lip and we could not pull it out. That, however, proved disastrous. The pressure of the liquid inside forced out the cork as soon as the sharp metal pierced the other side of the cork. It caused a breakage on the neck of the bottle. Thank goodness we were already outside and the spillage did not affect our room. We picked up the pieces and tentatively drank a little, but because of our concern for the glass, we abandoned the bottle and reverted to sipping the Linonada.

We turned before midnight after a thoroughly enjoyable day in Florence, Italy!

Travel Guide

Traveling to Europe for the first time in 25 years gave me the opportunity to possibly be prepared for the next time, and to advise others who may be going overseas. Many of the ideas here may be common sense to you, but for the less traveled, it will enhance your experience to peruse them.  


- Bring a pair of supportive shoes, along with the comfortable, broken in sandals. The sandals will allow a bit of cool in the summertime, but may not provide complete support, all the way around your foot as a pair of running or walking shoes will do. "Broken in" is a key word here for the sandals, as Rachel endured several blisters during the Seven weeks she walked five to ten miles a day in newer shoes.   I will add that the waters of the baths in Budapest healed her most recent blisters!

- Pack as light as possible. While I did well to wear two bottoms at least two times each, a lightweight dress and skirt once each, I could have probably brought either the dress or the skirt and worn it twice. There's not much that I didn't bring in my bag that I didn't use. Don't fill your bag all the way if you want to have room to store goods that you purchase. A backpack, with a lightweight carry all bag and a side sling pouch that fits into the bag works well, so you can carry your money, passport and favorite lipstick in an easy to access manner. 
     
- Change money to the currency of the country you are visiting before you leave, or plan to do so at the airport when you arrive. Be prepared for a not so good exchange rate as well, so you budget properly. Ask the visitor center at the airport, or a local, should you happen to come across one on the plane for the vendor with the best exchange rate. 

- Save, save, save before you go, so you can shop, shop, shop when you arrive! There are always going to be "deals" or things you can't live without or buy for someone else to make your trip special. Plan a budget to spend money on yourself - on a scarf, earrings, piece of clothing or art, and a separate budget to spend on others- spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend, parents, children and BFFs if you are so inclined. That's another reason to pack light, and to bring another expandable, lightweight bag to collect your treasures. 

- Bring disposable containers of daily needs. After you've used most of your shampoo, conditioner and toothpaste, leave the remainder at your last hotel to allow room and weight for gifts and individual purchases. 

- Check out the transportation options where you are visiting before you leave. Almost every transportation company, even in Europe has a website. 

- Print a map of what you want to see, in relation to transportation and where your hotel is located.  Possibly study it on the airplane ride over. 

- Obtain recommendations for sights to see and restaurants from friends that you may know have travelled to where you are going. People love to share what they pursued while in Europe, and it gives you some guidance. I have listed a few restaurants and hotels at the end of this article. In addition, or if you have no recommendations, do a little research of restaurants in the area of where you are staying or will be visiting. Grocery stores are another convenient item to know about to have water, breakfast food and snacks available.

- Look at your pictures, and favorite your favorites on a daily basis. By the end of the trip, you have hundreds of photos to review, and choosing 100 or so to have printed can be a challenge if you haven't reviewed them prior. You can also edit out your finger, another tourist, or other unwanted object, as well as lighten the shot so you can better see a face or point of interest. 

- Write about it. Even noting the order of the day with a couple of incidents in chronological order will help with the memory making. Pictures won't capture the funny words said,  how food tastes or the way people smelled. Writing about it captures the sensory details of the spicy, sweet, crunchy or creamy texture, the thrill of reaching the top after climbing 435 stairs, or the joy you shared with your travel companion.

- Don't wait to publish it. It's been almost two months since my return to the United States, and I haven't finished my blogs about our last two days! This was mostly written, so all I had to do was edit. I'll have to add the restaurant and hotel recommendations later. Comment if you are going to Budapest or Italy soon. :-)

Vicenza

Vicenza
We awoke in Venice at 9 am in order to quick dress and join other guests at a delicious breakfast. We ate sugar coated croissants, filled with a tablespoon or two of apricot jelly, cheese and ham, canned peaches an pears, yogurt and granola and delicious cappuccino from a machine. Upstairs we went  afterwards and back to bed for about an hour after our grueling day in Venice. Upon leaving, we spoke with the office attendant and asked for a taxi to the train stations. Seeing that we only had backpacks, the young man said, "I will call you a Taxi, but the station is but 700 meters away." That was music, and hellacious for us to hear after our trial of finding the hotel the night before. 
We strolled along and found it quite easily, then purchased our tickets to Vicenza.  We didn't wait long to board, and were on our way to my birthplace. We wanted to go on base, so we wandered around a bit to happen upon and army service person, and asked about a bus to the base, but after a bit we were ready to take our bags to the room. We walked about a mile through a mostly residential area and found our cool accommodations, Key Hotel. Modern, clean and friendly, it had comfortable beds and had a nearby sushi restaurant and a grocery. Our map wasn't the best, but we eventually made our way the the city center. Along the way, we stopped into a glamorous caffeteria and ate eggplant parmigiana and lasagne bolognese. It was delicious, but we were scolded for placing our personal water bottles on the outside table. We realized near the end of our tour of the city that we may have missed out on several points of interest because we had not purchased a pass to view the inside of several churches and other buildings of interest. 
In the town square, we ran into a couple of Anerican moms pushing baby strollers and chatted with them for a few minutes. They stated that while the base was not tough to get to, it was rather boring with nothing of interest to see. We crossed it off our list to places to visit in Vicenza.  The architecture of the city was of course beautiful, with towering old towers, lovely churches and statues, with a gorgeous paved square. I loved waking the streets imagining my mother, dad and sister and I strolling around many years ago. The colorful buildings with bougainvillea on the windowsills and the antiquated ceiling walkways warmed my heart. We had the obligatory gelato in town at a friendly place, stopped into a couple of stores and bight a golden Baylor blouse for Rachel, an interesting cat tank top for Kristin and a fun holey white top for me.
I dragged Rach to the city park, which was a joy! A cool bridge to columned pergola was a perfect place for a mother daughter picture, and statues lined the walk around the perimeter. The best part for Rachel was the bunnies. She delighted in watching the cute black and white and brown creatures hopping around. We passed an outdoor Zumba class in session, and we're disappointed to not join them because of our clothing, a dress for me and an inappropriate Zumba top for Rach. 
After a lovely day tour of Vicenza, we walked back to our room late in the day with a decision for our evening meal to be made. We realized that we might want to enjoy the temperate evening air, so we purchased some Limonada and soda water at the convenience store on the way to our hotel. We quickly decided on Sushi and walked to the nearby restaurant. What a meal we had! Delicious rolls and salmon sushi, plus that yummy fried veggie dish. An affordable €30 including wine and dessert. The quick walk home was refreshing, and we relied to our room for some reading and a sweet drink, with leftovers for tomorrow.