Monday, November 8, 2010

IGUAZU FALLS

My dear friend, Jan Morrill, "World Traveler" is guest blogging this month. Through her excellent writing it is easy to picture the panoramic beauty of these falls, but we don't have to because she includes beautiful pictures. Enjoy!

Be sure to visit her at:

 

Jan and husband, Steven


Though we took hundreds of pictures, practically ravenous to capture the beauty of Iguazu Falls, they do not do justice. Of all the places I've visited in the world, I have to say the falls are in the top five of those that took my breath away. (The others? Machu Picchu, Great Wall, Venice, Santorini)
Iguazu Falls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located on the border of Brazil and Argentina. The Argentina side contains 2/3 of the 275 waterfalls and is considered to be the "intimate" side, allowing visitors a close look, even the ability to walk over the crest of some of the falls.

The most spectacular is The Devil's Throat, a U-shaped waterfall which is 490 ft. x 2300 ft. It was the first waterfall we visited, and I still remember the thrill and anticipation of seeing it as we approached on a long, wooden walkway and heard the water thundering in the distance.

Brazil is considered the "panoramic" side. Where the awe of the Argentina side came from the rumbling feeling and sound of so much water, the Brazilian side was spectacular because of the views.

Before we visited the Brazilian side, our guide told us of a legend surrounding Iguazu Falls. The serpent god, M'Boi fell in love with the Guarani Indian girl, Naipi. However, Naipi loved a great warrior, Taroba, and they were to be married. Together, they tried to escape from M'Boi in a canoe. This so infuriated M'Boi, he turned Naipi into a rock in the river on the Argentina side, and turned Taroba into a palm tree on the Brazilian side. He created the waterfalls to keep the two apart, cruelly assuring the lovers could see each other, but never touch. However, he couldn't keep Naipi and Taroba from expressing their love, and sometimes that love appears as a rainbow.

We were lucky the day we visited the Brazilian side. The sun shone brightly, and the waterfalls were filled with countless expressions of Naipi's and Taroba's love. Rainbows never looked so beautiful.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

THEMED VACATION ADVENTURES FOR THE KIDS (AND YOURSELF)




When my children were small, they’d cuddle around me in our overstuffed chair on dreary winter afternoons and listen to me read the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Then after I put them down for a nap, I’d make a cup of coffee and return to the chair and continued to read them.
           
Laura’s books appeal to all ages. Did you know she was 65 when she wrote her first book? She is an inspiration to us all. As my friend Sue Falcon says, “at any age, at any stage!”

I was as big a fan of Mrs. Wilder as my children were. When I learned the house where she wrote the books was only a short distance from Branson— our usual vacation spot—Neal and I gathered up the kids and took them on an “educational” excursion.
           
We had a great time seeing things in the museum that we read about in her stories. Pa’s fiddle holds a place of honor in a glass case. While staring at it, I imagined the family sitting around him clapping their hands to the music. Then we toured her home. It is unique and built especially for Laura’s short stature. That vacation was many years ago. Since then the Wilder Home Association has opened the “Rock House” that Rose Wilder built for her parents with the money she earned as a journalist. I had no idea that Rose had been such a success. You will learn a lot about her at the museum as well.
           
Why not plan a themed vacation for your kids? First, nurture their interest. Read them a little house book, watch a rerun of one of the early television shows, cook a meal like Laura would have eaten. Then take them to one of her home sites or museums.  For a list of locations go to: http://www.lauraingallswilder.com/homesites.asp
           
Other themed ideas could be Helen Keller, Edgar Allen Poe, Herman Melville, Emily Dickenson, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemmingway, Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne, just to name a few. Themes do not have to be limited to authors. Any famous person or event would work.
           
Times spent together before, during, and after vacation make rich memories that our children will share with their children.
           
More than anything we could buy our kids, great memories are the best gifts we can give.

Monday, July 12, 2010

CONTRASTS




Hello everyone!
I’m excited to introduce you to my guest blogger, Normandie Fischer. In her blog she offers insight rarely heard and for those of you thinking about visiting Mexico this will be especially interesting to you.
A little bit about Normandie. She has been a sailor all of her life. She and her husband, Michael, sail through their days wherever the Wind of God blows their sailboat, Sea Venture.  Normandie writes, sculpts (she studied in Italy for several years), and adores her adult children, Ariana and Joshua Milton. (Find out more about her writing at www.normandiefischer.com and www.writingonboard.blogspot.com) She is also available to chat with you about the wonderful things God has done in her life: the miracles she’s seen, the blessings she’s known, and the lessons she’s learned. Contact her at normandie at seaventure.us

Sipping an espresso on New York’s Upper East Side at an elegant sidewalk restaurant, I felt worlds away from the trash-strewn streets of the garment district through which I’d passed that morning. I had the same experience when I visited cities in Jordan years ago, and then later in Lebanon. I remember rolling rice into a ball as I ate from a plate of mansuf at the home of middle-class Jordanians. We were mere kilometers from the king’s palace, where riches slipped through jeweled fingers instead of outward to alleviate that nation’s poverty and the squalor of the refugee camps. 
The rich of New York or Amman inhabit the same city as the poor, and the poor like it not. “The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus said. Which I suppose means that we’ll always have the rich with us as well.  
The assumption seems to be that the rich fare better than their poorer brethren. But I’m not all that convinced that the rich neighbors in New York or Amman bask in the sublime either. There’s never quite enough, is there? Never quite enough money or things or good times or love. For either group. So, who lives in the greatest poverty? 
Contrast this with the attitude of a number of the folk I’ve met here in Mexico. Yes, there are rich and poor, but more of the latter. Certainly more of those with modest means in the areas we visit on board Sea Venture.  
I can’t write about the places that I know only from sensational stories of murder, mayhem, and drugs. There’s misery wherever man submits to the demonic. And I’m sure there are subsets within each group here who hate other subsets, and large numbers here who also envy and covet. 
We were warned that Mexico abounds in crime. It probably does. So did the CA Delta, where another boater stole things from our boat…after all, we had and he didn’t. We’ve heard of thievery in San Carlos, but in the incident we heard about, the thief who had his hands in the cookie jar was a gringo. The fellow stuttered excuses after trying to loose  another boater’s outboard so he could "try it out for fit" on his boat. Obviously, he believed in the they-had-and-he-didn’t school of thought. He wanted, so he tried to take. 
When we first sailed into Ensenada, we heard rumors of unrest and violence, and, yet, during our six months in the marina there, smiles greeted us daily as we wandered past the gringo enclave of yatistas. Children grinned from behind parents’ legs. Mothers smiled at our “Hola!” Tour guides offered us free carriage rides once they’d dropped off their paying clients. Hawkers for one store showed us where we might find the best tacos and then escorted us so we wouldn’t get lost. Taxi drivers stopped to usher us through a stop sign when we drove anywhere and smiled as they did so. Cars halted if we stepped into the road. Their drivers grinned and waved us on. 
And then we drove north for supplies. En route, Mexicans in toll booths laughed at Michael’s jokes. Soldiers smiled and told us to pass, please. But once we got to the border, no one smiled and no one laughed and horns blared and people cursed. 
Why? What is the difference? North of the border lies the land of opportunity, doesn’t it? There are riches to be had if you work hard enough, aren’t there? Perhaps. 
Only, joy seems sadly missing on the highways, in the toll booths, in the supermarkets or restaurants and in the doctors’ offices. 
The doctors in the States fear malpractice suits. They hurry us through and then bill exorbitantly. They charge for Kleenex and gloves and Q-tips. They recommend test after test after test. Just in case. And then warn us about Mexican doctors. 
In La Paz, an English-speaking cardiologist examined Michael’s records, administered an EKG, and then discussed the results for $47. The oncology specialist did the same, going so far as to call the boat after hours (way after hours) to give me my mammogram  results. I was so shocked when a man identified himself as Roberto that I almost hung up. Roberto? Oh, right, the doctor. The GP in La Paz charged 500 pesos per visit, which can’t be more than $40, and will even make boat calls. 
Malpractice is a non-issue. One assumes the doctor cares and does his best. So, he cares and does his best. He puts the patient first, not the insurance company. He treats what needs treating and then does a little more if you’re worried – or if you must satisfy that doctor back home.  
Who is happier? The doctor with his Mercedes or the one who lives like the rest of us? The patient who pays hundreds for insurance, who lives at a disconnect from the doctor via a receptionist and then a nurse? Or the patient who pays a pittance in cash to a doctor, with instructions to call his cell phone if any problems or questions arise? And, you know what? EVERY single time the doctor has answered his cell phone and talked to us. Each one: the cardiologist, the oncologist, and the GP. 
Here in lower Baja California, the desert heat scorches, but a shy smile radiates from the old man passing on the sidewalk. He doesn’t look as if he owns much, but, oh, he is rich. What’s the difference?  
Ah! I smile. Could it be that here is a culture that values the family and hard work tempered with patience and a siesta? Could it have to do with villagers, some with few ties to the outside world, who act communally to help each other? Yes, there’s poverty. Yes, there’s dirt. Yes, Mexico is inhabited by imperfect people living in an imperfect society. And, yes, some of them have been seduced by the idea of more. But for every one of those, there are hundreds who have learned how to say gracias for the life they have.  
There will always be those who have and those who have not, those who smile and those who grumble, those who give and those who take. We align ourselves by choice. Where do you stand? Wanting more or grinning happily because you have so much – whatever so much means to you? 
By Normandie Fischer

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

THE ENDURING PAST



One of the things ingrained in this Southern girl is the importance of “pass along” plants. Some call them “heritage” plants because they tell a story. 


Like Tiger Lilly bulbs that grew by my grandmother's kitchen door. The orange blooms with black speckles seemed huge to my little girl eyes. My grandmother died nearly ten years ago, however, today, when I see Tiger Lillies I'm immediately transported to the happy days of my childhood. There is something comforting about the enduring past. 

My uncle gave me purple hull pea seeds that come from the seeds his father planted. The neat thing is that I know without a doubt that every seed is a purple hull pea unlike some companies that label their seeds as “field peas” because there may be a mixture of types of peas. The remnants of previous pickings get lodged in the harvesting machinery and are mixed with the next picking, therefore mixing purple hulls with crowder peas, for instance.

Why am I talking about gardening in a travel blog? Well, one of my fav places to order seeds is from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company where you know what you are getting! While on vacation in Branson, Missouri, it just so happened that while on vacation we were close to their retail store in Mansfield, Missouri in a their pioneer village, Bakersville. 
What a fun place to visit! I found walls of heirloom seeds in the Mercantile. A gardener's heaven. I took my time browsing what seemed like thousands of seed packages, looking through books on gardening and talking with Mary who answered my questions.  

But it isn’t just seeds you will find there. I browsed the herbs, soaps, teas and gifts in the Apothecary and enjoyed a yummy meal in their historic Asian restaurant from veggies grown in their own gardens! By the way, payment for your meal is by donations. You don't see that much anymore. The day I was there they served Mediterranean Wraps with green beans, beets, and fried onion rings! It was all good, but oh, those onion rings! Amy and Hannah made sure we were well fed and refreshed with their mint tea made from the mint grown in their own garden. Wow!
  

After returning home, I looked at their site, www.rareseeds.com, and found out they have festivals! Next year I plan on attending their Spring Planting Festival and listen to their expert gardening speakers! Also, the first Sunday of every month they have Heritage Days Festivals. So why wait until the spring? At these festivals they offer great music, demonstrations, crafts, a farmers market, garden exhibits and contests for the kiddos.

Wow. Who knew? This all is happening in my own back yard, so to speak.

If you are in the Branson or Springfield area of Missouri, it is worth your time to visit Bakersville. Buy heirloom seeds while you are there, and pass them along to friends and family. Tell your story.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

INDIA'S INSPIRATION

My dear friend, Jan Morrill, just returned from India and I asked her to be my guest blogger today. I know you will enjoy her experience. To read more of Jan's work please visit her blog:
http://www.jansthoughtsovercoffee.blogspot.com/



I recently finished reading a book that changed the way I look at the world, not only as a human being, but also as a writer.  It is called “Wabi Sabi for Writers,” by Richard R. Powell.  It is a complicated philosophy to explain, but to summarize; it is a method of developing the way one looks at the world in order that she may find even the simplest objects fascinating and beautiful.  It is a way of finding beauty in imperfection.
India was the perfect place to put this philosophy to work.  During the first part of my recent visit there, I sat in a comfortable tour bus, where from my window I watched masses of poor, even homeless men, women and children. Many times I turned away because a particular scene filled me with pity, helplessness, anger, even guilt that I watched them from the relative luxury of an incongruous tour bus.

Day after day, my bus window was filled with images of thousands of people lingering along garbage-filled streets. Stray dogs sniffed the ground, desperate for any morsel. Cows strutted royally, weaving in and out of traffic at will. Pigs foraged piles of garbage, perpetual smiles on their faces.

At first, I wanted to go home. I missed my well-ordered, sanitary world. My well-fed dogs. I turned away from the window—the outside world, too foreign to me.
But by journey’s end, using the principals of wabi sabi, I’d begun to look at the Indian world differently.  I found beauty everywhere.

I began to zoom in on the small scenes within the larger scene—the countless conversations taking place between men; women whispering secrets to each other as they walked together; children chasing down the street, laughing along the way.

Many areas had central water pumps where women gathered to collect water in large urns. The spectacular colors of their saris were as bright as spring flowers on a tundra, a rainbow against the gray ugliness that surrounded them. They chatted and giggled as they moved the pump handle up and down to fill the urns. Once full, they placed the urns atop their heads and carried the water away, slow and graceful, their saris flowing like clouds around them.

Another scene-within-a-scene was the central bathing area. It consisted of a large concrete tank filled with water—green-tinted water. Even in the near-freezing temperatures of the northern cities—New Delhi, Jaipur and Agra—men and boys gathered around, naked but for scant underpants and a smile. They joked and teased as they soaped themselves.  They lived wabi sabi lives, finding joy in simplicity, imperfection.

Night brought darkness and a change of scene. As the sunset, lean-tos sprang up along the broken walls of the city. One-by-one, the residents of these temporary villages lit campfires, using garbage for fuel. Women stirred the scant evening meal in small pots over the fires, their saris glittering in the flickering light.  Again, beautiful and fascinating simplicity.

When the last warmth of sunlight had disappeared, orange flames dotted the sidewalks and streets like twinkling lights on a tree. Children chased each other, weaving around the campfires and stopping at times to warm their hands. Hunched around other flames, men talked, their faces expressive, hands animated.

Each day, I looked forward to watching the children of India play. As with the adults, Indian children spend most of their daylight hours outside. Without electricity, it is dark inside the houses. And without electricity, there are no televisions. So, the children run, play with each other, ride bikes, build forts, create games with sticks, stones, garbage.

One day, I watched a woman sitting next to a man I assumed was her husband, as he laid stones in a sidewalk he was repairing. She looked fragile, and all but her eyes were hidden behind a dingy veil. Her eyes were dark and hard, almost angry. I stared at her, imagining stories about her life. I surmised so many different tales, but each had the same conclusion—she’d live unhappily ever after with her difficult lot in life.

For a brief moment, our gazes met.

Though a bit intimidated by her eyes and uncomfortable being an American who watched her from a window on a tour bus, I waved at her. And smiled.

Her eyes brightened. She removed the veil from her face and smiled the most beautiful smile I’d ever seen.

She tapped her husband on his back, and he turned to look at me, too. The tired lines on his face disappeared and he, too, smiled and waved at me.

We shared a tiny moment of happiness, and it transcended poverty and wealth.
 Richard R. Powell says of wabi sabi:  It is an intuitive way of living that involves noticing the moments that make life rich and paying attention to the simple pleasures that can be over-shadowed by the bustle and excess of our consumer society.”


I realized that often we too focused in pursuing excess, like a horse with blinders, we gallop toward what we consider a better life. And in doing so, we pass right by the simple pleasures in life. A warm conversation. A good laugh. A chance to play. A smile shared with a stranger.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

BACK TO OUR ROOTS



Next year Neal and I plan to return to Scotland to visit our ancestral heritage. My great- great- great- great-grandfather Leslie came to America in the 1800's. I'm searching for anything that would tell me about his decision to come here, and about the family he left behind.

Neal is a Campbell. He doesn't have a direct link to his ancestor(s) or when his branch of the Campbell Clan came to America. But to look at him, it is undeniable that he has Scottish blood.

I'm anxious to return to Scotland and see more of it. Neal also has Welsh heritage, and we both have Irish ancestors also. The Irish blood is evident in my daughter, Olivia. While she and I were backpacking in the UK, she was often mistaken as an Irish lass, that is until she spoke.

It is fun to try and find our roots. Here in America the citizens are like a fabric woven of many threads. Some of those threads are evident in our faces and body structure, others are evident in our souls. When I am in the UK or Scotland, I feel I'm home. I'm sure that when I visit Ireland, one day, the same homecoming sensation will wash over me.

I love being an American, but I also honor the homelands where my stories began.

Humankind is a beautiful tapestry, isn't it?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

MAKING PLANS

It is 5 degrees here in Fayetteville, AR (-15 c). So my husband, Neal, and I sipped our morning coffee in front of the fire and made plans for our next big trip. We won't go until next year, still, it was fun dreaming together. We've decided on  returning to one of the homelands of our ancestors. Scotland, Ireland, and/or Wales. Of course, I want to return to England too. As much as I love that country, surely someone in my lineage came from there!

After we finished our coffee and our dreaming I sat down at my computer to work on my newest book (deadline end of Feb. Yikes!) and found an email from a company in England that sells antique watches informed me they've featured my blog and wanted me to return the favor, which I am happily doing.

Maybe it's a sign? That I'm to return to England? One can only dream.

http://antique-pocket-watches.co.uk/