Sun-Less in Nebraska

My friend Leo told me I was crazy to go to the Eclipse because the traffic was going to be EPIC. As you can see, it was pretty bad.

I drove southwest from St Paul to Sioux City, Iowa. My first rest stop in Iowa was an homage to the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery. Sergeant Charles Floyd died of appendicitis three months into the voyage and was buried on a high bluff above the Floyd River. The area is now known as Sergeant Bluff. He was the only member of the expedition to die.

I was on my way to stay with an old friend in Lincoln, Nebraska. Another friend was driving up from Denver. Chris lives out in the country surrounded by cornfields. I met him in Switzerland. He was originally from Beirut and had lived in Iraq and Italy. His father was Lebanese and his mother Italian. I’m still not sure how he ended up in a cornfield in Iowa but he seems to be happy with it. And why not? It is a lovely spot.

Needless to say we ate well.  The first night he made Italian stuffed zucchini. Most stuffed zucchini recipes I have seen treat the vegetable like a boat, cut it in half, dig out the meat and fill the hollow.  Not Chris, he cut off the ends, dug out the inside, and stuffed it with ground meat mixed with breadcrumbs and parmesan so the zucchini still looked like it was whole. Then smothered with a lovely tomato sauce. Of course he had also made hummus and Lebanese green beans sometimes called Lubiyeh or Lubee.  He used French style beans in a sauce with crushed tomatoes, lots of garlic and olive oil. Our appetizer was fresh corn on the cob. Just doesn’t get any better than that.

Sunday was our day to be tourists.  We started out at the Sunken Gardens. The garden was originally built in 1930 as part of a Depression works project. It was then renovated in 2005. It has over 30,000 plants on 1.5 acres and is designed each year on a different theme. The theme for 2017 is Purple Reign. It was a hot day so we didn’t linger but we did see a lot of purple.

Next stop was the Capital building. After a nationwide competition, Beltram Grosvenor Goodhue’s design was selected in 1920. It is said to be the nation’s first vernacular State Capital. It was the third building to be built on the site and was a departure from the more typical capital buildings found around the country. It was completed in 1932 and cost $10 million.

The inside is stunning with several courtyards, marble columns, vaulted ceilings, interesting light fixtures, mosaic floors and colorful murals. We took the elevator to the top of the tower and enjoyed the view. Across the street was the lovely old St Mary’s Catholic Church.

After touring the Capital building, Chris gave us a little tour of the city, showing off nice neighborhoods with big houses and then the downtown area. The Haymarket area was a warehouse district that has been transformed into a trendy place to live and work. It is a place to explore restaurants, bars, shops and the Farmers Market. In 2014 it was listed on the National Register as Lincoln Haymarket Historic District by the National Park Service. Chris kept pushing a great ice cream parlor but parking was scarce.

That night our friend from Denver threw together a salad with leftover corn, black beans, green and red peppers, home grown tomatoes, cilantro and olive oil to go with our pork ribs that had been on the smoker all day.

Monday was eclipse day. We packed up our beer and food and drove south to Firth where we went to a pot luck party. Chris’ friend had a big house on a lake with lots of room for eclipse viewing. There were about 30 people there enjoying a warm but cloudy day.  We missed the corona of the total eclipse but we experienced the atmosphere. Everything got quiet, the wind died completely, the day grew very dark. It was eerie. We ate well, enjoyed the beer and company. At the end of the day we jumped in the golf cart and took a spin around the lake.

On my way home the next day I stopped at the highest point in Iowa. Hawkeye Point, 1670 feet. Who knew?

Iowa Weekend – Art, Nature and Food

 

“Old” Capital Building, Iowa City

Iowa City was originally the capital of the State of Iowa. The government was there for ten years until it was decided to move the state capital to Des Moines, a more central location. The “Old” Capital building became the first permanent building owned by the University of Iowa. It is now a museum.

I met my friend, Liz, over thirty years ago in Minneapolis. When I was living in Russia she was living in Finland so I went to visit her there a couple of times. Now we were reunited at her home near Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The first day we spent the entire morning at the Lasansky Gallery in Iowa City, Iowa, learning about Mauricio Lasansky, his life, his art and his family. My son had written a paper on one of Mauricio Lasansky’s prints for an Art History class and wanted to learn more about him. It was fascinating. Lasansky was not only a great printmaker and graphic artist but he taught at the University of Iowa for many years producing several generations of art educators and printmakers. He is known as one of the fathers of 20th Century American Printmaking. We also had the opportunity to see his grandson, Diego, at work in his studio. So we learned a little about the process as well.

From there we had lunch and then made a mad dash to Cedar Rapids to get to the Czech Museum before it closed. They currently have an exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s, Venetians from the George R. Stroemple Collection. The series was inspired by a trip to Venice where he was exposed to Art Deco vases. He invited Lino Tagliapietra to work with him on this series. The exhibit does include vases but highly decorated, bright, asymmetrical vases that are more art than function. Apparently Chihuly is Jewish and his family originally came to the USA from a region of Austria later known as Czechoslovakia. As an aside, I found out he lost his eye in a car accident.

That night we met up with some African emerging leaders who were on an exchange program visiting the USA. My friend and her husband had hosted them in their home and were now saying good-bye. We all went to Devotay, a tapas restaurant in Iowa City where we drank wine and enjoyed plates of chorizo, pulpo a la Gallega, Spanish olives, market cheeses, chewy bread, potato basil soufflé, chicken salad and salt crusted potatoes. All delicious.

Next morning we headed out after breakfast for a two hour drive north along the river to the Effigy Mounds National Monument. The monument contains 200 plus Native American mounds considered sacred to the 20 tribes associated with them. Many of the mounds were constructed in the shapes of animals. The effigies in this area are mainly bears and eagles. These date back to 1400-750 B.P., which I interpret to be about 600 AD to 1300 AD. There had been some flooding recently so some of the trails were closed. We chose a two mile hike up into the lower region of the park where there was a line of marching bears and several eagles.

The hike was uphill all the way in with an overlook and a mound on the way. Prairie grasses, flowers and raspberries were abundant. And it wasn’t too buggy, which was nice. We came across a friendly toad who stopped to be photographed but otherwise no wildlife. Once we reached the top, we understood why they had chosen this spot to build the mounds. It was a beautiful setting with a view of the river.

Back down at the river, we drove north to Lansing. It was the last day of Ragbrai and it just happened to end at Lansing so we spent a lot of time passing cyclists. Ragbrai is an annual event that started in 1973 with a few friends riding their bicycles across Iowa and was known as The Great Six-Day Bicycle Ride. Because it was the brainchild of two DesMoines Register’s writers, the ride is now called the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (Ragbrai). Approximately 10,000 people do the ride every year, some participating in one or two days of the ride.

From Lansing we crossed over over the Mississippi on the Black Hawk Bridge, named after Chief Black Hawk. It is a large scale cantilever truss bridge. Because of its size and age, it is one of the most unusual bridges of its kind in the country. It is definitely very cool.

The bridge took us into Wisconsin and we drove north up to La Crosse. In La Crosse we stayed at the Charmant hotel downtown. It is a new boutique hotel in a renovated candy factory that was originally built in 1898. They made a premium line of chocolates known by the name Charmant. Upon arrival we were offered a sample of the hotel’s own version of Charmant chocolate. The building features exposed brick, wood beams and wood flooring. Our room was comfortable with nice amenities and a spacious bathroom.

Interesting light fixtures at the Charmant in La Crosse

There is a rooftop bar that was nice but small and completely packed on a Saturday night. The dining room bills itself as “rustic French-inspired”. We had delicious steak frites for dinner. On Sunday mornings they sponsor Yoga in the Park and have a full brunch on offer. We enjoyed french toast and eggs for breakfast. 

Across the street from the hotel is a lovely park along the Mississippi River where you can watch the barges and boats, and people, of course.

 

Life in Panama

I have an article in the latest issue of Global Living Magazine 

(it’s free to download!)

Inside this issue:

– Steps With Therra: Thailand’s first social enterprise providing vocational training to adults with learning disabilities

– Building cultural competency in the workforce

– An International Education

– Finding Purpose & Passion as an Expat Partner

– Expat Life in Panama – All about Amelia and Greg’s new adventure

– Life as an Expat in Valencia, Spain

– Expat Books

… and much more!

 

LIFE IN CHINA WITH ITALIAN FLAVOR

Parsley & Coriander is a new novel by Antonella Moretti. It was originally published in Italian and has just been released in English.

The story gives us a peek into the lives of a group Italian women living in China over the course of a year.

Luisella left a good job in Italy to follow her husband to Asia. She has a 12 year old daughter in the International school who now speaks perfect English. As the story begins, Luisella has been living in China for several years. She has re-invented herself and is now a blogger and writer. She is in the process of publishing her first book. She enjoys her life in China and is the go-to person for the group. In a way she is a mother figure. She takes the time to help those in need and tries to engage the ones that are lost.

Astrid is a newcomer with two small children. Her husband arrived six months earlier and she found it difficult to take care of the children on her own. She was happy to be reunited with her husband but very anxious about her new environment. Luckily she makes friends and has a very supportive husband. Her best friend turns out to be a Malaysian woman and at the end they venture out into the countryside to see another side of China.

Emma, on the other hand, arrives hoping to save her marriage. Big mistake. It only goes from bad to worse, but her outcome is the most surprising of all, even to her.

Other women are weaved into the story. Some need to resolve medical issues, others have trouble with their children, some don’t adjust at all and return home, and some are highly successful. One young woman is there to study Chinese language and culture and wants to immerse herself completely. They make fun of her and say it isn’t possible. She proves them wrong.

We see an ugly side of expat life when we meet the unhappy women who hate everything about their host country and are very cliquish. But mostly they support each other and grow and learn from their experience.

The author, through Luisella’s character, emphasizes the opportunity they all have to experience and learn about a new culture. The children attend the International School and speak fluent English as well as have friends from all over the world. She also recognizes that her child is constantly saying good bye to people and adjusting so there is a down side but overall the outcome is a positive one.

This is a good glimpse into the trials and tribulations of a trailing spouse. Anybody living in China or moving to China would benefit from reading this book. 

You can read Antonella’s blog at Parsley and Coriander.

 

Frolicking with Friends in South Beach

I flew into Miami on a Thursday afternoon and headed over to a friend’s house in Coral Gables. She lives just down the block from the Biltmore and the Venetian Pool. People continued to arrive all afternoon and evening. Old friends gathering for one of our yearly reunions. Lots of good food and drink and hugs. 

The Biltmore

The Biltmore originally opened in 1926 as the Miami Biltmore Country Club and included an 18-hole golf course, polo fields, tennis courts, a large swimming pool, along with a 400-room hotel. It has gone through some changes over the years and was even a hospital during World War II. It remained a Veterans Administration hospital until 1968. It sat unoccupied until 1983 when the City of Coral Gables started its restoration. The Biltmore re-opened in 1987 as a four star hotel and resort. In 1996, the National Register of Historic Places designated it a National Historic Landmark.

The Venetian Pool was created in 1923 from a coral rock quarry. Its 820,000 gallon pool is fed with spring water from an underground aquifer. There are two waterfalls and caves that you can swim in and out of. The pool is also on the National Register of Historic Places. It was originally called the Venetian Casino and frequented by celebrities including Johnny Weismuller and Esther Williams. At times the pool would be emptied of its 820,000 gallons of water and orchestras would perform on the pool bottom. 

Inside the limo

 

 

 

The next morning we gathered in South Beach to catch our stretch limo that took us to Vizcaya.

 

 

 

Vizcaya was built by International Harvester Vice President James Deering of Chicago, IL. It was originally 180 acres with the main house, the gardens, the farm, and the waterfront. The house itself is fashioned after an Italian villa, or many Italian villas. Each room was built to accommodate the furniture Mr Deering had purchased on his trips to Italy. The furnishings determined ceiling height and door width. The main house opened in 1916 and the gardens were finished in 1922. Deering died in 1925 so he didn’t have long to enjoy his creation. It passed on to his brother and his brother’s children and in 1952 they donated it to Dade County.

The main house has 34 rooms with over 2,500 art objects and furnishings. The gardens contain 2,000 specimens and 25 acres of endangered primary growth forests. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1995. Besides attracting 200,000 visitors a year, it also serves as a diplomatic seat for Miami-Date County where presidents and foreign dignitaries are entertained. It has hosted Pope John Paul II and major events such as the Summit of the Americas and the signing of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.

Back in the limo on the way to our lunch destination we popped the champagne and all had a glass. We spent the afternoon on the River eating seafood. It seems like mostly what we do is eat and drink.

That night we hit a taco place that was amazing – Taquiza. It was a small order at the counter/take out place where they made their own blue corn tortillas and fried them up for chips to order accompanied by very fresh guacamole or pico de gallo. I would highly recommend it if you are in the area.

Next day it was a late start with staggered breakfast. I joined the group who ended up at the beach but another group went to eat crab at Joe’s Stone Crab. It was originally started by Joe Weiss in 1913 as a lunch counter.  Nobody knew you could even eat stone crabs. In 1921 a Harvard ichthyologist doing research asked if Joe ever served stone crabs. The bay was full of them. They experimented a bit and decided to boil them. They ended up serving them chilled and cracked with hash browns, cole slaw and mayonnaise. Joe’s became a destination for any celebrity who visited the area. From Al Capone to the Duchess of Windsor. Stone crabs are seasonal and it was the last weekend they would be available. Everybody from our group came back raving about the food and overall experience.

 

 

The beach was nice too. But it was crowded.

 

 

 

 

That night we had a party to go to. Our friend Leo was working as the official photographer. So we got dressed up and headed out to Smith and Wollensky at the southernmost tip of South Beach. It sits next to the 17 acre South Pointe Park. We had a small room overlooking the water. The food was amazing. Crab cake sandwiches, sliders, lamb chops, flat bread pizza, bruschetta, turkey and gravy, and an open bar. Yum. There was another party next to us and one of our group swears he saw Ivana Trump there. 

We all met for brunch at Loews the next morning. It was kind of chaotic trying to herd everybody over there and find a table or tables to accommodate us but we all managed to get fed and then have our round of hugs and kisses bidding all a farewell. 

Until next time.

 

 

Five years of blogging

I just passed my five year mark as a blogger. This was my first post in March of 2012:

My New Mantra

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
The Matterhorn
I stole this photo from my brother who lives in Switzerland and happened to be passing this particular mountain among others on some weekend trip of his.
He is returning to the US soon and will also be an Alien….
It kind of represents my new mantra.  There are probably some trails up there for people to follow.
I spent two lovely years in Switzerland myself.  Fun times.  More on that later.
 
Since then I published my memoir on growing up internationally. I wrote over 300 posts and had about 50,000 visitors. Plus I blogged at the Baltimore Post Examiner for several years with more posts and visitors. I wrote a cookbook. I traveled to Switzerland, Italy, Nova Scotia, Florida, California, Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, New York and Minnesota. I buried my son’s father. I loved and lost. I quit my job. I packed up my things and moved to a new city. I found a new job and a great apartment. And now I am planning a trip to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine to go to Tierra del Fuego. 
I don’t know that I am leaving a trail but I am following my own path.
I changed my blog to be “expat alien, recovering expat on the prairie”. I feel more local now. I recently read “the Art of Stillness” by Pico Iyer. Going nowhere can be a journey in itself. 

Happy New Year…

The holidays are over. Another year gone.

Spent the last week in the deep freeze. Below zero. Windy. Cold.

My Apple TV went on the fritz so no Netflix during my hibernation. Well, not on the TV, anyway. Been huddled over my iPad. Watched mainstream TV last night. The Golden Globe awards. Don’t think I have ever watched them before.

Just by coincidence I went to see LaLa Land last week. They won a lot. Well done.

Meryl Streep accepted a lifetime achievement award and took the opportunity to comment on our present state of affairs in this country. Fear, hate….

Meryl ended with a quote: “Take your broken heart and make art.” Princess Leia aka Carrie Fisher

I posted the video of her speech on Facebook because I liked what she said. We are all equal and should be treated with respect and have empathy for each other. No matter where we come from or who we are. It is something we should live by and expect from each other. Kind of relates to the TCK thing. Pretty basic.

I immediately received ranting hate messages from people who couldn’t even be bothered to watch the clip. Auto matic.

Both their response and the Tweeter-in-chief’s response were the same. What right does some over-rated Hollywood actress have to say such things? She was using entertainment to discuss politics. And of course, buying into media myths. Outrageous.

Wait. Wasn’t there a TV personality who used his position to push forward the birther conspiracy?  Or something like that?

Never mind. Doesn’t matter. I could blather on about it but what does entertainment have to do with politics? Nobody cares. Business as usual. And groping women? When was that ever not okay?

So what is it all about?

So what if Russia hacked our election? So what if people think it’s okay to treat each other with disrespect and nastiness. Nothing to be done about it. It’s all ok.

2016 was not a fun year. The elections dominated. Many icons of my youth died. Time is passing. Another year gone.

So what is it all about?

It will pass. — — Or not….

I plan to march with the women on January 21. I won’t make it to Washington but I will participate locally.

“The Women’s March on Washington aims to send a message to all levels of government that we stand together in solidarity and we expect elected leaders to act to protect the rights of women, their families and their communities.” From the Womensmarch.com website

I have been hearing “defund Planned Parenthood” a lot. Why? They do so much good and help so many women. It’s not about abortion, it’s about life. If you are pro life and pro health, you would fight for Planned Parenthood. If you are a woman, have you ever been disrespected? Has a man ever grabbed you without invitation, leered at you, made comments, raped you? Is that okay? Women have to watch the bills, tend to the children, do the housework, and many need to hold down jobs as well. Yet they are not worth the same as a man. Is that okay? We fought for so many things over the past 50 years and frankly, didn’t make a lot of progress, but we did make some progress. And now that is in jeopardy. Wake up people.

Okay, that was my rant. Women are awesome. Go to the march.

HaHa – just saw this:

January 4, 2017 2:21 AM EST – Organizers from the D.C. Cannabis Coalition are preparing to give away thousands of joints in DuPont Circle in a protest to “stink up” the inauguration. (WUSA9)

and – 
Alec Baldwin posted a photo on Instagram of himself wearing a red cap with “Make America Great Again” translated into Russian (Cyrillic). He just doesn’t quit.

People are doing funny things, poking fun. But it really isn’t funny, is it?

So what’s it all about?

Doesn’t matter. It’s all okay.

Things are not what they appear to be. Smoke and mirrors.

Hey maybe it will be America’s best year ever. Maybe America will be great. Yay. Being who I am, I always had a different perspective so just waiting to see what happens next. Seatbelt is secure.

It will pass….

It’s another year.

Life is never dull….

Cheers!