Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hemingway's House... & Cats! (Key West Excursion)

After separating from my daughter, sister, & niece, my mom & I headed to Hemingway's house.
I was excited to see his famous polydactyl cats!!!

Here's a picture of his study which was upstairs in a little building by the pool. My favorite part was a piece of artwork that hung on the walls that showed a 'ghost' Hemingway, in his study, alongside some of his cats! The cats could 'see' him, even though he's a ghost.
Here's a tour guide, not ours, feeding one of Hemingway's cats.
The Hemingway house has approximately 50 cats, all of which carry the polydactyl gene, though only about half of them have the physical trait of having 6 toes (rather than 4 or 5). Hemingway was given a 6-toed cat by a ship's captain, and the cats are descendants of that original cat.
There's a cat cemetery on the grounds and each of Hemingway's cats are buried there. I was impressed that the guide (above - feeding the cat) said he knew the names of all 50+ cats!
And, just a self-portrait in a mirror in the gardens!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cruising to Key West

While on our Spring Break cruise, our first day on shore was at Key West, Florida.

We had a gorgeous view when we arrived and were thankful our balcony
was on the correct side to see us pull in!

Our excursion plan for the day: going on a "Big 3" adventure - sail boat, kayak, and snorkeling. HOWEVER... we got a note the night before that our excursion was CANCELLED! So, we sadly made alternate plans...

We took a "hop on/hop off" tour.

We drove by the "southernmost point in the continental USA"...which had a long line of people wanting to be photographed next to it.

We saw several "Conch Mobiles" which are each unique and painted to reflect Key West.

After this, we 'hopped off' and separated. My mom and I headed off to see Hemingway's house and a couple of museums while Alex and her aunt and cousin went to spend the day at the beach.

Friday, April 27, 2012

" costly a sacrfice upon the altar of freedom."

While we're in France this summer, we'll be touring Normandy, the site of the Allied invasion. Last weekend, we watched Saving Private Ryan to become more familiar with June 6th, 1944, otherwise known as D-Day. It is an incredible movie, not just about D-Day but also about WWII. Of course, as a war movie, it is quite bloody - in fact the bloodiest movie I've ever watched. And, I did fast forward through a couple of 'inappropiate conversations' (which were while they were waiting for the tanks by the bridge). But, we are both a lot more aware of what D-Day meant to the war now.

So, who is this Private Ryan that needs saving? He is one of 4 brothers... the other 3 having all been killed in the war. Some soldiers are sent on a mission to find him and bring him home so his mother doesn't have to suffer the loss of her 4th son. While the leader is explaining why he thinks they need to "save" Private Ryan, he reads this incredible, elogent, moving letter written by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. It was written in November of 1864 to a Mrs Bixby in Boston...

Dear Madam:
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours very sincerely and respectfully,
Abraham Lincoln.

All Aboard!! (Our First Ever...CRUISE!)

Last month, Alex & I went on a Carnival Caribbean cruise with my mom, my sister, and her daughter. My mom has been on quite a few cruises, but I just wasn't sure if it was the right type of trip for me. However, it sounded like a great way to take a 'girls' trip' and to see some places we've never seen before: Key West, Florida and The Bahamas!

We've been to Galveston quite a few times and it was neat to watch the familiar sites shrink away as we sailed off on our great adventure.

This is a gorgeous view off the back of the ship. As we traveled, it was often incredibly windy on the outside decks. They had a jogging track around the ship and some people were using it, but I couldn't imagine jogging into that wind! So, I spent some time here, in the back of the ship, where it wasn't so windy.

There are lots of activities on board a cruise ship - especially in the evenings. Our favorite two shows were a magic show (wonderful!) and a juggling show (although he wasn't 'perfect', he was incredibly entertaining!). We also went to see karaoke several times, and my sister participated! And, we watched a comedy show (they have early 'family friendly' shows, and later 'adults only' shows). Usually, we ate the more formal dinners where you are served course after course of delicious food. I was disappointed in the buffet food, though - it was pretty much 'buffet' quality! And, it was hard to find food early in the morning, though room service was FREE - but not very reliable.

Most of my photos were of the excursions, so I'm disappointed to not have more to share. But, I'll leave you with this one of Alex participating in an Animal Quiz Show. She was in the final THREE out of the 30-40 who started! Mostly adults! And, one of the 'final three' was a couple and the other was a zoology professor!!! I'm very proud of Alex and her knowledge of animals!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Need a Good Wild West Book?

I just finished yet another book by Gloria Whelan! I love her historical fiction for children. (This one is listed as ages 8-12, but I think older children would enjoy it, too. I did!

Miranda's dad was killed during Custer's "Last Stand" at Little Big Horn. Now, Miranda and her mother are traveling with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. Miranda's mom is very upset when Miranda starts making friends with the Indian children of the show. And, when she learns that Sitting Bull is coming to be a part of the show, she is tempted to quit. But, if they leave, they'll never afford to move back to the farm.
Alex last summer
I love that this story introduces the reader to so many characters from the wild west like Buffalo Bill Cody, Sitting Bull, General Custer, and Annie Oakley. And, you hear the story of Custer's Last Stand from Sitting Bull's point of view! 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Crystal Bridges Art Museum

This weekend, Alex & I went with my husband's aunt to see a new art museum: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. The museum, which opened in November, was founded by Alice Walton of the Walmart family. The museum is a nonprofit organization and admission is FREE because of a grant from Walmart.

The museum buildings are amazing and it sits on a gorgeous 120 acre site with over 3 miles of walking and biking trails. Unfortunately, it was raining, so we didn't go out on the trails.

From the site: "the Museum complex encompasses a library, the hands-on Experience Art Studio and Drop-in Studio, a glass-enclosed gathering hall for lectures, films, and other events, a Museum Store, a restaurant, and areas for outdoor concerts and public events. (Above: part of a trail and sculpture taken through large glass window.)

The collection of American art is divided into 4 sections: Colonial, 19th Century, Modern, and Contemporary. The Colonial collection included art by Gilbert Stuart (the Constable-Hamilton portrait of George Washington shown above), John Trumbull, John Singleton Copley, and Samuel Finley Breese Morse (of morse code fame and whose art I discussed here).
Trompe L'oeil by Haberle from Wikipedia
The 19th Century area includes some trompe l'oeil which is art that tricks the eye into thinking it's 3 dimensional. One piece was by Haberle, though it isn't the one I posted above. There was also work by Mary Cassatt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and John Singer Sargent (whose art I copied for my charcoal portraits).

Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter which was on Saturday Evening Post (from Wikipedia)
The Modern and Contemporary sections included art by Norman Rockwell (one of my favorite artists!), Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns (who we studied here), Louise Nevelson (who we studied here), and Jacob Lawrence.

I loved the layout of the museum. There were two places where you could stop and rest and look at art books or get on iPads to learn more about the art. And, there were two hands-on activity centers. Unfortunately, one closed just as we found it. But, we spent some time in the other. It had quite a few activities (including a dressing up area and places to build and to learn about art). Alex and Aunt C had fun making butterfly art!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

San Antonio Rock n Roll

I raced the San Antonio Rock n Roll Half Marathon in November. The race wasn't that great (it was super HOt & HUMID & CROWDED!), but my mom, daughter & I had a great time in San Antonio! I never posted, so thought I'd do it now...

We ate at an outdoor Italian restaurant on the Riverwalk and this pigeon walked right over to Alex!

We took a boat ride on the river and enjoyed hearing some of the history of the area. (Photo of building from boat.)

We visited The Alama (our 2nd time). I'm wearing my "Run. Rock. Roll. Repeat." t-shirt the day before my race.

We visited the Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum and kept score on all of the questions. My mom KILLED us! And, she beat us on this drum game, too, where you have to beat as many times as you can in one minute. Way to go, Mom!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mardi Gras (& more!) in Destin, Florida

Last month, we flew to Destin for a weekend with some friends. It was chilly and rainy, but we still had fun. And, we really enjoyed a Mardi Gras Dog parade!
Alex, relaxing for the weekend!

Here comes the Mardi Gras Doggy Parade!

Most dogs rode in cars or walked....this dog drove his OWN CAR!

Another cute dog in the parade

We got LOTS of beads...and candy! Yum!

A seagull on the beach

A (dead) jellyfish on the beach

Alex enjoying the chilly beach!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Eating in Japan

I'm going to try to catch up on my vacation posts! Today's post is about food we ate while in Japan last March. I LOVED visiting Japan and continue to pray for their recovery from the tsunami and radiation leak.

One the neatest meals we ate was shabu-shabu. Shabu-shabu is a traditional Japanese meal where you eat in your own little room which has tatami mats on the floor and rice paper walls. You remove your shoes before entering the room and sit on little cushions. In the middle of the table is a pot of boiling water and your meat is served in very thin slices which you cook yourself. Two funny things happened at this meal: 1) I saw slippers where you take your shoes off and took off my shoes and stepped up into the room with them on! They quickly motioned me "no!"...those shoes were for going to the bathroom....oops! 2) My brother ordered potatoes as part of our traditional meal...they brought out a bowl of french fries and ketchup!!! (Photo of my brother & his girlfriend. I didn't take any photos of me here!)

On another day, we ate at a stand outside of the zoo. The other 3 ate pizza (which was good!) while I had to try this cute panda. It was a pastry with powered sugar dusted on it. We think the brown part is a kind of bean curd paste. This was good!

The Tokyo zoo, Ueno Zoological Gardens, sits in a park called Ueno Park. This little stand was also in Ueno Park. These are bananas which are dipped in different colored frostrings and then decorated. Alex bought a set of 3 adorable mice! They looked CUTE, but we didn't like the taste that much.

Alex also bought some ice cream in Ueno Park. (We wanted to try everything!) They had really unusual ice cream flavors and we just had to order by the pictures. We did recognize "milk" (vanilla), green tea, an orange fruit, and cantaloups (which is what Alex had). Yummy!

This was one of my favorite meals in Japan. I had pot stickers and noodles. Oh, it was SO delicious!!! In fact, we all had a variety of pot stickers and noodles. So yummy!

There are a lot of machines in Japan that sell a variety of things - not just food! But, at the train depot one day, my brother bought some banana hot chocolate. Agian, we had to go from photos (although you can read the English word "hot").

This restaurant was in Akihabara, the Electric City of Tokyo. It was probably my least favorite meal, but it was still neat. The center of the table is a hot plate.

Here's a photo of the food from that place. You used the spatulas (on other photo) to kind of chop off a section and put it on your plate to eat.

To give you an idea of how we ordered, here is a photo of the menu...yes, it is all in Japanese! But, the waiter spoke some English. (This was often the case.) On the lower left hand corner, for example, they would tell us that was the beef section. So, we could see all the different prices of 'beef', but we really didn't know what the words meant. We would pick a middle-priced meat and order it. We often ordered a lot of food both to try more things and because we weren't sure what we'd like. We liked most of the food we tried!

Here's my brother & his girlfriend at a sushi train. To the right you can see the plates of food. They are on a conveyor belt and you pick up what you want from the train. The plates are color-coded so you can see how much they cost. I don't care much for sushi, though they really enjoy it. Alex & I did enjoy some desserts, though!

We only ate "American" food twice while in Japan - once at McDonald's and once at Subways. At the McDonald's, it was just Alex & myself and they didn't speak any English and they didn't have an English menu! They handed me a menu with photos and I pointed to what we wanted. But, they didn't have a water showing and I couldn't explain it, so I got an orange juice instead! Also, we got chicken strips and they still had the skin on it and they were pretty greasy. We didn't care much for it! At Subway, the food offered was also different. I usually have the sweet onion chicken teriyaki. Well, they didn't have that sauce, so I had Caesar dressing instead! Alex had ham & cheese, but we ended up trading. My brother had egg!

Here's the last photo. Alex bought this out of a machine at our hotel the last day. It's called "calpis" and it is DELICIOUS! When we bought things out of the machines, we had to be careful as they also sell alcohol out of them! And, I wasn't sure how to tell the difference! I just tasted it first and it tasted non-alcoholic. And, we looked at the labels to make sure it didn't look like something that contained alcohol.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Medieval Monstrosities

What do "Medieval monstrosities" have to do with cathedrals? The Basillica Church of Saint Mary Magdelene in Vezelay, France, depicts some of these monstrosities the central tympanum lintel above the main door. Why? The theme of this lintel is Jesus telling his disciples to preach the gospel to the ends of the world. And, at this time, people in Europe thought there were monstrous people who needed to hear the gospel!

Here are some of the 'people' who were thought to exist:
  • Sciopods - people with one leg and a foot so big they used it for shade
  • Cyclopes - people with one, central eye
  • Pygmies - short people (though I'm not sure why this one has two heads)
  • Blymmyes - people with faces on their chest
  • Cynocephalus - dog-headed people
I got more information about the history of these people at J. A. Beard's Unnecessary Musings blog. Blymmeys were described as early as the fifth century B.C. by Herodutus. Later, Pliny the Elder in his book "Natural History, Book V" (75 A.D.) also described them. Pliny's book was an attempt to "comprehensively document all the knowledge known in the world available to the Roman Empire at the time." Later on, they were described as man eaters, too.
(Large eared people - I didn't come across a name - image from Wikipedia)

(Sciapod/Skiapod/Monopod - from the Nuremburg Chronicle 1493 - image from Wikipedia)
Pliny describes Skiapods as follows: He [Ctesias] speaks also of another race of men, who are known as Monocoli, who have only one leg, but are able to leap with surprising agility. The same people are also called Sciapodae, because they are in the habit of lying on their backs, during the time of the extreme heat, and protect themselves from the sun by the shade of their feet. (Ctesias' book was about India from the 5th century B.C.)
In this age of mass information and Google Earth it is hard to believe that people believed these human 'monstrosities' really existed. But, even today, we talk about leprechauns and big foot! Anyway, I can't wait to visit Europe and examine some of this medieval art in person.

P.S. I really enjoyed a related post called "How Columbus Discovered Cannibals in the New World" which talks about the dog-headed people and how Columbus used this idea to justify enslaving people.