Friday, February 17, 2017

Rising to the Occasion of the Return to Austin Texas!

Back in #Austin for the first time in a while.  Great city.  Weather is meh, mid February and very cloudy, but not cold!

Humidity makes me have big Texas hair.  Pretty sure that's why they tease it and stack it here.  Not much else to do with it.  Went to see the #Driskill and have the famous Batini.  Not so much on agave syrup.

Love the vibe though.  Walked back through the capital.  For all the unpleasant TSA officers, there must be 20 polite charming #TexasRangers to make up for it.  They let us in the Capital Building with the aplomb one hopes the President uses inviting his guests in for dinner.

The meetings were fine, and I am glad that I got to hear the updates.  But, secretly, I am just glad I got to walk Austin again!

If you need other assistance, check our my trip advisor page for detailed view.  And if you are a YELP user, just click on this link for my reviews.

Monday, February 6, 2017


I am the kind of mother who touched her children every night and prayed to god in heaven to make them smarter, braver, stronger, and better than the way they were the day before.
I asked that they be kind and direct and courteous and love their parents.
I asked to make them better at what they love and put music in their hearts in the morning.
I prayed to make me a better mother, but if only one prayer can be answered, I wanted god to care for them.
I am the kind of mother that wept when they failed.
I shook when they are on stage and I gasped when the spaces of breath are too long.
I am the kind of mother who waited patiently for them to figure out the math.
I am the kind of mother who said wipe it up, I’ll make more.  It doesn’t matter.  Breathe.
I am the kind of mother who explained boys don’t get it as fast as girls and that the pamphlet forgot to say ask permission to touch anyone under any circumstances.
I am the kind of mother who said you can save yourself for marriage.  It is always an option.
I am the kind of mother who said you will need your brother one day don’t talk to him like that.

I am the kind of mother who cries secretly, fearing their future and praying I did enough.

Friday, May 27, 2016


So happy to finally add another city to my passport!  Toronto.  Probably would not have picked it, but work picked it for me so here I am.  Got a few chuckles on the airplane when I asked how many people were coming here because of Donald Trump!

First impression is the city is the most integrated city I have been in - including NYC.  The people are from everywhere with languages abound.  The translators at the airport were from India, Korea, China, Brazil and Mexico. Most of the Canadian folks speak or understand French as well.   It is not just that they are here, it is that they are seemingly comfortable here.  I wait in the lines as the border folks decide that I need to have four interviews and three different passport verifications.  This afforded me the opportunity to hear the people from other country's have a translator for their answering the border questions.  I must answer my own questions as the lady speaks perfect English.  My French is not sufficient to try to communicate in a place where they REALLY speak French.  One day.

I finally shake free of the border people and and picked up by my fabulous UBER driver, Tradic.  He is prompt, has a nice clean car and tells me the highlights of my temporary home, Toronto.  He says the walk the edge of the CN Tower is a must for those with a bucket list.  He says it is the scary thrilling sensation of a high roller coaster, with the breathtaking experience of a jump out of one.  Except you don't really jump.  Sounds perfect for my daughter, not I.

We arrive at the AirBnb town-home that I have leased for the week.  It is a two bedroom flat on the fifth floor of a tall building near the Toronto Blue Jays store and the main tourist entertainment district.  The building is full of tourists and the sassy skateboard kids wheel up and down the sidewalk outside.  The day is full of families on the street enjoying the temperate day.  Strollers are everywhere.  There are women in every imaginable garb, covered head to toe or the tight mini skirts of the youth.  There are women of every color and size, dawning the look of their preference, but truly wearing the outfit for the outing.  The views reminded me of a Monet promenade.  They all seem so proud to be walking.

After I am in my building and unpacked, I walk to the grocery.  For my first night, I have decided to cook and stay in.  I have events for the next three nights, so this is my time to adjust.  I find the grocery on the map and head out.  It is only a mile and the walk will be good after all he plane rides and sitting.  Knowing that I am in a country that has green values, I have brought my cool NPR canvas bag for the shopping.  As usual, I am hungry, which means I buy more than I can eat.  I do however, keep it healthy by picking asparagus, fish and garlic.  I also pick yogurt and eggs for the morning.

On my way back, the sun starts to head to another part of the world.  I notice the street traffic turn from families to couples and groups of young people.  I am grateful to be an older person with a place to go.  Interesting aside, I have seen no obvious homeless persons.  At least not in the style of Tallahassee.  I hope that means that they have better options.  There are lots of people who may fit the bill, but no one is holding a sign asking for money.  Back to the streets, older couples walk together.  A few young females saunter alone with their backpacks firmly in place.  People aren't seemingly as concerned as I am, but it could be their city!

 After touring Italy and seeing so many people displaced, I am a tad sensitive to the homeless.  But again, that does not appear to be an issue here.

I open my windows to absorb the cool air and the noise and hustle of the city.  Young people are now moving quickly and yelling in tandem as they move down the street.  The sidewalks are a series of floating tattoos and fun and interest and laughter.  Cars honk as people respond to the noise. Sidewalks seem to shift like the ground covered with ants.  All together in fish school, then scattered as if danger lurked near.

I will probably not sleep well this first night.  But it is terribly exciting to be in a new place adding one more stamp tot my passport.  And I look forward to rising to the occasion of the meeting in Toronto.

Days past, and the conference is behind me.  Great speakers, especially Richard Florida and the CFO of the City of Portland, Ken Rust.  Truly inspiring speakers and leaders of their communities and professions. It was great to be able to walk to the convention center every morning with a Starbucks in hand and a nice breeze in my face.  The weather could not have been more kind. That night, we decided to grocery shop and eat in and rest for the next day.

Finally, it was time to see some of the City of Toronto.  Many attending the conference had come the week prior and had already seen the sights.  They were full of funny tourist stories, so I had a relative understanding of the normal tourist routes.  Thursday morning however, is dedicated to the CN Tower. Second highest tower in the world after Dubai. I was to  see the tower from the inside.  Morgan however, wanted to walk the edge.  And so she did.  Up way above where nose bleeds start, she edged to the edge.

In the afternoon, we first headed out to walk the area near the University of Toronto, or so I thought.  What we found was Kensington, the Haight Ashbury of Toronto.  Many shops, medicinal and otherwise.  The aura was one of the hippy freaky grad student, with coffee shops and gelato every block.  The people were attentive and their wares were exotic as the people. We particularly enjoyed the Blue Banana, where I ended up buying a special pair of socks for my HR Manager.  The sort of gift only one who tries to please all would appreciate.

We had a heavy lunch of Ontario pork, so we wanted to be a little lighter with the fare of the evening.  It was perfect.  We walked back to our flat and relished the lovely day and time in a new place.  Eight miles said the iPhone.  Not bad for one day!  The evening proved very fruitful with a walk to the restaurant Westlodge.  It is a quaint and funky bar and restaurant.  We opted to sit at the bar and chit chat with the bar tenders who were great.  They recommended a whiskey drink, which was very tasty.  We then ordered ala carte with Brussels' sprouts, beet salad and roasted cauliflower.  We walked back to the flat and went upstairs to look at the pool and look at the lake.  The Toronto Blue Jays stadium is our view and Beyonce concert is in full force.  The people move in big waves, as if the subway openings allowed the flow to happen downstream, which I am sure contributes just a tad.  The ladies are all in finery and the men seem to be far and few between.  The night promises to be late for them and over for me.

The next day,  we were off to explore a new area.  The Saint Lawrence Market promised to be fun with artists of food and of paint.  Almost every trinket or device you might want is here, in addition to rabbit, chicken, cow and pork.  The seafood comes with faces and without.  The building is obviously the old trade building re purposed to a fun inviting new age trade space.  Of course we bought chicken, pork belly, pastry, bread, cheese and sausage.  We also found olives and artichoke and of course the sun dried tomato with mozzarella cheese.  A feast of kings and queens had we.

We take our groceries home and then go out for a cocktail on the lake.  A big lake.  I am guessing it is Lake Ontario.

Once again, we are cooking dinner.  The basted chicken, asparagus and the  okra are divine.  The cheese is great and we have wine and beer.  Tired legs never felt so well fed.

We plan what to do on Friday and after I answer a plethora of work emails,  I wanted to see the distillery district and then find the top of the City at Casa Loma.  But this will wait till tomorrow.

 Au revoir for now. Isle of Lesbos

Friday, January 1, 2016

of the immigration to Europe

The other night I had a dream which is haunting me.  Haunting me to ask if this is this is just a dream or a possible reality.  The dream was about a website, life vests, and immigrants.

Few photos are as disturbing as the ones we see of the immigrants landing on the Greek shores of Lesbos or the Italian shores in Palermo.

These people so desperate to leave their homes that they risk their lives in rickety boats and flimsy life vests.  The disbelief on their faces when they realize that they made it.  The joy of seeing their children on a new dry land.

The burden is huge and the number that arrive is incredible, overwhelming.  The discussion in the United States about the Mexican American border pales in reality.  Building a wall may be our discussion, but building a way to cope and accommodate is Angela Merkel 's responsibility and compassionate obligation.  Europe struggles to follow her lead and make room for all.

It is also affecting so many other countries.  refugees-and-life-jackets-fill-the-shops is an article from the New York Times reflecting on the life jacket sales in Turkey.  In Lesbos, it is another matter.  

"Since the beginning of the year, the number of refugees and migrants arriving here and on other Greek islands has surged to full-scale humanitarian-crisis levels. Arrivals by sea have surpassed 107,000 through July, according to United Nations figures, eclipsing even the numbers of people reaching Italy. Most of those who arrive on the shores of Lesbos, a popular tourist destination just off the coast of Turkey in the Aegean Sea, are fleeing the wars in Syria and Afghanistan and hoping to head deeper into Western Europe.  In June, 15,254 migrants and refugees arrived on Lesbos, according to the Greek Coast Guard, compared with 921 the same month last year.  But only squalor awaits them here. They arrive in a country that is deep in its own crisis, with an unemployment rate over 25 percent, banks not fully open and its government all but broke."

I have not seen this with my own eyes, but the photos are real, the photographers living in these moments are seeing it for me.

So, back to my dream.  What if, just what if, the life jackets that are so valuable on one side of the water could be valuable on the other side. 

What if we had an organization that was present when the people landed to take the jackets. What if they wrote a name or a phrase on the jacket that said how they felt making it across the water. The statement could be a brief thanks or a prayer or a name.

My dream was that the persons or organization could photograph the jackets. They could include the name of the person or their hands or a trinket or just a saying. The photo could be put on a website that allowed people to "adopt" the jacket before it is retired. The funds for the adoption could pay volunteers, local communities, and the immigrants.

This mess of jackets doesn't have to be the future.  Many people would be grateful to send $5 or $10 on social media to support the cause.  Families everywhere would gladly use their #VISA or #AMEX cards to pay the adoption fee.  Giant corporations like #VISA and #Mastercard could lend their support to the cause.  And somewhere there are brilliant programmers like #Anonymous that would help build a site for the process.  It was just a dream.  I woke up and it felt so real.  I don't know enough about #internationalrelief or #UNHCR or saving people.  I just know that life jackets are just that.  This pile and every other pile has done their job of protecting the person wearing it.

It just seems like we could make something more of it than an abandoned pile of the most risky event ever. It seems we could help Greece and Italy with the job they are doing. There are a plethora of volunteers on the shores that could also use the help. The WSJ article references many volunteers trying to raise money to go to Lesbos and help. They site that volunteers use is for individuals who want funding to go and help. Kickstarter is one. Very admirable.  I even considered this.  I would love to be a solid contributor.  I am not sure I would be.  I am not sure that getting money to go is the best use of the money.

But, I know that people want to connect.  Adopting something, like a life jacket, makes it yours; and even if it is a life jacket from a person, it will be a single person that risked their life that you can relate to on a one to one basis.

I can show you more pictures, but what I really want to know is if my dream is possible. I want to know if people that know me think it is real enough or if it was just a great dream.  I can find the resources, I can't find the hearts.

Let me know your thoughts.

and now the NYTs says this: 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

of Bagheria Sicily, Italy

On our second to last day, we decide to follow a tour book.  Lonely Planet to be exact.  And since it is close and we have no other plans, we head out to the train station and catch a bus to Bagheria, Sicily.

Sounds rather exotic.  It is not.  It is 3 kilometers from the train station.  The signs direct you to the longest path possible, while the street turns right and would take you directly to the piazza of art on the bay.  This is the one thing to see in Bagheria.

Since we followed the signs, we walked 3 kilometers out of the way.  That is a lot of steps, in case you want to know.

fishing boats of Sicily

The signs eventually say Aspra, which is apparently the city within the City of Bagheria.  We walk though neighborhoods, rich and poor.  Sometimes feeling uneasy, sometimes bored.  Then, we pass a tower and the remnants of a the villa of a woman who died in 1118 and whose tomb is still maintained by the local officials.  The gardens have seen better days and the walls are crumbling around them.

The most interesting part of this trip is how the three of us handle the loser choice that was made to come here.  First, there was not much blame, other than it was my choice.  Second, we all judged the neighborhoods by the trash in the street.  Third, when the scenery is the same the entire walk, people get bored.  Fourth, when the walk is long, people bitch.  Uphill, downhill, whining.  Then, we see the sea!
This is Not Bagheria but I needed a picture so this is one of Palermo Bay

I have to commend my travel companions.  For they could have trashed me badly for picking something out of the book.  But they didn't.  They did make many comments on the scenery and the trash and the dog poop, which I might add is everywhere in large cities in Europe.

Watch where you step.  Watch how you hold your bag.  Words of wisdom no matter where you travel.

Anyway, we go  to the coast finally, and it is beautiful.  If we had not already seen the Amalfi Coast, it would be very beautiful.  But we had.  So ten minutes in, the guys are ready to leave, commenting on the trash in the water on the "beach" of rocks.  Trash is very apparent when there is no distraction...

Another metaphor for life...

And now home to cook.  We have spaghetti from egg noodles that are "fresh" and new sauce from the Carrefour.  We have antipasta of salami, buffalo mozzarella and olives.  We have fresh bread and olive oil.  We have wine and most important, we have the digestive.

Licorice liquor.  It is is like licorice jet fuel.  And we  love the two sips.  We leave the half bottle behind as a token of our affection for the island. And we take the recipe book of Sicily so that we can make new memories at home.

Ciao Ciao Palermo and Bagheria.  Ciao Ciao!

of returning to work and things you wish you didn't have to do and not wanting to think about it too soon

The last day in Palermo brings great angst.  Last night, I dreamt of being back at work and having to tell my boss something he might perceive as unpleasant.  It was intermittently interrupted by loud music and this weird electrical sound outside my window.  But I digress.  (turns out the local primary school is outside my window and the wind instruments are playing.)

Today, we toured the Teatro Massimo, the third largest theatre in all of Europe.  To my great disappointment, it was built in honor of Umberto Primo, who has a statute gracing every harbor everywhere,  His statute here is large and prominent, surrounded by arches of the porto and by the sea.  Imagine my surprise to hear that he is displeased by the great theatre built for him.  He says Palermo is nothing and does not deserve such a theatre, and he never sets foot inside.

you truly have to be here to appreciate the immenseness

this is the ceiling and the painting are window that open to increase accoustics

Poor Umberto Primo.  For such a lucky man of war, he was an unlucky man of taste.  But fortunately, Al Capone did step inside.  Godfather III was filmed in the theatre.  In Spite of either of these two, the theatre is amazing.  Stepping inside is incredible and now that I know the King's box is available ( Umberto made it a public affair), I will not hesitate to try and book the best.  We have missed the opera, ballet, and other performing arts all by a day.  Such a poor planner I am.  And there are no last minute stand up seats in these theatres.  No these are for the noble, or at least those who can pay.

And in the boys will always be boys category, there is this duo who find the visual behind them hilarious.  It doesn't matter, 28 or 68, they all still have boyish humor!  Enough said on that!

We take off to see another piazza, not previously explored.  This is the plebicita, the parliament of yore.  The locals call it the "Champs Elysee " of the island. Regardless, it is a fine building with horses charging as if they would leave the building for the drivers. Hooves above your head, with brass green blazing their legs.  Down below, standard breds (or the Italian equivalent) trot through the street with carts behind.  These horses almost blind with blinders (sorry for the horse take on this) and hats, stupid beyond belief.  The traffic booming around, these horse take of trotting forward, and tour buses beside them.  I told my son, I would rather be a French dish.  I apologize for my perspective.  My horses have acreage and only one rider to respond to.  Theses poor guys, must go forth regardless of traffic, weather, or noise.  These horses are fed.  They have shoes, with wooden plates, I might add.  It is just a luxury in the US and not here.

Shopping.  Well, yes the last day should be about shopping.  We leave the piazza and head to the one wine store that I liked.  It turns out not to be a wine store, but a souvenir store.  Matters not, we buy the limoncello for our friends.  We buy balsalmic vinegar for those who don't drink.  We buy candy for those we aren't sure of.  We are thinking of you, not being here with us. And, while I am happy I can buy this for you, next time, I want you to come with me.

the monument for those who died because of the Mafia

science fair in a church of the 10th century

a pope in front of the cathedralle
our view from the deck

our veiw from the patio
I am thankful for Michele, our host.  He was most kind and most helpful.

I miss my husband, glad my daughter came, glad my one son came and thinking Lindsay could have made it, and the rest of you, we just need to decide to go!  Patrick, you live up to your Saint name. Our next destination is only one year away...


Saturday, November 7, 2015

rising to a tour day of Palermo and realizing how fun it can be

Today started out with a little plan, walk to the local monuments and then take a bus to Monreale.  Indeed, the best laid plans of mice, men and travelers in Palermo.

We took off left, towards the Cathedral and the Porto Nuovo.  North, I think.  (Turns out, North is to the water, and we were walking away from the water.)  We were on hoof and stopped at the patisserie across from the Cathedral. Cattedrale.  An espresso and a cappuccino, three pastries later and we were good to go.  The cathedral is surrounded by a garden and sort of it's own piazza.  We saunter across the gardens and into the church.  An incredibly large and combination byzantine and Norman architecture, it rises above and towers over every other thing in the city.    We entered into the Catthedrale, thinking it would be a long chute, just like every other church.  Instead, it is an overwhelming entrance into the "Walter of the Mill" church.  Walter commissioned the Cathedral to be his power base.  Unfortunately, it took centuries to complete.  And Walter lost to the the glories of William the second in Monreale.  Poor Walter, I don't even think he lived long enough to know he was out done.
I think this is all for the Madonna

the saints are depicted on the columns of the church.  My mother was confirmed after Saint Olivia

 Strolling the the cathedral, I don't take photos very lightly.  First, I am catholic, and feel like I should be genuflecting at every turn, second because I can't find the holy water.  There are turns every 30 feet for a new alter and a new dead leader of the church.  The latest is still in the very new tomb for show.  Ted's translation is that the cardinal was killed by the mafia and now is up for sainthood.  In spite of one's beliefs, the church, the Catholic Church, if you were raised in it, still holds an unbelievable power and mystery.

There is another tour, one for money, that lets you into the crypts and the roof.  Corbett wanted to be on the roof, but Ted could not do it.  I said I would.  I cannot tell you which one made me more weak, but I am so glad that Corbett was with me.  First, we paid our seven euros, then descended down to the treasury and the vaults and the crypts.  The treasuries were much like those of France.  Each pope, cardinal and bishop commissions a ring, a pen, a pin, a vesture ornament, a hat - all filled with jewels.  The wealth of the Cathedralle is amazing.  Elizabeth Taylor has nothing on these guys.  The interesting thing is  the rings all look like they are for very fat fingers, but the bodies outlined on the crypts are small and thin.  When we descended down to the crypt, I cannot lie, I had to do the sign of the cross twice.  Once for me and once for Corbett.  Ted stayed above ground.  I started getting creeped out, then we got to the pope that had his image on top of the crypt.  He had a leg cocked up, showing all his wares, his head on his elbow, a book in his hand, his sword and helmet beside him.  He could not have looked more comfortable.  I, on the other hand, started realizing how far beneath the street I was and needed to escape quickly.  While waiting for Corbett to come up the stairs, I took photos of the ceiling, which I am guessing was a good 75 feet above me.
looking up from the crypt entrance.

The last of the tour is the trip to the roof.  And they mean the roof.  You climb 110 steps in a very tiny spiral staircase to the roof. Once there, a person directs you to the walkway.  The alternative is a step on the tiled roof and then the ground 150 feet below.   Management  changed the pitch of the roof to a flat walkway 3 feet wide with flexible iron handled rails across the top.  The walk on the roof was fine, mostly as I was winded from the climb.  When we got to the dome, 75 feet along, my blood was back and so was my imbalance.  I clung to a corner which you see between the corners of this dome picture.  I encouraged Corbett to take photos, not realizing he would actually do it.  He went off and my back was plastered against the dome, slightly above the little minuet spires.  Corbett finally came back and we started again across the roof.  This time I held his shirt as if my life depended on it.  That is because it did!. He was mostly kind, but did stop to take another panoramic (really!!!) while were on the way back to the tiny spiral staircase.

Luckily on the way down there were two little boys talking behind me.  I don't speak Italian, but when they started counting: ono, due, tre, sounded so familiar!  So they counted in Italian, and I counted in French.  It was all fine till they got to novanta, and I had to switch to quatre vingt dix.   I realized they keep counting in tens and I had to switch to four twenties and a ten.  No matter, mil a onse and we are down!  I am no longer hostage to the depths or heights of the cathedral!  

It is truly beautiful and the treasury of the church is filled with riches beyond  belief.  It is amazing the jewels summoned by the reigning catholic official.  I don't know that I would recommend you come to Palermo for this, but if you do come to Palermo, please see this.  I leave the roof trip up to you, especially if you don't bring your own Corbett.

Tis the largest church we have been in since Rome

We left the church and went through the Porto Nuova which is an arch welcoming one to the city.

 We decided to try and go to Monreale Mountain, but it was closed by the clouds.  Then we walked to the piazza Indipendenza.     There we caught a tourist bus around the city.  It was a fun open top, we never do this tour.  We learned where the opera's were and the history of the city piazzas.  We saw places we might not have walked to like Teatro Politeama.  We jumped off at the Fountain of Shame.  Which in my opinion, the only shame is the painting and graffiti on the sides of the monuments.

Fountain of  shame

If I haven't lost you by now, the next adventure is to the  Teatro Massimo.  We eat at a local cafe and then look at the theater which is the third largest in Europe.  The stairs have a nun mystery to them that involves the second step.  But to learn about it cost euros and we decide we have learned quite enough from nuns already.  there is a place that reminds me of my husband near the front door.

Lastly, I want to go to the Carrefour, which for anyone who hasn't been to Publix, is the Europe equivalent.  So I am sure that I know where it is, as google is in my hand and two men are following me.  We get to a juncture and one of my party says left, and I say google says right and we make a giant circle to the place where we were before.  And then I must acquiesce the google to the map and we arrive before google says we will.

Wine, cheese and  Limoncello gifts later, we are walking back to our splendid apartment.  How nice to have three bathrooms!  Until tomorrow, Ciao!