Wonderful Island Ceramic Artist

There are many great and talented artists on this island.  Two summers ago I had the opportunity to do a little morning workshop at the ceramic studio of Evelien Sipkes.  She is an amazing ceramic artist and creator of wonderful art pieces that can grace your tables or grace your person.  This was a new experience for me,  as I am a visual artist, working primarily in paint and pastel.

It was a humbling experience and I  didn’t do very well that first time. But it was fun and I knew once my health was better I wanted to try again.

On a trip to Bogota in May, to support my friend with her knee replacement surgery, she happened to mention that Evelien conducted weekly classes at her studio and you can sign up any time.  So once I was back I made contact and bingo, I was in.

flower ceramicMy work is humble.  After 8 weeks of learning many things, my only finished piece is this little flower weight to put on paper napkins so they don’t blow away.  Was this my plan, to create this delicate little flower?  No.  But art is a creative process and sometime you don’t know where it will take you.  So you just go with it and see what develops.

I had grand plans.  I thought I could create a necklace for my friend that was leaving the island.  Something original, of the island, for her.  But that didn’t quite work out.  So off I went to see what Evelien had on display in her home/studio.

1-20160615_085211I found this interesting looking sculpture and for several weeks I would go in and look at it at the end of every class.  I wasn’t sure what it was but I liked the soft greys and blues, because it reminded me of my friend, cool and elegant person that she is.   Finally Evelien had time at the end of a class and we talked about her work that was on display.  Much to my surprise, this pillar is actually a necklace. As Evelien unwound it for me, I just knew this was the piece for my friend.

 

 

 

 

2-20160615_085254Yesterday I was able to give it to her before she leaves our little island and returns to Europe.  She is a kind and lovely lady.  Very dedicated to her family and always with a lovely smile to greet you.  She has lived on the island twice but she does not see living her again. So it was a sad and emotional farewell process for her and it can take its toll.  She was a bundle of nerves when she dropped by to say farewell.

As she unwound her gift, she just seemed to calm down.  Art is a powerful tool sometimes to let someone just be in the moment with the wonder of the work. This seemed to be working for her. She relaxed, she was animated about the necklace and she loved it. She knows Evelien’s work and she loved the concept of this sitting on her bureau as a reminder of Curacao, but also as something very elegant that she can wear.

I am looking forward to seeing photos of her wearing this with wonderful sweaters.

Art is a healing agent.  I always enjoy exploring the work of the artists on this island.  I have acquired several pieces from different artists, that I will be taking back to Canada with me.  I always try to take our guests to the galleries and any openings or shows for artists, and  I look forward to showing our friends back home the wonderful work of the artists of Curacao.  And Yes, I do have a piece of Evelien’s work for myself.  Guilty pleasures!!!

Hospital History

This island was developed by the Dutch for the Dutch and the local black population.  It’s services, from their health care to the road systems, are designed to work for everyone.  The way things function, the rules for how things are done, the jobs that are created by the processes and services; are all there to meet the needs of everyone.

The island has a few small hospital/health centers that provide long term care, ambulatory care and testing services such as exray and blood tests.  There are also clinics of health professionals and in particular specialists in various health disciplines.

But the main hospital is Saint Elizabeth General Hospital.  It was established in 1855 and over the past 2 years a brand new facility has been under construction in Outrabanda ( one of the downtown areas), very close to the old hospital.   The old, very old building houses wards, and specialist clinics and testing services.  The professionals, nurses and doctors that work at the hospital are all very well trained.   The level of care is excellent, alth0ugh the number of specialists in any given area are very few, causing exhausting wait lists for appointments and stressful careers for the few doctors that work here.

But I wanted to talk about the old hospital.  This grand old building is falling apart in many ways, shutters are broken, wings have been deserted, and there is no airco anywhere in the old building except in the enclosed waiting areas and testing/lab facilities.  I was there today for various reasons and I have been in this old building before, but I really hadn’t stopped to really look at the architectural details of the place.  There are only 2 floors to the facility and no elevator, so if you can’t walk up the stairs someone has to carry you.   The stair cases and rotunda are studies in art deco and old world stained glass.   There are many very interesting elements to this old facility and I was hoping it would be preserved.

One of the security staff told me it wasn’t going to be demolished but he didn’t know what was to become of it.  I hope it is preserved for the historical significance it represents and that new life is breathed into its rooms and corridors.  Maybe someone in my blog followers can add some more details about the hospital and its history and details.  That would be grand.

For now, if you are in Outrabanda and want to take some interesting photos try a walk around at the old St. Elizabeth Hospital.  It’s worth the trip.

 

 

 

 

 

Bird Bath

This is an island that gets very little rain.  And when it does rain, it lasts for a few seconds or maybe minutes.  So a real down pour is rare.

We have doves all over the island.  There are 3 types of doves, the white tipped, the eared and the common ground doves. Around our place the white tipped is the most common.  We see them everywhere.  I have taken to providing seed for them, so they have grown in numbers accordingly.  Our little dog loves to chance them, but it’s just a harmless exercise in intimidation.

The last great rain we had was about 9 months ago.  We are in need of rain again, as the island is very brown and grey right now.  I think the doves are looking forward to their annual bath as well.  I caught this dove on a wire outside our property during the last rain, just reveling in  this particular downpour.  It lasted about 10 minutes and this bird along with a few others on the line where really into it.  Fluffing out their feathers, spreading their tail feathers and turning towards the direction of the rain to get the water under their wings and onto their bellies.  Once they were happy with the bath, a quick final flick and they went back to just sitting in the rain.  Satisfaction.

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The Hats

Since my first days on the island, the relentless heat of the sun brings out the best in my hat wearing habit.  I have loved hats since I was a teen. With my first real job and paycheck in hand,  I bought a great soft blue/green cloche that I wore at every opportunity I could find.  Over the years, when hats where in fashion, many years ago, I would always have a wonderful hat to go with my winter coat.

But in the heat of the southern Caribbean, a hat keeps the sun off your face and that is important.  Not only keeping you cool but protecting your skin.  So the bigger the better.

beach hat v1My first hat was a great wide brimmed white number that I used for the “Beach Hat Shoot”  in my first year on the island.  We have a wonderful photographer in our ladies group that loves the innovative opportunities that we (girls) provide for her to take great pictures. This one lead my  FB page for many months, because it so captured my bliss of being on this island.  I have worn that hat to many beaches and countries.  It is a sad crumpled thing now, but I can’t seem to part with it.

 

the white queen hatAs hats go, I have been challenged to ‘build’ hats from time to time for the various fun theme events that our fearless and crazy leader throws our way.  This one never got its fair exposure. It was for the Mad Hatter Tea Party and I was going as the White Queen (chess piece).  I had my picture taken to send to the group, because I was going to miss the event.   The hat went along and was given to the daughter of one of our members.  I think she wore it at the party.

the hat shotAnd now we have the hat of all hats.  At the latest Beach Party held at Santa Barbara Resort, we were greeted by the local iguana star.  He is very people friendly and hangs around the beach looking for handouts and generally hamming for the camera.  I am wearing  my latest great sun shield, the deep blue wide brimmed squishy hat, that obviously caught the eye of the iguana.  He was sitting in the tree right behind our table when he decided to step onto my head.  He was ready for his shot, and he looked directly into the camera.  Definitely a candidate for the Royal Ascot Horse Race.  We loved him so much we gave him a name, Elton.  Do we need to say more…

photos courtesy of: Gail C Johnson and PM Knight

Threads and Beads

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There are many ways to express yourself creatively on this island.  There are art classes, pottery classes, ceramic classes, dance classes, plein aire painting projects and it goes on and on.  So I should not have been surprised that there are little hidden stores with great supplies if you just know where to look.  But knowing where to look, requires input from the local residents by simply asking, “where can I find such and such”.

I’ve been taking ceramic classes from a wonderful woman, Evelien Sipkes.  She is a reknowned  ceramic artist.  Her work is fine and detailed.  She loves to make necklaces, however many of her necklaces are art pieces and not really to be worn every day.

But I digress.  I have been making ceramic pieces for a necklace, a somewhat tendious, detailed and finicky work that my hands are not well suited towards anymore.  But I am determined to finish it even if it does look like something created by a 10 year old.  I needed to find leather strips for beading or hemp string and other items needed for necklace building.  One of the wonderful women in class said try Caribelle Arts and Crafts.  The shop is tiny buy packed with lots of materials.

Lorna, the owner, has plenty of embroidery threads and ribbons, and beads for days.  Plus a whole wall of seed beads for hand embroidery.  She has wool and other yarns for knitting and crochet.  And she has beads. Did I mention that already?  Loads of beads.5-20160526_144132 4-20160526_144046

Lorna is a lovely woman and her husband helps out in their little store operation.  She has been doing this for many years and she said the locals know where she is and she finds Facebook is all the advertising she needs.  Because, I found her didn’t I?

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You can find them on google maps as well.  I always love it when I discover the undercurrent of many interesting hobbies and businesses that are nested throughout the island.  Just another great adventure in island living.

 

 

Entrepreneur and Chef – Jans Francke

Landhuis Daniel is situated about 15 minutes outside Willemstad, on the road to Westpunt.  Jans refers to his business as a restaurant with a few hotel rooms.  Since the building dates back to the early 1700s and was built as a private residence, it’s not that large.  Only 7 rooms to let, plus to small apartments in a separate building.

Landhuis Daniel has had many lives.  Like all landhuis’s on the island, there is a rich history that often goes unrecorded.  For example, the landhuis was originally build by Captain Daniel Ellis, an officer in the West Indian Company.  There are very few written records from the 1700s so not much documentation to tell what happened to the property, who it was sold to and why it ended up deserted and in ruins by the middle of the 20th century.

What we do know, is that around 1975 it was rebuilt and used by a German diving operation to house divers that came to Curacao on diving expeditions.  This lasted only a few years.  It changed hands a few times, then became a small hotel again in 1989, when Jans visited Curacao for the first time. He feel in love and over the next 4 years visited the island many times. He bought the landhuis in 1993 and completely gutted the inside, rebuilt the second floor rooms and washrooms, built a commercial quality kitchen, new plumbing, a swimming pool and covered veranda for the restaurant and a new roof.

The Chef

Jans comes from good farm stock.  His father was a farmer who sent his son to university.  Jans became a biologist and worked in research at a university in southern Holland.  But he wasn’t happy and he missed the land, and the independence of working for yourself, as his father had done.  So he quit the university, left his options for tenure, and started a restaurant. He liked to cook although he claims he didn’t really know how to cook at the time.  But his restaurant flourished because he got all his produce from his father’s farm.  He picked it up every morning, freshly harvested, and cooked it up for his clients that night.  Long before organic eating was a trend, Jans was serving organic food in his restaurant.  Over time, he learned his craft from other great chefs that he invited to come to his restaurant and cook with food fresh from his father’s farm.  It was appealing because this was just at the cusp of the organic food movement.

He proceeded to open several other restaurants in Holland, and continued to build his success and reputation.  He became a real foodie, and was recognized for his innovation in organic farming that he developed with his father.  Finding those varieties of green vegetables that could grow quickly, spoke to his biology background.  And so he thrived.

How did he get to Curacao?  Well it was a fluke.  He was taking his best client on a trip, very spur of the moment.  The travel agent had 12 hours to find a location and hotel for them.  How about Curacao?  Sounds good, never been there, so why not. The hotel was Landhuis Daniel.  As it turned out they were the first customer for the new owner of the Landhuis, that was in 1989.  4 years later he bought the place.

The Entrepreneur

Landhuis Daniel has it own 2 acres of green vegetable crops.  This is a desert island, so growing green leafy vegetables in this soil is impossible.  Several truck loads of fresh, rich earth were imported and spread 2 feet deep over 2 acres to start the gardens.  Some of his starter plants are in a screened green house, but once they sprout they are in the ground in the fields.  At first it was fairly easy to grow tender greens because there was a sweet water well on the property to water the plants, several times a day. . But over time, the well has dried up and now Jans has to truck in fresh water every week for the gardens.  It is very expensive, so he has cut back his production some what.

During the hay days, when Jans’ marketing partner was selling the produce in the city to fine dining restaurants and Albert Hein Food Market, he had a thriving garden complex.  But his partner died suddenly a few years back, and since then the business has cut back to about 10 restaurants plus the grocery store.  Jans is happy with that.  He has fresh produce for his restaurant, which is his first love.  And the other business is keeping his agricultural staff employed, which is the most important thing to Jans.  He is committed to his staff, who are local and dependant upon these jobs for survival.

But with a wry smile he told me how his example has given others on the island the inspiration to start organic farms as well. A few have popped up and they supply restaurants that once where Jens’ clients.  But he isn’t bitter, he is proud that he has inspired entrepreneurial enterprise on the island.

Landhuis Daniel Restaurant serves great fresh salads, amongst other things, from the freshest greens right out of his garden.  The food is delicious.  Of course, we all love his Dutch pancakes as well.  Traditional Dutch fare and very yummy.  The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Be sure to check out their website to see their menu. http://Landhuis Daniel .

Before I close, I must comment about the lush vegetation all around the landhuis patio and out buildings.  It’s the handy work of Yvelisie, Jans’ wife.  She feeds and cares for the most amazing plants.  So thick and green and healthy as well as plenty of starter plants all over the place, in little corners.  Obviously a labour of love.

 

What a Difference a Year Makes

A year ago my husband and I were filled with nervous excitement has we looked forward to 2014, living in a new country, far away from friends and our very happy life.  It was a leap of faith and it has been a year of discovering new things about ourselves.  Oh I had a little pain in my neck that I thought was a pulled muscle. Not anything to be concerned about.
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What the year has brought, is a year of abundant travel.  Some for pleasure and some for medical help. We have been to Bogota, Columbia; Toronto, Canada; Gastineau, Québec; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Uguazu Falls and Montevideo, Uruguay.  All for pleasure. And then there were the journeys to try and figure out what is wrong with my neck.  Trips to Toronto, Canada again; Barranquilla, Columbia; Miami, Florida and finally to Columbus, Georgia where I finally found diagnosis and treatment for my problems which have turned out to be more than I ever expected.
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I expected to be walking and trekking around the island taking tons of pictures.  No, I can’t carry the camera equipment.  I thought I would be snorkelling every day.  No, I don’t have the stamina to do this even every weekend. Then, I thought I would be alone with my troubles.  No, I found a wonderful group of women that provide support and friendship.  We are all ex-pats from many countries and we lunch every week and help each other with moral support and emotional support.

My husband, who works at least 10 hours a day, comes home and often finds me drained from my day, with no dinner ready. He never hesitates to suggest we go out for dinner, or get takeout. He walks the dog alone, something we usually like to do together; he fills the water canister for the coffee maker every morning before he leaves, he is loving and understanding.
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As I enter another year in Curacao, I am very happy to be here.  Although my body and mind are suffering from this stage of my life, I couldn’t ask to be in a better place.  I’m grateful for my new friends and  for my old friends back home that always check on me with care and kindness.  I’m doing my best to see the positive aspects of life.  My concentration is lessened, my hands shake all the time, my muscles are always twitching,  I’m taking a considerable amount of drugs and I don’t see this changing.

So this is my last blog entry on Curacao Life. I can’t find the funny stories to tell at this time. I hope you have enjoyed my little stories and funny antics. Maybe, when things settle down I will be back…

May 2015 be a year of joy and excitement for all my blog followers.  Thank you for following me.

Columbus – Lake Country

If you look at a geographic map of Muskogee County you will see it’s filled with rivers and small lakes. These are surrounded by walking parks and housing. It’s all very much country, in the city. I’ve been exploring these lovely parks and lakes. Here are some pictures of one of my favourites.
Heath Park

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Heath Park, on a cold fall day, the park surrounds a small fresh water lake.

The woods are filled with towering ponderosa pines.  Their needles drop in the fall. They are as long as elephant eyelashes.  Nestled in the leaves are many beautiful pine cones.

The woods are filled with towering ponderosa pines. Their needles drop in the fall. They are as long as elephant eyelashes. Nestled in the leaves are many beautiful pine cones.

White Ibis flock hunched along the sand bar.  They were skittish.

White Ibis flock hunched along the sand bar. They were skittish.

It wouldn't take much, just a little movement along the trail and they took off into the trees.

It wouldn’t take much, just a little movement along the trail and they took off into the trees.

Sunshine trail on another day along the Heath Trail.  Towering pines.

Sunshine trail on another day along the Heath Trail. Towering pines.

Leaves are down. It's a park with just a few walkers and most of those with their dogs.

Leaves are down. It’s a park with just a few walkers and most of those with their dogs.

Shadow Play

Shadow Play

Southern Culture – Cheer It On

The Georgia State Cheerleading Championships were held in Columbus last week.  Many large tour buses arrived in the city loaded with high energy girls ( and a few boys), coaches, costumes and support staff.  At my hotel, we had a team arrive with 25 girls and their coaches.  If one has never seen team cheerleading, here’s a sample of what it’s all about.  It’s a visual experience.  It’s an auditory experience.  It’s a visceral – heart pumping, palm sweating, stand up and cheer – experience.

 The championship was held in the Columbus Civic Center. A large circular sports arena, typical layout with flanks of seating fanning up from the performance floor.  As I entered the arena to buy my ticket I could hear cheering, loud and raucous.  Girls in outfits, parents, friends, school colleagues, teaming around the concourse.  Two computer stations with hi-res image screens gave the competitors the opportunity to see pictures of their performance.  They could order images, send them to their smartphones, email them to parents, grandparents, boyfriends, whomever they wished. It was organized chaos.

I made my way into the stands to watch the competition.  The stands were packed. Sections where ‘owned’ by different teams.  Finding a seat was a little challenging because an empty seat didn’t necessarily mean it was available. But someone took a little pity on me as I was rejected further and further up into the stands, and I got an aisle seat. Very cool!
The competition was already under way.  Each performance is about 3-4 minutes long.  There is loud music playing, their is incredible cheering from the support team in the stands. And everyone stands and cheers and waves flags, signs and pompoms. One school section even had large (like 3 foot) face images of their team members, that they rotated while they cheered them on.  It was quite amazing.
The athletic ability of the each and every member of a team is on stage.  They are pumped. They are yelling and cheering each other on.  They give it everything they have.  The lifts, where 3 or 4 team members lift a girl in the air and then she performs some body bending manoeuvre that is true gymnastics, in time with other groups and interacting with each other and to the music.  All a choreographed performance, with timing to burn. Whew! The best part, for me,  was at the end of every performance the team members hug each other. Everyone hugs at least one other person before they leave the floor.  No one is excluded. They are a team!
And then  ‘My Team’ was up and I had to stand as well, of course. Let’s make a lot of noise! It was great fun!
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To get to the state championships, the schools compete within their regions.  There are 451 schools competing across the state and there are over 10 levels, depending on the size of the school and the size of team. At the state level there were 45 regions represented and I couldn’t figure out exactly how many teams where there, but way more that 45 is the right answer.

Once they get to the State championship, they first compete again within their level.  The levels each have their own winner.  The larger teams go on to compete at the national level. It was all very foreign to me, so I was told things I just didn’t understand. So I’ll leave at this.. Lots of teams… lots of levels… lots of cheering.

As I was leaving the morning rounds, there was a group of people camped outside the arena.  It was cold, an arctic blast had hit the city and for Georgia, it was darn cold and windy.  I couldn’t understand why these people were sitting in the cold, wrapped in sleeping bags and blankets.  So I stopped and asked a couple of ladies.  It turns out that these are the dedicated parents and team supporters waiting for the FINALS gate to open at 2pm.  Their teams had made it thru to the finals and they wanted to secure a section of seats for the cheer support group.  So here they were, sitting in the cold. Most of them had been there since 9am.  What happens is that, after the morning sessions are finished, the arena is cleared, the gates reopened for the afternoon competition at 2pm.  Getting a good location in the seats was key, I was told.  So here they were, freezing, and supporting their girls and their team.  Dedication!

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Hello..Anyone Here?

 

Columbus Georgia is named after Christopher Columbus.  Who knew?  There is a wonderful bronze statue depicting Columbus on his return to Spain.  He arrived in court with a parrot on his shoulder to show the Queen that the new lands he discovered present a multitude of opportunities, represented by the many colours of the parrot. This statue sits along the Chattahoochee River Walk.

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Columbus was incorporated as a city in 1828.  It was well planned with very straight streets and avenues mapped against the curvature of the river which was the lifeblood of the community.  Many paddle boats and shipping took place on this river. But I digress.

The River Walk is a beautiful walkway with many benches along the way, picnic areas and plenty of room for picnics and family fun. I was looking forward to my  exploration of the walk.  In town on Broadway, the main street, there is a bike store. They offer nice wide seat bikes for non bikers at a great rate, $10 for the whole day.  Just what I needed, since its been many years since I rode a bike.  Ride on Bikes is staffed by very friendly guys making sure the bike was the right size for me.  So I was off. It’s a short 3 blocks to the entrance to the River Walk.

It’s lovely Chattahoochee River Walk, as you can see from these pictures, is very picturesque. But most of these shots cover only the main entrance way.  The real beauty is the 27 miles of trails along the river that welcome walkers and bike riders, baby strollers and fishermen.  It was a Saturday afternoon.  The sky was slightly overcast but the temperature was around 60F and there was  no wind. A great day for a bike ride.  But there wasn’t anybody there.  A few squirrels running down the path, a couple of boys on bikes passed me, two guys heading to the river to fish.  That was it.  I had the whole trail to myself.

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Fall is just beginning to turn the colour on the leaves.  Its mid November, but there are still trees with green leaves.  Obviously starting to lose their colour as the sun sets earlier and the intensity diminishes their food source.  But such a lovely place. Peaceful, hushed, lovely.

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Where the river meets the town, there is an old cotton mill and a water pumping system that controls the flow of the river when the river is high. It’s a grand structure next to the water rapids. Ancient and lovely.

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I had a great ride.  There are many miles to explore.  I didn’t go all the way south.  If I did I would have ended up at Ft. Benning. This large military base has been a part of Columbus since the early 1800’s.  It’s now one of the largest military bases in the USA. Major deployment center and training center.  It’s an important economic support for this town of about 200,000 people.  It’s a lay back place, with friendly people, and an easy life style.  I just can’t figure out why no one was on the River Walk on such a great Saturday afternoon in November.  Here’s my ride.🙂 If you ever travel to Columbus, check it out. It’s really worth it!

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That Trend Has Come and Gone

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I’m in Georgia again for some health reasons.  I’m here for a little while so I’m ensconced in all thinks American.  The first surprise is the size of things you drink.  Ask for a water, a tanker glass is delivered.  In Curacao its difficult to even get a very small glass of water with your meal and if you don’t ask it won’t be refilled.  I always find that strange because it’s so hot there and water seems like an immediate need whenever you are dining.  But in good ole USA, BIG WATER..

The other surprise is getting a ‘regular’ bottle of beer.  The beer in Curacao is small, one might say Coronita size.  It’s common to get a beer at a restaurant that is around 8 oz.  So when my hubby ordered a beer and got a ‘real’ size he was a little surprised but pleased. But then I decided to treat myself to something different and ordered some fruity, rum drink.  I was GOB-smacked when it came.  It was the size of a small fish bowl.  But thankfully it was mostly ice. So I did manage to finish it.

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So I was out for a meal last night.  Healthy fish dish, no bread or potatoes, with a lovely spaghetti squash.  I decided that since I have been going to the gym every day since I arrive, I deserved a little treat.  Key Lime Pie and a Capo please.  Sorry ma’am (another southern trait that makes me feel very matronly), no Key Lime Pie. I looked at the very young helpful waiter and said, ‘ Really, no Key Lime Pie? Doesn’t everyone serve Key Lime Pie in the South?”. He looked at me with a tiny bit of disdain, ‘ Well that used to be true, but that trend has come and gone… cheesecake perhaps?’

Ok I’m getting old…when Key Lime Pie has Come and Gone…. Really?… Life is over.

 

Timeless – Not Really

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This is an island.  There is sun shine every day.  There is no focus on weather because weather is pretty much the same every day.  If you look at a weather trend for Curacao it looks like a tiny wavy line, always between 28 and 32; night versus day. It is windy most of the time and sometimes we get a little rain.  I’m not trying to brag about the situation here, I’m merely setting the stage.  One would think that in a country like Curacao, there is no concept of time. This may be supported by the lack of ‘hurrying’ here. One does not hurry in a place that is so warm.  I really get that one.  It’s hot and in the heat of the day, one does not hurry or one will melt!

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But time is very present here.  Time is measured throughout the day in the most wonderful of ways.  I have never been anywhere in my many travels were everyone you see on the street will greet you with an appropriate greeting for the time of the day.

In the early morning, just after sun rise, but before the day really gets going – ‘Moru’ – is the appropriate greeting. It is said when ever you are passing anyone, often with a head nod. It is often the exchange with the guard at the gate, as you leave for your day.

When the morning sun is up, the greeting turns to ‘Bon Dia’, which means  ‘Good Day’. And if it’s the beginning of the week, ‘Bon Siman’ is added, which means ‘have a good week’.  Faces are bright and cheery and this greeting expresses the joy of the start of a new week.  This is said to complete strangers freely and willingly, and if you don’t comply in return it is considered rude.

Then something magical happens. There seems to be an inner clock with islanders that triggers the greeting change to ‘Bon Tardi’ when the clock turns noon.  I have been at the grocery story waiting in line and seen the cashiers go from ‘Bon Dia’ to ‘Bon Tardi’, from one shopper to the next, with no obvious searching for a clock or watch.  I am all ready with my ‘Bon Dia’ greeting only to be responded with ‘Bon Tardi’.  It is important to the locals that you use the right greeting.  I always correct myself and I’m greeted with a smile.

Evening arrives, once again greetings change to ‘Bon Noche’ which means ‘Good Evening’.  But not too soon.  The sun has to have set and I don’t know how they know exactly when that happens, but they do.  It can still be light, but the sun must be down.  And when the evening is ending and you are heading home the greeting changes again to ‘ Pasa a bon anochi’ –  which means ‘Have a good rest of your evening’ – or ‘good night’.

So every day is measured out with these lovely greetings.  It makes the days not seem so much the same.  It keeps you ‘in the moment’ in a very lovely way.  And at the end of the week, ‘Bon Dia, Bon Weekend’ is on everyone’s lips, again with that infectious smile.

Yes time passes, but time is measured and that’s just fine with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What does ‘Local Food’ Mean on an Island

We just had a couple visiting from Canada and they were just a little shocked at the sticker price of food here.  If you don’t like fruits and vegetables, it can be shocking.  Everything packaged is imported, mostly from Europe but also from the US, which means import by sea.  There are some processed foods that come from South America, like Venezuela and Columbia. Most northerners don’t know the products so, they don’t explore the options.  All the labels are in Dutch or Spanish.

What is Local?  Well, we have green houses here that produce fresh greens every day to the large super markets.  Things like onions, kale, spinach, herbs  (oh so many wonderful herbs), tomatoes, peppers  small peppers, almost like baby peppers, (core them and cook them whole) all kinds of green lettuce, water lettuce, red lettuce all very fresh.  I have discovered a few great greens that are high in iron like chard, arugula.  And you know it’s really fresh when the onion tops look like this.

wpid-img_20141017_122726.jpg  Right out of the ground and still round and firm.  Wonderful.  And then there is this great discovery.  This is celery.  Yes, very leafy with tiny stems, but such a rich celery flavour.  Island Celery, that’s what I call it. The leave keep firm for exactly one day.
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The other ‘local’ source is Venezuela.  We are 40 short miles from the shore and everyday the fruit and vegetable boats arrive in the harbour filled with melons, papaya, HUGE avocado, and lots of other wonders.  I consider this local as well, certainly within the 100 mile concept.  The prices are great, and if you can see the prices, remember they are in guilders, so divide by 2.

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The papayas, which are one of my favourite fruits, come in 3 forms.  Local, island grown. They tend to be smaller with less seeds and firmer meat.  Venezuelan yellow skins. Sweet, wonderful and plentiful.  And then there are green papaya.  I’ve been fooled by the green ones, thinking like a northerner, that I can let it ripen at home.  Well it is ripe already and it’s meant for cooking, used in soups and stews.

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Did I mention herbs?  Oh yes, this is fresh basil.  So fresh, the whole corner were it was displayed filled the area with  sweet aroma.

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There is lots of incentive to eat well with an abundance of fresh food if you just look for it and use it quickly.  The shelf life is short, so frequent trips to the grocery story is needed to ensure what you eat as fresh as possible.  It takes a little time to ‘get with the program’ but it is possible to eat well at reasonable prices but if it’s still not cheap.  There are a few big box options but again, not really a bargain compared to home.

But the sun shines every day.  The pool is 5 steps away. Really, what is there to complain about?

Ship Graveyard..Really

As  mentioned in an earlier blog, we toured the Paranha Delta, north of Buenos Aires, to experience the cottage country atmosphere of the region.  This is the northern end of the Paranha River which feeds the River Plata, the big shipping river with major ports in Buenos Aires and Montevideo bringing major shipping redistribution to the region.

The locals will tell you that the Spanish explorers thought they had found the route to the Pacific Ocean when the river was first discovered in the 16th century.  But they soon discovered that this was not true and that the River Plata, as it is known today,  forms the broad mouth of several rivers converging inland and flowing to the Atlantic. This river system is the second largest in South America.  No. 1, is the Amazon, of course.

But much to my dismay, it seems that the Paranha Delta is not only the cottage play land of the rich and middle class, it’s also the place where ships are literally dumped on the shore line. A apologize for the black lines in these photos,  but the  pictures were taken from inside the cruise boat and the fact that I couldn’t get them within the window frames gives you an idea of just how large these ships are.

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At first, I thought this was just one ship maybe caught by bad weather, but when we turned another corner, in a quiet little cove, this monstrosity was sitting there rusting away.

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I don’t understand how this is allowed to happen.  But it speaks to something gone awry in the economy and may be a reflection of the hard times experienced here since the start of the 21st century.  Certainly Argentina’s economy is tenuous as reflected by the blue market for currency exchange.

So one more sad note.  What the heck is this?  It’s made of concrete and it was dumped along the shore line.  I have no idea how or why it’s here, but it is sad don’t you think?

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Buenos Aires – Cottage Country

We’ve been off-island again, exploring South America.  This time we were in Buenos Aires and Montevideo.  More on Uruguay in another post.  This blog is about something very traditional in Canada, cottage country.  In some parts of the country it may be referred to as; the cabin retreat, going to the mountains, off to the island beaches, escape to the north, the fishing cabin, or the cottage retreat, but whatever you call it, it’s that place families go on the weekend to get away from the rush of city life.

No different in Buenos Aires. A bustling capital of 4,5 million.  A center of commerce, government and banking.  Tightly packed city streets and high rise development along the waterfront.  Sounds like home to me.  So we were very pleased when our guide suggested a day on the Paranha River Delta, about 40 minutes north of the city.

A quick geology lesson.  The Paranha River is the widest river in the world.  It forms the River Plata which opens to the Atlantic Ocean.  The delta is broad and long with many elluvial deposits ( basically sand bars) that have been turned into cottage retreats.  The access is only by water.  Now, one would think those shifting sands would sweep the cottages away, but the locals have planted pine and popular trees throughout the delta to secure the sands with the deep roots of the trees. So even when the winds blow from the east and drive the waters over the grass and delicate shore lines, the homes stay because the trees protect them.

Here’s a video I found that shows the shore line when the waters are normal. On our little trip on the waters, the scene was quite different. The waters where deep into the shore line and many gardens around the houses had 4-5 inches ofwater.  Hip waders must be a common fashion statement here.

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But the cottages were really something else. Yes, there were some lovely homes, but I have to say that the majority of the cottages were very small and likely very old.  Some were faded and worn, others had a fresh coat of paint, making their own fashion statement,  ‘ I may be small but I’m proud.’

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The houses are built on stilts to protect them from the flooding.  However, the angle of some of the roof lines seems to indicate they may be losing ground, so to speak.

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The rivers are the roadways of the delta.  All transportation is by water.  There are market boats that deliver goods to the cottages.

wpid-img_20141010_113639-1.jpgThey troll the waterways looking for someone on the dock waiting to pickup propane, fresh water or food supplies; and its not all by chance either.  All the cottages, every single one of them, has a name.  There are no streets or numbers, just the name of the cottage. So the market boat may get a call that cottage, wpid-img_20141010_105334-1.jpg needs propane.  And so the transaction is done.  Of course there are corner stores where you can get gas for your boat, along with simple supplies. wpid-img_20141010_113538-1.jpg
An interesting look into a part of the local lifestyle.This particular location on the delta is anchored by a small town called Tigre. Typical cottage town, with a fresh food market, and the never ending stalls of trinkets and trash for the tourists. The delta boat cruise business is alive and well here and I’m sure it’s an important element in their economy, along with the casino and amusement park, which I didn’t bother to cover because its the same old…same old…

Mangroves and Coral Reefs – a Marriage

Mangroves are often referred to as swamp trees or shrubs. But they aren’t the only trees in swamps and swamps can be fresh water or salt water.  Mangroves are trees that grown in saline waters along coastlines in tropical areas of the world. Mangroves can appear very shrub-like and grown to about 2 – 3 meters before they are well anchored into an area. Their growth is slow, like any tree.  Many large mangroves across the Caribbean are a thousand years old or more.  When they get that old the roots are as large as a tree trunk and the trees are many meters high; large and grand. We most often associate mangroves with the interesting root systems that elevate the tree out of the water. This image shows the roots of a very old mangrove forest we explored on our kayak trip.
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Ok, now to the interesting stuff. The roots of the mangrove are the filtration system for the salt in the water that feeds the tree. As the roots take up the brine water they protrude from the water line so they can more effectively filter the salt. If you break the root of a mangrove and taste it, it’s very salty indeed. The mangroves elevated and submerged root systems are an integral part of sea life for the coral reefs that surround many coast lines. And why would that be? Because the coral fish, all those pretty little coloured glorious fish that feed and clean the coral, lay their eggs in the mangrove root forests. Facebook-20140912-081701 (2)

The Piscadero Bay Mangroves in Curacao is a breeding ground  and nursery for the tropical fish along the coral reefs that surround the southern part of the island.  These little fish swim a long way into the bay every day to check their egg deposits and monitor their babies once they hatch.  At the right time, they lead them out to the coral reef where they will live out their little lives.  I think nature is just amazing!  Those tiny little iridescent fish have quite a job to raise their young.  I often wondered why I didn’t see really little fish whenever I snorkels on the reefs.  Now I know.  They were growing up in the mangrove forests nearby.

In Curacao, the termite nests were everywhere in the ancient mangrove area we visited on our kayak trip. Apparently the yellow headed parrots, that are everywhere on the island, lay their eggs in the termite nests located in the mangroves. The chicks hatch and have a food source right there, the termites. The parent parrots return to the chicks from time to time and help them fledge, but they aren’t feeding the chicks when they visit. The food is everywhere.

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So, one can see that mangroves have an important role to play in the ecology of the island of Curacao, and other areas of the world.  I was so privileged to learn from Ryan De Jonge, the nature philanthropist of Curacao, just how important the mangroves really are to the sea life surrounding the island.  Thank you Ryan.

Photography Courtesy of:  S. Haas.McCann

Mangrove Man

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Curacao is a small island in the deepest parts of the Caribbean Sea. But we have history being made here by a local man on a mission.  Ryan De Jonge, is an electrical engineer, by education, but a nature philanthropist of the first order.  He gives tirelessly of himself because of a passion he has for his island, Curacao, and it’s natural flora and fauna.

Ryan has been on an 8 year mission to replant the mangroves of Curacao that were devastated during the 18th and 19th centuries by the colonials that harvested the mangroves for their hardwood, to build houses.  Mangroves take decades to rebuild themselves and once devastated, never really recovered in the areas where they were originally harvested. Curacao lost 60% of its mangrove population as a result of these harvesting practices. Ryan’s mission is to build them back up again, on his own time and on his own dime.

Ryan has done his own research on how mangroves grow, how they generate new plants, what water and soil requirements they need to start new growth, how long it takes, and what the conditions of the water need to be, so that these magnificent trees can flourish.  Lots of trial and error. He freely admits, he knew nothing in the beginning and he failed miserably at first.  But, with the help of scientists from the Carmabi Foundation, on Curacao, he has found the sweet spot for mangrove growth and rejuvenation.

To support himself, Ryan does kayaking tours around the island. This week I was luck enough to have him as my point man on my kayak when a group of us from the ‘Sunshine Ladies That Lunch’ group (with spouses in tow) went on a kayaking tour to Ryan’s mangrove project at the end of Piscadero Bay. It was a 1 mile kayak into the wind, which I thought had to be at least 5 miles… I mean really, I’m too old and out of shape for this type of action. But Ryan kindly said that I just needed to look like I was paddling hard, he would do the rest. Oh I love this man!!! For So Many Reasons…

Ryan has replanted over 40,000 mangrove trees were the flamingoes live in Williebrodus. He had a team of volunteers working on this project, along with local historians, to ensure the new mangroves were planted in areas that would not damage any of the historial architecture of the area. His current project is replanting Piscadero Bay and he has plans for Spanish Waters as well. Ryan has figured out how to create mangrove floating nurseries. He uses anything he can get for free. Old shipping pallets, foam and Styrofoam he finds floating in the sea. Discarded plastic pots and containers. He just uses what ever he can find and he builds these little floating nurseries in the mangrove tributaries.
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The pots in the foreground are ready to be planted as mangrove baby islands.  His success rate with these little starter islands has been very high (over 80%).  These plants are about 6-7 months old.

During our kayak trip we had the opportunity to go into a little hidden cove inside a very old mangrove forest. Ryan said the trees were over 800 years old.  Huge, impressive and very much alive. Here is one of us (guess who) enjoying the blissful experience inside the cove.

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Ryan de Jonge,  a man of the island with ancestry that goes back to 1799.  He is very proud of Curacao and loves what he does.  He gets up every day with a smile on his face knowing he will fill his day with his passions for Curacao, kayaking and the mangroves.

Photography courtesy of: S. Haas.McCann

Why are Mangroves Important?  Next Blog I’ll talk about that.

Walking In the Land of Kings

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Atlanta, Georgia… the home of Martin Luther King and Jimmy Carter, is brimming with history.  The Martin Luther King Memorial Centre, resides in the heart of old Atlanta.  It sits beside the ‘new church’ built to replace the original Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Mr. King Jr preached along with his father and grandfather before him.  Ebenezer Baptist Church is no long a practicing church, but rather, an historic site  that sits on the street corner, with its neon church sign still shining the way.

Across the street is the new church, big, Baptist and designed to fill with the voices of those at prayer every week.  Unfortunately it is closed to the public when services are not taking place.  So, peering through the big glass front doors into the sanctuary, one could only image the power of voice and music rising to the heavens every Sunday.

In the basement of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, a gentleman by the name of Stephen Ferguson, provided a rousing rendition of the iconic, I Have A Dream, speech, at the end of the lecture on the history of the church and the king family.  It was a great experience and well worth the time to listen to this fine orator and performer.

The eternal fountain and stream around the mausoleum for Dr. King and Coretta King, is long, quiet and very calming.  It leads to the MLK Centre with various rooms outlining his life and the history of the civil rights movement in the south.  There was a room dedicated to Rosa Parks.  The most interesting thing about the room, to me, someone not from the USA and not involved in the civil rights movement, other than from afar, was the fact that Rosa Parks was mixed blood.  Would she have been so brave if she was pure black?  Would The Movement have had an icon? I pondered these questions over the remaining few days of my visit.

There is another centre, surrounded by gardens next to the new church.  I went over to have a look around and when I entered the build there was a parade of 7 African Kings in full tribal custom, being escorted around the centre.  Followed by photographers, support staff and the wives discreetly in the back.   I asked what was happening.  It turns out these 7 African Kings were in Atlanta on a business trip and wanted to visit MLK Centre.  So they came in full custom.  I was so excited and nervous that only one photo turned out.

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The neighbourhood of MLK Historical Site is in the middle class neighbourhood of the black community from the early to mid 20th Century.  The homes are large, wooden structures with big porches and verandas all around.  The neighbourhood went into a sharp decline in the 70’s and 80’s but by the early 90’s there was renewed interest in restoring the houses back to their original glory.  The renewed neighbourhood is home to many, well kept, freshly painted homes and quiet streets.

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The original MLK home is restored and open for tours every day.  State troopers perform the duty of guiding small groups thru the house.  Definitely a worthy experience.

 

The Little White House

For American’s this title will be self explanatory but for the rest of the world it may be puzzle.

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It is, in fact, the summer home of President FD Roosevelt, the 32 president of the USA. He served for 4 terms as president and was responsible for guiding the country thru the depression and the second world war. He was a democrat and a free mason. I don’t really know enough about either to comment, but I did note that on the plaque at the entry to this visitor site, it listed several significant levels of Freemason that FDR achieved. Apparently he went all the way to the top, Level 33. Very interesting.

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The first thing that stuck me was how very small the whole place was. The servant quarters and guest quarters were small square buildings about 450 square feet, including a bathroom and 2 sleeping quarters and a small sitting area. Well it could be a modern condo, come to think of it.

The main house was not much bigger than the old cottage we stay in when we go to The Gatineau in Quebec. As you can see, the rooms are small and tight. There is a kitchen, living/dining room combination and 3 small bedrooms, all this single beds and 2 bathrooms. It is small. This was the summer residence of FDR and he loved it here. He spent as much time as possible at the Little White House, with its security agent sentry boxes scattered around the property. It was very hard to imagine that a President had this as his one and only home that he owned.

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The property is managed by Park Rangers. The very lovely Chistine, was my guide thru the house. She was a wealth of information about the rooms, the staff and FDR’s habits and pleasures. I was lucky enough to have her to myself for about 30 minutes, so I learned a lot. I’m not going to be a spoiler and spill all the beans here. If you go, you need to have some things to discover on your own.

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But one thing that really impressed me was FDR’s wheel chair that he used in the house. He had it specialty made to his particular needs. Because the space is small it needed to be quite compact. So he took a straight back wooden kitchen chair and had it mounted onto a metal frame, with two sets of wheels. Large wheels at the side and 2 small wheels that rotate 360 degrees, for nibble maneuverability in light spaces. When I looked at the style and construction I was immediately impressed with how much it looks like the modern wheelchairs used by wheelchair athletes today. Nibble without a lot of extras and 2 sets of wheels for easy short turns. FDR was so far ahead of his time. I wonder if today’s modern wheel chair designers took a few pointers from this president’s ingenuity from over 70 years ago?

In the museum there is one wall of cabinets filled with walking sticks that had been presented and used by FDR. It was easy to see which ones he really liked and used because the oil stains from his hands was obvious on the cane heads. He seems to have a liking for animal head canes, horse heads and dogs in particular.

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The house is off the beaten path in the rolling hills of south Georgia. It’s only about 30 minutes from the I85 and should be visited by anyone in the region. It was such a pleasure to wander the grounds and absorb the feel of the place. I certainly could see why he loved it so much. Both of his custom convertible cars are in the museum. It wasn’t hard to image travels the back roads and surrounding parklands to great vistas overlooking the rivers and forests. Pretty spectacular.

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Puppy Love

We have no children but we have been lucky to have 2 wonderful dogs. We were late to the doggy experience since my husband and I have been career hounds for most of the 30+ years we have been together. But when I retired about 10 years ago, I needed something to occupy my time and a dog was my choice. I must admit it took a little work to convince my husband that we should get a dog. It needed to be a big dog and it needed to be non shedding due to my allergies. So a golden-doodle was the winner. We had a grand black dog that was the love of our lives. He was big and goofy and so much fun. When he passed away, we had already adopted a small white dog, that my husband was quick to identify as MINE not HIS. Well that didn’t last long. And I think it’s safe to say that she has won him over.WIN_20140102_103612

But he still has a love of big dogs. At the cottage, our friends have a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Lucy is just a year old and she is quite a charmer. Here she is smooching with my husband. (OK, this is where you get to use your imagination. I took a great shot of them on my travel phone but forgot to upload it before we left, so no picture to show. You will need to work on it!) The love is mutual, I can assure you. She managed to quietly and smoothly slink onto the bench, beside him and then she just turned her head around and rested it on his shoulder. Seems like I’ve got some competition. (This is Cassy on her way to the airport for her first air flight to Curacao, winter coat and too much fur!)

Dogs are wonderful companions but don’t be fooled. It is a big responsibility to own a dog and there is a life time of care needed to raise and maintain a happy, healthy and well adjusted animal. Not everyone has the time or inclination to have a creature dependent on them for 8, 10, 12, 15 or even 20 years. So don’t be fooled by puppy love. It turns to senior care before you know it.

IMG_4471And here she is a year later, swimming over her Dad, in the pool.  A common occurrence but she is not so willing to launch from the side of the pool, due to her aging hips.  She’s 8 now. 

 

Repurposing Waste Material into Art

I am an artist. Since my arrival on the island I’ve been wondering what kind of art I would create here. Will I draw, take pictures, or paint? And what will be my subject, focus or message? I need to have a direction for my art and I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. It has been sensory overload what with the colour, the architecture, the different flora and fauna, the skies, the people; making it a little difficult to focus.

And then I met 2 women that changed everything.
The first woman was Manja and her amazing house and how she used the natural found objects in nature to create beautiful sculptural pieces. I was overwhelmed with her ability to take rocks, shells, pieces of wood, coconuts and whatever she found, and turn them into things like this.
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She gathers whenever she goes for walks or hikes and she scavenges everything. Here’s an abandoned wasp nest that is part of one of her basket sculptures. Everything is beautiful in her eyes. Manja tends to work with very large pieces, complete trees or massive tree roots. Hard to manoeuvre and you really need big spaces to put them in. But her basket arrangements all very doable.
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The other woman is Bente. A striking and very interesting Norwegian woman that has lived many interesting places. She has been on-island for 4 years and she also is an artist. She is a tall, lovely woman and she likes to work big!! Her home was filled with art pieces and sculpture pieces she made from the skins of palm trees plus other found objects, including broken shells, animal skulls, seed branches from various types of palm and dried wood that looks like animals, birds or whatever. The palm material is like leather and can be washed, formed and painted. I was fascinated to see what she was able to achieve and my creative juices were awakened. So, as luck would have, Bente is leaving the island at the end of June and she had lots of ‘inventory’ that she very kindly gave to me. This is the palm leather.
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I have a concept and I am beginning the maquette process to try out my ideas. I’m very excited and the creative energy is coming on fast. I don’t have much in the way of large containers to work from, but I took what I had and create a view vignettes. It’s a start.
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Mango Tango

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Sometimes too much of a good thing can be just too much. We have a large mango tree that actually isn’t our tree, it belongs to the neighbour. But half of it hangs over our back fence and we are rained with mangoes on a daily basis. When they first started dropping they were very small and the gardener said, ‘don’t eat them they will give you an upset stomach’. So we just left them for the iguana and birds. This was back in January when we first arrived. But as time passed they got bigger and more prolific. Over the past 4 months we have had a feast.
The tree has produced hundreds of mangoes and we have benefited from the harvest. Every day I gather at least half a dozen that are big enough and sweet enough to eat. I have had mango almost every morning for months. Mango for salads, mangoes for lunch, you would think it was a dream come true because I really like mango. But too much of any good thing can be too much. I can honestly say I’ve had enough, NO MORE MANGOES. I know, I know, how could I say that. Back in Canada mangoes are expensive, up to $4 or $5 a piece. If I bought one it was a treat and it would be so green we would need to nurse it to ripeness over the next week to 10 days.
Now… well I hate to say it but, I throw them out. The iguanas feast on them and then I just dump them. This is one day’s worth.
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But I harvest as much as I can. I give them to my housekeeper, my gardener, the security guys at the gate and my neighbour on the other side that doesn’t have a mango tree. The tree is nearing the end of this round of fruit and it’s still abundant as you can see.
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My housekeeper says it will end soon and the tree will rest for about 3 months then start flowering and the cycle behinds again. Two round of fruit production a year. Not bad!
Today’s harvest..Okay maybe one more mango.. they are so delicious.
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Parakeets Galore

I’m sad to say that there was a time in my family’s life when we keep a bird in a cage. It was my Mother’s bird, a little yellow and blue parakeet. I think his name was Joey. My Mom really liked the little thing because it chirped and sang most of the day. That was 40 years ago. Today I wouldn’t keep a bird in a cage or another in a cage for that matter. I can’t stand any animal, bird, reptile, fish or whatever being restricted from living its natural life in its natural environment.

That said, I really didn’t know where parakeets actually lived. Well it turns out we have many living in our compound in Curacao. Our roads are lined with trees that the parakeets just love. They are joined by small parrots as well. Between the two species there is constant chatter all day long. When I walk the dog, I can hear them and I have tried to capture them in flight on my camera, but they fly very fast. So fast that every picture I’ve taken turns out to be just trees or sky. They are so perfectly camouflaged in the trees that you can hear them but you can’t see them.
As you can see… Just sky and trees…
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I’ve seen at least a few dozen living around here and sometimes later in the day there is a pair that fly into our back garden and chirp away in our palm trees. But, still no photos. So now I’m on a mission. I will capture a shot or two… And when I do I’ll just post them to my blog. So if you see birds in flight, probably in a blur, it will be parakeets hopefully, but maybe just the parrots..I will try to video as well. We’ll see!!

Cas Di Mi Sono – House of my Dreams

HOUSE kAS dI mI sONG
There is a special woman that lives at the far west end of the island in an area called Westpunt. She has built her dream home in true Polynesian style. The fence that surrounds her  estate is constructed with found stones from her property and large driftwood pieces imbedded in the stone.  This piece is carved with the name of her home; ‘Cas Di Mi Sono’ in Papiamentu it means, ‘ House of my Dreams’.

She conceived of the house 7 years ago.  Since then she and her husband have built the house and continue to add and embellish it with her art.  This house is unique, if only for that fact it is completely constructed of wood. All the other homes on the island are cement based. The house sits on large wood timbers and the walls are wooden slates that move independently on three horizontal levels, allowing the winds to circulate thru the house. The walls all move on a sophiscated ceiling tracking system. The walls are quite substantial in width but can move like a feather.1-IMG_4922
They move so easily that the wind can actually push them, so Manja had a local carver make some wooden stoppers for her. Froggies!!<3-IMG_4928
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All the living spaces are elevated on large timber poles and there is an open walk way between the main house and master bedroom pod, and the guest room pods. HOUSE

As you climb the stairs to enter the main living area the view is open to the deck at the front and sea beyond.  It is breath taking.  The home is minimalist, open concept, concrete counters in the kitchen, wide plank floors, and a very high thatched roof.  It’s open and tranquil.  All the wood is stained a soft grey to blend with the natural weathered look of the wood beams and railings. It  creates a sense of peace with the focus on the external environment.
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Because the home is so open the little birds flit in and out and chatter in the beams.  It’s all very charming although Manja said their is a regular poo cleaning day each week to handle the bird droppings.  I didn’t see any but I’m sure she’s right.

This is the roof of the main living space likely 25 to 30 Ft high, I should have asked!!
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The main room of the house has a magnificent center piece, one of Manja’s creations from found drift wood.  When I say she works with drift wood, I’m not talking small pieces.  This grand chandelier is wired with lights and dripping in crystals.  It is suspended from the roof beam by very thick multi- thread wire.  We were invited to have coffee. Who could refuse?? Surrounded by glass and wonderful wood walls, open to the sea, birds chirping overhead.  It was like a fantasy.

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Manja was kind enough to let me photograph her bedroom and personal bath room.  Romantic havens in an already romantic house. Her bedroom is surrounded by glass and louvered walls.  The bed sits on a raised platform accessed by two sides of the bed.  Draped in Muslim cloth to keep the bugs out at night.  It’s very romantic.  Above the bed hangs another wonderful piece of found driftwood that sways softly in the breeze.
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The master bath has a sink nested in a tree stump, a support timber used as a towel rack and two coral stones to support the tap and serve as a soap dish. The mirror lighting is found drift wood woven with mini lights to create another artistic expression. So many interesting little embellishments to see.
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The house is on a point of land so the winds are always blowing.  As a result the house is always moving.  To ensure the floors don’t crack the seams are filled with a type of rubber grout used on ships to allow the wood to move.  Manja worked with an architect to ensure that her Dream Home would be sustainable and stand the test of time.  The salt air is not her friend.  She has discovered fungus growing in the railings and needed to replace quite a few this year.  But she has good workers that keep the house well maintained when she is back in Holland.  Dream Home Excursion… it was wonderful.  I will have more to share from this trip. Stay tuned.

 

Nailed It

There is a phenomenon here amongst the local women. It’s the treatment of their finger nails as works of art. I’ve seen some pretty amazing paint jobs and I wish I had taken more pictures.
During Carnival, in particular the combination of colours, crystals, butterflies and other ornaments on their nails was a site to see.

But there are still adventurous women out there doing their thing with their nails. I particularly liked this one, on the woman at Digicel that sold me my new phone. Subtle, compared to many I have seen.
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I found a great plant place near Jan Thiele last week, thanks to my friend, Camille. Great deals on plants, with acres of all kinds of tropical plants. I bought a papaya tree. My housekeeper said it would probably produce fruit before we leave in a few years. I look forward to that. But the nails on the woman that run the place were something else. Check these out!
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I was almost talked into doing something by the last manicurist that I went to. She just wanted me to zip up my nails little. She did part of one nail and I said, no… no… no… I just can’t go there. .

Finding a good manicurist that will do gel nails has been a challenge. Every manicurist I have used here has said that gel won’t work due to the heat. Well, that just isn’t true. I finally found a manicurist in the mall close to where I live. She has been doing nails for 10 years on the island and she only uses gel… Well she said today she has a few clients that want acrylic but its very hard on the nails and often results in fungus on the nail, so she tried to get everyone to use gel.
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Looks pretty good, don’t you think? Maybe a little too much French white, but that’s a small price to pay. The next time will be perfect.

The Streets of Willemstad

Well its just about 5 months since our arrival and driving continues to be interesting. It took a trip to Miami and Toronto to truly appreciate the courtesy on the roads here. It is true that turn signals are barely used. That’s because all the lights have a separate lane and turn signal so if you are in that lane, it’s assumed you must be turning. Turn signals are used sometimes to let oncoming traffic know that you intend to turn so the oncoming traffic can turn left across the traffic. Its not a race, people will wait for you.

There is heavy traffic at times. Backed up in each direction, with lanes merging and turning in all directions. But the drivers of Curacao have various signals to let you know that they will let you thru or let you into the flow. This can be a finger wag, an arm out the window doing a small circular wrist motion, a little beep of the horn, a head nod, or a sweep of the hand across the dash. They all mean “go ahead” and they won’t be just one car. They will let 3, 4, or even 6 cars thru to clear some traffic. Its all very civilized.

The horns on the cars here must be set differently because they can make the smallest beep and its not too loud or long. It’s a common signalling technique and very seldom, if ever, used in frustration or anger. In fact, its rather frowned upon to show road rage. I haven’t seen any evidence of this in 5 months except maybe by a few tourists who don’t appreciate the finer details of how traffic works here.

The scary part is the side roads that join a busy main road. Due to the fencing and trees that obstruct the view, cars coming to a side road intersection tend to come quickly and stop well into the intersection so they can see oncoming traffic. Its very unnerving because it feels like they are going to run right into you. But they don’t. A little heart stopping at times.

I’m also pleased to report that I have finally figured out the blue signs. They aren’t confused road names, as I previously reported, but rather names of districts within the city. So Santa Barbara is a resort but there is also a community/neighbourhood called Santa Barbara. Also, Breivengat is the name of a road but also the name of a neighbourhood. So there you go, another learning experience.

Basically I like driving here. I was soon reminded back in Toronto, when the drivers may use their turn signals to indicate they want to change lanes but you better look out because they are coming into you lane no matter what!! Freaked me out more than once..

I can already see that reintegration will be a challenge. I wonder what else will feel odd!

Paper Anyone

Well it was quite a morning over 20 women let their creative energies shine. This blog will be mainly photos. Pictures are worth a thousand words. So here goes.

First up is Sunshine. Her dress was made from magazines. She cut very precise strips and then wove them together to make her dress. It was a labour of love.
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We helped each other dress. This lovely one was not very walkable but it had a train. Do you see it? Marilyn with her pinata inspired creation and Vangie helping out.
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Monique in fabulous packing paper. And Lana with her last minute wonder with lots of jewels.
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Here is the Barefoot Canadian Countessa (Liz).
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Newspapers were used for this one including the hat, a basket purse and shoes. Pretty impressive.
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Marilyn Munroe inspired and Debbie’s very colourful crepe.
Here is our photographer, Gail and our Dresser, Teri.
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And finally Vangie and I. Wrapping paper for Vangie, she was adorable even had a fascinator!. My print hung together long enough for the group shot. My necklace was made from cupcake cups and pipe cleaners. I will post links to the group shots when they are online. And the lovely Kate behind us looking on.
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Paper Dress Project

The Ladies that Lunch have a fearless leader, Sunshine Livingston. She has a wealth of energy and a creative mind that just won’t quit. She is full of ideas and the cheerleader that motivates all of us to go beyond the normal and explore our world and our selves.

A few months ago she suggested the ladies take on a new project. Making paper dresses for a photo shoot that will be done by one of the sub groups of this gang, Digital Dushi’s. I must admit I thought it was too much. But Sunshine just kept at it and I starting to think about what I could do. Time is needed to think up a good idea. It’s not only a paper dress but it has to fit and be worn for at least an hour or so. It needs to stay together and it all needed to be done with paper.

Well, much research on the web ensued. It was a bit intimidating but there were lots of ideas for paper dresses, many for children and many for paper thin models. What does a full figured woman do?

But I finally came up with a few ideas. Got it down to one plan and I was on it.

The dresses will be unveiled today at Gallery Alma Blow, Willemstad, Curacao. Here is the dress, made from an enlarged image of one of my photographs.
The Shrug is from the most beautiful lace tissue (Japanese paper), that I picked up in Toronto a few weeks ago. So this may be the best it looks. I have no idea, if it will stand up to the wind and actually stay on my body long enough for a shot. But we’ll see.
Just in case: Here’s a few shots
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Entering the Past

When one has tenants living in ‘your home’ it can be a bit of a trick to go back to your home and see if the tenants have made it their own. In a very positive way, it’s a little bit wonderful and little bit nostalgic. But in the end it’s such a relief to have a great couple living in the house and making it their own. We are really, very lucky. So it was a beautiful day and The Taj had not been christened with its first wine and cheese social, so out we went. So nice to sit in the Taj and discuss all the garden details. How big will THAT grow? BIG, trust me.. We talked and laughed and drank some more wine.
As you can see Debra was having fun and so was I.
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Monday morning was a holiday in Canada so the streets were quiet and the restaurants, mostly closed. I headed down to Queen Street East, to see if Bonjour Brioche was open, but no luck. So over to the Dark Horse for an awesome latte and a chance to sit in the sun and watch the joggers and bikers go by. After a leisurely coffee I headed down to one of my old haunts, Cherry Beach.

Cherry Beach is many things; wind surfers, kayakers, swimmers, beach bunnies and families having a picnic but the draw for me is the large wonderful dog park that goes right to the tip of the inlet. There is lots of beach for the dogs to run and play and chase balls and retrieve pretty much anything anyone is willing to throw in the water for them. This was the place I took our dog Socrates for many many walks and plays in the water. He loved this beach and he would always race to the waters edge and just bark and bark at my to ‘hurry up, and throw something!!” So I took a walk with my ghost dog that morning and I really felt him there with me. I sat on one of the benches at the point and basked in the sun. Lots of dogs enjoying their life, playing and walking. Everyone gets along and everyone/dog is happy. We need something like that here in Curacao. It’s so therapeutic on many levels, for the humans, for the dogs, for life in general.
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Back to reality and a terrific dinner with my old neighbour. They have 2 dogs, George and Ollie. Ollie is a ‘comfort dog’ with one eye and that eye is mostly blind. But he still likes to get attention and he’s as cute as a button. If you don’t fall in love with this face, you aren’t human.wpid-img_20140519_164342.jpg

Swim Anyone

I was in Toronto for a few days. The hotel where I stayed, had an indoor pool under this wonderful dome. I could see it from my room. Of course I didn’t bring a bathing suit, but that didn’t stop me. I bought a cheap one and went for a few swims, usually totally alone. I’m getting used to this spoiled swimming; just me and the water. The view out the dome was the trees in the parkland all around the hotel. They were just coming into their greenness, that soft yellow green of new leaves. Very peaceful.
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Pier One Whoopee
Had coffee with a good friend and we did a little window shopping. Their is a great Pier One store right across the street from our favourite coffee shop, 2nd Cup. Elspeth suggested we go, ‘take a look’. I was gop smacked… The profusion of colour for their spring and summer stock just took my breath away. I’m not used to that, here in Curacao. Cushions anyone? A 25 foot wall of cushions of every colour and size. Well I didn’t buy cushions but I did buy some new napkins. A small compromise.
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The Paper Place – Queen West
My next stop was a fabulous Japanese paper store on Queen Street West, across from Trinity Bellwood Park. Such a selection, I had never seen before. The staff were terrific and I came way with some very interesting paper to make the rest of my paper dress. We’ll see if I can do something with it without ruining the paper.
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Hospital Hallowed Halls
So off to Toronto Western for the MRI. The MRI lobby was deserted. Just a black phone with a blue dot. Pick up the phone and someone will come for you. Just a little eerie. But 30 minutes later I was done. Very efficient, even if I still don’t have my results. Distribution is not their strength..
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The Mother Ship

I haven’t talked about shopping for awhile, but last evening we had guests for dinner, one of whom is a newbie to the island and so we discussed the trials and tribulations of grocery shopping on an island that has everything shipped in.

I have been to many of the grocery stores, although not all, as yet. But so far, the Mother Ship has to be the Hypermarket Mangusa (pronounced mangu-sawww). Mangusa have 3 stores but the one on CasCoraweg is by far the biggest. Very modern. Very clean and full of everything you could imagine. Sort of reminds me of a Loblaws Superstore back home in Canada.
wpid-img_20140510_095811.jpgBig parking lot and an upper level parking area as well.
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The whole back of the store is meat, fish, deli and bakery. The right side has a drugstore and household supplies like drapes, dishes, towels, pots and pans, pretty much anything you can thing of.
The isles are well stocked and it’s not often that I can’t find a product I bought before.
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Here’s a view from the front past the freezer section to the bakery why at the back.
And the fruits, vegetables, cheese and cold cut sections are pretty darn good and fresh.
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Lots of check out counters and always well staffed so even when its very busy on a Saturday you are not waiting in line to check out.
It seemed like a bit of a hike to get there when I first arrived, but it really is quite close and you don’t have to fight for a parking space no matter how busy it is. That’s a plus too.

So Mangu-sawww. The Mother Ship for Grocery Shopping. If you are in Willemstad, check it out.
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Mothers Day Breakfast

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We had breakfast at DeliFrance. The place was packed when we arrived but we managed to get a table near the guitar player, Alex. He had some mean equipment but was playing to the breakfast crowd so it was pretty tame soft jazz and blues sound.  The place cleared out when the rains came. So this little princess had a chance to sit up front and watch the finger work was enthralled.

I Learn a Tuna Sub

My husband and I are learning Papiamentu, the local language. I haven’t taken language classes since grade 10 and I’m not going to say how long ago that was. Just know, it was during the Ice Age.

My husband is a technical kinda guy, engineer, techie, musician type. He is a little challenged with the accent requirements and pronunciation but he is a trouper and he keeps plugging away. I had mentioned to him that I was practicing on all the help staff, grocery store workers, security guards, street maintenance people, basically any poor sucker I could find who would patiently listen to me butcher their language.

So my husband has been exploring his world as well. He goes to lunch every day, usually at someplace close to his office. This week he was in Subway and decided he would order his sub in Papiamentu.
He had to think hard about the words, but he was practicing in line and felt pretty sure he had it down pat. After all, all he had to say was: I’d like a tuna sub, please.

Well the words came out and the very polite young man behind the counter, said. Tuna? He said, Si, and he got his sub. As he was walking back to work and reviewing in his head what he had said so he could say it a little faster next time, he realized that what he actually said was, I learn a Tuna Sub, please.

People here are too kind. I think if I had been that young man I would have laughed my head off. But he did not, he just smiled and gave my husband what he needed.
Aw, the joys of island life.

It’s Monday – Clean Car Day

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There is something about a culture that has such a high regard for the condition of one’s car.  We live on a desert island.  We get very little rain.  The roads are not that dusty.  But there is a fine dust in the air that falls on everything, including our cars.  So cars must be clean.

I noticed on Monday’s that everyone is driving a very clean car to work, or play.  It is amazing to be surrounded by clean shiny cars.  It’s subtle and not something you would notice right away.  But I learned awhile back that driving a clean car on Monday is like wearing a clean shirt to work.  If you value your appearance and want to project that you are a person of importance, your car must be clean.

I had a local fellow driving me around last year when my neck was in very bad shape and I was not able to drive.   He washed my car everyone Monday morning and again during the week, if it was the least bit dusty.  He  told me that it’s a matter of importance and status to have your car clean.  Even my cleaning lady drives a clean car all the time. Her son washes it for her quite frequently.  I see many small entrepreneurial car wash set ups along the roads.  Nothing big or even close to a franchise.  Just a couple of people with buckets and clothes, ready to wash your car for 15 guilders ( about $8 USD).  And they do a very good job.

Some people have the car washer come to their home and wash the cars in their driveway.  We did this for awhile, but we had to be here and it just got bothersome with our schedule.  Some have their cars washed while they are at work.  There was a guy at my husband’s office that washed cars.  He came with his truck and a large container of water along with his brushes and rags.  He did a great job.  There is one large automated car wash on the island.  It’s called Bob’s Car Wash. It is always busy and a little more expensive than the small operators, but it is consistent and they are always well staffed.

So, wash your car.  Keep it clean. Present yourself in a positive light and show you care about your image.  On Curacao a clean car says a lot about you.  I never would have believed such a small thing could be so significant.  But trust me, it is.

 

 

 

 

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